Return to Tin Pan Alley

It was just over a year ago that I visited Denmark Street with Tim Arnold of the Save Soho campaign. Tim was giving me a tour of venues under threat and those that still give live music a home in the West End. We decided to start outside the 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street – a venue Tim had played many times. As I started filming we noticed crates and boxes leaving the building in a steady stream – the 12 Bar Club had hosted its final gig in Tin Pan Alley, forced out by the Crossrail sponsored destruction of this corner of Central London.

When I met Henry Scott-Irvine of the Save Denmark Street campaign outside the boarded up venue last month, news had just filtered through that the 12 Bar had just closed its doors again at its new home on Holloway Road. As Henry put it – music needs a hub, Denmark Street/ Tin Pan Alley was the beating heart of London’s live music community and when that heart is damaged you can’t expect things to survive out along the arteries (I’m paraphrasing but Henry explains it more eloquently in the video above).

Save Tin Pan Alley

Superficially for now Denmark Street retains the guitar shops and a couple of venues. This is undoubtedly a good thing, particularly when you consider the way that the iconic Astoria was brutally erased from the map with a few swings of a wrecking ball (I couldn’t think of a Miley Cyrus gag there but insert your own).

Andre in Hanks Guitar Shop was upbeat about the situation – thinking that the surrounding developments could bring new trade to the street and lead to a revival of the shops and venues. Although he did sound a note of caution that the developers – who are also the landlords – needed to keep the rents at realistic levels for the traders in Tin Pan Alley. The various music industry offices occupying the upper floors of this historic 17th Century street have already been forced out – gone are the music publishers and agents who brought the music to Denmark Street in the early 20th Century – who invented the music press and the pop charts, then the pop stars and punk rock.

Good news arrived this week that the house where the Sex Pistols lived and daubed graffiti on the walls has been given a Grade II listing. Finally official heritage recognition for at least one chapter of this richly storied thoroughfare. Henry would like to see the London Borough of Camden give it the same protected status for music that Hatton Garden has for its jewelry trade.

Without dogged campaigning the developers could already have destroyed this vital part of London’s heritage – thankfully people such as Henry and Andre are keeping the music alive in Denmark Street and long may Tin Pan Alley rock on.

Punk history of Epping Forest

A relatively simple act of collecting a punk rock record opened up an odyssey into a secret history of Epping Forest.

Gary of the Bermondsey Joyriders had a copy of their Noise and Revolution LP to give me on vinyl. It features the voice of legendary Beat poet and manager of the MC5, John Sinclair, narrating links between songs, giving an additional voice to the album’s theme of the destruction being wrought on the urban realm by rapacious property development.

I arranged to meet Gary at Loughton Station to do the hand-over, exchanging the 12inch vinyl for a dvd copy of the Joyriders gig on the rooftop of the old Foyles building I filmed for Drift Report. The theme of the gig – Save London (from destructive development) perfectly in sync with the Noise and Revolution record.

Ant Farm Studios

Gary Lammin at Ant Farm Studios

Instead of wandering along to a chain coffee shop on Loughton High Street Gary drove me to a café on the banks of the fishing pond at South End Farm in Epping Forest – chosen for more than its great bacon rolls and picturesque location. It was in one of the old farm buildings in the carpark that the legendary Detroit beat poet revolutionary John Sinclair recorded his narration for the album, that deep smokey drawl dropped into the mic in this nondescript corner of the London fringe.

Waltham Abbey Zodiac
From there Gary wanted to show me the curiously pagan Zodiac mosaics on the roof of Waltham Abbey. In the crypt I bought a map of the area as it was when built in the 11th Century.

Driving back through the forest to Buckhurst Hill Station Gary entertained me with more punk history of the area – of Malcolm Maclaren coming out to meet the Joyriders for a drink in Manor Park circa 1975.

The Noise and Revolution album (featuring John Sinclair) has opened up a whole new seam of Forest lore.

Jubilee on the Thames

I think those people were waiting for the Sex Pistols barge to float by in a re-enactment of one of the great cultural moments in the history of the Thames during the last Jubilee – I know I was. Although, the London Symphony Orchestra did make a brilliant racket and the conductor flailed around in a manner redolent of Johnny Rotten before the butter adverts – not a bad subsitute


The Wisdom of Malcolm MacLaren

Malcolm MacLaren, foppish punk architect provocateur probably has more to do with the British interest in Situationism and psychogeography than anybody else. His co-opting of the posture and imagery of detournement gave Punk its intellectual edge – after all wasn’t punk just detourned Rock and Roll? The first time I encountered the word ‘situationism’ was in the pages of the NME and Melody Maker in the mid-80s in the articles of journalists raised on punk. So it was nice to see that MacLaren still has something to say in this vein in his dotage living out a bourgeois dream, elegantly slumming in Paris:

“We are at an end of the culture of desires; we may be going back to a culture of necessity
Real magic is found in flamboyant, provocative failure rather than benign success
Turn left, if you’re supposed to turn right; go through any door that you’re not supposed to enter – it’s the only way to fight your way through to any kind of authentic feeling in a world beset by fakery”
– Malcolm Maclaren, extrapolated from The Observer magazine 16.11.08