‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’: 10 Things You Didn’t Know – Rolling Stone

Source: ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’: 10 Things You Didn’t Know – Rolling Stone

Actually, I did know most of this, but not Warhol’s idea of putting a crack on the record to make the phrase ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ repeat over and over again. Inspirational, and an idea later used by the Beatles at the end of Sgt. Pepper but not in quite as radical a way. I also didn’t know about the drums breaking down in ‘Heroin’ or Sterling Morrison’s hatred of Frank Zappa. Although I did know about Lou Reed’s hatred of Frank Zappa and also Frank Zappa’s hatred of not only the VU but also The Beatles and The Doors, and pop and rock music in general!

A half-century on, The Velvet Underground and Nico remains the quintessential emblem of a certain brand of countercultural cool. Not the Haight-Ashbury or Sgt. Pepper kind but an eerier, artier, more NYC-rooted strain. Released on March 12th, 1967, the Velvet Underground‘s debut was an album that brought with it an awareness of the new, the possible and the darker edge of humanity. Bolstered by the patronage of Andy Warhol and the exotic vocal contributions of Nico, Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker declared their independence from Top 40 decorum with a gritty, innovative and unapologetically self-possessed work. In many ways, The Velvet Underground and Nico was the first rock album that truly seemed to invite the designation alternative.

Fifty years after its release, the LP still sounds stunningly original, providing inspiration and a blueprint for everything from lo-fi punk rock to highbrow avant-garde – and so much in between. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about the album’s creation.

1. Lou Reed first united with John Cale to play a knockoff of “The Twist.”
Reed’s professional music career took root in 1964 when he was hired as a staff songwriter at Pickwick Records, an NYC-based budget label specializing in soundalikes of contemporary chart-toppers. “We just churned out songs; that’s all,” Reed remembered in 1972. “Never a hit song. What we were doing was churning out these rip-off albums.”

When ostrich feathers became the hot trend in women’s fashion magazines, Reed was moved to write a parody of the increasingly ridiculous dance songs sweeping the airwaves. “The Twist” had nothing on “The Ostrich,” a hilariously oddball number featuring the unforgettable opening lines: “Put your head on the floor and have somebody step on it!” While composing the song, Reed took the unique approach of tuning all six of his guitar strings to the same note, creating the effect of a vaguely Middle Eastern drone. “This guy at Pickwick had this idea that I appropriated,” he told Mojo in 2005. “It sounded fantastic. And I was kidding around and I wrote a song doing that.”

Reed recorded the song with a group of studio players, releasing the song under the name the Primitives. Despite the unorthodox modes, Pickwick heard potential in “The Ostrich” and released it as a single. It sold in respectable quantities, convincing the label to assemble musicians to pose as the phony band and promote the song at live gigs. Reed began hunting for potential members, valuing attitude as much as musical aptitude. He found both in John Cale.

The pair crossed paths at a house party on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where Reed was drawn to Cale’s Beatle-y long hair. A classically trained prodigy, the young Welshman had moved to the city months earlier to pursue his musical studies and play viola with avant-garde composer La Monte Young’s Theater of Eternal Music. Intrigued by his pedigree, Reed invited him to join the Primitives. Sensing the opportunity for easy money and some laughs, Cale agreed.

Gathering to rehearse the song, Cale was astonished to discover that the “Ostrich tuning” produced essentially the same drone he was accustomed to playing with Young. Clearly on the same musical wavelength, they connected on a personal level afterwards. “More than anything it was meeting Lou in the coffee shop,” Cale says in a 1998 American Masters documentary. “He made me nice cup of coffee out of the hot water tap, and sat me down and started quizzing me as to what I was really doing in New York. There was a certain meeting of the minds there.”

2. “The Black Angel’s Death Song” got the band fired from their residency.
Sterling Morrison became involved with the duo after a chance meeting with Reed, his classmate at Syracuse University, on the subway. Together they formed a loose band with Cale’s roommate Angus MacLise, a fellow member of the Theater of Eternal Music collective. Lacking a consistent name – they morphed from the Primitives to the Warlocks, and then the Falling Spikes before taking their soon-to-be-iconic final moniker from a pulp paperback exposé – the quartet rehearsed and recorded demos in Cale’s apartment throughout the summer of 1965.

John Cale, Lou Reed

The fledgling Velvet Underground were befriended by pioneering rock journalist Al Aronowitz, who managed to book them a gig at a New Jersey high school that November. This irritated the bohemian MacLise, who resented having to show up anywhere at a specific time. When informed that they would be receiving money for the performance, he quit on the spot, grumbling that the group had sold out. Desperate to fill his spot on the drums, they asked Morrison’s friend Jim Tucker if his sister Maureen (known as “Moe”) was available. She was, and the classic lineup was in place.

School gymnasiums were not the ideal venue for the band. “We were so loud and horrifying to the high school audience that the majority of them – teachers, students and parents – fled screaming,” Cale says in American Masters. Instead, Aronowitz found them a residency in a Greenwich Village club, the Café Bizarre. Its name was something of a misnomer, as neither the owners nor the handful of customers appreciated the way-out sounds. In a half-hearted attempt at assimilation, the group added some rock standards to their repertoire. “We got six nights a week at the Café Bizarre, some ungodly number of sets, 40 minutes on and 20 minutes off,” Morrison described in a 1990 interview. “We played some covers – ‘Little Queenie,’ ‘Bright Lights Big City’ … the black R&B songs Lou and I liked – and as many of our own songs as we had.”

Three weeks in, the tedium became too much bear. “One night we played ‘The Black Angel’s Death Song’ and the owner came up and said, ‘If you play that song one more time you’re fired!’ So we started the next set with it,” Morrison told Sluggo! of their ignoble end as a bar band in a tourist trap. The self-sabotage had the desired effect and they were relieved of their post – but not before they caught the attention of Andy Warhol.

3. The album’s co-producer refused to accept cash payment, asking for a Warhol painting instead.
Already a prolific painter, sculptor and filmmaker, by the mid-Sixties Warhol sought to expand his famous Factory empire into rock & roll. On the advice of confidant Paul Morrissey, the 37-year-old art star dropped in on the Velvet Underground’s set at the Café Bizarre and impulsively extended an offer to act as their manager. The title would have rather loose connotations, though he did make one significant alteration to their sound. Fearing that the group lacked the requisite glamour to become stars, he suggested the addition of a striking German model known as Nico. The proposal was not met with complete enthusiasm – Reed was particularly displeased – but she was tentatively accepted into the ranks as a featured vocalist.

Now billed as the Velvet Underground with Nico, Warhol incorporated the band into a series of multimedia performances dubbed the Exploding Plastic Inevitable: a marriage of underground music, film, dance and lights. Also assisting was 27-year-old Norman Dolph, an account representative at Columbia Records who moonlit as a DJ and soundman. “I operated a mobile discotheque – if not the first then at least the second one in New York,” he later told author Joe Harvard. “I was an art buff, and my thing was I’d provide the music at art galleries, for shows and openings, but I’d ask for a piece of art as payment instead of cash. That’s how I met Andy Warhol.”

By the spring of 1966, Warhol decided it was time to take his charges into the recording studio. Knowing little about such matters, he sought out Dolph for advice. “When Warhol told me he wanted to make a record with those guys, I said, ‘Oh, I can take care of that, no problem. I’ll do it in exchange for a picture,'” he said in Sound on Sound. “I could have said I’d do it in exchange for some kind of finder’s fee, but I asked for some artwork, [and] he was agreeable to that.”

Dolph was tasked with booking a studio, covering a portion of the costs himself, producing and leaning on colleagues at Columbia to ultimately release the product. For his trouble he was given one of Warhol’s silver “Death and Disaster Series” canvases. “A beautiful painting, really. Regrettably, I sold it around ’75, when I was going through a divorce, for $17,000. I remember thinking at the time, ‘Geez, I bet Lou Reed hasn’t made $17,000 from this album yet.’ If I had it today, it would be worth around $2 million.”

4. It was recorded in the same building that later housed Studio 54.
Dolph’s day job at Columbia’s custom labels division saw him working with smaller imprints that lacked their own pressing plants. One of his clients was Scepter Records, best known for releasing singles by the Shirelles and Dionne Warwick. Their modest offices on 254 West 54th Street in midtown Manhattan were noteworthy for having their own self-contained recording facility.

Though the Velvet Underground were studio novices, it didn’t take an engineer to know that the room had seen better days. Reed, in the liner notes to the Peel Slowly and See boxed set, describes it as “somewhere between reconstruction and demolition … the walls were falling over, there were gaping holes in the floor, and carpentry equipment littered the place.” Cale recalls being similarly underwhelmed in his 1999 autobiography. “The building was on the verge of being condemned. We went in there and found that the floorboards were torn up, the walls were out, there was only four mics working.”

It wasn’t glamorous, and at times it was barely functional, but for four days in mid-April 1966 (the exact dates remain disputed), the Specter Records studios would play host to the bulk of the Velvet Underground and Nico recording sessions. Though Warhol played only a distant role in proceedings, he would return to 254 West 54th Street a great deal in the following decade, when the ground floor housed the infamous Studio 54 nightclub.

5. Warhol wanted to put a built-in crack in all copies of the record to disrupt “I’ll Be Your Mirror.”
Andy Warhol is nominally the producer of The Velvet Underground and Nico, but in reality his role was more akin to producer of a film; one who finds the project, raises the capital and hires a crew to bring it to life. On the rare occasions he did attend the sessions, Reed recalls him “sitting behind the board gazing with rapt fascination at all the blinking lights … Of course he didn’t know anything about record production. He just sat there and said, ‘Oooh that’s fantastic.'”

Warhol’s lack of involvement was arguably his greatest gift to the Velvet Underground. “The advantage of having Andy Warhol as a producer was that, because it was Andy Warhol, [engineers] would leave everything in its pure state,” Reed reflected in a 1986 episode of The South Bank Show. “They’d say, ‘Is that alright, Mr. Warhol?’ And he’d say, ‘Oh … yeah!’ So right at the very beginning we experienced what it was like to be in the studio and record things our way and have essentially total freedom.”

Although he didn’t try to specifically shape the band in his own image, Warhol did make some suggestions. One of his more eccentric ideas for the track “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” Reed’s delicate ballad inspired by his simmering romantic feelings towards Nico, never came to fruition. “We would have the record fixed with a built-in crack so it would go, ‘I’ll be your mirror, I’ll be your mirror, I’ll be your mirror,’ so that it would never reject,” Reed explained in Victor Bockris’ Uptight: The Velvet Underground Story. “It would just play and play until you came over and took the arm off.”

6. “There She Goes Again” borrows a riff from a Marvin Gaye song.

Reed’s time at Pickwick instilled in him a fundamental fluency in the language of pop music. Often overshadowed by his innovative instrumental arrangements and taboo lyrical subjects, his ear for an instantly hummable tune is apparent with catchy confections like “Sunday Morning,” the album’s opening track. Bright and breezy, with Reed’s androgynous tone replacing Nico’s planned lead, the song’s introductory bass slide is an intentional nod to the Mamas and the Papas’ “Monday, Monday,” which topped the charts when it was first recorded in April 1966.

“There She Goes Again” also draws from the Top 40 well, borrowing a guitar part from one of Motown’s finest. “The riff is a soul thing, Marvin Gaye’s ‘Hitch Hike,’ with a nod to the Impressions,” Cale admitted to Uncut in 2012. “That was the easiest song of all, which came from Lou’s days writing pop at Pickwick.”

It would earn the distinction of becoming one of the first Velvet Underground tracks to ever be covered – half a world away in Vietnam. A group of U.S. servicemen, performing under the name the Electrical Banana during their off hours, were sent a copy of The Velvet Underground and Nico by a friend who thought they would appreciate the fruit on the cover. They appreciated the music as well, and resolved to record a version of “There She Goes Again.” Unwilling to wait until they returned to the States, they built a makeshift studio in the middle of the jungle by tossing down wooden pallets, pitching a tent, fashioning mic stands from bamboo branches and plugging their amps into a gas generator.

7. The drums break down during the climax of “Heroin.”
The most infamous track on the album is also one of the oldest, dating back to Reed’s days as a student at Syracuse University, where he performed with early folk and rock groups and sampled illicit substances. Drawing from skills honed through his journalism studies, not to mention a healthy affinity for William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, Reed penned a verse that depicted the experience of shooting up with stunning clarity and eerie detachment.

Amazingly, Reed had attempted to record the song during his days on the pop assembly line at Pickwick Records. “They’d lock me in a room and they’d say, ‘Write 10 surfing songs,'” Reed told WLIR in 1972. “And I wrote ‘Heroin,’ and I said, ‘Hey I got something for ya!’ They said, ‘Never gonna happen, never gonna happen.'” But the band had no such constraints while being bankrolled by Andy Warhol.

Working in the still-unfamiliar setting of a studio proved to be a challenge for the band at some points, particularly during the breakneck outro of “Heroin.” Maureen Tucker eventually became lost in the cacophony and simply put down her sticks. “No one ever even notices this, but right in the middle the drums stop,” she says in the 2006 documentary The Velvet Underground: Under Review. “No one ever thinks about the drummer, they’re all worried about the guitar sound and stuff, and nobody’s thinking about the drummer. Well, as soon as it got loud and fast I couldn’t hear anything. I couldn’t hear anybody. So I stopped, assuming, ‘Oh, they’ll stop too and say, ‘What’s the matter, Moe?’ And nobody stopped! So I came back in.”

8. Lou Reed dedicated “European Son” to his college mentor who loathed rock music.
One of Reed’s formative influences was Delmore Schwartz, a poet and author who served as his professor and friend while a student at Syracuse University. With a cynical and often bitter wit, he instilled in Reed an innate sense of belief in his own writing. “Delmore Schwartz was the unhappiest man I ever met in my life, and the smartest … until I met Andy Warhol,” Reed told writer Bruce Pollock in 1973. “Once, drunk in a Syracuse bar, he said, ‘If you sell out, Lou, I’m gonna get ya.’ I hadn’t thought about doing anything, let alone selling out.”

Rock & roll counted as selling out in Schwartz’s mind. He apparently loathed the music – particularly the lyrics – but Reed couldn’t pass up a chance to salute his mentor on his first major artistic statement. He chose to dedicate the song “European Son” to Schwartz, simply because it’s the track that least resembled anything in the rock canon. After just 10 lines of lyrics, it descends into a chaotic avant-garde soundscape.

Schwartz almost certainly never heard the piece. Crippled by alcoholism and mental illness, he spent his final days as a recluse in a low-rent midtown Manhattan hotel. He died there of a heart attack on July 11, 1966, three months after the Velvet Underground recorded “European Son.” Isolated even in death, it took two days for his body to be identified at the morgue.

9. The back cover resulted in a lawsuit that delayed the album’s release.
Being managed by Andy Warhol came with certain perks, and one was the guarantee of a killer album cover. While the artist’s involvement in the music was spotty, the visual art was to be his purview. Bored by mere static images, he devised a peel-away sticker of a pop art banana illustration, under which would be a peeled pink (and slightly phallic) banana. Aside from fine print above the sticker helpfully urging buyers to “peel slowly and see,” the only text on the stark white cover was Warhol’s own name, gracing the lower right corner in stately Coronet Bold – adding his official signature to the Velvet Underground project.

The promise of what was essentially an original Warhol print on the front of each album was a major selling point to Verve, the MGM subsidiary that had purchased the distribution rights to the tapes, and they shelled out big bucks to obtain a special machine capable of manufacturing the artist’s vision. Ironically, it was the comparatively traditional back cover, a photo of the band in the midst of an Exploding Plastic Inevitable performance at Norfolk, Virginia’s Chrysler Art Museum, that would cause the most headaches. A slide montage was projected onto the stage and the upside-down image of actor and Factory associate Eric Emerson from Warhol’s Chelsea Girls film could be seen. Emerson, who had recently been busted for drug possession and was badly in need of money, threatened to sue the label for the unauthorized use of his image.

Rather than pay Emerson his claim – reportedly $500,000 – MGM halted production that spring while they grappled with how to remove the offending image. Copies of the album were recalled in June, all but dooming its commercial prospects. “The whole Eric business was a tragic fiasco for us, and proves what idiots they were at MGM,” Morrison told Bockris. “They responded by pulling the album off the shelves immediately and kept it off for a couple of months while they fooled around with stickers over Eric’s picture, and then finally the airbrush. The album thus vanished form the charts almost immediately in June, just when it was about to enter the Top 100. It never returned to the charts.”

10. The release delay sparked Sterling Morrison’s intense, and often hilarious, hatred of Frank Zappa.
The tracks for the album were largely complete by May 1966, but a combination of production logistics – including the tricky stickers on the cover – and promotional concerns delayed the release for nearly a year. The exact circumstances remain hazy, but instead of holding the record execs responsible, or Warhol in his capacity as their manager, the Velvet Underground blamed an unlikely target: their MGM/Verve labelmate Frank Zappa.

The band believed that Zappa used his clout to hold back their release in favor of his own album with the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out. “The problem [was] Frank Zappa and his manager, Herb Cohen,” said Morrison. “They sabotaged us in a number of ways, because they wanted to be the first with a freak release. And we were totally naive. We didn’t have a manager who would go to the record company every day and just drag the whole thing through production.” Cale claimed that the band’s wealthy patron affected the label’s judgment. “Verve’s promotional department [took] the attitude, ‘Zero bucks for VU, because they’ve got Andy Warhol; let’s give all the bucks to Zappa,'” he wrote in his memoir.

Whatever the truth may be, Sterling Morrison held a serious grudge against Zappa for the rest of his life, making no effort to hide his contempt in interviews. “Zappa is incapable of writing lyrics. He is shielding his musical deficiencies by proselytizing all these sundry groups that he appeals to,” he told Fusion in 1970. “He just throws enough dribble into those songs. I don’t know, I don’t like their music. … I think that album Freak Out was such a shuck.” He was even more blunt a decade later when speaking to Sluggo! magazine. “Oh, I hate Frank Zappa. He’s really horrible, but he’s a good guitar player. … If you told Frank Zappa to eat shit in public, he’d do it if it sold records.”

Reed also had some choice words for Zappa over the years. In Nigel Trevena’s 1973 biography booklet of the band, he refers to Zappa as “probably the single most untalented person I’ve heard in my life. He’s two-bit, pretentious, academic, and he can’t play his way out of anything. He can’t play rock & roll, because he’s a loser. … He’s not happy with himself and I think he’s right.” The pair must have buried the hatchet in later years – after Zappa died of prostate cancer in 1993, Reed posthumously inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Poster for my lecture at the Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institution 12th July

Interactive Maps for Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” by Dennis Mansker

This is a re-post from Dennis Mansker’s web site. The original can be found here: http://www.dennismansker.com/ontheroad.htm

In 1957, two novels were published that were destined to have a profound effect on the future of the United States, and indeed, the world, effects that would long outlast the lives of their creators.
The first was Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, and those who read it and felt that is was “speaking directly to them” went on to become Republicans, vulture capitalists, the kind of self-absorbed greed mongers epitiomized by Gordon Gecko and empathy-eschewing rightwing politicians epitomized by Paul Ryan, who wants to get rid of Social Security.
The second was On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, and its fans became late-period Beats, transitional “Fringies”1, and ultimately evolved into Hippies and End-the-Vietnam-War protesters
We also became, by and large, those who didn’t burn out, liberals and Democrats.

The Trips:
On the Road is broken into five parts, but only the first four feature the extended road trips that the book is famous for. I’ve created interactive maps for each of the four road trips in the book.

  1. Map One — Summer 1947: New York to San Francisco by way of Denver, and back again.
  2. Map Two — Winter 1949: Rocky Mount NC to San Francisco by way of New Orleans
  3. Map Three — Spring 1949: Denver to New York by way of San Francisco
  4. Map Four — Spring 1950: New York to Mexico City by way of Denver

These are Google Maps and they are zoomable. Click on one of the placemarkers on the map to see a quotation from the book, zoom in it to see the location on the map. In many cases where the narrative wasn’t clear on a given place, I’ve had to approximate — apply a “best guess” solution to a given location.
There is also a link on each map to allow you to view a larger size on the Google Maps site.

The Cars:
The automobile and other forms of motor-driven transit figured prominently in On the Road, as it did in Post-WWII America. But no one who has read the book can forget three vehicles that figured prominently in the story. These are the only three vehicles that are identified by make and year in the whole book, and there was a reason for that: The cars themselves became sort of minor characters during the course of the adventures.

Dean Moriarty 1949 Hudson

1949 Hudson

In the second trip, starting actually at Xmas 1948, Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassidy) shows up at the house of the brother of Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac) in “Testament, Virginia” (really Rocky Mount, NC) in a brand new 1949 Hudson. This is the car in which they blast off to New Orleans and the West Coast, January 1949.
Like all of Dean’s cars, this one really took a beating.

Dean Moriarty 1947 Cadillac

1947 Cadillac Limousine

In the third trip, Dean and Sal score a “driveaway” car at a travel agency in Denver, for delivery to a ritzy Lakeshore address in Chicago. Needless to say, the car is somewhat the worse for wear when it finally gets home.

Dean Moriarty 1937 Ford

1937 Ford Sedan

In the fourth trip, this is the rattletrap car that gets the boys to Mexico City. It also, offstage as it were, gets Dean back as far as Louisiana where it finally gives up the ghost.

1937 Art Deco Greyhound

1937 Greyhound Bus

It always comes a surprise to readers who first read On the Road to learn that Sal Paradise spent hardly any time hitchhiking. When he couldn’t boost a ride with Dean, in the cars listed above, he was comfortable in taking the bus. He logged many more miles on Greyhound buses than he ever did beating his shoe leather hitchhiking.
This is an example of the buses that, while they were ten years old or more at the time, were still rolling on American highways in the late 40s and early 50s.

The Links:

Note: These links to other websites are not — and could never be — all inclusive. Do your own search and stumble onto some terrific sites that deal with the phenomenon that was — and remains — On the Road and the Beat Generation.

Footnote 1: “Fringies” may have been just a Seattle or West Coast phenomenon. I dropped out of college in early 1964, which was at the start of the Fringie movement in Seattle’s University District, and I remember some great times hanging out, listening to folk music and drinking espresso coffee in the great Beat coffee houses that littered “The Ave”, such as The Pamir House and The Edge.
See Countercultural Seattle Remembers the Fringies for more information. Later of course we all became Hippies.


These maps are brought to you by Dennis Mansker, the author of A Bad Attitude: A Novel from the Vietnam War, as part of my general “presence on the Internet” page, which you can click on here if you want more information.

Live Music Clubs and Coffee Bars in Soho, London in the 1950s and 60s

This blog was originally published on the web site Sixties City where you can find more information about Swinging London! It doesn’t include some of the legendary folk venues like Bungie’s and Les Cousins but it certainly gives a comprehensive background to British Jazz , Rock & Roll and Mod culture. It’s interesting to note how short lived some of these places were but had a significant long term impact. This is also true for the many coffee bars in my home town of Leicester that were imitations of the London trend but had a massive influence on the local live music scene with places like the Green Bowler, the Nite Owl, The Chameleon and the Casino Ballroom.

A couple of years back I visited the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool where the Beatles started.When it was opened it was based on the 2is Coffee Bar in London where most of the early British Rock & Rollers played. It is incredibly well preserved and gives a real insight into the Coffee Bar trend of the 60s. The fact there was no alcohol served meant they could open when they wanted, even all night, and created a real live culture that was full of confidence and cultural aspiration. This is where the success of the British music industry was really established.

Of particular interest to me was the club called the Scene which obviously became the template for many similar clubs around the country during the height of the Mod era. Like them it was very short lived but shone with an intense and powerful light during it’s existence. Until relatively recently I knew nothing about this club but all the regular acts like Georgie Fame and his Blue Flames, The Graham Bond Organisation and Geno Washington and his Ram Jam Band also played often at the Nite Owl and probably many other clubs up and down the country.

Soho occupSoho Square, circa 1700ies an area of London about a square mile in size whose boundaries are generally accepted as being Oxford Street to the north, Leicester Square to the south, Charing Cross Road to the east and Regent Street to the west and includes the area known as ‘Chinatown’ which sits between Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue. These are fairly modern delineations as the original area has never been formally identified, either geographically or administratively. To the north of it is Fitzrovia, with St. James’s to the south, Covent Garden to the east and St. Giles and Mayfair to the west.

The area was open agricultural and grazing land in the Middle Ages, when it was owned by the Abbott and Convent of Abingdon and the Master of the Hospital of Burton St.Lazer (also the custodian of the Leper Hospital of St.Giles), until it was ‘acquired’ by Henry VIII, during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, for use as a royal park attached to the Palace of Whitehall.

The name of the area ‘Soho Fields’ seems to have first come into use during the early part of the 17th century and is believed to originate, for whatever reason, from an old hunting cry, which is not unlikely as the area had probably been used for ‘royal hunts’ during that period. The cry of ‘Soho!’ is certainly known to have been used as a rallying call in the Battle of Sedgemoor at the end of the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, many years after being adopted into general use for the London area.
Some of the land passed from the crown to the 1st Earl of St. Albans, Henry Jermyn, in the mid-1600s, and 19 acres of it was subsequently leased to brewer Joseph Girle who acquired building permission for the land before passing on the lease to Richard Frith in 1677. Frith, a bricklayer by trade, initiated the major construction in the area.

Soho Square c.1816The land to the south, that was to become the parish of St. Anne, was gradually sold off by the crown in parcels during the 16th and 17th centuries, some of which was acquired by Robert Sidney, the Earl of Leicester. Freehold of the bulk of the area was granted to William, Earl of Portland, by King William III in 1698. The intention of the various landowners was to try and develop the area in the same way as nearby Marylebone, Mayfair and Bloomsbury but, although attracting a few aristocrats to the likes of Soho Square and Gerrard Street, it failed to retain any long-standing popularity as a residence with the rich of the country. It did, however, attract immigrants, particularly French Calvinist Huguenots, that led to it becoming known as ‘The French Quarter’ in the latter part of the 17th century.

After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 around 15,000 Huguenots fled France to avoid the religious persecution and by 1711 almost half of the parish of Soho was French. There is still a French Protestant church at 8/9 Soho Square that they founded in 1891 – 1893.
Developed during the late 1670s, Soho Square was a very fashionable place to live in its early years. It was originally called King’s Square in honour of Charles II and a statue of the king, created by Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber, was the centre piece of the Square in 1681, atop a fountain whose four spouts represented the rivers Thames, Severn, Tyne and Humber. . It was removed during alterations to the square in 1875 and eventually placed on an island in a lake at Grim’s Dyke, where it remained until 1938 when it was restored to its present location. Its name was changedfrom King’s Square to Soho Square sometime after 1739 and two of the original houses, numbers 10 and 15, still remain. The British Board of Film Censors (now The British Board of Film Classification) was created in 1912 by the film industry, who much preferred to retain regulation of their own censorship rather than have the government do it for them, and established itself in Soho Square.

Frith Street, named after developer Richard Frith, was built around 1680. In the 18th and early 19th centuries the Bohemian influence of the area was increased by the artists, writers and other historical notables who were born, died or moved into the area in general and in this street in particular. Legal reformer Samuel Romilly was born at number 18 in 1757.
BMozart blue plaque Sohoetween 1764-5 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, together with his sister and father lodged at number 20. Painter John Alexander Gresse was here in 1784 (the year he died) and John Horne Tooke (a philologist and political figure) and artist John Constable lived here in the first decade of the 1800s. Actor William Charles Macready was living at number 64 in 1816 and essayist William Hazlitt lodged and wrote at number 6 until his death in 1830. Sculptor John Bell resided here in 1832-33 and lithographic artist Alfred Concanen worked out of a studio at number 12 for many years.
In the 20th century, John Logie Baird lived and ran his laboratory at number 22 (now occupied by Bar Italia) where, on 26th January 1926, he first demonstrated his television to Royal Institution members.
Poet William Blake was born in Soho, Shelley composed poetry in Poland Street, Casanova carried out his seductions from Greek Street when he visited London in 1764 there and Karl Marx worked on ‘Das Kapital’ while living in 54 Dean Street and also at number 28, in the building that is now the Quo Vadis restaurant. The principles of ‘The Communist Manifesto’ were laid out at a meeting in the Red Lion pub in Great Windmill Street. Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith frequented a coffee house at number 33 and next door, at 33a was Walker’s Hotel where Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson stayed before embarking for Trafalgar. Other notable political agitators residing in the area at various times included Guiseppe Mazzini, Louis Blanc and bomber Martial Bourdin, whose attack on the Greenwich Observatory in 1894 was the basis for Joseph Conrad’s novel ‘The Secret Agent’. The King Bomba delicatessen at 37 Old Compton Street was where the owner, Emidio Recchioni, and other Italian anarchists plotted the assassination of Benito Mussolini in 1931.

Over the century between about 1750 – 1850 the character of the area continued to dimPeter Berthoud - A bizarre victorian bazaarinish. The aristocracy had already departed by the middle of the 18th century and, with the subsequent neglect and lack of development, other respectable families gradually followed. In 1816-24, a rare act of the Crown was passed resulting in 700 properties being demolished to create Regent Street as a boundary between the upper classes of Mayfair and the residents of Soho. Composer Richard Wagner and his wife are known to have stayed in The Kings Arms at 23-25 Old Compton Street in 1839, and also at another establishment then called The Swiss Hotel at number 44, which was later to become known as The Swiss pub and where Harry Webb and his backing band made the decision to become Cliff Richard and The Drifters in 1958.

In 1854 there was an outbreak of cholera in Soho, caused by a spring that had become contaminated by sewage, that was tracked down to a public water pump at the junction of Broadwick Street (then called Broad Street) and Lexington Street (then called Cambridge Street ) by Dr. John Snow. The original pump has long gone, but a replica remains, a few yards away from the John Snow public house, named in his memory. By the middle of the 1800s the area had largely become populated by small theatres, music halls and, inevitably, prostitutes.

Soho has been at the centre of London’s ‘sex industry’ for well over 200 years. Between 1778 and 1801 the notorious ‘White House’, a “magical” brothel fitted out with various mechanical contraptions designed to terrify the unwary, was located at 21 Soho Square and, in more recent times, before the introduction of the 1959 Street Offences Act, prostitutes packed the streets and alleys.

BSoho Door 2012y the early Sixties there were nearly 100 strip clubs and the area was inundated with stickers and postcards (known as ‘walk-ups’) advertising ‘French Lessons’ or similarly ambiguous services. The early Sixties also saw the introduction of a number of ‘sex shops’, initially by Carl Slack, which had expanded to just under 60 locations in Soho alone, by the mid-Seventies. A photographic studio at number 4 Gerrard Street was occupied by ‘glamour photographer’ and ‘girlie magazine’ publisher Harrison Marks, who was responsible for such publications as ‘Kamera’ until he broke up with partner and ‘model’ Pamela Green in 1967.

Gerrard Street is the main thoroughfare of ‘Chinatown’ and is named after Baron Gerard of Brandon, Suffolk, who commissioned the development of the land in 1680. It first saw an influx of Chinese residents in the 1920s, but did not become a significant ‘Chinese’ area until after WWII when the oriental population was expanded by the many refugees from other heavily-bombed parts of London.

By the start of the 20th century, with the further influx of immigrants who ran cheap eating establishments, the area continued to enhance its Bohemian reputation and increasingly became ‘the’ fashionable meeting place for artists, actors, writers and intellectuals. This, in turn, provided the essential basic clientele for the opening and growth of many more drinking houses and it was during this period that local pub landlords firmly established themselves in the area. Lyons specialised in large-scale catering and the three Corner Houses in Soho seated 9,000 people, and handled up to 15 sittings (135,000 customers) a day!

Cy Laurie Club 1956The development of its music scene, for which the area and name are now world famous, is generally considered to have evolved from just after the second World War at Club Eleven, a nightclub situated at 41 Great Windmill Street , that is now looked upon as the genesis of modern jazz music in Britain. Although it only had a two year lifespan between 1948 and 1950 it was significant in the development of a form of modern jazz known as bebop. It had two ‘house’ bands – one led by Ronnie Scott which included Lennie Bush, Hank Shaw, Tony Crombie and Tommy Pollard – the other led by Johnny Dankworth which included Bernie Fenton, Laurie Morgan, Leon Calvert and Joe Muddell. These 10 musicians, together with business manager Harry Morris, gave the establishment its name – Club Eleven. The club moved to 50 Carnaby Street in 1950 but closed down a few months later as a result of a police raid. Other notable local music establishments of the period were The Daybreak Club at 44 Gerrard Street, The 51 Club in Great Newport Street and The Harmony Inn, which was a seedy, ‘open all hours’ cafe on Archer Street that provided a late-night hang-out for musicians and music fans from the nearby Cy Laurie’s Blue Heaven Club (in Ham Yard, on the site of The Ham Bone club, which originally opened in the 1920s and became Cy Laurie’s Skiffle Club in the Fifties, but was best known for its jazz music). London’s first skiffle club ‘The London Skiffle Centre’ was opened in 1952 on the first floor in The Roundhouse pub, Wardour Street, by blues guitarists Bob Watson and Cyril Davies.

The basement premises of Studio 51 (originally just known as ‘The Studio’) in Great Newport Street were owned by Vi Highland. During 1950-51 various jazz ‘clubs’ were held on different nights featuring artists such as Johnny Dankworth, Joe Muddel, The Crane River Jazz Band and Chris Barber (‘Lincoln Fields’). From May 1951 five nights of the week were earmarked for modern jazz, and these were named ‘Studio 51’, under Joe Muddel’s musical direction. When Ken Colyer returned from his New Orleans trip in 1954 a ‘club’ with his name started on Monday nights and, by 1955, it was also host to the Johnny Dankworth ‘club’ and a band led by Harry Klein. Ken Colyer’s single ‘club’ night expanded to four with the increase in popularity of trad jazz and modern jazz was largely dropped, with the venue then being known better as The Ken Colyer Club rather than Studio 51. The 1960s saw rhythm and blues taking over from trad jazz with Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, The Yardbirds and John Mayall performing there, as well as The Rolling Stones who had a residency there in 1963, although The Ken Colyer ‘club’ continued until the late 1960s.Although thought of as a comparatively modern thing, the influx of Italian immigrants saw Bar Italia being opened at 22 Frith Street, in 1949, by Lou and Caterina Polledri. It still opens 22 hours a day, is home to a Mod scooter club that meets every Sunday at 6pm and has an original 1950s Gaggia coffee machine. There was a ‘renaissance’ of coffee houses in the Fifties, but it really exploded when Gina Lollobrigida officially ‘opened’ the Moka coffee bar at 29 Frith Street in 1953, which boasted London’s first Gaggia expresso machine. Achille Gaggia had patented the espresso machine in 1938, a machine that applied steam pressure to ground coffee, extracting its flavour to create a rich, creamy foam layer. An improvement ten years later incorporated a spring that applied additional pressure, allowing the production of a short black espresso in just fifteen seconds.

Italian-style espresso bars sprang up everywhere, almost overnight, initially in Soho but rapidly spreading across the capital and the country, sparking a revival in the popularity of the drink among the younger generation who were precluded from alcohol-serving establishments. The Moka was a huge success, selling over a thousand cups of coffee a day and it survived until 1972 when it closed under strange circumstances. Beat legend William S. Burroughs was not impressed by The Moka and believed it to be responsible for an ‘outrageous and unprovoked discourtesy and poisonous cheesecake’. He decided to mount a sound-and-vision attack, as he had previously successfully done against the Church of Scientology at 37 Fitzroy Street. He maintained that ‘as soon as you start recording situations and playing them back on the street, you create a new reality’ and that constant exposure to such attacks would lead to ‘accidents, fires and removals’. He stood outside The Moka every day, taking photographs and making tape recordings, returning the next day to play the previous day’s recordings. On October 30th 1972, the Moka Bar closed.

Ma2Is coffee bar Sohony of the new espresso bars attracted the clientele of the local youth by featuring the live music for which the area was already famous, including the ‘Heaven and Hell’ in Old Compton Street and the ‘Top Ten’ in Berwick Street but the most famous of these was undoubtedly the 2i’s, in the basement of 59 Old Compton Street, which was previously a steak bar, bought and opened in its new form in 1956 by ‘Doctor Death’ – a famous masked wrestler and wrestling promoter of the time called Paul Lincoln. The establishment’s name is believed to relate to two brothers who were previous owners. The 2i’s also featured live music and was a popular venue for artists and acts hoping to be ‘discovered’.

Some of the future stars who performed there were Cliff Richard, Hank Marvin, Jet Harris, Tony Meehan, Brian Bennett, Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking, The Vipers, Tommy Steele, Russ Sainty, Tony Sheridan, Rory Blackwell, Joe Brown, Clem Cattini, Screaming Lord Sutch, Mickie Most (as The Most Brothers), Paul Gadd (who became Paul Raven and later Gary Glitter), Johnny Kidd, Big Jim Sullivan, Terry Dene, Carlo Little, Richie Blackmore, Alex Wharton, Jay Chance, Wee Willie Harris and Eden Kane. Peter Grant was employed there as a ‘bouncer’ prior to his career as the manager of Led Zeppelin and Marc Bolan worked there as a waiter. The bar was featured in Cliff Richard’s second film, ‘Expresso Bongo’, made in 1959.

Subsequent to the success of the original 2i’s, the owners established a new venue at 44 Gerrard Street, initially known as the new 2i’s but which was later to become ‘Happening 44’ where Fairport Convention played some of their first gigs. The various establishments all found their niche in the society of the area and tended to attract their own specific clientele from the various ‘cultures prevalent in the area including the Edwardian ‘teddy boys’, the bohemians and, slightly later, the homosexual community who found the bars less threatening and more sociable than the strongly heterosexual clubs and other locations than they had previously had to use for furtive liaisons and gatherings.
Prior to 1957, The Wolfenden Report and a police crackdown on homosexual meeting places, basement and attic bars in venues such as Take 5, The Casino, No.9,The Huntsman and The Alibi had been favourite haunts until frequent police ‘raids’ drove them underground.
Also prevalent in the Fifties was the Beatnik culture, whose followers steeped themselves in beat poetry, jazz, jive dance and political debate and who also favoured the newly-introduced establishments such as Chas McDevitt’s ‘Freight Train’, The Stockpot, La Roca, Melbray, Le Grande, Universal, El Toro, Las Vegas, Le Grande, Sam Widges, Melbray, The French, The Picasso and Le Macabre in Wardour Street with its coffin-shaped tables.

The owner of Le Macabre (and also the New Yorker restaurant), Tony Mitchell, went on to buy premises in SW7 at 3, Cromwell Road and created The Cromwellian Club, soon to be joined in the business by professional wrestlers Judo Al Hayes ‘The White Angel’, Bob (Anthony) Archer nicknamed the ‘Wrestling Beatle’, ‘Rebel’ Ray Hunter and Paul Lincoln, aka ‘Doctor Death’, who owned Soho’s 2is coffee bar.

In bars like the 2i’s that featured live music, fees for appearing were a rarity, performers usually being recompensed with free coffee and Coca Cola, as they also were in another nearby establishment, The Cat’s Whisker, which was owned by Peter Evans who went on to found the Angus Steak House chain. Another fondly-remembered hang-out was the ‘Coffee Ann’ that catered almost exclusively for the music club-goers. Situated down some steep steps in the basement of a warehouse in Whitcombe Street, it was known for staying open into the early hours of the morning but was rarely, if ever, open during the day. ‘Les Enfants Terrible’ at 93 Dean Street was another expresso café venue that featured live music and was mainly frequented by many French students.

H2Is coffee bar plaque, Sohoowever, the coffee bars are most strongly remembered and identified as being the focal point for young people ( now becoming generally identified as ‘teenagers’), embracing the new musical sounds being imported into the city’s culture. This came about due, in equal parts to the ‘fashionable’ drinking of Italian coffee, the bright and modern furnishings, the provision of the exciting new music that they loved and the fact that, unlike public houses, they were not subject to licensing laws meaning that anyone of any age could enter and the places could stay open all the hours that they wanted, serving non-alcoholic drinks such as coffee and cola.

There was also the added attraction of a greater female presence due to the less threatening and ‘public’ nature of the coffee bars compared to the male-dominated pubs and clubs. In January 1966, towards the end of the ‘coffee bar’ era, ‘The Goings On’ was opened in Archer Street organised by a group of Liverpool beat poets including Johnny Byrne, Spike Hawkins and Pete Brown. The bar happily functioned as a sort of ‘beat club’ on Saturday afternoons, spending the rest of the week operating as an illegal gambling establishment.

Places known as ‘clip joints’ also started to appear in the early Sixties, swindling tourists who were looking for ‘a good time’ by selling them low quality liquids as ‘champagne’, at vastly inflated prices, with the unfulfilled promise of the services of the female ‘hostesses’. The Compton Cinema Club, a ‘private member’ establishment to circumvent the law, opened at 56 Old Compton Street in 1960, becoming the capital’s first sex cinema.

The owners were Tony Tenser and Michael Klinger, who produced some of the early Roman Polanski films such as ‘Cul-de-sac’ and who also owned the premises that had previously been a Beatnik club, turning it into the ‘Heaven and Hell’ hostess club, just across the road from the 2i’s coffee bar on the corner of Dean Street and Old Compton Street.

Muriel Belcher, ‘a theatrical Portuguese Jewish lesbian of Welsh extraction’, was the founder and proprietor of a private drinking club called ‘The Colony Room’ (also known as Muriel’s) upstairs at 41 Dean Street in 1948 (next to The Groucho Club), having previously run a club called ‘The Music Box’ in Leicester Square during WWII. Although public houses had to close at 2:30pm, she managed to acquire a 3pm-11pm drinking licence for The Colony Room bar as a ‘private members’ club. The club had some notoriety, not only for its clientele and its sickly green décor (a bright green room decorated with bamboo, mottled mirrors, leopard-skin barstools and plastic tropical plants), but also for the personality and sexuality of the owner herself – she attracted many gay men to the club as well as those brought there by her Jamaican girlfriend, Carmel.

George Melly said of her, “Muriel was a benevolent witch, who managed to draw in all London’s talent up those filthy stairs. She was like a great cook, working with the ingredients of people and drink. And she loved money”. Belcher was famous for her rudeness, a trait which became part of the club’s ‘culture’. Members included George Melly, Francis Bacon, Peter O’Toole, Dylan Thomas, Louis MacNeice, Charles Laughton, E.M. Forster, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Tallulah Bankhead, Mary Kenny, Lady Rose McLaren and John Hurt. On her death in 1979 it was taken over by her long-term barman, Ian Board (known as ‘Ida’) until his death in 1994, then by veteran barman Michael Wojas, and Dick Bradsell until its closure. It was popular with artistic types, particularly those known as ‘Young British Artists’, (YBAs), who included Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin.

D5 Denmark Street Sohoenmark Street first appears on land surveys dating from the 1730s situated in an area known locally as ‘The Rookery’ which was basically an unplanned slum that was mostly cleared and redeveloped by the end of the 1800s. It is one of the very few roads in London that still has original 17th century terraced facades on both sides. It is a short and narrow road with St. Giles High Street to the east and Charing Cross Road to the west, particularly renowned for its connections with British pop music, and is generally regarded as the British ‘Tin Pan Alley’.

The industry connections are many and not just limited to its large number of instrument-selling and music-related establishments. Melody Maker was first published there in 1926 and The New Musical Express was founded on, and published its first British music chart from, the first floor of number 5 in 1952.

Denmark Street was the place to be for songwriters and music publishers during the Fifties and early Sixties and it was in the bars and cafes around the area that a young writer named Lionel Bart , more famous for his musical show scores, listened to the R&B sounds brought back from America by merchant sailors, inspiring him to write some of the first British rock’n’roll music, mainly for Larry Parnes‘ artists. In the early days his co-writers included Tommy Hicks (Tommy Steele) and Mike Pratt (actor probably best known as the ‘alive’ partner in the TV series ‘Randall & Hopkirk – Deceased’).

The Regent Sounds Studio opened at number 4 Denmark Street in 1963, one of the first in the area, and The Rolling Stones recorded their first album there in 1964. Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder also recorded there, as did the ‘British Bob Dylan’, Donovan, and it was one of the first studios to install a 16-track sound recorder. David Bowie allegedly couldn’t afford a flat here and chose to live in the street in a camper to be closer to the studios and, slightly more recently, The Sex Pistols lived and recorded their first demo tracks above number 6. The Beatles’ George Harrison is said to have purchased an acoustic guitar in Denmark Street which was used on the track ‘Til There Was You’ on their second album ‘With The Beatles’ and Elton John is supposed to have written ‘Your Song’ there. Denmark Street was also the ‘birthplace’ of the SciFi comic empire, ‘Forbidden Planet’.

Between Wardour Street and Dean Street there is a connecting alley called St.Anne’s Court where The Blue Gardenia Club existed for a short while at number 20 during the early Sixties. Managed by Brian Casser (Cass, of Cass and The Cassanovas) whose claim to fame is allegedly being the first venue in London where The Beatles ever performed, on the 9th (or possibly 10th) December 1961. This was apparently an impromptu set played by Paul and John, with Pete Best on drums, while George (who had the ‘flu) chatted with one of the clientele.

Almost next door, at number 17, is Trident Recording Studios, the first in the UK to install 8-track recording and where The Beatles recorded ‘Hey Jude’, four of the tracks for ‘The White Album’ and ‘I Want You’ from ‘Abbey Road’. Ringo Starr’s ‘Sentimental Journey’ album, George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ and much of his ‘All Things Must Pass’ triple album were also recorded here as was Paul McCartney’s production of Mary Hopkin’s ‘Those Were The Days’. On the edge of Soho, situated at 31 Whitfield Street (Fitzrovia) was the CBS ‘Hit Factory’ where, in December 1966, The Jimi Hendrix Experience recorded their first album ‘Are You Experienced’. The Clash also recorded their first album there in 1977.

The number of live music establishments increased considerably during the Fifties, taking advantage of the new sounds arriving from America and the emergence of modern British music talent alongside the already established jazz and R&B establishments. This, inevitably, attracted the younger generation who had more money than ever before and were eager to break away from the grey days of post-war society.

From this melting pot came the Modernists, or ‘Mods’, embracing the new music and evolving their own hairstyles, fashions and culture, and who were to ‘adopt’ certain of these new music establishments as the ‘in’ places to be, although pretty well all the clubs had a Mod clientele to a greater or lesser extent. The best-known of these were The Flamingo, La Discotheque, The Scene and The Marquee Club.

The Flamingo Club (which also incorporated weekend late-opening sessions known as the ‘AllNighter’) was located at 33-37 Wardour Street and evolved from Jeffrey Kruger’s ‘Jazz at the Mapleton’ which began life in August 1952 at The Mapleton restaurant in Coventry Street, moving to Wardour Street in 1957. Jeffrey Kruger was to become a major music promoter, later forming Ember Records and the TKO Group. During its early life the club featured a resident band containing the likes of Ronnie Scott, Tony Crombie, Tommy Pollard and Joe Harriott and attracted notable live performers such as Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. In 1959 it was re-launched as The Flamingo Club where, in 1962, it was the venue at which the infamous fight between Aloysius ‘Lucky’ Gordon and Johnny Edgecombe over a girl named Christine Keeler occurred, a link in the chain of events that was to explode into British political history as ‘The Profumo Affair’.

The Flamingo was a ‘jazz’ club until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, when the ‘AllNighter Club’ club kicked in, which would remain open until about 6a.m. Although the establishment was known to be one of the main centres of Mod culture, it was frequented by fans of both jazz and R&B, from many ethnic groups, and it is generally accepted that it helped significantly in breaking down the old post-WWII racial prejudices in the area. Specialising in the R&B sounds loved by the Mods, The Flamingo probably had the dearest entrance fee, £1-10shillings (£1.50 – about £24 in today’s money) because of the top acts it featured.

Georgie Fame outside Flamingo Club SohoRegularly appearing at the venue were Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames (who released a full LP titled ‘Rhythm & Blues at The Flamingo’ in 1964), Chris Farlowe and The Thunderbirds, Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band, Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band and Shotgun Express, who featured an artist called Rod Stewart. Members of other major groups of the time such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix were all regular visitors. In the mid-Sixties the club attracted many major artists from the other side of the Atlantic such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley and His Comets, Stevie Wonder and John Lee Hooker.

The club was renamed The Pink Flamingo (aka The Flamingo at The Temple) in the mid-late Sixties and finally closed its doors a couple of years later. Also located at 33-37 Wardour Street, on the upper floor of the same premises, was another live music establishment, the Whiskey A-Go-Go where, in March 1958, Buddy Holly gave a press conference prior to his 25-date tour of the UK. Although arguably less popular than The Flamingo, it had a certain ‘chic’ as it was one of the few clubs that was licensed to sell alcohol and survived until 1981 when it changed its name to The Wag Club, enjoying something of a revival for a time. In 1996, in a strange ‘full circle’, it was boosted by the introduction of the Sixties-inspired ‘Blow-Up’ sessions, finally closing its doors in 2001. The location is now in use as one of the O’Neill’s Irish theme pub chain.

The Scene Club SohoWith its entrance situated in Ham Yard, off Great Windmill Street just behind Piccadilly Circus, The Scene club (formerly The Piccadilly Club) had previously been a jazz club featuring both records and live acts that had, by 1963, been ‘adopted’ by the Mods. To accommodate its ‘new’ clientele it was remodelled and re-opened in March 1963 with DJ Guy Stevens spinning the latest records from America via a Duke Vin sound system. Guy was also one of the originators of the Chuck Berry Appreciation Society, instrumental in bringing Chuck Berry to Britain for his first UK tour.

In 1964 the man who ‘discovered’ Millie Small and turned her into a pop star with ‘My Boy Lollipop’, Chris Blackwell, employed Stevens to run his Sue Record Label company. After serving a jail sentence for drug possession in 1966 Stevens was to go on to produce Procol Harum (named after Stevens’ cat!), Free, Mott The Hoople and the ‘London Calling’ album for The Clash. Live entertainment was provided by a number of ‘house’ bands including Zoot Money, Graham Bond, Georgie Fame and, on occasion, The Animals, who appeared as part of what was something like a ‘work exchange’ scheme of the time. Such was its reputation as the Mods ‘HQ’ that all the ‘faces’ congregated here and it was visited on a regular basis by representatives of the TV music show ”Ready Steady Go” to choose audience members and dancers to appear in the ‘live’ shows to exhibit the latest fashion trends and demonstrate new dances.

Set in a basement, the main décor was matt black with red toilet walls. Membership of the club was 1 guinea, (21 shillings or £1.05 – about £17 today) after which there was also an entry fee which apparently varied according to the entertainment available. As with some other clubs such as the Whisky-A-Go-Go, Tuesday nights were free to members, other nights were about 1 shilling (5p) except the ‘all-nighter’ on Saturdays (a favourite night for police drug raids) which would set you back 5 shillings (25p – about £4 today). Hands were stamped and once down the stairs and through the ‘bat wing’ doors, you were in a surprisingly small, low-ceilinged area, dimly-lit with blue fluorescents. There was a non-alcoholic bar, the DJ’s area, an undersized stage area with a ‘baby grand’ piano and a number of ‘booths’ with tables along the far wall, the rest of the area being occupied by the dance floor. The club was managed by an entrepreneurial Irishman called Ronan O’Rahilly who also managed several of the acts, including Graham Bond and Georgie Fame, and owned his own independent record label.

The music industry of the time was something of a cartel that was monopolised by the big labels such as Pye, Decca, Philips and Columbia records, as Ronan discovered when he tried to get a Georgie Fame recording played on the BBC and Radio Luxembourg. The situation was, to him, completely unacceptable and he found a unique way around it by setting up the pirate radio station Radio Caroline off the coast of Essex in international waters. The Scene lasted until 1966 when the Mod era started to dissipate and I believe it became the King Creole club for a time until it finally closed down. Sixties City Pirate Radio History

Marquee Club Soho

Also in Wardour Street was the legendary Marquee Club. Originally opened on April 19th 1958 as a jazz, skiffle and blues club located at 165 Oxford Street, featuring acts such as Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and was the venue where, on 12th July 1962, The Rolling Stones played their first live gig.

It relocated to smaller premises in an old Burberry warehouse at 90 Wardour Street in the spring of 1964 when its opening night acts included Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds. Although not an ‘essential’ Mod club, with its staple R&B and Blues music, it still attracted many now-famous acts, such as Manfred Mann, The Who, The Spencer Davis Group, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and The Yardbirds, The Moody Blues and Long John Baldry.

In late 1966 it staged the Sunday afternoon ‘Spontaneous Underground happenings’ that featured the latest in ‘psychedelic rock’ music, including a young Pink Floyd, led by Syd Barrett.

It also hosted Led Zeppelin, King Crimson and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. The Moody Blues hit ‘Go Now’ was recorded by Alex Murray, their manager, in a homemade studio in a garage at the back of the club and also produced the UK’s first ‘pop’ promotional video. It is said that the Marquee Studios were largely financed from the profits of this one record.

The club relocated to Charing Cross Road in 1988 when it was believed that the vibrations from the sound system had caused damage to the structure of the building’s façade. Although the original entrance remains, known as Soho Lofts apartments, the main club area was demolished and replaced with a Terence Conran restaurant.

Just a few doors down from The Flamingo, at number 17 Wardour Street, was La Discotheque which was a little different in that it did not feature live acts but established itself as London’s first real ‘disco’. In the mid-Fifties the notorious Notting Hill slum landlord Peter Rachman decided to expand his ’empire’, building up a chain of gambling clubs and, in 1956, opened the El Condor club under the management of Raymond Nash, one of the Lebanese gangster family. The El Condor was one of ‘the’ places to be in the late Fifties and boasted a clientele that included royals such as the Duke of Kent and Princess Margaret. It was re-launched as La Discotheque in the early Sixties, featuring curious Bohemian décor, including toilets and bedsteads. This was also to have a connection with the Profumo Affair due to Rachman’s involvement with Mandy Rice-Davies who, with dark hair, can be seen with Rachman in photographs of the club’s opening night, and who was to famously throw a drink in the face of one of the Kray brothers in an incident at the club.

In Carnabv Street, before the Mod fashion boutique ‘boom’ when the narrow side street consisted of a brick warehouse along one side and contained only a few clothes shops and a newsagents, was The Sunset Club – home to jazz and Caribbean music which played until seven in the morning. It provided a place for musicians to get together when their own clubs closed for the night and was, racially, totally mixed, there being no such thing as a purely black clientèle at that time. Under the ownership of a larger-than-life character called Count Suckle ( real name Wilbert Augustus Campbell) it became ‘The Roaring Twenties.

The Count had come to the UK in 1952 as one of the ‘Windrush’ generation, along with the celebrated Jamaican DJ Duke Vin, who is credited with setting up the first hi-fi sound system in the UK and who provided sound systems for several local establishments. Charles Brown, (who was the Jamaican landlord of murderer John Christie at 10 Rillington Place) was the doorman at the Sunset club. Count Suckle also owned The Cue (later ‘Q’) Club in Praed Street, Paddington, and was later to start his own record label, Q Records (a subsidiary of Trojan Records). The sounds consisted largely of Ska/Blu Beat (later known as reggae) and the music of the likes of The Kingsmen, Doris Troy, Etta James and Otis Redding, both as a disco and with live performances. Georgie Fame also appeared here.

The Bag o'Nails SohoAnother club in close proximity to Carnaby Street was the ‘Bag O’Nails’, affectionately known as ‘The Bag’, at 8/9 Kingly Street, opened by Rik and John Gunnell (in November 1966) who were already part of the local club scene. In the heart of the Sixties fashion and music world it was an important part of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ society. Using the DJ’s booth, The Jimi Hendrix Experience played their first UK gig there in December 1966 and the internals of the establishment have changed little to the current day. The club was a popular celebrity venue, somewhat more ‘up market’ than other venues in that it provided food and drink as well as live music.

Apart from the many celebrities who frequented it – almost a ‘who’s who’ of British Sixties music, it is also known as being the meeting place of Linda Eastman and Paul McCartney at a Georgie Fame gig on 15th May 1967. Paul recalled “I saw this blonde across the room and I fancied her. So when she passed my table I said something stupid like Hello, how are you? Let me take you away from all this”. Linda commented ” It was like a cartoon. It sounds silly, but our eyes met and something just clicked”. Also said to have met here for the first time were the (later) Fleetwood Mac members John and Christine McVie. On the other side of the coin, it is alleged that Elton John spent an evening drinking here in 1968 with Bernie Taupin and Long John Baldry who spent the entire time talking him out of his upcoming marriage at which Baldry was going to be best man.

CThe Bag o'Nails Sohoarl Douglas & The Big Stampede had a 14-night residency during the opening fortnight. Band member Tony Webb “We’d been playing at the Bag O’ Nails the night before and had left the gear there. When we went in [the next day] all of our gear was off the stage to one side. We didn’t know it at the time but this guy who we now know was [Jimi] Hendrix and his three-piece band was playing onstage with photographers. We were more annoyed that our gear had been taken off the stage!”

Also nearby, 4 Kingly Court housed The Pinstripe Club which was frequented by celebrities such as Oliver Reed, Steve McQueen, George Best, Richard Harris, Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. It closed down as a result of the 1963 scandal where John Profumo was forced to resign as Secretary of State for war over allegations regarding an affair with Christine Keeler, the mistress of a Russian spy, at the height of the Cold War. The same general clientele returned when it re-opened as The Kingly Club, becoming known as ‘the haunt of the rich and infamous’.

Geoffrey Worthington and ex-policeman William Bryant opened a club, similar in concept to The Scene but essentially aimed at the homosexual community, in a basement in D’Arblay Street in 1964, called Le Duce, following a failed attempt to operate a discreet bar called The Lounge in Whitehall. The new establishment stayed open all night on Saturdays, favouring mainly Motown and Blue Beat music, and had a vigorous entry policy that was, by all accounts, fairly successful in keeping out undesirable and disruptive elements.

Mods aside, there were a number of jazz clubs in the area, by far the most famous of which is Ronnie Scott’s. It originally opened on 30th October 1959 in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street, moving to its present, larger location at 47 Frith Street in 1965. The original club continued to exist, known as ‘The Old Place’, as a ‘proving ground’ for new talent until its lease expired during 1967. Managed by musicians Ronnie Scott and Peter King, it was a live music establishment and the galaxy of stars who have appeared at the venue over the years are far too numerous to mention, as well as the number of performances ‘recorded live at Ronnie Scott’s’. Pete Townsend and The Who premiered their rock opera ‘Tommy’ at the club in 1969 and it is also famous for being the venue of Jimi Hendrix’s last live performance.

Following Scott’s death in December 1996, King ran the club for a further nine years until June 2005 when it was sold to theatre impresario Sally Greene.

Known as The Skiffle Cellar prior to the Sixties, Les Cousins (reputed to have taken its name from the 1959 Claude Chabrol film of the same name) was an innovative folk and blues club located in the basement of a restaurant at 49 Greek Street. Its décor included fishing nets and a large wagon wheel and it was extremely popular with more progressive artists in the field during the mid-60s folk music revival, with a number of live albums being recorded there. It is noted for having an influence on the careers of such musicians as Bert Jansch, Alexis Korner, Paul Simon, Al Stewart, Davey Graham, John Renbourn, John Martyn and Roy Harper.

SiRonnie Scott's at  39 Gerrard Street, October 1959, prior to opening.tuated at 100, Oxford Street, The 100 Club was originally called The Feldman Swing Club, becoming The London Jazz Club in 1948, The Humphrey Lyttelton Club in 1954, Jazz Shows Jazz Club and then, in the mid-60s, The 100 Club. The Ad Lib Club was located on the top floor of the Prince Charles Theatre at 7, Leicester Place, was a hang-out for the ‘beautiful people’ and is alleged to be the place where John Lennon and George Harrison shared their first LSD trip. Other clubs in the area included The Jack of Clubs in Brewer Street, The Alphabet Club in Gerrard Street which cost 10 shillings (50p – about £8 today) to get in, The St.Moritz Key Club in Wardour Street, Le Kilt, Club St.Germain and La Poubelle in Poland Street.

Opposite the 100 Club at number 79-89, was the short-lived Tiles Club (previously known as ‘Beat City’), which opened in March 1966 in a remarkable subterranean area. One of London’s best-kept secrets are the hidden and underground rivers and waterways that run through it.

One such river runs through the basement of Gray’s Antiques on South Molton and Davis Street and can be seen through a glass floor. It is thought that the river once ran across Oxford Street with a riverside roadway, due to there being a cobbled street with door arches and building frontages that apparently still exist in an area two floors below the ground.

Tiles Oxford StreetIn the Sixties this was known as ‘Tiles Street’ and formed a part of the Tiles Club complex with late night shopping in the businesses that established themselves in this underground shopping arcade’. The club itself occupied a large open space with a coffee bar at one end and ‘Tiles Street’ was off to one side. The catacomb of small shops included a beauty parlour, a record shop and various clothes and accessory shops, including a boutique for women called ‘Plumage’.

The club itself, unusually, was open at lunch times during the week, running an ‘all-nighter’ on Saturdays, and hosted an impressive number of live acts during its short existence, although it never gained the ‘cult’ status of the music establishments that had been in on the ‘ground floor’ of the culture change in the earlier years.

Tiles Oxford StreetIt had a superb, very reliable (but not hi-fi) PA system installed by Imhof’s, a record retailer in New Oxford Street, with speakers that ran all around the dance floor, which is not so surprising when you know that one of the club’s backers was a guy called Jim Marshall who owned the Marshall Amplifier company. The regular DJ was the ubiquitous Jeff Dexter, who was famous for disco gigs around the London clubs with his Jeff Dexter Record And Light Show. Tiles Oxford Street

The club closed on Sunday 24th, 1967, unable to continue after the owners lost a fortune from their investment in an unsuccessful Woburn Abbey music festival, and the DJ presiding over their last night was John Peel. The site existed as an aquarium for a time during the Seventies that made way for redevelopment of the area in the Eighties.

Of course, the Sixties British cultural and music ‘boom’ went hand in hand with the revolution in fashion, and at the heart of it was a man called John Stephen and a run-down narrow lane in Soho, called Carnaby Street .

My Favourite Albums of All Time Part Two

This is the second part of my favourite albums of all time. You can find the first part here My Favourite Albums of All Time Part One.

6. Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

VanMorrisonAstralWeeks

Astral Weeks is unique like many of the albums on my list. I’m not that much of a Van Morrison fan. I find most of his records fairly bland and stylised. I’ve heard most of them and am not that impressed apart from his early work with the seminal rock band Them. Here Comes The Night  is a genius three minutes of pop and Baby Please Don’t Go is the essence of R&B. Astral Weeks was recorded and released soon after Them split up. As already said, it is unique and genre busting. Yes, it’s kind of jazz, kind of folk and kind of poetry but more of an amalgam of all three with a dose of unintentional classical music thrown in. How it ever came to be recorded by a major label is one of the wonders of the late sixties when good music came to be commercial. Or was it? It was quite a long time before anyone heard it or was aware of it. However, it ranks as one of the most creative records released by a commercial record company ever.

Without knowing the full details behind the creation of this album I feel that it contains the essence of a real sadness and sense of loss. I don’t know this, I feel it! It is like a folk/jazz equivalent of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land with it’s evocative phrases and overwhelming sense of sorrow and psychic pain. This really IS the blues. Not the black American blues of the southern plantations and urban ghettos but the white blues of a psychologically dislocated Brit in the heart of Belfast, Northern Ireland. To add to the sense of alienation it was recorded in New York in 1968.

You know you’re in a different creative universe right from the word go. The first song Astral Weeks tells the listener that he is nothing but a stranger in this world and would like to be born again. The final song Slim Slow Slider describes a woman who has a brand new boy and a Cadillac but who is dying and every time I see you
I just don’t know what to do. The song ends in a blast of free jazz. Pretty bleak stuff!

In the meantime we have various shades of misery apart from The Way Young Lovers Do which is surprisingly upbeat and even optimistic. The real standout track is Madam George which in his Belfast/American drawl seems to sound like Madam JOY. He seems to plaintively be singing say goodbye to Madam JOY, wonder why for Madam JOY while the violins weep and intertwine around the three chord riff . Amazing stuff!!

7. Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan

blondeblonde

Blonde on Blonde is a truly amazing album. The first double album in history with a price tag to match. How did anyone afford to buy it? I don’t know but I certainly couldn’t. I had to make do with the single releases until years later when I had a girlfriend who owned it. No, it wasn’t her only attraction!

This record continues the surreal imagery of Highway 61 Revisited but his voice has changed and the playing seems thinner and less aggressive. It was a thin, mercurial sound. When I first heard I Want You on a radio in Glasgow I thought it was a joke, a bad imitation of Dylan but I was wrong. I bought the single and soon realized it’s brilliance. The B side contained the rarely heard since version of Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues recorded live in Liverpool 1966. With screaming feedback and yelled lyrics it’s a complete contrast to the studio version.

Dylan in the 60s never stood still and he was a complete enigma. Not only did his voice change with each record so did the way he looked. It was like he was trying to stay one step ahead of everyone but he couldn’t, especially the growing army of crazies who were hanging on to his every word and before long were going through his garbage in search of even deeper meanings.

The real standout tracks on this album in my opinion are Visions of JohannaSad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, Just Like a Woman and I Want You but the rest is incredibly interesting. The anger has been dissipated and he is investigating relationships and general absurdity. He’s like the bastard offspring of Albert Camus lost in an absurd universe. In fact, throughout the album there is an expressed desire not to have to go through all of these things twice. A really brilliant record!

8. White Light, White Heat by The Velvet Underground

163132

Dylan had the thin, mercurial sound but the Velvet Underground had the loud, distorted, grating  sound delivered to perfection on this second album. Nico is no longer present and the soft, folky ballads have gone apart from the song Here She Comes Now. The rest of it is self-consciously anti-beauty. According to Lou Reed the producer, Tom Wilson ( who also produced Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone), was so pissed off with the cacophony of Sister Ray that he left the studio and showed them the record button and told them to do it themselves. Fantastic, it’s one of my favourite tracks. Although, Andy Warhol was no longer involved with the Velvets his influence is still felt with the extremity of the lyrics and the overall sound.

Although it sold few copies when first released it became one of the biggest influences on British Punk Rock. Apparently The Buzzcocks formed  after members followed an advertisement looking for musicians who could collaborate on a Sister Ray cover.

Apart from the title song another truly great track is I Heard Her Call My Name which features uncontrolled guitar feedback accompanied with the cry of And then my mind split open by Lou Reed. It seems the band were disappointed with the recording of this because it didn’t match the energy or intensity of their live performance. Mercy!!

I actually bought this record when it was first released but I couldn’t convince many of my friends to share my love of it. In fact most of them thought it was terrible. How wrong they were!! Interestingly, Lou Reed was a very reluctant hero of Punk and, in fact, he had no time for it even though he is often presented as the ultimate Junkie Punk Persona. Many of his songs are quite complex both musically and lyrically and don’t fit into the simplistic barbarism of Punk. Okay, White Light, White Heat is the exception!

9. Hunky Dory by David Bowie

tumblr_l0hdtmBmwk1qa86nxo1_500

White Light, White Heat leads neatly into this album because David Bowie was a big fan of the Velvets. He featured that song in his live sets and even recorded it twice. He also references the Velvet Underground on the sleeve notes of Hunky Dory as an influence on the song Queen Bitch.

Hunky Dory didn’t sell much when it was released in 1971 but people in the right places were aware of it and liked it. Bowie says that it was the first album he made that other people talked about and were interested in. Until then he was a promising singer/songwriter who had had one big hit with Space Oddity. His record company still had a lot of confidence in him, obviously.

It is a surprisingly mature piece of work for someone who is still finding his voice. It ranges from total all out pop to introspective gloom. He includes songs about Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol which are hard to fathom. Are they hero-worship or sneering sarcasm? There seems to be a bit of both there. Andy Warhol looks a scream hanging on my wall, Andy Warhol silver screen can’t tell them apart at all. The sleeve is interesting in that he deliberately creates an androgynous image, based on a picture of Marlene Dietrich apparently. He is developing and extending the kind of cross-dressing and gender-bending that had already begun with Mick Jagger who wore a dress at the Hyde Park Free Concert in 1969. Bowie also wears a dress on the cover of his album The Man Who Sold The World.

This really is a seminal album that throws up all kinds of interesting things. When William Burroughs interviewed Bowie he said that he thought the 8 Line Poem was referring to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Bowie professed to know nothing about T.S. Eliot but, almost certainly, went away and found out about him because he was so in awe of William BurroughsBurroughs describes The Waste Land as the first cut-up poem, a technique that Bowie used in many of his songs.

One of the standout tracks is Life On Mars which along with O You Pretty Things illustrates one of the aspects I find most disturbing about Bowie’s work i.e. his flirtation with Nietzscheanism and the idea of the Superman. This idea features in many of Bowie’s songs e.g. The Man Who Sold The World, The Supermen etc.  I’m not saying he is a Nazi but he comes dangerously close at times, especially when he gave a Nazi salute in Berlin in the mid 70s (he blamed it on the coke!). Oh you pretty things don’t you know you’re driving your Mamas and Papas insane let me make it plain, you’ve got to make way for the Homo Superior! Hippie ideology this aint!! And it’s all wrapped up in a fluffy pop package.

This is a brilliant record, though and gets better with each play. I particularly like the Bewley Brothers. This song has a sense of mystery and loss about a musical group who obviously make a big impact but maybe were never famous (or were they like the Beatles?). Like all good poems you can draw your own conclusions and read many different things into it.

This album became a hit after the success of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. Ziggy made Bowie a big star but the standout record of this time, I think, is Hunky Dory.

10.  GP/Grievous Angel by Gram Parsons

Gram_Parsons-Gp_Grievous_Angel-Frontal

I discovered this record in 1975 about the first time I met Ric Grech. I was running a folk club in the top room of the Town Arms, Leicester U.K.at the time where many aspirational songwriters turned up. One night Ric arrived in his Ferrari with a violin and joined in. He had recently arrived from America having just made a record with super-group KGB. Okay, why he left LA and came to Leicester I don’t know but he was in awe of Gram Parsons and was interested in forming a country group with Leicester musicians playing his ( Ric’s) songs which were actually very good. He had collaborated with Gram on his two solo albums before he inconveniently died (Parsons that is. Ric inconveniently died some time later!) and two of the songs are written by him Kiss the Children and Las Vegas. He also had Gram’s guitar, a Gibson Dove, with him.

Gram Parsons had a big effect on people he met. English musician and hippie doctor Hank Wangford became a country singer because of his influence. By proxy, through Ric, he became a big influence on the local Leicester scene where many people turned to Country which had previously been a much maligned genre and was considered reactionary, corny and simplistic.

Parsons is considered the inventor of Country Rock but this isn’t apparent from his solo records which are actually quite traditional in many ways. He certainly didn’t like the sound of the Eagles who were becoming very successful at the time, members of which had played in various groups with him. What really stands out in his records are the ethereal quality of his songs, his voice, the brilliance of the band that included many top musicians like guitarist James Burton and the duets he sang with Emmylou Harris. In fact, after his death Emmylou Harris became a major star in her own right and continued Gram’s ideas for many years.

These records don’t leap out at you like Astral Weeks and others on this list but they definitely grow on you. Standout tracks include $1000 Dollar Wedding and Love Hurts. Gram and Emmylou are outstanding together, something that Bob Dylan picked up on when he hired Emmylou to sing on the Desire album. He also makes you aware of some really great country singers and songwriters that were not well-known at the time like The Louvin Brothers.

Definitely worth listening to, but give it time!

My Favourite Albums of All Time Part One

This is a tricky one. I’ve never been that impressed with ‘best of’ lists but I found myself sitting in a hotel room listening to music on my phone and I began thinking about what my favourite (and most influential) albums of all-time were. I say influential because as many of you know I am a musician and song-writer who has followed in the footsteps of many greats. It’s a hard choice but here’s my favourite 20. I’ve limited myself to two albums by the same artist or else they would probably be all by Bob Dylan ! I also realise, having completed the list, that, with the exception of the first 5, the rest are in no particular order. I’m also aware that there are countless others that could, and probably should, be included. Okay, it’s a stupid idea but here it is!

1. Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan.

Highway+61+Revisited+Bob+Dylan++Highway+61+Revisite

Okay, what can I say about this album apart from the fact that it is probably the most inspired piece of work I have EVER heard (notice the Dylanesque emphasis) and I’m not just talking about music! I have read reports about the session and all participants agree that something very special happened here. It contains, in my opinion, the greatest rock song of all time “Like a Rolling Stone” but this is not really the essence of the album. It stands apart and, indeed, was produced by a different person from the rest of the record. The remainder contains Dylan at his most aggressive and elusive best. The most interesting song, again in my opinion, is Desolation Row, a surreal trawl through 20th Century culture and ideas. “Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower, while calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers”. This isn’t just poetry and music it is an assault on the senses and intellect! “The Agents” and “The Superhuman Crew” check to see that no one is escaping to Desolation Row. The famous voice that people either love or hate is at it’s expressive best. Like many albums on my list this one is unique. There was nothing like it before and there’s been nothing like it since. Even the titles of the songs were a new departure with weird names like “Queen Jane Approximately”, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Ballad of a Thin Man” that seemed to have nothing to do with the lyrics of the songs but probably did have. Pop music had found Symbolist poetry and the kids loved it!! (Well, this one did). It stands alone and sounds forever modern and archaic at the same time. Dylan himself has said that he had no idea how he wrote the songs and wouldn’t be able to do them now. The musicianship is impeccable especially the electric guitar playing of Mike Bloomfield and the acoustic lead of Charlie McCoy imported especially from Nashville for just one track!

2. The Songs of Leonard Cohen220px-SongsOfLeonardCohen

If Bob Dylan in the mid sixties was on an amphetamine fueled creative voyage into oblivion Leonard Cohen was on a quietly mannered journey back from it. This album emerged in 1968 and gradually became a bedsit legend as many sad young men and women took the songs to heart. Okay, it has been called music to slit your wrists to and Cohen’s voice has probably been even less complimented than Dylan’s but to those in the know this is an album of beautifully crafted songs whose underlying message is surprisingly optimistic completely unlike the eternal whinging of say Morrissey and the Smiths who actually DID create music to slit your wrists to. Cohen’s songs deal with ideas that had seldom been dealt with by popular music before. Despair, spirituality, sexual love and he wrote like a real poet which of course is what he was. He was also a well known novelist before he became a singer and a songwriter. A very different pedigree to most of the pop singers and rock and rollers at the time. He was a remarkable performer though and managed to follow Jimi Hendrix at 4 in the morning at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival and still get a standing ovation. Producer Bob Johnson was so impressed with him that he gave up producing and joined his band as a keyboardist. This was his first album and contains classics like “Suzanne” and “Hey That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”. My favourite is “The Stranger Song” that manages to evoke feelings of loss, alienation and redemption. ” And then sweeping up the jokers that he left behind you find he did not leave you very much not even laughter. Like any dealer he was watching for the card that is so high and wild he’ll never need to deal another.He was just some Joseph looking for a manger”. It also has his trade mark guitar ripple which is quite difficult to do. The perfect song for existentialists.

3. The Velvet Underground & Nico

The Warhol Banana cover is more well known but this was the original cover in the UK.
The Warhol Banana cover is more well known but this was the original cover in the UK. The record label is wrong. It should be black.

If Leonard Cohen was the poet laureate of despair and alienation the Velvet Underground were like a sound track to the heroin drenched ravings of William Burroughs in “The Naked Lunch”. Here we have tracks like “Heroin”, “The Black Angel’s Death Song” and “Waiting for the Man” complete with drones and excruciating feed back. This is like the antithesis of pop music, both disturbed and deranged. Not surprisingly it was neither played on the radio nor bought in any quantity by the general public at the time. It has since of course been cited as one of the greatest records of all time and was a massive influence on punk rock. Famously produced by Andy Warhol (or should that be non-produced as he knew nothing about music or record production!) it also contained some sweet ballads dealing with wholesome events like “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, “Femme Fatale” and “Venus in Furs” that reference both mental insecurity and sado-masochistic sex. Not your typical pop song.! This is a truly adorable record that managed to both scare and make me smile. Lou Reed thinks that if it had NOT been produced by Warhol it might have sold a lot more as he was so universally detested at the time (Warhol that is. Lou Reed has only become detested more recently!) and his name on the record put people off. On the other hand it would never have been released as it is without his influence. Some PROPER record producer would have cleaned it up and totally ruined it.

4. Strange Days by The Doorsfreecovers.net

You may wonder why this record by the Doors is so high up the chart and not their dazzling first LP. Well, the answer is simple. Apart from a couple of singles like “Light My Fire” I missed the first one and went straight into “Strange Days” which I think is absolutely brilliant. The sound of the Doors is wonderful and the quality of Jim Morrison’s voice is just perfect. He described it as “sick crooning” as he had based it on the sound of Frank Sinatra. Mind you, he doesn’t sound much like Frank when he bellows out “Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection!!” He was a great lyricist who raided the poems of William Blake and created something new. The final song “When the Music’s Over” is monumental and gives the impression of spontaneity and improvisation. Morrison introduced performance poetry to pop music and created the way for great artists like Patti Smith. I just love the line “Before I sink into the big sleep, I want to hear the scream of the butterfly”. It has been said by some critics that this album is not as good as the first and they used up all their best songs on that one. I disagree, I think this is just as good and,in my mind, perhaps even better. Mind you, I also love “Waiting for the Sun” and even the song “Hello, I Love You” which attracted some derision at the time because it was seen as cynically commercial (and plagiarised The Kinks)! I guess the Doors can do no wrong for me!

5. Revolver by The Beatles220px-Revolver

In a similar way that I missed the first Doors album I also missed “Rubber Soul” by the Beatles. If I hadn’t have done it would probably have been my favourite Beatles record. As it is, I didn’t listen to it in it’s entirety until years later! However, “Revolver” still stands up as the most ambitious Beatles record until that date. “Sgt. Pepper” is probably more ambitious but it is not as interesting, in my opinion, with the exception perhaps of “Day in the Life”. “Revolver” totally knocked my socks off. From the opening count-in of “Taxman” to the wailing drones of “Tomorrow Never Knows” I was captivated. This was music I had never heard before and I loved it! It also had the first real use of Indian music. Sure, George had used the sitar on “Rubber Soul” but here we have a full Indian ensemble including tabla with George crooning mystically over the top of it. Totally brilliant!! There is also the first use of experimentation with the recording of reverse guitar tracks and tape loops. The Beatles are growing up and trying new things! This record probably has the Beatles playing together at their best. George’s lead guitar playing has improved and changed considerably. Ringo’s drumming has never been better. John and Paul’s voices are perfectly matched. It is interesting that in the same year that they gave up playing live they produced their tightest recordings ever. Songs like “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “She Said, She Said” are miniature gems of great writing and playing. Oh, and the sleeve’s pretty cool as well!

DAVID BOWIE EXHIBITION

David Bowie Exhibition (reprinted from ‘That’s Not My Age‘)

Starman suit.

Bowie Mania has come to town – and I like it. Record advance ticket sales (an astounding 47 thousand) for the V&A’s exhibition and a number one album highlight this 66-year old superstar’s enduring appeal. From the Ziggy Stardust neon flash in the foyer, to the floor-to-ceiling surround-sound Bowie Fest in the penultimate room, this exhibition documents the artist’s life, sound and vision-style. And if there’s one artist who’s life is worth documenting in a world-class museum, here he is. Stereo headphones for the soundtrack – thankfully there’s no Tin Machine – and banks of video screens for the Man Who Fell To Earth visuals, immerse visitors in the World of Bowie.

More than 300 objects from His Majesty’s personal archive – wonky handwritten lyrics, naive sketches, even a crumpled up tissue with Bowie’s lipstick on it (much redder than you’d imagine) – are on show for the first time. I’m not a fan of blockbuster shows, Art Rage is something I can live without, but it was worth being jostled by journalists and clobbered by cameramen at this exclusive preview. I loved seeing the stage costumes, over 60 of them – the teeny tiny waisted, pale blue suit from his Life On Mars video, the Aladdin Sane knitted all-in-one, designer gear from McQueen, Mugler and Slimane – plus photos and videos of the artist’s many guises, are a reminder of Bowie’s radical individualism and his massive influence on fashion, style and popular culture. Not that we ever needed one.

Knitted Love: Aladdin Sane
Remember when everyone wore Bowie pants?
Diamond Dogs suit.
Photo: Terry O’Neil.

Towards the end of the show there’s a ‘David Bowie is all around you’ installation, highlighting his impact on musicians/artists/fashion designers/Tilda Swinton, and The Periodic Table of Bowie by Paul Robertson (poster available in the museum shop).

As the Jon Savage quote goes, ‘David Bowie has lasted. To the public he is beyond a pop star.’

And now I’m off for a lie down. I’ll be dreaming of BBC2’s feature length profile on Bowie scheduled for May.