I read so many books and magazines on rock music and its history/stories that at one stage considering cities such a New York, Austin, Chicago, Berlin or London as key rock places is really obvious. However, as one knows, there is sometimes difference between theory and reality…but this is not the case for London. This is not obvious at first although you realise quickly there are more quality gigs than anywhere in the world. Then although a few of them have been closed throughout the years there are probably more record stores than any city in the world. But the real difference comes from the other options available when one is looking closely and the fact that this is not fake but really part of the culture of this city.
One of the best moments I experienced last year was to attend a Master Class held by Alan Parsons at the prestigious Abbey Road Studios. Alan Parsons is better known by the general audience for a few hits he had in the late 80’s with the Alan Parsons Project (hello “Eye in the Sky” for instance) but for rock aficionados he is famous for his role as young sound assistant on The Beatles “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” LP’s when he was only a 19-year old young man and later as the main sound engineer on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon” album. Many hifi sellers from the late 70’s and early 80’s own this man a few quids as this album was very often used in stores to show the quality of the hifi equipment. Quite moving and unique opportunity also as the conference was taking place in Studio 2, where the Beatles recorded around 190 of the 210 tracks they have in total (I count on Beatles geek fans to precise the exact number).
Interviewed by the excellent journalist David Hepworth, the 90 minutes I spent there were a complete joy, especially when he played on the original piano the “Lady Madonna” intro or when he showed us how he and Pink Floyd created the sounds heard on their worldwide hit “Money”. There is a cool Abbey Road store full of memorabilia nearby and you can of course walk on the famous zebras!
Choosing between the Beatles and the Stones is like choosing between mum and dad so let’s embrace them both (although depending on the mood of the day one clearly prefers of these two bands). I went to the Saatchi Galery to visit Exhibitionism, the Rolling Stones exhibition curated and closely followed by Sir Jagger. The man is currently more active than ever these days as he is also a co-producer with Martin Scorcese of the excellent “Vinyl” HBO series, held in the mid-70’s in NY city. Putting the Rolling Stones in a museum may look like a weird idea as they were probably the antithesis of such a thing when they started their career…but the times they are a’changin’.
Do not get me wrong here, the exhibition is clearly recommended for Stones and rock music fans as the curators have gathered an impressive collection of guitars, clothes, movies, etc… The studio room in particular is a delight by the way it has been re-created and by the number of beautiful guitars owned by Keith Richards and Mick Wood throughout the years. My only problem is that I have been having with the Rolling Stones for many years now ; they want so much to control all business around their names that the exhibition lacks a bit of authenticity. I would have liked to know more about the real role of the late Brian Jones during his last years in the band or for instance more context about what the band has been in England during the 60’s and 70’s. Funny as well how Bill Wyman has been almost erased from their history. Once again, clearly recommended if you are in London but could have been even better.
Musicals on the West End are a key thing to do when you visit the city as a tourist and are the equivalent of Broadway shows in NY. I have always been sceptical about the quality of these shows but I think it was more contempt and ignorance on my side than anything else. I must admit that my only experience was the amazing “Love” musical by the Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas in 2009 so I thought it was a good moment to check this. I had read great reviews on the “Sunny Afternoon” musical based on the story of the seminal band The Kinks lead by the two Davies brothers. Ray Davies (genius songwriter) has always had a love and hate relationship with brother Dave but they really made their best work when collaborating together, not that dissimilar from a certain 90’s Mancunian band…
Held in the nice Harold Pinter theatre, literally 300 yards from Piccadilly Circus, the show was the best homage one could find in such a musical. I think Ray Davies has been closely consulted for the show as it describes so well what London was between 1964 and 196, showing at the same time the energy and optimism of the swinging 60’s without forgetting the fact that the working class was quite far to live the same kind of thing. The actors playing the band are particularly amazing bringing fresh air with an amazing quality in the musicianship (specific mention to the actor playing Dave Davies on guitar). And the songs… “Dead End Street”, “You Really Got Me”, “Dedicated Follower of Fashion”, “Waterloo Sunset”, “Sunny Afternoon”, “Lola”,…the list is endless. Not sure why they did not make my Top 100 as I have always been a huge fan… Anyway, if you spend a few days in London, go and see this play.
On top of these two examples, a couple of pictures below taken near home and showing that London will never forget great musicians. Unlike what James Murphy would sing on NY with LCD Soundsystem, London I love you and you are never bringing me down.
To read more on London, please go to the post I did last year on the Jam at the Somerset House or to the great week-end I spent a few years ago to attend the “David Bowie is…” exhibition at the V&A museum.