London Calling

London is the number one place in the world for the rock and pop music fan. It is home to more music publishers, record labels and live music venues than any other city. Here are just some of the places and addresses that have played, or still play, an important part in the history of British rock.

If the postcode begins with W1, WC1 or WC2, then you know you are in the centre of London. And as it's such a large city, we will only concentrate on the central area to give you a taste of London's rock 'n' roll past.

For most of the past hundred years, the Soho district has been an exciting place for nightlife. The area is contained within the borders of the four tube stations: Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street. It became a Mecca for the young in search of excitement in the nineteen fifties. Today it still buzzes with pubs, bars, restaurants, clubs and places to hear and buy music.

Carnaby Street, on Soho's western border, was once the symbol of mid-sixties Swinging London, when the city was the world leader in pop and fashion. In 1959, John Humphreys opened a clothes store here at number 41, stocking the latest in American fashion. Soon after, the street was full of boutiques. Carnaby Street these days is a sad reflection of what it once was, with cheap clothes shops and even cheaper tourist junk replacing the formerly fashionable stores.

Berwick Street market is the centre of what is left of the red-light district, which previously made Soho famous (or rather infamous). The neon lights of a few seedy strip joints still line the street at night; but during the day it is a great place to buy records, both rare and second hand. The street is also featured on the cover of Oasis's second album, What's the Story, Morning Glory?

Although now full of new-media businesses, Wardour Street was once one of the most important areas for Britain's rock industry. For more than twenty years the famous Marquee Club was at number 90, hosting bands such as Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis, the Police and, before they became famous, the Sex Pistols. The Vortex (at 201 Wardour Street) was one of the centres of the punk movement in the mid-seventies, and the very trendy Wag Club (which remains at number 35) was the nightspot to be seen in in the 1980s if you were famous. 47 Frith Street is the home of Ronnie Scott's, the first and still the most important jazz club in London. All the greats have played Ronnie's, including Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, and Chick Korea.

Just around the corner at number 24 Oxford Street, is the Virgin Megastore. This is where the famous British entrepreneur Richard Branson began a small mail order record business in 1969. He then started his Virgin record label, whose first release was by the then unknown Mike Oldfield. The album Tubular Bells sold millions and made Branson rich and Oldfield a household name. Virgin Airways, Virgin Trains and many other enterprises have followed. The record shop is still there and is now said to be the biggest in the world.

East of Charing Cross Road, in the area known as Covent Garden, is tiny Denmark Street. This used to be Britain's Tin Pan Alley, where publishers, promoters, managers and songwriters worked. Today, if you keep your eyes open, you will still probably see a famous musician going into one of the many top musical instrument shops that now occupy the street. The New Romantics movement, including bands such as Culture Club, Depeche Mode and Spandau Ballet, began nearby in the early nineteen eighties, at a club called The Blitz (now members only).

If you go back down Oxford Street and turn left into the posh Mayfair district you will come upon Apple Corp, at 3 Saville Row, the Beatles' headquarters. The film Let it Be (1969) ends with John, Paul, George and Ringo playing their last ever gig together on the roof of these buildings.

Walk down Park Lane beside Hyde Park and pop in for a hamburger at the original Hard Rock Cafe (150 Old Park Lane). In 1971, two young Americans, Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton, opened this shrine to rock 'n' roll history. They decorated the place with rock memorabilia, and aimed to create the atmosphere of an American diner. The restaurant now has 60 branches worldwide.

Travelling west from Sloane Square tube station, Kings Road cuts through the heart of the wealthy Chelsea district. This is where the inventor of the mini skirt, Mary Quant, opened the street's first fashion boutique, Bazaar, in 1965. The street became a centre for hippies and everything psychedelic in 1967. In the seventies, all eyes were on number 430, Kings Road, where Vivien Westwood and Malcolm McLaren opened their outrageous clothes shop. Now called World's End, this was where Johnny Rotten met the other members of the Sex Pistols for the first time. The punk rocker was born there. In 1977 punks used to fight rival gangs in the streets around Kings Road every Saturday afternoon. In the eighties things calmed down, and punks with Mohecan hairstyles were happy to pose for tourists' cameras - and get paid for it!

These are just a few of the musical landmarks that litter the streets of London. If the centre has whet your appetite then try the areas of Camden, Notting Hill and Brixton. To find out what is happening this summer in London, pick up one of the many listings magazines, such as Time Out, that are sold in all newsagents. You will be spoilt for choice by the huge variety of places to spend your time, and your money.

Peter Gentle