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Saturday, 19 May 2012

London Pub History: Musical Heroes


‘Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the Streets Of London.’ So sang Ralph McTell in his 1969 song about the city’s losers and loners. Keith Barker-Main takes Square Meal readers on a more upbeat trip down memory lane to watering holes that played a part in shaping London’s rich rock’n’roll heritage.  

The City Barge: perfect for Paperback Writers

27 Strand on the Green W4 3PH 8994 2148
Having tangled with sinister Scottish bagpipers, The Beatles take refuge in a riverside pub. Ringo mistakes a lever disguised as a beer glass for his pint. Pulling it, he inadvertently opens a trapdoor under him and plunges into a cellar that houses a man-eating Bengal tiger. Yes, it’s a scene from wacky 1965 film Help! While half of the Fab Four are sadly no longer with us, that same pub (minus the tiger) is. Located on the Thames towpath by Kew Bridge, here's a super spot for supping Cask Marque accredited ales while penning your next novel. Let’s face it; the plot couldn’t be more preposterous than that of Help! - whose soundtrack - Ticket to Ride, I Need You, Yesterday et al - is, however, utterly sublime.

The Clissold Arms:  for Dedicated Followers of Fashion

105 Fortiss Green Road, N2 9HR NW2 020 8444 4424
Liverpool gave the world The Beatles, London - or Muswell Hill to be precise - those kinky lyricists, the brothers Davies, Ray and Dave. Signed to Pye Records the lads ditched their band’s previous name, The Ravens, for a groovier handle, The Kinks. Following 1964’ chart-topper You Really Got Me, came global hits such as Waterloo Sunset, Lola and Dedicated Follower of Fashion, a hymn to Swinging London.  Having played their maiden gig here, the Muswell Hillbillies returned in 2010 to inaugurate a memorabilia-lined room named in their honour. Now a stylish gastropub, the Clissold’s smart terrace is perfect for eating alfresco on a Sunny Afternoon.

The Dublin Castle: where to wear Baggy Trousers

94 Parkway NW1 7AN 7485 1773
Camden is to rock what Chelsea once was to fashion. While King’s Road has long since lost its groove, the beat goes on in NW1. Catch four bands live each night at the Castle, the sort of homespun place blokes will tell their future grandchildren about: ‘I was there when (insert 2050’s global megastar’s name here) played their first ever London gig.’ Will recent turns The Worms, The Red Bullets or The Gypsy Switch enjoy the success of Blur, Supergrass, The Killers, 3 Colours Red, Travis and The Arctic Monkeys, all of whom played here?  It’s hard to imagine his health-conscious missus digging the DC’s grimy dishevelment, but Chris Martin’s Coldplay also graced its stage. As for Suggs of Camden nutty boys Madness, he’s virtually part of the furniture - hence those Baggy Trousers.

 The Hawley Arms:home of the Voice of the Beehive.

2 Castlehaven Road NW18QU 7428 5979
Voice of the Beehive was a group of late-80s Anglo-American girl rockers, but the beehive I have in mind was the ratty, raggedy nest belonging to the best soul-jazz voice of the Noughties. The much-missed singer of Valerie, Back To Black (22 million hits on YouTube and rising) and - oh, cruel irony - Rehab, could regularly be found in varying degrees of sobriety amongst friends at her second Camden home. Long a favourite with musos and comedians such as Noel Fielding, some locals now refer to it as Amy Shrinehouse. The Hawley survived a brush with death when a massive fire in 2008 destroyed its upper floors. Having burned brightly, Amy was less lucky. Raise a glass of Greene King IPA to her memory. 

 The Half Moon:  an Angel with a Lariat

93 Lower Richmond Road SW15 1EU 8780 9383 
Everyone from The Stones, The Who and Kate Bush to The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band had played this perennially popular Putney pub by the time a then unknown act appeared in the mid 80s. Picked out by a solitary spotlight, a be-quiffed androgynous creature in cowpoke gear accessorised with plastic farm animals might have been Morrissey in drag. Falling to the floor, flat on her back, and without instrumental backing, the curious vision launched into a spine-tingling version of Patsy Cline’ hit, Crazy - the most-played song of all time on US jukeboxes, should that question arise in a pub quiz. Thus, Ms K D Lang introduced herself to London. Now owned by Geronimo Inns, enjoy a pint of local ale Sambrook’s and get the Dr.Feelgood factor: the band is playing on 12th May in the live lounge, sensibly left intact during its recent makeover.

Miss Q’s: good for Ga Ga fans

180 - 184 Earls Court Road SW5 9QG 7370 5358
That’s fans of Ga Ga, as in Radio, not Lady - although Brian May’s flamboyant mustachioed late band-mate would surely admire the similarly outrageous Ms Germanotta. Miss Q’s, a basement pool bar/ live music lounge with a nice line in £8 ‘rocktails’ such as the Makers Mark-based Chuck Berry, was once Freddie Mercury’s local gay nightclub. At The Copacabana (yes, really!) he might expect to bump into the gayer half of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Erasure’s Andy Bell, a Pet Shop Boy, Jimmy Somerville, DJ Kenny Everett and, occasionally, another local, Lady Diana Spencer. She who would never be Queen, it’s said, often claimed ‘I Want To Break Free to hang out with the Boyz.’

Byron at The Intrepid Fox: sex’n’drugs’n’rock’n’roll? Nah! Burger’n’chips.

99 Wardour Street W1F 0UD 7297 9390
It’s alleged Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart almost came to blows here when the former invited Ronnie Wood (then in Rod’s squad, The Faces) to join The Stones. That was back when the Fox was a skanky, but fantastically atmospheric, dump of Whithnail & I proportions. Other patrons included Malcolm McLaren, his snarling punk protégés The Sex Pistols, and every indie rocker that ever wore black leather and guyliner. McLaren backed a campaign to save the Fox, but alas, to no avail. This is the only venue in our crawl where you are unlikely to hear live music played today. Fortunately for Siouxsie Sioux, Stooges and Marilyn Manson fans, there’s Intrepid Fox II at nearby 15 St Giles High Street WC2 Despite looking like extras from a Hallowe’en slasher film, the crowd won’t bite. Pop in for a Pernod and black after your burger and Sicilian red (£13.95) here and see for yourself.

Filthy McNasty’s: What Became of the Likely Lads?

68 Amwell Street EC1R 1UU 8617 3515 
What Became of the Likely Lads was the title of which 2004 single from that year’s next big thing? Score a point if you said The Libertines. The garage rock band's two main members, Carl and Pete, often gigged at this rakish scruff and the pub has also hosted Nick Cave, Johnny Depp and legendary caner Shane McGowan. Hard to believe that a decade ago, Doherty was being hailed as the saviour of British rock. Failing to live up to the hype, baby-face’s life became a shambles and The Libertines played their last gig here before they split. 'I think Pete's main problem is that he is fascinated by the dark side,' said the bar’s then manager. Well, that’s rock musicians for ya.

The Troubadour: old folk's home

263-267 Old Brompton Road SW5 9JA 7370 1434
The Troubadour (and indeed some of its Kerouac-manqué customers) belongs in another decade. How exotic its frothy coffee, stained glass, and louche boho decor (much unchanged since it opened) must have seemed in the grey years BE (before Elvis), when Vera Lynn and easy-listening trumpeter Eddie Calvert’s mournful Oh Mein Papa topped the UK charts. Since its launch, in 1954, as a folk venue aimed beatnik berets, its tiny cellar club has hosted some illustrious troubadours: from Hendrix, Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon via Elvis Costello to Morcheeba and Paolo Nutini. The cafe/ restaurant is good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails and wines from its fabulous off-licence. Even our future king has been spotted: Wills and brother Harry were in the house on a recent visit.

 Old Blue Last: It’s a future LDN thing

38 Great Eastern St EC2A 3ES 7739 7033
Music journalists love the peeling Dickensian grunge of this Shoreditch gaff - dubbed ‘the world’s coolest pub’ by NME and by The Guardian as ‘the cradle of British music’s future.’  Squeezed ten deep at the bar, some of its punters look not long out of the cradle themselves. The wonky fringes and skinny jeans are here to hear what others will be listening to tomorrow - as programmed by the guys at , a must for musos. As evidence, I offer you Hot Chip, Florence & The Machine, Mumford & Sons, Santogold, Jack Penate, Kate Nash, The Klaxons and The Noisettes, all of whom have blown an amp or two here in the past. In 1962 at The Cavern, you could catch The Beatles... or Cilla Black. Fast-forward five decades: at The Last, you might catch the new Fab Four. That, or Cilla’s 21st Century equivalent: Lily Allen. She of 2006 hit LDN, also played here. 'Any chance of a refund on my ticket, guv?'