Guide to British Music of the 1960s

October 2023

Book Review: Denmark Street - London's Street of Sound by Peter Watts

Denmark Street is one of the best-known streets in British musical heritage. This new book by Peter Watts covers the history of the street and it is fascinating. Streets change over time and buildings have history. Nowadays Denmark Street, or Tin Pan Alley as it is regularly referred to, is widely viewed as the centre of the UK music business. However, the street has changed over the years and it is only from the 20th Century that Denmark Street became associated with music. However, things change and the make-up of the street, even within the music industry has changed. From the home of music publishing to musical instruments and even the 21st Century developments, Denmark Street has reflected the changes within the music industry.

St Giles had a history as a deprived crime-ridden area, even before music publishers moved in! For those who do not know the area, Denmark Street is located off Charing Cross Road, a short walk from the bustle of Soho, Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street. There are many music venues within a short walk. It is only a short road but, despite this, many of the building have a fascinating history. Songwriters would hawk their songs around publishers. Musicians would buy the sheet music and that was how songwriters and, more so, publishers would be paid. This changed during the 1960s when the power shifted from the publishers to the writers and artists. Thank you John and Paul.

In the 1960s La Gioconda coffee bar was a meeting spot for musicians. Davy Jones met the other members of the Lower Third here. The Rolling Stones could be seen and Steve Marriott was known to hang around in pre-Small Faces days. Reg Dwight was a messenger for Mills Music and he was later signed by Dick James, the publisher, as Elton John. James was also involved with the Beatles as Northern Songs was a joint venture between Dick James Publishing, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Brian Epstein. Regent Sound Studios was said to be quite basic but the first Rolling Stones LP was recorded there. Acid Jazz later set up a recording studio. This even included Kenney Jones' Faces drum kit. The Sex Pistols had a rehearsal space at number 6 and, apparently, John Lydon's "art" is still on the walls. Steve Jones and Glen Matlock actually set up home here.

Later the street became the place to purchase, or just browse, musical instruments. There were several shops, many owned by the same person. Rod Argent of the Zombies opened a keyboard store called Argents. Those days musicians would pop into see what was new and add to their collections. Some of these shops have now disappeared in the reconstruction of the area but Rose Morris appears to have survived.

There was not a lot of live music in the street although the 12 Bar Club did have a run at number 26. This has recently been relaunched as the Lower Third in tribute to Bowie's beginnings.

I must admit to a small personal connection. I regularly walked past the street when working in the West End and, of course, the guitar shops, were like a magnet. One day I ended up with a Rickenbacker 330 but why not? I also visited the 12 Bar Club for the launch of the BeGlad Incredible String Band Compendium where I had a discussion with the then Archbishop of Canterbury about hedgehogs. If you know, you know. This evening when Mile Heron played a set is mentioned in the book.

This is a quick book to read, well it is a short street. The history of the street is very interesting with the evolution over time reflecting the evolution of the music business. Hopefully, the recent redevelopment work will preserve this heritage while making Denmark Street appropriate for the 21st Century.

Published: 15 September 2023

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