Daytime, nighttime, every week you can hear that music play
Every rhythm, every way
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For over 60 years, studios and publishing houses on Denmark Street, on the edge of London's West End, have been associated with British pop culture, playing host to such acts as Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and more recently, groups like Mumford & Sons. Barely 100 yards in length, it was the birthplace of the British music business.
Andrew Oldham, the man who "discovered" the Stones, wrote in his memoir, "The wooden hanging signs that denoted five or six music publishers per square foot swayed in the afternoon breeze, while the storefront windows were flooded with the sheet music of the day. The piano copies were fronted by 8x10 glossy shots of young, tousled men with eight-quid guitars and crucifixes, worried 30ish crooners in cardigans and sucking on pipes a'la Bing Crosby, or flair-skirted, peroxide-topped, smiling damsels of song." Just to give you a mental picture of what it looked like in its heyday.
Denmark Street in London
photo: trecca CC 2.0
The Kinks recorded the demo for their most well-known hit, "You Really Got Me
," and later in their career wrote a tribute to the street. But things change and life moves on, as Denmark Street is doing. Recording studios, rehearsal studios, guitar shops, live music venues, and sheet music and instrument shops have all been shoved aside to make way for the redevelopment of the area. It used to be a musical mecca. Now, it's becoming a non-musical mess.
Denmark Street was the epicenter of the British Invasion in the mid-1960s, and since then it was a tiny corner of London that maintained a counter-culture personality, avoiding high-end shopping chains and big business that slinked into every other street. There are no McDonald's or Starbucks on Denmark Street... not yet anyway. Unfortunately, they're probably coming, and coming soon. Instead, what you had there resembled the West Village in New York, or Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. The flip side will argue that the big players have long since moved on to other areas of London, but that doesn't change the fact that the quaint street is still home to much of the alternative culture not centered around tourists or rich people. Rockers and musicians still gathered there and it felt good.
In addition to the closing of the last recording studio, the 12 Bar Club also closed down. The bar was a centerpiece of the live music scene for decades. According to the Guardian
, "It was rough around the edges and a lot of the bands were rubbish, but it was open late and satisfyingly cheap to get in. The jukebox was great, the toilets were awful."
The farewell party at the 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street
photo: Su--May, CC 2.0
Jeff Buckley played there. Adele even played there. Sounds like the quintessential rock bar, doesn't it? And now it's gone the way of the dodo; the street where Elton John got his start as a 17-year-old Reggie Dwight, parceling sheet music and making tea, will soon follow.
"It's definitely not what it was," songwriter Guy Fletcher says. "In those days everybody who was anybody in the business was on Denmark Street." Fletcher would agree with Dave Davies in all likelihood. The Kinks didn't put Denmark Street on the map, but they honored it in a way no other band has. Davies' brother Ray, who sang lead with the band and wrote most of their songs, sings:You go to a publisher and play him your song
He says I hate your music and your hair is too long
But I'll sign you up because I'd hate to be wrong
That line speaks volumes about the way the recording industry had operated from the '60s until the '90s. The suits took it over until rock and roll became an industry of "cool." Now that it's going away, it's definitely uncool. I'm sure The Kinks would agree with me. ~ Justin Novelli
January 27, 2021
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