THE BLOG

Five Mythical Places from Rock Music History in London's West End

11/06/2013 16:24 BST | Updated 10/08/2013 10:12 BST

1. Birth of the Music Video

From Trafalgar Square, turn left into Strand and right behind the Savoy Hotel. Follow this street - called Savoy Street - and turn right into Savoy Hill until you come to the small chapel on your right hand side. It was here, on this corner with Savoy Steps to your right, where the modern music video was born - or, at the very least, its arty and "conceptual" variety.

The video of the song "Subterranean Homesick Blues" had originally been planned as a trailer for the "rockumentary" about Bob Dylan's British tour of 1965, but it soon turned into a typical 1960s style happening: filmed as a spontaneous, ready-made slice of conceptual group art and made with the assistance of everybody who happened to hang around at the time in Dylan's hotel room at the Savoy. (Donovan and Joan Baez helped to write the paper boards, and you can see the poet Allen Ginsberg pottering around in the background.)

The clip has a home-made, "let's-shoot-the-video-right-here" energy about it, and Dylan is in top form, sneering and seemingly full of contempt for the whole process, for the world, for you - without a doubt the coolest cat in London town.

2. Last Show of the Fab Four

In the late 1960s, no. 3 Savile Row, located across Regent Street in posh Mayfair, was the HQ of the Beatles' Apple company, and when, on 30 January 1969, the Fab Four needed a place for an improvised open air concert to conclude their film Let It Be, they did not look far - and decided, more or less on the spur of the moment, to set everything up on the rooftop.

"We went on the roof in order to resolve the live concert idea, because it was much simpler than going anywhere else", George Harrison later remembered, "also because nobody had ever done that. So we thought, it would be interesting to see what happened when we started playing up there. It was a nice little social study."

The concert lasted a total of 42 minutes before some London bobbies - "What's all this then?" - arrived and put an end to the "public nuisance", famous pop musicians or not.

Five songs were eventually cut into the film, including this clip...

... easily the most famous section of what is, probably, the most celebrated gig in rock music history. Certainly one of the most poignant, since this was the last ever public performance of rock music's premier outfit.

3. Sex, Drugs and a Strong Cup of Coffee

The West End is a place that rocks around the clock: in the evenings, live music can be heard all over the bars and small venues of the area, while in the daytime, musicians flock to the large number of recording studios that are still operated all over Soho.

Over the years, a dense infrastructure has developed to cater for the needs of the people who spend entire days huddled over recording desks - such as take-away restaurants, for example, all-day breakfast cafeterias and coffee bars.

The West End's most celebrated caffé espresso is served on Frith Street (near the corner with Old Compton Street) at the legendary Bar Italia, open for business from 7 a.m. to 5 a.m.

"There's only one place we can go, it's round the corner in Soho, where other broken people go - let's go!" sings Jarvis Cocker for Pulp, and Dave Stewart - the former front man of the Eurythmics - is apparently planning to write a whole musical about the place.

4. The Most Famous Venue in Rock n Roll

The Marquee Club originally opened in 1958 on 165 Oxford Street - this is where the Rolling Stones played their first ever gig in 1962 - and moved to Charing Cross Road in 1988, but it undoubtedly spent its peak years as rock music's most famous joint in the building at no. 90 Wardour Street.

Practically every band that was famous at the time played here at least once, including Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the Sex Pistols.

In this clip from a French documentary, you can see how small the stage of the club was - not big enough, in this case, for the band and the guy with the camera.

Since the band in the clip is The Who, you also get a chance to see Keith Moon in action on drums.

Of all the musicians who ever played here, he is the one whose name has made it, for reasons that are not altogether clear, on to the Blue Plaque that is attached to the outside walls of the building.

5. An Empty Bench in Soho Square

For the last stop on our little tour, I would like you to sit down for a while on the bench in Soho Square that has been dedicated to the singer Kirsty McColl (it's near the ping pong tables and the equestrian statue), watching the "pigeons shivering in naked trees".

"There's an empty bench in Soho Square: if you come, you'll find me there."

Kirsty McColl - a hard-working folk singer with two recent top-ten singles under her belt - was 41 years old when she was killed by a speeding powerboat while taking a swim with her two young kids on a family holiday in Mexico. (She was able to push the kids out of the way, just in time.)

The case is notorious because the speedboat was owned by one of Mexico's richest men, who also happened to be on board at the time. The Mexican court, however, found that it was not him but a deckhand who had piloted the boat. The court sentenced the deckhand for culpable homicide and eventually set him free after he paid a penalty of £61.

Every year since her death in 2000, Kirsty McColl's fans have gathered near the bench in Soho Square on the Sunday nearest her birthday (10 October). "I hope to see those pigeons fly in Soho Square on my birthday."

Head over to Easy Hiker where Michael Schuermann provides you more detailed guides for themed walks in London (Swinging London and Crime London).