Every person should visit London at least once in their lifetime. Not only does it have centuries of history, but it is also the birthplace of many notable musical figures and bands. If you are a musician and find yourself in London one day, here are five things that you should most definitely check out during your stay.
Handel & Hendrix in London
25 Brook Street is a very important address when it comes to music history. 25 Brook Street was the address of famous Baroque composer George Frideric Handel, who lived in the flat from 1723 until his death at the age of 74 in 1759. It was during this period that many of his works such as “Messiah” were composed and rehearsed at this very address. Fast forward several hundred years and 23 Brook Street (within the same building) would house the late-great Jimi Hendrix, known as a pioneer of the electric guitar and rock music as we know it today. Jimi was known for his innovation on the electric guitar and pushing it to its absolute limits in his rock style, both in his lead playing and also his rhythm playing as he accompanied himself singing, a style that would go on to influence generations of guitarists after his time right up until the present day.
Today Handel & Hendrix in London gives us a unique insight into both time periods when both of these musical icons resided at the property, set up as they would have kept them with period correct decor, instruments, and other memorabilia such as magazines, cigarette packets and vinyl records. For fans of either Handel or Hendrix, this is a must see destination to walk the halls as your heroes did all those years ago, and imagine what their daily routine would have looked like at the time.
You simply cannot be a guitarist visiting London and skip out on Denmark Street! Known for having a rich musical history, from being the home to music publishers and record labels from the 1950s, then later recording studios and music shops. A few names that you may have heard of that have recorded on Denmark Street in recording studios of the past include The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Black Sabbath.
Today Denmark Street is absolute guitar heaven, housing a strip of boutique guitar stores where you can find everything from newer mass produced guitars for any working musician or novice guitarist, right through to vintage and collectable instruments from the last hundred years or so. If you look close enough you may find a genuine ’59 Les Paul Standard, pre-war Martin acoustic guitars, or many other exotic instruments from the 1800s. Some must see shops include Regent Sounds with a selection of newer boutique guitars pedals and amps and also the occasional seminar with notable guitarists of the present, Hanks with multiple floors of rare and vintage guitar goodness, and Sixty Sixty Sounds with the best selection of Gibson guitars you’ll find perhaps anywhere with a team of friendly and extremely well-dressed staff.
Abbey Road Crosswalk
If you’re a fan of The Beatles or just a music fan in general, then walking the Abbey Road crosswalk just as The Beatles did for the cover of their eleventh studio album is most definitely on your list of things to do in London! The photo itself was taken outside Abbey Road Studios whilst the band was recording the album, or as it was known back then EMI Studios (later renamed due to this iconic album). You may want to allow a little bit of time for the many other keen Beatles fans lining up to snap their own personal moment of music history, and if you’re driving you may be waiting a while for the cues of pedestrians! Fun fact: this album cover was the only album artwork from The Beatles that did not contain either their name or the album name, Apple Records creative director explaining “we didn’t need to write the band’s name on the cover … They were the most famous band in the world”.
Now that you’ve hit up a few guitar shops and taken in the rich musical history of London, you’re probably itching to get up and play! London has an amazing blues culture, and is evident when looking at all of the notable bands already mentioned who were influenced early on by blues music to take it more into rock n’ roll territory. If you’re looking to get up and play some blues with other local blues musicians there are an abundance of great jam nights around the city which provide a great platform for musicians to get up and jam and meet other like-minded musicians. Just off of infamous Carnaby Street you will find Ain’t Nothin But The Blues Bar which serves up authentic blues music seven nights a week. Like many of the coolest spots in London, this venue is very cosy which gives it a real vibe when packed out with blues enthusiasts. Monday and Sunday night are good nights to attend if you are looking to get up and jam, a sign up sheet usually floating around the crowd for keen jammers.
If you’ve just finished up at Ain’t Nothin But and are still keen to jam on, The Blues Kitchen in Camden also have a well attended Sunday blues jam which will often go into the early hours of the morning. A similar crowd to Ain’t Nothin But, The Blues Kitchen is both a great place to enjoy good music but also great food, with a menu of Southern American style barbecue and burgers which can’t be resisted.
So you’ve had a full day of checking out some of London premier destinations for all things guitar and music! How should you wrap up the night over a drink and some food perhaps? Troy Bar in Shoreditch is the place to be for musicians, especially during the week who are looking to get up and jam or are looking to watch some serious players get into it. Dubbed as “London’s Best Kept Secret”, it’s easy to see why when you visit this iconic establishment. A room that is no bigger than any other cosy bar a few streets away, Troy Bar’s inviting and homely atmosphere makes you feel like you’ve just arrived at a friends place to jam rather than a bar or somewhere in the hustle and bustle of London. Tables and chairs hug the stage where the early comers have kept their spots, with other punters standing towards the back packed in like sardines.
Tuesday night hosts one of the more well known jam nights among musos, the “Spirit & Soul” open mic night which sees local musicians and vocalists get up to perform music mostly within the RnB, Soul and Funk genres. It can occasionally get taken out into the stratosphere with long improvisations from all members of the band and really take you to another planet, but can also be the place to see some of London’s up and coming original artists debut new material. Visiting musicians from overseas or even local world famous artists have been known to get up at Troy Bar just for fun and to jam to a great crowd such as Jessie J and Erykah Badu. Oh and don’t to forget any of the amazing Caribbean foods on their menu to go perfectly with a pint and some seriously good music.
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