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From Dylan and The Sex Pistols to Coldplay and Amy Winehouse, London’s pubs have provided a springboard for scores of famous musicians. Keith Barker-Main takes at trip down memory lane, visiting watering holes that have played a part in the capital’s rich rock ’n’ roll heritage.
Liverpool gave the world The Beatles; London – or Muswell Hill to be precise – brought us those kinky lyricists, Ray and Dave Davies. Signed to Pye Records, the lads ditched the band’s previous name (The Ravens) for a groovier handle, The Kinks. Their 1964 chart-topper ‘You Really Got Me’ was followed by global hits such as ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘Lola’ and ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, a hymn to Swinging London. Having played their maiden gig here, the band 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 lazing and eating alfresco on a sunny afternoon.
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 Dublin Castle – the sort of homespun place that blokes will tell their future grandchildren about: ‘I was there when (insert the next big global megastar’s name here) played their first ever London gig’. Will recent turns such as The Worms, The Red Bullets or The Gypsy Switch enjoy the success of Blur, Supergrass, The Killers and Arctic Monkeys – all of whom performed here? It’s hard to imagine his health-conscious missus digging the DC’s grimy dishevelment, but Chris Martin’s Coldplay has also graced its stage. As for Suggs of Madness, he’s virtually part of the furniture.
As far as rock is concerned, the most famous hirsute ‘beehive’ in the business was the ratty, raggedy nest belonging to Amy Winehouse, the best soul-jazz voice of the Noughties. The much-missed singer of ‘Rehab’, ‘Valerie’ and ‘Back to Black’ (22 million hits on YouTube and rising), could regularly be found in varying degrees of sobriety among friends at The Hawley Arms – virtually her second Camden home. Long a favourite with musos and comedians such as Noel Fielding, some locals now refer to the place as ‘Amy Shrinehouse’. The pub survived a brush with death when a massive fire in 2008 destroyed its upper floors – sadly, Amy was less lucky. Raise a glass of Greene King IPA to her memory.
After tangling 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!. Even though half of the Fab Four are sadly no longer with us, that same pub (minus the tiger) is still going strong. Located on the Thames towpath by Kew Bridge, it’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 the aforementioned movie.
Everyone from The Stones and The Who to Kate Bush and The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band has played this perennially popular Putney pub. When an unknown act appeared in the mid-80s, picked out by a solitary spotlight, the bequiffed 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’s hit, ‘Crazy’. Thus, Ms KD Lang introduced herself to London. The Half Moon, now owned by Geronimo Inns, provides locally brewed Sambrook’s ales as well as the Dr Feelgood factor: those legendary rockers are due to play in the live lounge, sensibly left intact during its recent makeover.
Fans of Ga Ga – as in Radio, not Lady – are likely to be intrigued by this racy slice of rock history, since it was once Freddie Mercury’s local gay nightclub. In its current incarnation, Miss Q’s is a basement pool bar/live music lounge with a nice line in £8 ‘rocktails’ such as the Makers Mark-based Chuck Berry. Back in the day, however, it was infamous as The Copacabana (yes, really!), frequented by members of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Erasure’s Andy Bell, a Pet Shop Boy, Jimmy Somerville, DJ Kenny Everett and – apparently – another local: Lady Diana Spencer.
What was The Intrepid Fox – a skanky but fantastically atmospheric dump of Withnail & I proportions – is now part of the Byron burger chain, but the memories live on. It’s alleged that 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. Other infamous patrons have included Malcolm McLaren, his snarling punk protégés The Sex Pistols, and every other black-leather-and-guyliner-clad indie rocker. McLaren backed a campaign to save the Fox, but to no avail. However, fans of Siouxsie Sioux, The Stooges and Marilyn Manson should head over to the new Intrepid Fox at nearby 15 St Giles High Street, WC2. Despite looking like extras from a Halloween slasher film, the crowd won’t bite – so pop in for a Pernod and black after your burger and Sicilian red at Byron, and see for yourself.
‘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 Barât and Pete Doherty, often gigged at this rakish scruff and the pub has also hosted Nick Cave, Johnny Depp and legendary caner Shane McGowan. It’s 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 band’s former manager. Well, that’s rock musicians for you.
The Troubadour and many of its Kerouac manqué customers belong in another era. Frothy coffee, stained glass and louche boho decor must have seemed really exotic 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 launching in 1954 as a folk venue aimed at beatnik berets, this tiny cellar club has hosted some illustrious troubadours – from Hendrix, Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon to Elvis Costello, Morcheeba and Paolo Nutini. The café/restaurant is good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, cocktails and wines from its fabulous off-licence. Future king Wills and brother Harry were in the house on a recent visit – times really have changed.
Music journalists love the peeling Dickensian grunge of this Shoreditch gaff – dubbed ‘the world’s coolest pub’ by NME and ‘the cradle of British music’s future’ (The Guardian). Squeezed 10 deep at the bar, some of its punters look not long out of the cradle themselves. The wonky fringes and skinny jeans come to hear what others will be listening to tomorrow – as programmed by the guys at vice.com, a must for musos. Consider Hot Chip, Florence & The Machine, Mumford & Sons, Santogold, Jack Peñate, Kate Nash, Klaxons and Noisettes, all of whom have blown an amp or two here in the past. Back in 1962, you could catch Cilla Black at the Cavern; fast-forward five decades and you might stumble on her 21st-century London equivalent, Lily Allen, at the Last – she of 2006 hit ‘LDN’.