This Week in London – Spitfires at Duxford; The Jam in photos; and, Waterloo & City line reopens…

A Spitfire at IWM Duxford. PICTURE: Peter Bromley/Unsplash

The largest collection of Spitfires gathered under one roof can be seen at the Imperial War Museum Duxford’s AirSpace hall. Twelve of the iconic planes have been gathered at the airfield, often referred to as the “home of the Spitfire”. Spitfire: Evolution of an Icon, which is being accompanied by a programme of tours, talks, events and family activities, shows how the plane evolved throughout World War II in order to keep pace with German aircraft development. As well as the IWM’s iconic Mk Ia Spitfire, the display also features Mk V, Mk IX and Mk XIV models. The Spitfires be seen until 20th February. Admission charge applies. For more including details of events, head to www.iwm.org.uk/events/spitfire-evolution-of-an-icon.

A new exhibition focused on photographs of iconic 70s and early 80s band The Jam opens at the City of London Corporation’s Barbican Music Library tomorrow. True is the Dream features the photography of Derek D’Souza who has captured the band and frontman Paul Weller, who went on to found The Style Council, on film over several decades. D’Souza’s work include a career-defining shoot of the band at Chiswick House. The display is free to see until 16th May. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2022/event/true-is-the-dream.

The Waterloo & City line has reopened following a brief closure over Christmas. The London Underground line, which connects Waterloo to Bank, was temporarily closed by Transport for London in late December following increasing COVID cases in the capital and the impact on staff absence. Meanwhile, the Bank branch of the Northern line (between Moorgate and Kennington) for 17 weeks from 15th January to allow for upgrade works.

Send all items to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – A recap…

We’re completed our latest Wednesday series on London’s musical heritage. So here’s a recap before we move on…

1. 25 (and 23) Brook Street, Mayfair…

2. 23 Heddon Street…

3. Denmark Street…

4. Marc Bolan’s Rock Shrine… 

5. Henry Purcell’s grave in Westminster Abbey…

6. Royal Albert Hall… 

7. Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club… 

8. The home where Mozart composed his first symphony…

9. Site of 2i’s Coffee Bar, Soho… 

10. Wembley Stadium, host of Live Aid…

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 10. Wembley Stadium, host of Live Aid…

Wembley Stadium in London’s north-west has hosted numerous musical acts since the early 1970s but the most famous event was undoubtedly the British Live Aid concert in 1985.

Ultrasound perform at Live Aid at Wembley. PICTURE: cormac70 (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Organised by Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof and Ultravox vocialist Midge Ure (although it was apparently Boy George who first came up with the idea of a concert), the event featured an all-star line-up of the notable artists of the day.

Held to raise funds to support relief efforts aimed at those impacted by the devastating Ethiopian famine of 1983 to 1985, it followed the release of Band Aid’s single Do They Know It’s Christmas? the previous December (that song closed the British concert while We Are The World closed the US one).

About 72,000 people attended the event held on 13th July which featured artists including Paul McCartney, David Bowie, The Who (who reunited for the event), Queen and U2 (the latter two bands in show-stealing performances) and was held simultaneously with an event at at John F Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia (attended by more than 89,000 people.

There were also concerts held in a range of other nations in Australia in support of the cause on the same day which were woven into the TV broadcast of the event. This was seen by an estimated 1.5 billion viewers worldwide.

The British event kicked off at noon and ran until 10pm that night while the US concert ended just after 4am, giving a total of 16 hours of concert time. Phil Collins famously performed at both events, taking a British Airways Concorde to the US after performing at Wembley and performing there.

Among the crowds watching were Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 9. Site of 2i’s Coffee Bar, Soho… 

PICTURE: zoer (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Located at 59 Old Compton Street in Soho, the 2i’s Coffee Bar is crediting with playing a key role in the development of Britain’s modern music culture during the mid-20th century with stars including Tommy Steele – described as the first British rock ‘n roll star – and Sir Cliff Richard among those who performed there.

Opened in April, 1956, the coffee house (which was named for the two men Freddie and Sammy Irani who owned building), was run by Australian wrestlers Paul Lincoln and Ray Hunter.

Its basement had a small stage and was used as a live music venue, initially with skiffle groups such as the Vipers and then as a rock ‘n roll venue. Along with Steele and Sir Cliff, others who performed there included Johnny Kidd, Tony Sheridan, Hank Marvin, Rory Blackwell and Screaming Lord Sutch as well as American acts such as Jerry Lee Lewis.

Among those who patronised the venue, meanwhile, was everyone from Beatles producer Sir George Martin to actor Sir Michael Caine and painter Francis Bacon.

The 2i’s closed in 1970. A Westminster City Council Green Plaque was unveiled at the site in 2006, marking 50 years of British rock ‘n roll.

Famous Londoners – Thomas Arne..

Eighteenth century English composer Thomas Arne, considered one of British greatest theatrical composers and most well known for creating the music for his patriotic song Rule Britannia, spent most of his life in London.

Thomas Augustine Arne after Robert Dunkarton line engraving, circa 1775-1800 (NPG D13867) PICTURE: © National Portrait Gallery, London

The son of an upholster, Arne, whose middle name was Augustine, was born in Covent Garden in 1710 and baptised in St Paul’s, Covent Garden. Arne was educated at Eton College where, such was his passion for music, he is said to have secretly practised with a spinet, a smaller type of harpsichord, in his room at night, muffling the strings to keep from being discovered.

He became a violin student of composer Michael Festing and, such was his love of music, that he is said to have disguised himself in the livery of servant to attend the opera.

Following his father’s wishes, Arne worked briefly as a solicitor after leaving school but was subsequently permitted to leave the law and pursue a life in music (there were other family connections to music and performance – his father had actually been involved in financing some operas and both his sister Susannah Maria and brother Richard would go on to have careers in the theatre and music worlds).

Over the more than 40 years between 1733 and 1776, Arne wrote music for about 80 stage works which included everything from plays and masques to pantomimes and operas.

His big break came when he became house composer at Drury Lane Theatre, writing music for various plays and pantomimes and involving both his brother and his sister in the performances (his residences at this time are said to have included properties in Great Queen Street and Lincoln’s Inn Fields).

Arne was already a star when, on 15th March, 1737, he married the singer Cecilia Young (he may have already had a son prior to this).

In 1738, he – along with others including George Frideric Handel – founded the Society of Musicians (which would become the Royal Society of Music). Arne also received the patronage of Frederick, the Prince of Wales – in fact, it was at the prince’s country house, Cliveden, that he debuted Rule, Britannia, during a performances of his Masque of Alfred in 1740.

Arne and his wife spent two years in Dublin in the early 1740s and on his return to London in 1744, he was again composing music for Drury Lane. He also composed music for performances at Vauxhall Gardens.

PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Arne left Drury Lane for the Covent Garden Theatre in 1750 after he had begun to fall out of favour with theatre manager David Garrick who was increasingly turning to other composers.

In 1755, while again in Dublin, he separated from Cecilia, alleging she was mentally ill, and began a relationship with one of his students, Charlotte Brent. Brent would perform in several of his works including in Thomas and Sally (the first English opera to be completely sung) and Artaxerxes (which became one of the most successfully and influential English operas of the era). Brent would eventually go on to eventually marry a violinist in 1766.

His career took a downturn in the mid 1760s but in 1769, Garrick appointed Arne musical director for the Shakespeare festival at Stratford upon Avon. Arne composed several pieces for the event including An Ode upon Dedicating a Building to Shakespeare, the success of which put him back into favour with the London theatres.

In late 1777, Arne was reconciled with his wife (their son, Michael, went on to become a composer). But his health deteriorated soon after and Arne died on 5th March, 1778, at a house in Bow Street, Covent Garden. He was buried in the churchyard of St Paul’s, Covent Garden.

An English Heritage Blue Plaque was erected at the site of his former home at 31 King Street, Covent Garden, in 1988 (pictured above).

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 8. The home where Mozart composed his first symphony…

180 Ebury Street, Belgravia. PICTURE: Spudgun67 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

Think of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and chances are it isn’t London which immediately comes to mind. But it was in a home in Belgravia that the then-precocious eight-year-old composed his first symphony.

Mozart, his father Leopold, mother Anna Maria and his elder sister Maria Anna spent almost a year-and-a-half in London, between April, 1764, and July, 1765, as part of a European grand tour. Having initially taken lodgings above a barber’s shop in Cecil Court in Soho, they moved to the more rural setting of 180 Ebury Street, then known as Five Fields Row, in August so his father could recover from a serious illness which apparently developed after he caught a cold.

Philip Jackson’s statue of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Orange Square. PICTURE: Peter O’Connor (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mozart and his sister were both child prodigies and during their London sojourner performed in various London theatres and for King George III and Queen Charlotte at Buckingham Palace on several occasions. But, with his father now needing quiet, they were forbidden to play instruments in the house and so, according to his sister’s writings, in order to keep himself busy it was there that he composed his “first symphony for all the instruments of the orchestra, especially for trumpets and kettledrums”.

While the work she was referring to is now lost, Mozart did go on to compose the symphony that is now seen as his first at the same time. Known as K.16 in E flat major, it was first performed at the Haymarket Little Theatre in February, 1765.

Leopold did recover and so the family moved back to Soho – lodging at 20 Frith Street to be précise – in September, 1764. It was there that Mozart met the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Christian, who was to be a key influence on his musical style. They left the property – and brought their time in England to an end in July, 1765, amid waning public interest in their performances (they gone from performing for the Royal Family to entertaining pub patrons). The family continued with their European tour before eventually returning to their home town of Salzburg (Mozart later settled in Vienna where he died at the young age of 35).

Mozart’s time at the Ebury Street residence (and the composition he wrote there) is commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque (albeit this one is brown) which was erected by the then London County Council in 1939. Following damage in the war, it was reinstated in 1951. There’s also a statue commemorating Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in nearby Orange Square. Designed by Philip Jackson, it was erected in 1994.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 7. Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club… 

PICTURE: Google Maps

Tenor saxophonists Ronnie Scott and Pete King opened their jazz club in Soho in 1959.

Located in the basement of 39 Gerrard Street in Chinatown, the club was initially created as a place where local jazz musicians could jam but was soon attracting a who’s who of jazz to the stage.

The 1965, the club moved to 47 Frith Street where remains today (it took over the building next door in 1968).

Over the years, the club has played host to jazz greats including Zoot Sims, Sarah Vaughn and Count Basie to Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Wynton Marsalis as well as musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Tom Waits, The Who and Mark Knopfler with the Notting Hillbillies.

Patrons, meanwhile, have included everyone from Harold Pinter and the Beatles to Peter O’Toole and Spike Milligan.

Scott died on 23rd December, 1996, and King continued to run the club for another nine years before selling it to theatre impresario Sally Greene.

The club celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019 and was honoured that year with an English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating the original site.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 6. Royal Albert Hall… 

PICTURE: Raphael Tomi-Tricot/Unsplash

Arguably the grandest music venue in London, the Royal Albert Hall, named in memory of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, has been hosting musical events since it first hosted a concert in 1871.

The Grade I-listed hall, which has a seating capacity of more than 5,000 and which did suffer from acoustic problems for many years (until mushroom-shaped fibreglass acoustic diffusers were hung from the ceiling following tests in the late 1960s), has been the setting for some of the most important – and, in some cases, poignant – music events of the past 150 years, not just in London but the world at large.

Among some of the most memorable are the Titanic Band Memorial Concert – held on 24th May, 1912, just six weeks after the sinking of the iconic ship to remember the 1514 people who died with a particular focus on the eight musicians who played on as the stricken vessal sank, the ‘Great Pop Prom’ of 15th September, 1963 – only one of a handful of occasions when The Beatles and Rolling Stones played on the same stage, and Pink Floyd’s gig of 26th June, 1969 – coming at the end of a UK tour, the on-stage antics saw the band banned (it was short-lived, however, they returned just a few years later in 1973).

Other musical figures to have taken to the stage here include everyone from composers Richard Wagner, John Philip Sousa, and Benjamin Britten to the Von Trapp family, jazz greats Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and the likes of Shirley Bassey, Bob Dylan and Elton John – a veritable musical who’s who of the past 150 years. The venue also hosted the 13th Eurovision Song Contest in 1968.

Of course, Royal Albert Hall is famous for The Proms, an annual festival of classical music which was first performed here in 1941 after the venue where it had been held since 1895 – the Queen’s Hall on Langham Place – was lost to an incendiary bomb during World War II.

Prom stands for ‘Promenade Concert’,  a phrase which originally referred to the outdoor concerts in London’s pleasure gardens during which the audience was free to walk around while the orchestra was playing (there are still standing areas during performances). The most famous night of the season is the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ which, broadcast by the BBC, features popular classics and ends with a series of patriotic tunes to stir the blood.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 5. Henry Purcell’s grave in Westminster Abbey…

Westminster Abbey. PICTURE: Clark Van Der Beken/Unsplash

Westminster Abbey is important for many reasons when it comes to London’s musical heritage but among them is the intrinsic connection the grand building has with Restoration-era composer and musician Henry Purcell.

Purcell, who was born in Westminster in 1659 and who died there in 1695, is famous for having composed music in a range of genres including the first English opera as well as being the organist of the Westminster Abbey (from 1679) and that of the Chapel Royal (from 1682).

Statue commemorating Henry Purcell. PICTURE: Eluveitie (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Fittingly, Purcell, who died at the age of just 36 leaving a widow and six children behind, was buried beside where the organ was then located in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey. The grave, which also contains the remains of his wife Frances, is inlaid with brass letters written in Latin.

It reads: “Here rests Henry Purcell, Organist of this Collegiate Church. Died 21 November aged 37, A.D. 1695. Immortals, welcome an illustrious guest, your gain, our loss – yet would not earth reclaim the many-sided master of his art, the brief delight and glory of his age: great Purcell lives! his spirit haunts these aisles, while yet the neighbouring organ breathes its strains, and answering choirs worship God in song. Frances, wife of Henry Purcell, is buried near her husband 14 February 1706.”

A memorial tablet to Purcell was erected on a nearby wall by Dame Annabella Howard, a former pupil of Purcell’s. The inscription in English and Latin “Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded. Died 21 of November in the 37th year of his age, AD 1695”.

There is also an elaborate statue, The Flowering of the English Baroque, commemorating Purcell located just down the road from the Abbey in Christchurch Gardens, Broadway. Designed by sculptor Glynn Williams, it was unveiled by Princess Margaret on the tercentenary of the death of the composer – 22nd November 1995.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 4. Marc Bolan’s Rock Shrine… 

Located by the side of a road in Barnes is a memorial to the former singer and guitarist of glam-rock band T.Rex, Marc Bolan.

The bust of Bolan at the site. PICTURE: Britmax at the English Wikipedia (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The memorial on Queens Ride, close to Gipsy Lane, marks the spot where the 29-year-old Bolan died on 16th September, 1977, after the purple Mini he was a passenger in – driven by his girlfriend, singer Gloria Jones – left the road and struck a fence, coming to rest against a tree.

The site of the crash quickly became a place of pilgrimage for fans and in September, 1997, the Performing Right Society installed a memorial stone for Bolan. It pays tribute to Bolan as a “musician, writer, poet” and says it was erected “in recognition of his outstanding contribution to British music”.

In 2002, a bronze bust of Bolan, the work of Canadian sculptor Jean Robillard, was installed behind the memorial stone by the T.Rex Action Group in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of his death.

The TAG had taken over care of the site – including the ‘Bolan Tree’ – in 1999 under a perpetual lease and, prior to the bust’s arrival, had added since added a series of steps at the site.

The bust, which was paid for by the group’s founder Fee Warner and is located at the top of the steps, was unveiled by Bolan’s only child Rolan.

In 2005, further plaques were added at the site commemorating the other members of T.Rex who had died –  Steve Peregrin Took, Steve Currie, Mickey Finn and Dino Dines – as well as Bolan’s widow June Bolan (they were married in 1970).

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 3. Denmark Street…

A sign promoting Denmark Street in 2009. PICTURE: Ged Carroll (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Nicknamed ‘Tin Pan Alley’ after a famous New York City area associated with music publishers and songwriters, Denmark Street in Soho is famous for its 20th century music connections.

The British Plaque Trust plaque in Denmark Street. PICTURE: Andrew Davidson (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The street, which is just 100 yards long, was home to most major music publishing and management companies during the 1950s and 1960s as well as recording studios while publications Melody Maker and New Musical Express (better known to some as the NME) were also founded there.

Artists with a connection include David Bowie, Paul Simon, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Sex Pistols (who reportedly left a considerable amount of graffiti at number six), while two members of Bananarama apparently lived there in the 1970s. Lionel Bart, writer of the musical Oliver!, also started out here and was later known as the “King of Denmark Street”.

The street was also home to the famous Gioconda Cafe – whose patrons have included Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Elton John.

These days home to many musical instrument shops, the future of the Denmark Street has been a matter of some controversy in recent years with a planned redevelopment attracting considerable protest.

Looking west down Denmark Street in May, 2021. PICTURE: Google Maps.

A plaque – put in place by the British Plaque Trust (pictured above; it’s not to be confused with the English Heritage Blue Plaque commemorating dive helmet pioneer Augustus Siebe on number five) – was unveiled at number nine in 2014 commemorating the street’s musical connections between 1911 and 1992. It reads “Home of the British Publishers and Songwriters and their meeting place The Giaconda.”

Sixties pop singer Donovan, who recorded here, performed a song he’d written specifically for the occasion – appropriately named Tin Pan Alley.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 2. 23 Heddon Street…

This property (and the street, which runs in a horseshoe off Regent Street in the West End, I which it sits) is famous for its appearance on the cover of David Bowie’s 1972 album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stadust and the Spiders from Mars.

The famous album cover.

The cover – which features Bowie (who was ill with the flu at the time) dressed as Ziggy Stardust standing outside the building under the light of a lamp – was one of several shots taken by photographer Brian Ward on a cold and wet night in January, 1972.

Originally taken in black and white, the selected image was subsequently hand-coloured by artist Terry Pastor for the album cover.

There’s been much commentary over the years about the sign which appears over Bowie’s head in the shot and reads K West. Bowie himself, lamenting the fact the sign had been removed when the furrier moved out in the early 1990s, commented later that that it had taken on “mystical overtones” for some fans who thought it was code for the word quest. But the truth is more mundane – it was apparently the name of a furrier who at the time occupied part of the building.

PICTURE: Jnicho02 (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The back cover of the album featured Ziggy inside an iconic red phone box which was located just around the corner from number 23, still in Heddon Street. One of the K2 boxes, it’s since been replaced.

While the street has been considerably gentrified since Ziggy stood there (rather than a deserted back street, it’s now a popular al fresco dining area), a plaque was unveiled commemorating the role of the building in 2012 (pictured above).

The album, meanwhile, was released on 16th June, 1972, by RCA Records to what was generally a favourable reception.

10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 1. 25 (and 23) Brook Street, Mayfair…

OK, so we all know about the Abbey Road crossing and its connection with the Beatles, but where are some other sites of historic musical significance in London?

23 and 25 Brook Street, Mayfair. PICTURE: Google Maps.

First up, it’s the Mayfair home where 18th century composer George Frideric Handel lived from 1723 until his death in 1759 – and where he composed much of his best known work including masterpieces such as Zadok the Priest (1727, it was composed for the coronation of King George II), Israel in Egypt (1739), Messiah (1741), and Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749).

The German-born Handel, who settled permanently in London in 1712 (and who became a naturalised British citizen in 1727), was the first occupant of the terraced house located at what is now 25 Brook Street (but previously known as 57) which is now a museum dedicated to his life and work.

The property, which is today decorated as it would have been during early Georgian times, is thought to have been convenient for its proximity to be the theatres where his works works were performed and St James’s Palace, where he served as Composer of Music for the Chapel Royal.

A small room on the first floor is believed to be where Handel did most of his composing. He is also understood to have used the larger adjoining music room for rehearsing his works from the 1730s (possibly due to a lack of space at the venue where he mainly performed, the Covent Garden Theatre).

Handel died in the house on 14th April, 1759. The property, which subsequently was lived in by various people, became a museum dedicated to the composer in 2001.

Known for the first 15 years of its existence as the Handel House Museum, in 2016 it was expanded to include the upper floors of the adjoining home, 23 Brook Street, a flat which served as home to another musical great, Jimi Hendrix, in 1968-1969. The museum is now known as Handel & Hendrix in London.

Both properties have English Heritage Blue Plaques upon them. The first plaque were erected on Handel House in about 1870 by the Society of Arts and was replaced in 1952 and again in 2001, when his middle name was corrected to Frideric from Frederick. The plaque commemorating Hendrix’s residence in Number 23 was erected in 1997.

The museum is closed, with limited exceptions, until March, 2023, for a refurbishment project called the The Hallelujah Project. But you can head to the website to take a 3D virtual tour: https://handelhendrix.org.

This Week in London – ‘Dub London’; exploring Sin; and, COVID-19 explored at Science Museum Late…

Channel One Sound System at Notting Hill Carnival 2019. PICTURE © Eddie Otchere / Museum of London

Dub music and the impact it’s had on London’s identity and people is the subject of a new, long delayed, exhibition which opened at the Museum of London late last week. Dub London: Bassline of a City, which had been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, charts how, from its roots in Jamaican reggae, dub music went on to influence multiple genres and played a key role in the development of punk bands like The Clash. The display includes the iconic speaker stack belonging to Channel One Sound System that has appeared yearly at Notting Hill Carnival since 1983 (pictured above) and a specially created bespoke record shop with a selection of 150 vinyl records chosen by 15 London based independent record shops which can be listened to. Runs until 31st January. Admission is free but must be booked in advance (and bring your own headphones). For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/dub-london.

The concept of sin is at the heart of a new free exhibition at The National Gallery. Sin brings together 14 works dating from the 16th century to now by artists ranging from Jan Brueghel the Elder and William Hogarth to Andy Warhol and Ron Mueck. Among the paintings on show are Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve (1526), Hogarth’s The Tête à Tête and Marriage A-la-Mode, Diego Velázquez’s Immaculate Conception, William Holman Hunt’s The Scapegoat (1854-55), and Ron Mueck’s sculpture Youth (2009). The display can be seen in Room 1. For more, see nationalgallery.org.uk.

The science of the coronavirus is explored in a special night event at the Science Museum next Wednesday, 14th October. Staff from the Francis Crick Institute will be joining with those from the Science Museum in exploring how the immune system remembers and evolves and how the Crick was turned from a biomedical research centre into a COVID-19 testing facility. Visitors can also hear from NHS transplant surgeon Pankaj Chandak who has been using 3D printing tech to make life-saving PPE for frontline staff while the Leonard Cheshire charity shows how assistive eyegaze technology has played a vital role in helping to keep people with access needs connected. There will also be a chance to make a facemask as part of the museum’s #MaskSelfie campaign and the opportunity to explore the museum’s new Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries. Admission charge applies and pre-booking is essential. Head to sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/lates.

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London Pub Signs – The Sun and 13 Cantons…

This unusually named Soho pub dates from the late 19th century although there is said to have been a pub here in the corner of Great Pulteney and Beak Streets since at least 1756.

The name relates to the fact that a significant Swiss population was once based in the area.

The pub was previously known as The Sun but that was destroyed by fire. When the rebuilt premises opened in 1882, ’13 Cantons’ was added to the name as a tribute to its many Swiss patrons (the Old Swiss Confederacy consisted of 13 cantons, although the number had grown past that in the early 19th century).

During the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, the now Grade II-listed pub became associated with the film and television industry which had made Soho its home – among those said to have patronised it were directors like Alan Parker and Ridley Scott as well as actors like Oliver Reed, Peter O’Toole and, more recently, Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, Russell Crowe and Gemma Arterton.

The pub has also hosted DJ nights in the basement bar in the late Nineties – Carl Cox and the Dust Brothers (which became the Chemical Brothers) were among those who worked their magic here.

The pub, which has recently undergone a refurbishment, is now part of the Fullers Group. For more, see www.sunand13cantons.co.uk.

PICTURES: Jim Linwood (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

This Week in London – The British Museum gets arty; music festivals in Georgian Britain; the story of Tangerine Dream; and, migration at Dulwich…

• Artworks by the likes of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Lucian Freud, Bridget Riley, David Hockney and Visa Celmins are on show in a new exhibition at the British Museum. Reflecting artistic developments in the past 100 years of modern art, Living with art: Picasso to Celmins features 30 prints and drawings. It showcases highlights from the wide-ranging collection of Alexander Walker (1930–2003), a longstanding film critic for London’s Evening Standard newspaper, which was bequeathed to the British Museum in 2004. The exhibition can be seen at the museum until 5th March before heading off on tour. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: David Hockney (b. 1937), ‘Jungle Boy’ (1964) Etching and aquatint in black and red on mould-made paper © David Hockney Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt.

Music festivals in Georgian Britain – from the Handel Commemoration of 1784 to the Crystal Palace concerts of the late 19th century – are explored in a new exhibition at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Music Festivals in Georgian Britain looks at the logistics behind the organisation of the concerts which followed on in the tradition of benefit concerts for charities as well as the expectations of audiences. Runs until 14th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see https://foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

The “extraordinary story” of German band Tangerine Dream is told in a new exhibition opening at the City of London’s Barbican Music Library today. Tangerine Dream: Zeitraffer features photographs, previously unpublished articles, video clips, and original synthesizers as it tells the story of the band – credited with laying the foundation for the Ambient and Trance music styles – from its founding in 1967 and the release of its first album, Electronic Meditation, in 1970 through to the latest album, Recurring Dreams, last year. The band, which has released more than 160 albums, has also composed the scores for more than 60 Hollywood films including Michael Mann’s Risky Business and Ridley Scott’s Legend as well as Firestarter, based on the Stephen King novel. In 2013, they also wrote the score for the record-breaking video game, Grand Theft Auto V, and their music has appeared in recent Netflix series, Stranger Things, Black Mirror and Mr Robot. Runs until 2nd May. Admission is free.

The stories of six “community curators” – each of whom has personal experience of migration – are at the centre of a new display at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Journeys, which explores themes of identity, belonging, migration and London’s multiculturalism, examines the contemporary relevance of works by the likes of Poussin, Rubens, Canaletto and Van Dyck against the backdrop of the life stories of the curators who, aged between 29 and 69, have a combined heritage spanning eight countries including Yemen, Sri Lanka, Italy, Pakistan and Ireland. Opens next Tuesday (21st January) and runs until 24th June with a special free late opening on 19th June during the final week which coincides with Refugee Week. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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Treasures of London – Beckenham’s ‘Bowie Bandstand’…

Built in 1905, this south London bandstand, which was recently awarded Grade II heritage status, is famous for being the site where David Bowie performed at the Growth Summer Festival in August, 1969. Bowie and friends had organised the free festival soon after his first hit single, Space Oddity, and the bandstand, located in Croydon Road Recreation Ground, was used as the stage for the day. As well as compering the festival, Bowie was among the performers who played here to a crowd of several hundred people. The festival, which was inspired by the feel of Woodstock and is believed to have been the first of its kind in Britain, inspired Bowie to write the seven minute long Memory of a Free Festival for his second album which was released later that year. It’s also suggested that he may have penned the lyrics to Life on Mars from the bandstand steps. The ironwork bandstand, which is referred to locally as the ‘Bowie Bandstand’, is thought to be the last bandstand from the foundry of Glasgow’s McCallum and Hope Iron Foundry still standing in Britain today. The Borough of Bromley, which owns the bandstand, is currently raising funds for its restoration.

PICTURE: Graham C99 (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

This Week in London – A rare surviving piece of Queen Elizabeth’s dress on show?; Inside Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, and, Islamic influences on art…

An altar cloth which may have once been part of a dress worn by Queen Elizabeth I goes on show at Hampton Court Palace (pictured) this Saturday. The Bacton Altar Cloth, which was discovered in a church in Bacton in rural Hertfordshire, has undergone two years of conservation work and will be displayed alongside a portrait of the “Virgin Queen” featuring a dress of similar design. The altar cloth has long been associated with Bacton-born Blanche Parry, one of Queen Elizabeth’s servants who became her Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber. Records show the Queen regularly gave her discarded clothing to Parry and for years there has been speculation that the altar cloth was part of one such discarded item. Historic Royal Palaces curator Eleri Lynn, an expert in Tudor court dress, was able to identify previously unseen features and studied the seams of the fabric to show it had once been part of a skirt. Further research – including an examination of the dyes used in the item – have added weight to the theory it was once part of a dress. The altar cloth, on loan from St Faith’s Church in Bacton, can be seen until 23rd February. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk. PICTURE: David Adams.

A photographic exhibition of the first ‘golden’ decade of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club – featuring images of legendary British and American jazz singers – opens at the Barbican Music Library on Saturday. Ronnie Scott’s 1959-1969: Photographs by Freddy Warren, which marks the club’s 60th anniversary, features Warren’s photographs of the likes of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Zoot Sims, Cleo Laine and Tony Bennett. Warren was the in-house photographer at the Soho club from the opening night in 1959, when it was based in Gerrard Street, and documented the construction of the new site in Frith Street in the mid-1960s along with the arrival in London of big American stars. The exhibition includes rare vintage prints – some which were salvaged from the walls when the club was renovated in 2006, Freddy Warren’s original contact sheets, and previously unseen prints specially produced from the original negatives. The exhibition is free. Runs until 4th January. For more, see www.barbican.org.uk/your-visit/during-your-visit/library.

An exhibition exploring how western artists have been inspired by the Islamic world opens at the British Museum today. Inspired by the east: how the Islamic world influenced western art features paintings by leading ‘Orientalists’ including Eugène Delacroix, John Frederick Lewis and Frederick Arthur Bridgman as well as less well-known pieces like British artist Edmund Dulac’s original illustrations for a 1907 edition of the Arabian Nights, and ceramics by Frenchman Théodore Deck, who in the late 19th century created a range of pieces directly inspired by Islamic originals. The display also includes contemporary reactions to the imagery of Orientalism by Middle Eastern and North African female artists such as Lalla Essaydi’s Women of Morocco triptych and Inci Eviner’s 2009 video work Harem. The display can be seen in The Sir Joseph Hotung Exhibition Gallery until 26th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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A Moment in London’s History – An iconic image of Abbey Road is taken…

It’s 50 years this month – it was last Thursday, 8th August, in fact – when an iconic photograph featuring the Fab Four on a zebra crossing was taken for cover of the Abbey Road album.

The photograph – which featured (in order) George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon striding across the pedestrian walk in St John’s Wood – was taken by the late Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan.

He apparently climbed onto a ladder in the middle of the street while a policeman held back traffic briefly (there are vehicles driving down the road in the distance in the image).

The entire shoot – which was apparently McCartney’s idea – reportedly took just 10 minutes and saw the band walk across the road six times (the chosen image – said to have been taken at 11:38am – was number five; the only one in which all their legs were in a perfect V shape).

The image carries a particular poignancy for Beatles fans because of the fact that they “officially” broke up less than a year later (the album it featured on, Abbey Road, was released on 26th September, 1969, and was the last recorded by the group even though it was released prior to Let It Be).

As well as being recreated by tourists at the site itself, the image has been reproduced and adapted countless times – including its reproduction on a 64p Royal Mail stamp in 2007 and an adaption involving the Simpsons for a Rolling Stone cover in 2002.

Abbey Road Studios – where the Abbey Road album was recorded – is located just a hop, skip and jump away and has operated a live webcam of the crossing since 2002. (For more on Abbey Road and the origins of its name, see our previous post here).

PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

Where’s London’s oldest…public building with electric lighting?

The Savoy Theatre, located next to the Savoy Hotel just off the Strand in the West End, was the first public building in London to feature electric lighting.

Built to the designs of CJ Phipps and decorated by Collinson and Locke, its construction was instigated and financed by Richard D’Oyly Carte with the specific intention of hosting WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘s operas.

Opening on 10th October, 1881, the first show at the new premises was Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience, which had been previously playing at the Opera Comique. It continued to solely show Gilbert and Sullivan’s works until 1886 when a falling out led to the end of the partnership between Gilbert and Sullivan.

The theatre subsequently hosted comedic operas by other composers as well as productions of Shakespeare (Henry Irving was among those who trod the boards here in the early 20th century).

It was rebuilt in just 135 days in 1929 and the new premises featured an exterior designed by Frank Tugwell and interior designed by Art Deco expert Basil Ionides.

A fire caused considerable damage in 1990 after which the theatre was again renovated, this time under the guidance of the theatre’s then chairman Sir Hugh Wontner and architect Sir William Whitfield, with the public areas returned to how they had looked under Tugwell and Ionides’ scheme from the 1920s. It reopened in July, 1993, with a Royal Gala performance by the English National Ballet (Diana, Princess of Wales, was among those in attendance).

Now owned by the The Ambassador Theatre Group, the Savoy these days it shows a range of different productions. It’s currently hosting Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5: The Musical. For more, see www.thesavoytheatre.com.

PICTURES: Above – Neon sign for The Savoy Theatre advertising a previous production with the hotel and theatre entrance (Loren Javier/image cropped/licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0); The Savoy Theatre with a Westminster City Council Green Plaque commemorating it being the first public building with electric lighting in London (David Adams).