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.

What’s in a name?…Carnaby Street…

Renowned as the heart of the UK’s fashion industry in the 1960s, Carnaby Street’s origins go back to a mansion built here known as Karnaby House (with a ‘k’, although the street always apparently started with a ‘c’).

Carnaby-Street2The house was built in 1683 although who it was built for remains something of a mystery. It was apparently was demolished within 50 years or so when the east side of the street, which had been laid out in the late 1600s, was recorded as the site of a series of “pest” (plague) houses.

The street was later home an abbatoir and while tailors had moved in during the late 19th century, it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that it began to attract a reputation for fashion, becoming the epicentre of Swinging London during the 1960s.

Boutiques included John Stephen’s pioneering men’s boutique His Clothes – which attracted high profile customers including members of The Small Faces, The Rolling Stones and The Who – as well as Lady Jane, Lord John, and the wonderfully named I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet.

The street – which was pedestrianised in 1973 – is still home to a large number of fashion boutiques. It’s numerous pop-culture references include its appearance in U2’s video for the 1992 song Even Better Than The Real Thing and it being named as the location of the flat of ‘spy’ Austin Powers. In recent years it’s also has its own stage show: Carnaby Street: The Musical.

For more on Carnaby Street today, check out www.carnaby.co.uk.