A Brief Odyssey of West London Music
Distant enough from the West End to be cool, close enough to matter, west London’s place on the capital’s music map is better-deserved than any area outside the centre.
West London’s people, studios and legendary venues helped spawn jazz, folk, pub rock, prog, glam, reggae, punk and stadium rock.
Some of its clubs will always be synonymous with a style of music: The Bull’s Head, Barnes – jazz; The Greyhound, Fulham – pub rock; The Nashville Rooms, west Kensington – punk.
Its collection of villages – Chelsea, Notting Hill, Chiswick, Barnes – has also been home to much of the UK industry for decades.
And in return musicians have paid homage in famous fashion. Without west London’s vibrant scene there would have been no ‘White Man’ in Hammersmith Palais, ‘Two Tribes’ might never have gone to war, and there might be no Bob Dylan as we know him.
Our new venue, Under the Bridge, is rooted in rock heritage but kitted out for the 21st century, and modestly aims to takes its place alongside the great music venues of west London, past and present.
This article, in two parts, is aimed at uncovering the musical history of this area.
Chelsea’s association with art is well known – Whistler and Augustus John were renowned locals. That temple of Bohemia, the Chelsea Arts Club, has stood for 120 years, as has the world famous College of Art & Design – from which some of the great London bands have emerged.
Less celebrated is Ranelagh Gardens, the most fashionable pleasure gardens in London around 1740, with its huge amphitheatre, or Rotunda, often compared to the Pantheon in Rome. For 60 years it occupied a riverside site near Putney Bridge tube station.
It had space for an orchestra and organ, as well as alehouses and restaurants, with concerts morning, noon and night. It was perhaps the first music venue to be seen in. An eight-year-old Mozart played the organ and harpsichord there in June 1764. It was finally closed and demolished in the early 1800s.
(Incidentally, there is a blue plaque to one of Britain’s greatest classical composers, Benjamin Britten, at his residence, 173 Cromwell Road Kensington.)
Fast forward a century and a bit and the music halls of west London were among the busiest in the capital in the 1920s and 1930s, maintaining the area’s reputation as an entertainment hotspot. The run down hotel, Eel Pie Island, Twickenham, hosted some of the best tea dances in the capital on its sprung floor before becoming the place to see the UK’s best jazz musicians.
Eel Pie Island was reborn as a rock venue, hosting Alexis Korner, the Stones, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and David Bowie amongst others.
As one of the biggest venues in the area ‘Eelpiland’ also later hosted the likes of The Who, Pink Floyd and Genesis.
The Palais De Danse, Hammersmith, opened in 1919 with the first sprung dancefloor in London for ballroom dancing and attracted audiences right into the 1980s. It was a breeding ground for great UK jazz musicians either side of World War II before converting to rock, pop and music from around the world.
The venue was immortalised the 1978 Clash song ‘(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais’, written by Joe Strummer about a visit to see Jamaican reggae stars Dillinger, Leroy Smart and Delroy Wilson play there.
A year later Ian Dury and The Blockheads name-checked ‘Hammersmith Palais’ in a couplet with ‘Bolshoi Ballet’ in their hit ‘Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 3’.
The Palais became a focal point for the London Bhangra scene of the late 1980s and hosted the ‘School Disco’ until its closure in 2007. Post-punk band The Fall were the last act to play there.
Hammersmith was also home to the Odeon (later Hammersmith Apollo) – converted from a Gaumont Cinema in the 1960s to stage top US jazz acts such as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.
The Beatles played 38 shows over 21 nights there, and in the 1970s and 1980s some of the biggest acts around played there: Bowie, Springsteen, Queen, Blondie, Dire Straits, Public Enemy, Guns N’ Roses. More recently acts such as Kings of Leon, Franz Ferdinand and Katy Perry have paced the boards there.
Up until 1990, when the Clarendon Hotel was demolished to make way for a shopping centre above the tube line, Hammersmith actually had three active venues on or just off the Broadway roundabout.
After the war, with Hammersmith, Notting Hill and Earl’s Court had been among the cheaper areas of London to live, immigrés from the Caribbean and the rapidly expanding student community moved in, enriching and rejuvenating the cultural mix.
The Troubadour, a coffee house basement on Old Brompton Road, was one of the most influential venues of the early 1960s, a mecca for fans of the folk revival. Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts played there in 1961, and Curved Air lead singer Sonja Kristina promoted there.
When he learned that Bob Dylan was planning a trip to find himself in London, the great Pete Seeger gave Dylan one piece of advice: ‘Your first job is to make your way to Anthea Joseph at the Troubadour.’
Like thousands of young Londoners he would be inspired by the likes of Bert Jansch and Davey Graham there. Paul Simon followed in Dylan’s footsteps to play there in1965.
Later it was the venue for a tribute show to late, great Pentangle singer Sandy Denny; guitar ace Jimmy Page performed a come-down session after Led Zep’s Earl’s Court gig.
The Troubadour fostered a hippy image that the nearby King’s Road, with its swinging boutiques, nurtured and spread across the area. Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor of Queen both ran stalls in Kensington Market (Mercury lived just off Earl’s Court Road), as did members of Sigue Sigue Sputnik – glam rockers of a later vintage.
In the 1960s the Small Faces all lived together in a house in Pimlico. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles also called the west London home, with Mick Jagger et al playing early dates at the Crawdaddy Club, Twickenham, in 1963.
The Stones actually lived on Edith Grove, Chelsea. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards reputedly wrote their first song there. It is always said they were locked in the kitchen by manager Andrew Loog Oldham until they came up with one. The result: ‘As Tears Go By’.
Part two of this West London music odyssey will feature King’s Road punks, Earl’s Court and a surprising debut at Stamford Bridge…