We’re good, it seems, at honouring literary figures and classical composers; we’re less reverential when it comes to guarding the legacies of pop and rock stars. The best thing for Abbey Road, argued Tim Chester on this site a while back, would be to shut it down and turn it into a museum.
I’m not so sure. Rock’n’roll has a habit of becoming calcified and smug the second you put it in a display case – think of the much-mocked British Music Experience at The O2, or the oily glad-handing that attends the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in America, where Bono is always on hand to usher in another ageing white guitar-slinger to a drab, Rolling Stone-approved pantheon of ‘greats’.
There is another, less galumphing way to honour our musical history. Last year, the Performance Rights Society For Music launched a program to commemorate significant sites with blue plaques.
So far they’ve recognised locations such as East Anglian Railway Music, where Blur played their first gig, and Greenwich Dance Hall, where Squeeze first performed (mysteriously, there’s no plaque lined up for Gay Dad).
I’d argue, though, that we don’t need museums and plaques to honour the musical past, we just need to walk the streets, and remember. After all, you don’t have to be Peter Ackroyd to know that all cities are echo-chambers of the past. History is all around us, if we know where to look.
Even on my route to work through Southwark – hardly the home of rock – I walk down Clink Street, a critical site in the birth of acid house. It looks boringly cosmopolitan now, with a standard-issue Pret and Starbucks, but in the late 80s it was an off-the-map wasteland, and the home of Shoom, where Danny Rampling first exposed British clubbers to the mind-expanding music (and drugs) he’d just discovered in Ibiza.
This was all way before my time. I’ve never been a clubber. But I like to imagine the scene, in what is now a quiet art studio: hundreds of E’d up rave kids, eyes vibrating our of their heads at 5am, at the vanguard of this country’s last truly revolutionary youth movement. There’s a Gourmet Burger Company next door now. It’s not quite the same.
Anyway, thinking about all this inspired me to ask round the office for people’s own personal musical landmarks – the place they’d put their own imaginary blue plaque. What would yours be?
Emily Mackay: Auchenblae Village Hall, Auchenblae, Kincardineshire. The very first gig I went to, at 11, was a gang of boys from school who went by the name of Headrush/Headswim, I can’t really remember now. They mainly dealt in baby-cow-learning-to-walk Nirvana covers, but the thrill when the hardest girl in school (she’d fractured someone’s skull and we all walked in fear of her) jumped off the stage during ‘Lithium’ and no-one caught her sealed the deal for me.
James McMahon: The Royalty on Chester Road, Sunderland – it’s where I ran my Boyeater club night between 1998 and 2002. On an average night you’d find The Futureheads, Field Music, Frankie & The Heartstrings, The Golden Virgins, Leatherface and We Start Fires either playing or in the audience, and it was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most fun, exciting, inspiring way to spend my late teens I can possibly imagine.
Paul Stokes: Laszlo’s in San Francisco’s mission district. This became Kasabian’s ‘local’ when they were recording West Ryder in the city, and the guys behind the bar were great to them, keeping the place open for lock ins, parties etc. When I went out there to cover the band’s last week in the studio they held an unofficial massive party there after we did an interview in the courtyard. Let’s just say the Asylum opened its doors that night. It’s actually an amazing cinema themed bar in it’s own right, with a courtyard outback where they screen classic films. Well worth a visit.
David Moynihan: I saw the Verve (then just Verve) on my birthday in 1992, aged 15. It was in a tiny pub called The Barrell Organ and amazing. Richard Ashcroft was ‘Mad Richard’ back then, under 9 stone in weight and prone to playing gigs barefoot, with shoulder length hair and wild acid eyes. He banged his head on the wall throughout the gig and my friend stole his glittery gold tank top off the stage at the end. On the bus we examined our prize and found the label said “Marks and Spencer, Girls. Age 8-11”.
Jamie Fullerton: I’d put a blue plaque on the dashboard of photographer James Quinton’s Renault Clio – to mark when we gave Pete Doherty a lift from Wormwood Scrubs in 2008.
Alan Woodhouse: Glasgow Green. It was where I saw The Stone Roses in 1990. Not the best gig I’ve ever been to in terms of quality, but in terms of atmosphere and feeling it was pretty unbeatable. It stuck with me, and made me appreciate the power of live music.