THE GROUNDS WHERE Londons St. Giles-in-the-Fields Church now rests once housed a leper hospital. At various other times over the centuries, it was also a gathering place for hangmen, beggars, drunkards who frequented the many taverns in the vicinity, and other outcasts from the city proper. So in some ways it seems only fitting that Denmark Street -- a tiny strip of storefronts just around the corner from St. Giles -- became a hot spot for musicians and artists, as they have also been known to get the brush-off from established society.
Located in Camden, just off Charing Cross Road, Denmark Street is known as Londons Tin Pan Alley. In the 1800s, it attracted artists and musicians because of its slumlike rents. However, around the turn of the twentieth century, the neighborhood around it gradually evolved into a vibrant hive for theaters and music venues. Music publishers seized upon the opportunity and chose Denmark Street as the headquarters for their sheet-music operations. In the years that followed, the area grew into a haven for those who were, and those who aspired to be, in the music business.
Though many of the music publishers have since moved on to grander digs (today the street is occupied mostly by stores that sell musical instruments), Denmark Streets history remains as firmly embedded as a pearl dot on a fingerboard.
For instance, the inside of Regent Sounds Studio might look like a typical neighborhood guitar shop in a sleepy town. But years ago, a 30-by-20-foot area in the back was sectioned off and used as a recording studio. The Rolling Stones recorded their first album there in 1964, and Jimmy Page often graced the space as a session guitarist in his preLed Zeppelin days. Hanging on the wall of Regent is a battered electric bass that was once owned by Sid Vicious.
In fact, Vicious and the rest of the Sex Pistols occupied a flat and a rehearsal space on Denmark Street; Sir Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote Your Song at number 20, where John (then just Reg Dwight) worked as an office boy for Mills Music; and Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Kinks, and others all recorded at Tin Pan Alley Studios, one of the longest continuously operating studios in London. And who could forget David Bowie, who slept in his van outside of Giaconda Café, a then-popular hangout.
In recent years, window shoppers at stores like Music Ground, Toms Drum Store, Rose Morris Musical Instruments, and Angel Music have included Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Jack White, Robert Plant, and Sheryl Crow. On a wall inside Vintage & Rare Guitars is a board where artists such as Page, Midge Ure, and acoustic virtuoso Bert Jansch have scribbled their autographs (just dont be fooled by the faux Bob Dylan signature, the result of Chris Martin of Coldplay having a bit of fun).
While the surrounding area might have once had a notorious reputation, the music coming from Denmark Street over the years has managed to drown out any sour notes.
GUIDE TO DENMARK STREET >
ANGEL MUSIC New, used, and vintage guitars abound, along with pedals, amps, and extras. 25 Denmark Street, 011-44-20-7836-8008, www.angelmusicguitars.com
THE BASS CELLAR Everything for the discerning bass player, including a wide range of bass guitars, amps, and accessories. 21-22 Denmark Street, 011-44-20-7240-3483, www.basscellar.com
MUSIC GROUND A small guitar emporium with a large and devoted clientele. 27 Denmark Street, 011-44-20-7836-5354
REGENT SOUNDS STUDIO A haven for the electric guitarist, full of axes and folklore. 4 Denmark Street, 011-44-20-737-9611
ROSE MORRIS MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS Selling guitars, drums, pianos, and accessories since 1920. 10 Denmark Street, 011-44-20-7636-0991, www.rosemorris.com
SAX.CO.UK One-stop shopping for the serious saxophonist. 21 Denmark Street, 011-44-20-7836-7172, www.sax.co.uk
TOMS DRUM STORE Has been supplying kits to theatrical drummers, session players, and rockers for more than 40 years. 20 Denmark Street, 011-44-20-3077-1137, www.myspace.com/tomsdrumstore
VINTAGE & RARE GUITARS A charming establishment with a wide selection of stringed treasures. 6 Denmark Street, 011-44-20-7240-7500, www.vintageandrareguitars.com
ALSO WORTH THE LOOK
>Neal Street in Covent Garden: Its a bustling walkway through the heart of one of Londons most enchanting areas. Youll find a tea shop, a vegetarian restaurant, an astrology store, shoes, clothes, cappuccinos, and lots more.
> Carnaby Street in Soho: Its a pedestrian paradise with loads of boutiques, restaurants, cafés, and pubs. Once a swinging London headquarters for mods and hippies in the 1960s, it still retains its unmistakable Austin Powers vibe.
> Camden High Street: Famous Camden Market is located here. There are stalls with crafts, clothing, food, and assorted odds and ends to keep you amused, as well as pubs, restaurants, and indoor markets.