Category: Style/Fashion

Denmark Street Blues

Denmark Street Blues

I signed one of those on-line petitions the other day to ‘save’ Denmark Street. For those who don’t know, Denmark Street was once the Rock & Roll capital of London. I’m not entirely sure why I thought it was a place worth preserving. In my almost 40 years of visiting ‘Tin Pan Alley’ as it used to be called, I’ve received, almost nothing but snotty nosed, boot-faced condescension from the so-called sales people that frequent the music shops. Most of them look like roadies who may be wonderful at coiling cables but would struggle to sell water in a desert.

The patronising attitude must have seeped into the brickwork, because while the hair styles from 1970 to the present day may have changed their withering looks haven’t. But we’ll come to all that in a moment.

Denmark Street is located just east of Soho and branches off Charing Cross Road just south of Tottenham Court Road. It runs for only 300 metres or so but in its hey-day it was what Harley Street is to medics and what Fleet Street used to be to newspapers. It was the beating heart of London Rock & Roll.

In the 50s and 60s it was home to music publishers, but times changed, and it gave way to recording studios, music clubs and musical instrument shops.

In the 60s the Rolling Stones recorded their first album at Regent Sound located at 4 Denmark Street and Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote ‘Your song’ at offices belonging to music publisher Dick James. The 70s saw the Sex Pistols living and recording there. From 1994 until last year the 12 Bar Club played host to the likes of Jeff Buckley, Bert Jansch and KT Tunstall. It has quite a musical history.

Today, Denmark Street is the victim of a triple whammy: (can you have a triple whammy?) Creeping gentrification, the Crossrail development at Tottenham Court Road and I’m guessing the cold hand of Amazon.

Tin Pan Ally and I go way back, and over the years I’ve been there to buy all matter of guitar playing stuff, but I want to tell you about my first and last visits.

In 1970, I was a budding guitar player which made me virtually identical to just about every other 16-year-old in the western world. But where I differed from all the other players was not in talent, but rather that I had £15 in my pocket. Fifteen quid that was to be spent on my first proper amplifier and there was only one place to go to get it.

I was living with my parents in a village just outside Northampton and I bought an amplifier in a local junk shop that had come out of the Savoy cinema. It was massively heavy, produced almost no volume and was utterly useless.

It was decided, I was to go to London by train, buy an amplifier and return all in one day, ALL BY MYSELF. That rather dull, repetitive sentence does scant justice to the head-spinning, cart-wheeling excitement, that a day in London at the Rock & Roll centre of the universe conjured up. I could barely sleep, and what’s more, I had a new pair of jeans.

To my parents, a trip to London was a special occasion, dressing up was obligatory and I totally bought into that concept. Let me tell you about the new jeans. They were skin tight, and I’d taken my mother’s pinking shears to the generously endowed flairs that spread like spinnakers from my ankles. I looked like I’d been attacked by wolves. Topping them off was a psychedelic tie-dyed T-shirt and a World War 2 military great coat, the latter bought at an army surplus store. It had a small hole in it and I was always slightly bothered that it’s previous owner might have met his end while wearing it.

Top look I’m sure you’ll agree, except my mother didn’t. What DO you think you look like? You can’t go to London looking like that, was the general tenor of her remarks. If I was to retain that all important £15 a compromise had to be reached. And then I had a brain-wave.

Yes of course Mum, I’ll change my trousers and turn down the volume on my shirt. Rather a quick back down in the face of authority you might be thinking. To which I reply HA! You are underestimating the ingenuity of a 16-year-old. I had a largish shoulder bag that I used for carrying albums into which I shoved the ripped jeans and eye-melting T-shirt. Once aboard the train I changed outfits and, I like to think, looked magnificent. Surely, I’d meet rock stars in Denmark Street and we could exchange cool, sardonic nods of recognition. I might also meet girls, a commodity that seemed non-existent in Northampton.

Sadly, the rock stars must have been getting their heads together in the country that day and as for girls, well my extravagant look didn’t have the desired effect.

Because Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton cranked their axes through Marshall amps, I had to have one, but fifteen notes didn’t cut it, so I settled for a Park amplifier instead. This was grudgingly sold to me by a long-haired lout who could barely get out of his chair such was the industrial level of contempt he felt for the whey-faced plank-spanker standing in front of him. Walking out with my prized possession I was philosophical. Sod him for a game of soldiers, I thought, I now own a black, fifty-watt amplifier. Heaven on earth.

A week later I took it to school and someone nicked it. Rock & Roll dreams snuffed out.

Last month I visited Denmark Street in search of mid-priced acoustic guitar to take travelling. I was after an instrument that could get thrown around without too much concern if it got the odd dink or scratch. One massive improvement on being 16 now rather than in 1970 is that for £300 you can score yourself a highly playable, decent sounding guitar. The guitars I was brought up on were untunable and almost unplayable. Or was that my lack of talent?

So, I’m upstairs at Hank’s and the guitar jockey is handing out various specimens for me to try. Just prior to this visit I’d figured out quite a nifty version of the Gershwin classic ‘Summertime.’ It’s not exactly hard to play but involves a descending bass line and some rather groovy chord changes. Next thing I know the guitar sales person looks round and says, ‘Wow, that’s great, how do you do that, could you show me what you’re playing there?’

Young people today, they don’t have a clue how to behave.

In case you’re wondering about the guitar in the picture, it’s a Mexican made Fender Stratocaster that was produced in conjunction with Transport For London.

Dressing Down

Dressing Down

Warning: Rant blog on the way men dress

I don’t think I’ve ever known a time when men dressed so badly. Blokes in London seem completely lost as to how to dress. Get on the tube and first of all look up. Can you see any man present who has given any thought as to what he’s wearing? Then look down to check the shoes. Oh god it’s pitiful: At best scuffed trainers and fake leather slip-ons. Nobody will be wearing shoes or boots that you actually have to polish.

When I was growing up all we had was music and clothes, both of which were equally important. Music clearly still matters, but clothes seem to have fallen off the map, giving way to apps and Google maps. Once you weren’t properly dressed without a tie, now you’re improperly dressed without a smart phone.

I was speaking yesterday with Guy Hills at Dashing Tweeds, a firm which as the name suggests make fantastic tweed suits. He made the point that in days gone by people used to aspire to dress well. They dressed up. Just think of Teddy Boys and Mods. Both tribes were largely working class but wanted to escape the tedium of work wear and found ways to look fantastic. Teddy Boys did this by dressing like aristos, mimicking the style of Edwardian dandies. Clothing was aspirational. Now people dress down, not up and there’s the horror of ‘Dress Down Friday’. What if we had ‘Dress Up Friday’ with men coming to work in their finest threads?

In SW8 where I live, there are many clubs, most of which are located under the railway arches at Vauxhall. I see the kids lining up to get in on Friday and Saturday nights and there’s a kind of tatty conformity to it all. Jeans and T-shirts are about as good as it gets. Guys, you’re going out, you’re probably on the pull, don’t you want to look your best?

As readers of this blog will know I’m a huge music fan and love gigs. Once again slacks and T-shirts rule, this time among musicians. I want to yell at them, it’s showbusiness guys, you are on show, you’re not popping down to Tesco. You may be the best sax player on the planet, but I have to look at you as well as listen to you. This is particularly true of jazz players and all the more tragic when you think of the style legacy left by the great jazzers from the past like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. They didn’t just sound a million dollars, they looked it too.

Up until recently, men had to wear suits to work and the suit acted as a useful fix. The suit does two good things, it gives a man an indication as to what to wear and most men look good in them. Suits were effective clothing shorthand. Work suits may have been greasy, badly cut and often ill-fitting but even a bad suit can make a man look acceptable. Of course, a good suit can make him look sensational.

In these days of fast-fashion or what is effectively anti-fashion I have no idea how this problem is going to be fixed, largely because I suspect most men don’t see it as a problem. They don’t have a clue what to wear, and they don’t much care anyway. Today, blokes probably spend more on their tattoos than they do their clothes.