London: a playlist
Willoughby Thom | Monday, April 4, 2022
Long time no see! The time has come to grace Viewpoint with a very Scene-esque Inside Column! In accordance with my last Viewpoint pieces — “Video didn’t kill the radio star” (2020) and “Public service announcement: revive the music scene” (2021) — music is at the forefront.
Over the past few months, I have become an active participant in the London music scene and it has been absolutely transformative. Music is deeply ingrained in the blood and soul of the city; it is the fuel that brings people together and shapes a culture that is not found anywhere else in the world. In many ways, I have been transported back in time. Between seeing Echo and the Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, The Alarm and a Specials cover band, it feels as if I am living in their golden age, a time when the UK’s music world was in constant bloom. There is music history found in every corner and it has been a dream to be able to call this place my home this past semester.
Before arriving in London, I made it my goal to see as many concerts as I could, visit a myriad of different music-related locations and live out my British rock-n-roll dreams. My musical adventure began at Trader Vic’s, a legendary and internationally renowned tiki bar. This may sound peculiar, but I took a taxi to this old-school hot spot because of Warren Zevon’s song “Werewolves of London” (1978). While many people may recognize the opening riff because of Kid Rock, who stole it for his song “All Summer Long” (2007), “Werewolves of London” is jam-packed with London allusions, notably singing:””I saw a werewolf drinkin’ a piña colada at Trader Vic’s, his hair was perfect.” Therefore, I was obligated to try one for myself.
A week later, after enjoying some island-inspired cocktails, I made my way to my first London-based concert. The headliner was The Specials Ltd. Despite being a cover band, they put on an electric show. The small venue was intimate and buzzing with excitement. As the ska-vibes radiated throughout the building, people were dancing and skanking the night away, generating an atmosphere of pure joy and community.
The adventure continues with a spontaneous after-class wander around Covent Garden and Soho. While window-shopping and meandering through the back alleys, I happened to stumble upon Third Man Records! Third Man is Jack White’s record company and while they have headquarters in Detroit and Nashville, I never knew he extended their presence across the pond. This accidental discovery resulted in a great afternoon of record shopping, browsing through their merchandise and speaking with the store clerk who told us about all the upcoming shows that were set to take place in the Blue Room downstairs. I left with a couple of stickers, some bottles of Thirdman Record’s IPA and a feeling of home. After leaving the bright yellow storefront, I began planning my next visit.
At the end of January, I made a pilgrimage to Stonehenge. Even though this was a mandatory field trip for my archeology course, I was excited because it gave me the opportunity to get all my Spinal Tap references out of my system. Spinal Tap is a fictional band from the 1984 mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap” by Rob Reiner. Their arguably most famous scene is about their song “Stonehenge” and their uncomfortable, yet amazing, performance with a replica on stage. This dialogue-heavy comedy is a movie everyone should see at least once before they die and it is here that you will learn that “the henge” is much bigger than 18 inches tall.
January 30 marked 53 years since the Beatles’ rooftop performance at 3 Saville Row in London, and not only have I visited the site multiple times, but I also got the amazing opportunity to see “Beatles: Get Back – The Rooftop Concert” and a live Q&A with Peter Jackson at the IMAX in Waterloo. This evening was extra special since we got the chance to ask Peter Jackson questions about the making of the film and commemorate the Fab Four’s final London performance. A month later, my Beatles pilgrimage continued with a visit to Abbey Road.
In addition to the Beatles, I made a very important and unique musical journey to Dublin where I got to walk the same streets as young Paul Hewson (Bono), David Evans (the Edge), Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. A very niche music-location was only a few blocks from my hotel called Bonovox. To a normal passerby, you would recognize it as the local hearing aids store, but any U2 fan would know that this store inspired Bono’s nickname. Nevertheless, while in Ireland, we hopped on a bus to the small village of Athlone to find Moydrum Castle, the album cover location of “Unforgettable Fire” (1984). The long journey resulted in encountering a lot of sheep, a visit to a beautiful abandoned castle, meeting nice people and visiting the beautiful ancient Irish city of Athlone.
At the end of February, I made a quick trip to Cardiff, Wales and I marked something off my bucket list: visiting the oldest record store in the world. Spillers Records, established in 1894 in the heart of the unique arcades, is a quaint little record shop at the heart of the Welsh music scene.
Another blast from the past, I had the very unique chance to see Echo and the Bunnymen at the Roundhouse in London. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was definitely one of the most interesting shows I’ve been to. Their classic emo-antics were on full display, frontman Ian McCulloch was in a black, fur coat and large sunglasses, hidden under a cloak of shadows as he sang classics like “Lips Like Sugar” (1987) and “Killing Moon” (1984). Between songs, McCulloch would alternate between sipping milk and red wine, then proceed to speak to the audience in his thick Liverpool accent — I wish there were subtitles.
At the beginning of Spring Break, I paid the Lizard King, Jim Morrison of The Doors, a visit at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. The large cemetery is filled with famous poets, artists, and musicians, and one of the most visited is the fearless leader of The Doors. Unfortunately, there was a barrier protecting his tomb — tucked between old graves — but flowers and offerings such as photographs, art, booze and cigarettes decorated the surrounding area in honor of the unforgettable icon.
Most recently, I saw the Welsh band The Alarm play at the Electric Ballroom in Camden and Mike Peters put on a spectacular show like he always does. This week I will be seeing The Psychedelic Furs at Royal Albert Hall, another 80s band to add to the list! Even though there are many more musical adventures coming up, some of the best moments abroad have been discovering the musical history of London. To give you a sense of the places and things I’ve seen, I made a playlist accompanying my travels (in addition to songs I love listening to as I walk over the Thames to class) and hope that this inspires you to make your own musical pilgrimages.
You can contact Willoughby at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.