Start: Caffe 43, Pratt Street.
Well here we are, Camden Town. You should be standing outside Caffe 43, on Pratt Street.
Can you smell rebellion in the air? This place certainly has an interesting history. For me, Camden is a place of transition. Just look at all the railway lines that run through here, the roads that whisk you northwards and then there's the canals. People come here, get what they want and go.
I'm Miranda and my tour is about Britpop in the mid 90s when Camden was my home. But first, let's go back to the late 70s because I want to show you number one Carol Street. Let's head there now. Walk down this road, with Caffe 43 on your left.
You can put your phone in your pocket and focus on your surroundings. I'll tell you where to go. All you have to do is relax and enjoy the walk. Silence between tracks is normal. If you don't hear from me, just keep walking.
Turn left on Camden Street
Now turn left here on Camden Street. We'll reach Carol Street soon.
Camden has had a long reputation as a music magnet, for both fans and musicians. It's also a place for drinking. From the Irish navvies who worked on the railways in the late 18th century to the bands that play the Camden Rocks festival, they just keep coming.
Keep walking straight. I'll meet you on the corner just past this park on your left.
Turn left on Carol Street
Turn left here. This is Carol Street. I'll catch up with you once you round the corner.
1 Carol Street
Stop here. That's number one Carol Street on the left side of the street, with the Woman and Health Centre right behind you. It looks like an unassuming end of terrace house but it hides a history that maybe the current occupants are unaware of.
In 1977, this was home to musicians Green Gartside, Nial Jinks and Tim Morley. They formed the band, Scritti Politti, in their earliest incarnation. Camden isn't far from Kings Cross Station where the boys got off the train from Leeds. This house was a squat for a while, meaning no rent to pay and money to spend on cutting their first DIY record.
Skank Bloc Bologna was released on their own St Pancras Records label with a cover featuring their living room. When you get a chance, search it out on the internet for a glimpse of One Carol Street's front room, circa 1978. A small gas fire is covered with bottles, papers flow off the bookshelves onto the floor and a framed hammer and sickle hangs on the wall. Hanging from that is what looks like a used teabag. The hammer and sickle reveals the band's then communist stance. The teabag, well everyone loves a good cup of tea. I know, I'm tempted to look through the window too, but don't!
Let's continue walking on this street. I'll tell you more as we walk.
Scritti Politti were later signed to Rough Trade Records and embraced the synth explosion of the early 80s. They had a top ten hit with the Word Girl in 1985 and their LP Cupid and Psyche is regarded as one of the best produced albums of the 1980s. By that time, Carol Street had been long left behind. Their new place was a glitzy apartment in New York City.
Life has a habit of going full circle and Gartside now lives three miles east of here in Dalston.
Keep walking...we're heading for the early 90s. I'll meet you at the end of this street.
Follow Carol Street around the curve
Now follow the street as it curves to the right.
Turn left on Greenland Road
Take a left here into Greenland Road, with Greenland News on our right. Then keep going to the end of the block.
Turn left on Bayham Street
Turn left here.
We're on our way to the Brew Dog pub. This place has a history and for many years it was known as The Laurel Tree, home to a club called Blow Up.
I have to take you there, as it really was the birthplace for what was later known as Britpop, but in 1993 nobody was calling it that. Blow Up was set up by DJ Paul Tunkin as a counterweight to grunge, which he saw as 'anti style'.
Initially people thought it was a Mod revival club, but Tunkin was keen to point out that he would play 'orgasmic pop'. So alongside 60s bands such as The Kinks and The Small Faces, Tunkin would spin Northern Soul, Easy Listening, 70s New Wave, which I went to hear, and offerings from local bands.
Carry on walking towards the traffic lights.
Cross over road at lights
Cross here at the traffic lights. We're going to stop at The Brewdog Pub on the other side of the road.
Blow Up at The Laurel Tree pub
Ah, here were are at 'Brewdog', which used to be Blow Up.
Stop and look carefully. Try and Imagine it's 1994 and there's a massive queue round the block, all trying to get into what was a tiny club, stretched across two floors. Some of them are wearing typical mod gear; sharp suits, Parkas, Ben Sherman shirts etc. Then there are the girls in sportswear, Fred Perry polo shirts, Kappa tracksuit bottoms and Harrington jackets. I kept it neutral with a tight-fit band t shirt, moddish pencil skirt and a pair of Adidas that used to belong to my dad in the 70s.
If I managed to get inside, I would awkwardly stand with my back to the wall, drink in one hand, fag in the other, looking for famous faces. One night I was sure I saw Jarvis Cocker through a cloud of cigarette smoke. Because to be honest, by the time midnight rolled around, that's pretty much all you could see.
Melody Maker magazine said it was 'The Club That Changed The World'. This was in 95 and by then it felt like 'The World' was trying to cram into the pub.
With the pub on your left, walk straight ahead on Greenland Street.
Many say Britpop was born here or if not, it was certainly an inspiration for the music press to create a new scene. To turn the spotlight back onto British music after years of American domination. Who knows?
The following year, it moved to The Wag Club in Soho. I went there a couple of times but it didn't have the same feel.
Blow Up still exists in 'pop up' form, changing venues around the world. For me, this place will always be Blow Up. We're on our way to another club, one that still exists today. So keep walking straight.
Turn right onto Camden High Street
Turn right here, and head straight ahead on Camden High Street.
The next club I want to show you is the Electric Ballroom. I'm going to tell you a bit about how it all began as we approach.
In the 1930s a guy called Bill Fuller started the Buffalo Club, and expanded it enough to turn it into a ballroom and Irish Social Club.
By the 50s Bill owned a few more ballrooms up and down the country. And here's its first connection with Britpop. The Fuller-owned Astoria Ballroom in Manchester is rumoured to be where Noel and Liam Gallagher's parents met.
Keep walking straight until you get to a big intersection. Stay on the right pavement. I'll tell you more in a bit.
Cross the road to Camden tube station
Can you see the HSBC building ahead? We need to cross carefully and walk to the left of that, towards the Camden Tube Station sign. Carry on down Camden High Street and I'll catch up with you there.
Continue on Camden High Street
Great, now carry on past the tube station.
The 70s saw Led Zeppelin, The Clash and Frank Zappa at the Electric Ballroom. In 78, Sid Vicious held a benefit gig to raise money for his and Nancy's airfare to the States. They never came back.
And in the 80s, The Ballroom's stage was graced by many acts including the Sisters of Mercy, U2 and The Smiths.
By the 90s, it was all about club nights. I was a regular at Full Tilt, a goth night. Yes, you heard me. I was a goth on Friday and a Britpopper on a Saturday. I never really identified with one particular scene, if the music was good, I was there.
Keep walking straight until you see a street market on the left.
Here we are at The Electric Ballroom. It's on your right, let's stop. Well done for making it here in one piece! Yes, I know the traffic is crazy and the crowds even crazier. Sorry about that. If you haven't already got a dozen flyers thrust into your hands then just wait. There's always someone flyering outside the Ballroom. Go on, take it. It might be a gig for the next Amy Winehouse.
The Electric Ballroom shouldn't be here, or so thinks Transport for London. They've had a few attempts at getting it demolished over the years. They want to do to Camden Town Station what they did to Tottenham Court Road. And just look what happened to the Astoria. But each time the Ballroom survives.
Right, lets crack on. It's time for another pub. With your back to the Electric Ballroom, cross the road and make your way down Inverness Street where the market is.
Inverness Street Market
You're walking through Inverness Street Market. On your right is Out On The Floor Records which has been here for as long as I remember. If you want to find some Britpop gems, this is the place to look. I used to buy all my music in here and this was actually the only record shop that stocked My Life Story CD singles. More about that band later.
Keep walking and at the end of the road. I'll let you know when you reach our next destination!
The Good Mixer Pub
And here we are outside a pub called 'The Good Mixer'. Stop and have a look at the artwork in the windows.
Back when I used to come here, there were still rock stars and wannabe rock stars lining up at the bar.
Sadly, this pub probably doesn't contain rock stars any more. But it might contain some future rock stars. You see, at one point, nobody knew who Damon Albarn was.
In the mid 90s this place was a mixing bowl for some of Britpop's most iconic characters. Take one small Irish bar, add some ego-ed up musicians, drop in some booze and maybe some cocaine snorted in the toilets and you have a recipe for interesting anecdotes.
Ready to go? With the Good Mixer on your right, let's turn right down Arlington Road and I'll tell you some more.
The Good Mixer cont.
The Good Mixer was where Justine Frishchmann and her band Elastica signed a singles deal with Deceptive Records.
And it's in the toilets where Oasis and Blur started their rivalry. So they say. When Noel Gallagher met the Blur guitarist Graham Coxon for the first time, Noel apparently said: “Nice music, shit clothes.”
Graham even had a special seat at the Mixer where he would 'hold court' with anyone who would listen. So I often popped in to see if he would 'hold court' with me. Sadly whenever I visited, it was full of Japanese tourists dressed in Blur T shirts looking for him as well.
Keep walking straight.
Arlington Road. Noel Gallagher and Meg Matthews.
As you walk down Arlington Road, try and work out which one of these places was home to Noel Gallagher and Meg Matthews. I have no idea but I'm told by the Britpop rumour mill that they lived here until 1995. That's the year they upped sticks and moved to the more palatial 'Supernova Heights' in Steeles Road, Belsize Park.
Carry on down to the end of the road.
Turn right on Jamestown Road
Now turn right onto Jamestown Road.
As we're on our way to Dingwalls, our next destination, I want to tell you about the band that played there many times, My Life Story.
They're one of the bands who are always mentioned in the footnotes of Britpop history. While there were bands like Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Suede, and Elastica, there also was The Divine Comedy and My Life Story. Both bands were a little different from the laddish guitar based sound of the big boys. They embraced a different aesthetic, closer to 60s Mod than 90s sportswear and Oi!. Their music was heavily laden with orchestral instruments, big sweeping strings and a well dressed frontman. In My Life Story's case, this was Jake Shillingford.
Keep walking and I'll tell you more soon.
Turn left on Camden High Street
Take a left here, back onto Camden High Street.
In 1987 Jake left his home town of Southend in Essex to open up an indie club called The Panic Station at Dingwalls. All the pre Britpop bands played there, shoe gazer galore with the Stone Roses, Chilli Peppers, Jesus Jones and Pop Will Eat Itself. Jake's band, My Life Story, had been a concept of his since he was a young lad. Jake would dress in women's clothing and do performance art on stage at Dingwalls, as a supporting act.
Keep walking towards Camden Lock ahead. We're almost there.
Turn left down tow path by Starbucks
Now turn left here to walk on the tow path next to the canal.
1994 was the year My Life Story cut their first record on Indie Label, Mother Tongue. It was called Mornington Crescent, which incidentally is just a few minutes south from here. The album was full of sweeping orchestral arrangements, some sounding like Bond themes. Not too far removed from the 60s film soundtracks spun at Blow Up. In fact, Jake met the bassist, Paul 'The Crow' Siepel at Blow Up.
You'll see Dingwalls any second. Meet you there.
Stop here outside the Ice Wharf Pub. Maybe even stop for a drink if there's a spare seat at the tables on your left because I'm going to tell you a story that might take a few minutes. Make sure you're facing the canal, looking across the lock towards Dingwalls.
[pause in audio]
Can you see Dingwalls? The name is written above one of the three arches across the canal. Now, Dingwalls has an interesting history. In the Victorian period, this building used to belong to a TE Dingwall. You can see the name painted on the side, it's always been there. In the 1970s it became a music venue and a bit of a punk rock hub. The Stranglers even referred to it on their single "London Lady": they sing, 'Little lady, with Dingwalls bullshit'.
I had my own experience of Dingwalls bullshit in early 1996. Well it wasn't really bullshit, just my first experience of working with popstars. OK, it was bullshit.
By 1996, My Life Story were desperately chasing a record deal with a major label. The music press loved them, they had a legion of adoring fans and they had supported absolutely every Britpop band going. I had just started to teach myself HTML programming code at university. I had a website which was supposed to be about my final year degree project. Instead I used it to make a site for My Life Story.
OK, so I fancied Jake. But seeing as 'having a website' in early 1996 was still unusual, I think he saw me as a nerd rather than a potential girlfriend. The website was rather basic, it included a biography, a discography and a news page. This was all pre Google, remember.
1995 had been a difficult year for Jake and desperate for a record deal with a major label, he announced four final shows to be played in the new year at Dingwalls where it had all began. At the end of it all, if there was no deal they'd be no more band.
At the back of the venue for all those shows was my then boyfriend and myself, giving out slips of paper printed with a very long university website address. We got in for free at least. Jake was desperate for a record deal, I was desperate for my break into the music business. I took the opportunity to ask a question in the Q&A which proceeded one of the concerts. I asked if Jake would put his music on the internet so it could be downloaded. I had read about downloading only a few days before in a book called 'HTML For Beginners'. Jake took one look at me, laughed and said 'You can download me any day, darling'. The irony is, Jake embraced the internet for publicising and distributing his music six years later, one of the earliest musicians to do so.
It's time for a change of pace. When you're ready, let's leave Camden Town and head towards Primrose Hill. Cross over the bridge on your left, take in the vibes for a moment and then follow the tow path on the other side of the canal.
Follow the tow path
Now keep following the tow path on this side of the canal, up the ramp and over the bridge.
My Life Story did get their record deal at the end of it and unfortunately for me, a website run by the record label. You can still find the website on the Wayback Machine, so I'm told.
I have to say, that my best memories of Britpop Camden was going to watch their shows, they really were an incredible live act.
You should be happily walking along by the canal, looking across to a large white building on the other side of the water. This is Gilbey House, which used to be a distillery and warehouse for Gilbey Gin. A two bed flat here costs over a million pounds.
Carry on walking. You'll hear from me again just after the bridge.
The Pirate Castle
As you walk under the bridge you will see an usual building on the other side of the canal. This is 'The Pirate Castle' and it's incredible that it hasn't been turned into luxury flats yet. This has always been a community centre and charity, set up by Viscount St David for inner city kids to experience boating.
This, of course, has nothing to do with Britpop but I always wondered what the building was when I walked past it back in those days, so I thought you might too.
Let's keep walking alongside the canal. Watch your step! I'll be back after you've passed under the bridge ahead.
Turn right on Gloucester Ave
Stop here, just past the bridge. On your right is a set of stairs. Before you leave the tow path, take a look to your left across the canal.
Can you see the street art? It's local music legend, Amy Winehouse looking at St Peter. Amy was only twelve in 1995 and studying at Susi Earnshaw Theatre School in Barnet, North London. I wonder if she ever caught the Northern Line down here at weekends to hang out. These days, everyone has a story to tell about Amy, she was very much part of Camden until she died in 2011.
Take the steps up onto the road now and take a right down Gloucester Avenue. We are are now in Primrose Hill. Camden's much more sedate and gentile neighbour.
Walk straight on Gloucester Avenue
Now just keep walking straight on Gloucester Avenue for a while.
When you look around you can see why this area is so popular with celebrities. It's quiet and the tourists have suddenly vanished. In the mid 90s, the name 'Primrose Hill set' referred to actors who lived and socialised in this neighbourhood. They would appear in each other's films and TV programmes. It was all very cliquey, luvvie!
The golden couple, Jude Law and Sadie Frost lived here, alongside Kate Moss, Ewan McGregor, Sean Pertwee, to name but a few.
We'll be walking on Gloucester Avenue for a while to our next stop, so I'll be shutting my mouth for a few minutes. Keep your eye out for any actors.
Approaching the Pembroke Castle pub
Keep following the road as it curves to the right. We're on our way to the Pembroke Castle pub now. You might already know that there are a number of castle pubs in Camden. So what with all this castle business?
In the late 19th Century, Camden changed from a semi rural middle class area to a rough and ready industrial one. The arrival of the railway meant noise and pollution. Workers cottages were hurriedly constructed and Camden soon became a bit of a slum. I guess it's all gone full circle.
The railway workers hailed from Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England. After a few drinks, fights would break out between rival nationalities. In order to keep the peace, castle pubs were created for the different countrymen. All the pubs were close to the railway tracks dotted around Camden and Primrose Hill.
Keep walking straight. I'll see you at the intersection ahead.
The Pembroke Castle
Stop and take a look at the Pembroke Castle on your right. This place is no stranger to fisticuffs. It's just around the corner from Creation Records, and was a favourite of Oasis and their crew. See the steps? That's where a paparazzo's camera ended up in pieces thanks to Liam Gallagher's fist in 1998.
Let's go and have a look at Creation Records HQ, just around the corner. Cross to the other side of the road and take an immediate left onto Regent's Park Road.
Former Creation Records HQ
On your right is Mary's Living and Giving Shop. The flat upstairs used to be home to Creation Records, a staggering distance from the Pembroke Castle pub. Take a quick look, and then keep moving down Regent's Park Road.
Alan McGee formed Creation in 1983 and the label was home to acts such The Jesus and Mary Chain and later My Bloody Valentine. By 1992, Creation was in quite a bit of debt. None of the acts were huge commercial successes. McGee sold half of the company to Sony Music to save the label. The label was within days of going bankrupt, owing 1.3 million pounds. What with rumours of heavy drug use, things weren't looking too great for McGee.
So Oasis were literally the saviours of Creation Records and McGee's arse. In 1993 McGee signed the band and their huge album sales were like nothing seen before on an independent label. Their second LP, (What's The Story?) Morning Glory, was the biggest selling album of the 90s.
Alan McGee could also partly be responsible for New Labour's success in the 97 General Election. He was tasked with making Tony Blair appeal to Britain's youth and Blair took McGee on as a culture adviser. Alan instigated the New Deal for unemployed musicians. Himself and Oasis gained a reputation for being the Labour leader's biggest supporters, something that they all seem to regret these days. In his defence, Alan argued that they just wanted the Tories out.
It has been argued that Oasis and McGee's relationship with the Labour campaign in 1997 killed Britpop dead. So if Blow Up was where it was born, perhaps Creation Records is where it died.
By 1999, McGee was burnt out and had had enough of Creation. The record label was dissolved.
Carry on walking down Regent's Park Road. It's like a village... a very expensive village. Let's go and visit Primrose Hill, the park.
Keep walking straight, with the park on your right. That's Primrose Hill.
[small pause in audio to indicate it's a quote]
"Take a drive to Primrose Hill. It's windy there, and the view's so nice."
So say Blur on their song 'For Tomorrow'. Primrose Hill seems to have inspired both Blur and Oasis. It features in Blur's video where the band are flying kites. Oasis used it on the cover of their Wonderwall single. It was inspired by the paintings of René Magritte, and featured Anita Heryet, a Creation Records employee dressed in a very Britpopish A Line dress. I hope it wasn't windy that day.
If your feet aren't too tired, it's worth coming back here after our tour. Take a walk up to the top and have a look at the view. If it's a nice day, you can see right across London.
Carry on walking straight towards the junction ahead.
Turn left onto Fitzroy
Now take the zebra crossing to turn left on Fitzroy Road. It's time for a bit of personal history. Walk for about a minute, and I'll catch up with you.
My old home
So the reason I'm bringing you here, is that this is actually my old neighbourhood.
I lived here from 95 till 96. I rented a double room in one of these maisonettes for a peppercorn rent. The landlord needed the extra cash and was willing to sleep in the living room. Fortunately he was a mutual friend of mine and my then boyfriend's. I couldn't believe my luck, I was a student living in one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in London. Unfortunately for me, the landlord met someone and she moved in. I was turfed out and ended up living in... Ilford.
It was quite something to be able to walk home in the early hours of the morning, having been partying all night in Camden. I had no sense of danger in those days!
Keep walking, and I'll show you the place.
Ah, you've come home. Or at least to my OLD home. Stop here at the entrance to Hopkinsons Place on your left. There is a music connection here: this used to be a piano factory.
Please don't knock on any doors, my landlord probably still lives there and doesn't really care much for Britpop. He was more into dub music in those days, making his own. Can you hear dub music? Ah, he's home then.
We're almost finished, so head back down Fitzroy Avenue and back onto Regents Park Road.
It was quite something to be able to walk home in the early hours of the morning, having been partying all night in Camden. I had no sense of danger in those days!
Keep walking. We're going back to the end of the street to carry on the way we were going.
So, when you get back to Primrose Hill, turn right.
Keep walking on Regent's Park Road
So you should be back on Regents Park Road now.
Carry on walking for a while. Take in the view and soon a well deserved drink will await you at The Dublin Castle.
Let me tell you a bit about that pub. Some would argue that Britpop was actually born there, not at Blow Up. I would say they're right, but the scene that the music press christened Britpop started at Blow Up in the 90s. But let's not split hairs.
Landlord, Alo Conlan, seemed to have an ear for the good stuff and he was highly regarded amongst musicians and fans. A real Camden hero.
Alo passed away in 2009, aged 73. His legacy continues and his family run the pub as it has always been. The heart and soul of Camden's live music scene.
It's still a bit of a walk away from here, but worth it. I'll go quiet for a bit so keep walking and take in the view.
Almost at the Dublin Castle Pub
Keep walking straight. We're almost at the end of our walk, the Dublin Castle pub.
DJ Steve Lamacq calls it his second home, and it has an important place in Britpop's history.
From the mid 70s, Dublin Castle was the place to see new acts. Madness played their first gigs here having convinced Alo Conlon, that they were a jazz band. Alo was impressed and they ended up with a residency here.
In the 90s, Blur and Supergrass started their careers there, and later it would be the Killers and the Arctic Monkeys. This was the place that A&R men used to visit to find the new acts. Amy Winehouse worked behind the bar from time to time and played here too. Conlon passed away in 2009 but the family still manage the pub, making sure it remains the indie music venue it always has been.
Carry on walking straight.
Cross Oval Road
Cross the road ahead and keep walking straight. We're going to turn soon. I'll let you know when.
Turn left into Parkway
Turn left here onto Parkway and keep walking for a bit. We're almost there.
The Dublin Castle pub. End of tour.
Well this is the end of the tour and and we're here at the Dublin Castle.
I think it's time to put your feet up and soak up some history in the making. You've walked nearly two miles. Go inside and get yourself a drink and take a look around. There are signed posters on the wall and you never know who you might meet!
If you use Spofity, why not download the playlist I've created for this tour. That's if you haven't done so already. You'll find details in the route description of this tour or you can search for the tour on the VoiceMap website.
Until we meet again, goodbye!