I’ve written about Denmark Streetbefore – that strangely old-fashioned almost Brooklyn-style street on the border of Soho and Covent Garden that for decades has been home to various aspects of the music industry in the UK.
Tin Pan Alley Tales is a film that plans to tell the story of this small but vitally important street but it needs funding. Made by campaigner Henry Scott-Irvine, the film will tell the stories of the 22 buildings that make up Denmark Street and trace its progression from home of pre-war publishers and songwriters, through skiffle, pop and rock, punk and to the present day.
It will provide an important and fascinating document of a London street that has been at the forefront of popular culture for decades but which is now under threat from London’s rampant development.
I wrote a piece for the August issue of Eurostar’s Metropolitan magazine about the appeal of Françoise Hardy.
Hardy was pretty much the only one of France’s 60s pop singers to have any sort of impact in the UK, scoring a couple of hits – even one in French – and some camera time with Mick Jagger. Johnny Hallyday may have recorded with the Small Faces and Jimmy Page, but he achieved little by comparison. Ditto Hardy’s super-cool husband, Jacques Dutronc (watch this clip for a brilliant piece of agitpop), let alone yé-yé singers like France Gall or Sylvie Vartan.
Hardy benefited from being the first French singer to have a hit here, and the UK market could probably only take one foreigner at a time. She had excellent songs of course, but also an appealing vulnerability – it’s in her music as well as the body language in the image above. Unlike most of her French, English and American compatriots, Hardy never seems to smile on her single and album covers. She also had an androgynous Moddish look that was very mid-60s, a little like a French answer to Julie Christie. You can see the attraction to a generation of Euro-sympathising spotty English art school students with intellectual pretensions.
Hardy’s popularity in London was such that in 1965 she made a French TV special in the capital, visiting several sights – palaces, the docks, the parks – and recording songs in unlikely locations such as outside a mew house, in the back of a black cab or while wearing her pjs in bed on the back of a flatbed truck driving round Piccadilly Circus. She also visits a street market and, delightfully, a pub. Some of the visuals are brilliant, such as the scene in which she performs against a backdrop of advertising hoardings.
A selection of stills are below, followed by the entire film.
The before and after of Hardy trying a pint are a personal highlight.
The whole film is here. It’s marvellous. Tres chic.
This stamp of the Post Office Tower from 1965 is superb, even if it misses out the Post Office Tower itself due to a printing error (thanks to @stampmagazine for the image).
In fact, that seems kind of appropriate as the Post Office Tower was deliberately left off Ordnance Survey maps for decades because it was deemed to be an official secret and therefore of such great military importance nobody was allowed to know where it was even though it had become one of the most recognisable buildings in Britain pretty much as soon as it was opened by Tony Benn (who narrates this brief history of the tower).
In 1983, just as the band were starting to fall apart, The Clash decided to make a film. But stung by their experiences on the strange but compelling Rude Boy, they decided to make it themselves. They called it Hell W10, filmed it on 16mm silent black and white film, and made the plot up as they went along. The result, understandably, was somewhat bizarre.
‘Let’s make a film!’ said Mick Jones in 2005. ‘We had no other agenda there than that. Everyone put in their time without thinking about it. That was what we did on our time off; we worked! It was totally Joe [Strummer]’s idea. He directed it, he shot it, he did it. And then it was gone. It didn’t even come out!’
Strummer believed the film was lost forever. In 1987, when it looked like he might carve out a new career for himself in the film world, he told an interviewer, ‘I have directed a film myself, a black and white 16mm silent movie and it was a disaster. Luckily the laboratory that held all the negative went bankrupt and destroyed all the stock, so the world can breathe again. I shot without a script. God knows what it was about. I’m the only other one that knew, and I’m not telling.’
In 2002, the film was rediscovered on video tape and re-edited by long-time Clash collaborator Don Letts, who added a fine Clash soundtrack over the top. It is a strange piece indeed, a gangster tale that follows Earl, a musician and small-time hood played by Paul Simonon, who falls foul of the local crime boss called Socrates, ‘The Lord of Ladbroke Grove’, played with some relish by Mick Jones, resplendent in white tux (‘You wanna end up as a pillar in a Canning Town flyover?’ he threatens one lackey). Strummer gives himself a cameo as a corrupt and racist policeman. It’s a cross between The Harder The Come and some of the pulp London crime novels of the 1950s (many of which have been republished by London Books).
Hell W10 also features some cracking period photography of Notting Hill, Paddington and Ladbroke Grove, and weighs in at almost 50 minutes, which suggests it must have taken quite some time to film.
What makes it particularly fascinating is that it was filmed just as the band were starting to go belly up; Topper Headon had already been kicked out for drug abuse, while Simonon and Jones were barely speaking, making their feud in the film a little too close to the truth. Things came to a head within weeks of Hell W10 being made, with Jones sacked from the band in September 1983.
In Letts’s documentary, Westway To The World, both Jones and Strummer confess that the band had simply spent too much time in each other’s company and should have taken a break; if they had done so, hotheads may have had time to cool. Instead, they made a film. Perhaps if they’d had a summer holiday in 1983 rather than fool around with a camera, the band of Jones, Strummer and Simonon might have lasted another few years. Still, it looks like they had fun making it.
Was it worth it? Watch and decide, this is the first of five parts.
The key Flipside films for any self-respecting London nerd are ‘London In The Raw’ and ‘Primitive London’, two endlessly fascinating exploitation documentaries that ‘lay bare’ the London of the mid-60s, with much emphasis on the weird and the shocking.
These are dayglo Soho-obsessed precursors to the rightly cherished London classic ‘The London Nobody Knows’, but possibly more entertaining for their utter shamelessness: here you’ll find strippers, wife-swapping, prostitution, Jack The Ripper re-enactments – anything that may titillate and tantalise.
It’s pretty tame stuff now of course, which is partly what makes it so intriguing. This is a key point of London history – as the hairy freaks massed their forces in preparation for the myriad cultural explosions of the late-60s – and these films capture some of that sense of a city teetering on the brink of… something. Check them out, you won’t be disappointed.