Camden Town in North London is a place my wife and I really enjoyed visiting on this July trip. She loved the retail vendors in Camden Market and I loved the music history connections allowing me to reflect on my thousands of hours as a California teenager listening to UK music in the 1970s to London places where bands like The Clash got their start and record companies like Stiff Records had a big presence.
Here is a musical journey through Camden Town London and photos of Camden Market and the street scene on a weekend in July 2015.
Please excuse my indulgence to drift off on a journey into my past with personal reflections of how Camden Town takes me back years to a time when I was a disenchanted teenager in California in the late 1970s. Some people have a therapist to guide them through their inner self. I have travel and my Loyalty Traveler blog.
Sex Pistols and The Clash 1977
Images of punk rockers in the media in 1977 with safety pins through their skin wigged me out.
Cold Steel Body Piercing Camden Town, London
Piercing and tattoos are trendy these days. I still hate the thought of piercing my skin, unless it is for a medical procedure.
The Stables at Camden Market.
In 1976 The Stables held Rehearsal Rehearsals, the place where The Clash started their music career and played their first gig. The cover photo of their 1977 album was shot here. Today the large space holds small retail vendors as seen in the photo above.
Stables Market today houses a variety of vendor shops and several horse statues.
I had already adopted Bob Marley and Peter Tosh into my repertoire of music by 1976, but punk rock looked scary to me as it was portrayed in media in 1977 and 1978. I associated punk with violence and I simply wanted to be a stoned hippie. (Or so I thought. Between 1977 and 1981, I lived with communal lifestyle people in Hawaii and Vermont on several occasions and discovered that my true personality is actually a desire to be reclusive and not communal. I like to be alone. Not exclusive, just alone, or alone together with my wife Kelley, a woman I met in 1982.)
In late 1977 I met some party people on a trip to Reno and spent several weeks hanging out with them. One evening in January 1978, I met a couple of guys in a Reno liquor store who kept raving about seeing this band called The Ramones at The Old Waldorf in San Francisco the night before. I invited them to come party in the trailer park where my friends lived in Reno. The two guys were both wearing make-up. That meant nothing to me. I didn’t judge people by their cover. I remember arriving at the trailer, introducing them to my friends and their insistence that we change the Heart album playing ‘Dreamboat Annie’ off the record player to listen to their Ramones album with a song they urged us to hear, ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’. My friends listened to the song, then suggested beating them up, firstly for wearing make-up and secondly for their bad taste in music. I had to escort the two gay punks safely out of the trailer park.
Camden Town vendor selling Ramones and punk band t-shirts and buttons.
Almost one year later in December 1978, I saw the Ramones perform in Santa Cruz, California. The energy of the band amazed me, but even more motivational to me was the energy I felt from the small group of hardcore passionate fans. I could not tell one Ramones song from another musically. What I found fascinating was the group of people bouncing in the air for 45 minutes nonstop, called ‘pogoing’ at the time. The Ramones concert was an aerobic workout.
Over the next two months I dove head first into Punk music and culture and found myself deeply involved as a fan in a relatively underground scene in California. The Sex Pistols played their last gig in January 1978 in San Francisco and they faded into rock history.
The king is gone
but he’s not forgotten
This is the story
of a Johnny Rotten
It’s better to burn out
than it is to rust
The king is gone
but he’s not forgotten.
Hey hey, my my
Rock and roll can never die
There’s more to the picture
Than meets the eye.
Hey hey, my my.
Neil Young – My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)
The Sex Pistols concert inspired dozens of new punk bands in the Bay Area. More importantly to me, I found a creative movement of ideas and political activism revolving around the punk music scene. In those days, the way to learn about shows and concert venues in the San Francisco Bay Area was to go to record stores and look for regular 8×11 photocopy black and white flyers advertising gigs. Sometimes the gigs were in clubs, sometimes they were in warehouses and sometimes they were in VFW lodges and other rentable spaces.
The Roundhouse, Camden Town, London
In punk folklore, one of the legendary shows was The Ramones playing in Camden Town at Roundhouse on July 4, 1976.
The Roundhouse is an 1847 railway engine shed. The first rock concert held there featured Pink Floyd in 1966.
Jimi Hendrix played Roundhouse February 22, 1967. His guitar was stolen from the stage.
2015 concert schedule at Roundhouse.
Punk show venues took me to neighborhoods in San Francisco in the late 70s I would have never seen if not for my interest in music, Today it is hotels that fulfill that role of going to places I would unlikely see otherwise.
Holiday Inn Camden Lock for free nights on points brought me to Camden Town this past weekend. I had no prior knowledge of the area’s music history.
Camden Town is a place filled with street art.
A historic performing arts venue across the street from Mornington Crescent Underground Station is a place now called KOKO.
Originally opened as The Camden Theater in 1900, the venue saw Charlie Chaplin perform in 1909. In 1977 the place was named The Music Machine and the Sex Pistols performed there. In 1978 The Clash frequently played there. Madonna performed her first UK show there in 1983 when it was called the Camden Palace. KOKO launched in 2004 with Coldplay performances in 2005 and Amy Winehouse in 2006.
This is the venue when it was called The Music Machine in February 1980 where Bon Scott, lead singer of AC/DC, spent a night in heavy drinking and he was found dead the following morning from acute alcohol poisoning in South London. His death at the age of 33 occurred during the recording of the album Back in Black, still listed in the top five world’s best-selling albums in history.
Amy Winehouse lived in Camden Square and also died of alcohol poisoning at the age of 27 in her house there on July 23, 2011. Her last public performance was at the Roundhouse three days before.
The Good Mixer is a Camden Town pub where Amy Winehouse liked to hang out.
Camden Town is full of rock history. The area attracts thousands of visitors every weekend for Camden Market vendors, food stalls and pubs and, of course, a vibrant music scene.
Loyalty Traveler – Alternative London in Camden Town
Loyalty Traveler – Rock history and a view at Holiday Inn London Camden Lock