Friday, March 6, 2009

A Magical History Tour of King's Road's Hipsters and Hitmakers

There really is no other street in London quite like King's Road, it's an area so saturated with rock royalty, drama queens, designers and sites of special pop-culture interest, that you're never more than a few meters shy of some heavy-hitting historical location. I don't think it's an over-exaggeration to suggest that no other post code has shaped what we watch, wear, listen to and laugh at quite like SW3. You may not have been to King's Road, but the offspring and influences from this spawning ground of sounds and styles - will have stealthily woven it's way into your life somehow.

With a one way walk (of 1.4 miles) from Sloane Square to Edith Grove. It's possible to complete a tick-list of London undergrounders and embryonic icons including :Angry Young Men, Beatles, Bolan, Dracula, Droogs, Feminists, It Girls, proto-punks, Pythons, Rocky Horror, Stones and Ziggy Stardust.

So, starting from Sloane Square then...

The Royal Court Theatre
John Osbourne's Look Back In Anger premiered at the RCT in 1956, the success of the play payrolled the production of Saturday Night Saturday Morning movie, which in turn, kick-started the 'Kitchen Sink' genre. Almost ten years on David Frost spotted Michael Palin and Terry Jones, starring in a '65 Oxford Revue and invited them to join the writing team for The Frost Report, a team that included Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Eric Idle. And in 1973 The Rocky Horror Show made it's flouncy debut.

138a King's Road
The site of Mary Quant's first boutique 'Bazaar' - which opened in 1955.
Now a West Cornwall Pasty shop

A few doors up, at 152 you'll find The Pheasantry. A rat-run of shabby flats in the mid-to-late sixties, but home to Germaine Greer, Clive James, Eric Clapton and Martin Sharp (designer of Disraeli Gears and Oz Magazine) - A location, that a few decades before had been the Russian Dancing Academy - attended by a young Dame Margot Fonteyn
Now a Pizza Express

Just across the road at 49 King's Road once stood The Chelsea Drugstore. Referenced in the Stones song You Can't Always Get What You Want, and used for a several interiors in Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange.
Now a McDonalds

Staying on the south side, a short hop takes you to number 85 , former home of The Great Gear Market. A dingy network of Leather Shops (the Boys Town type), Antenna hairdressers (the birthplace of extensions), Rusty Egan's Record Cage, Tik and Tok's clothing shop.. an eighties hang-out for all alt.types
Now a Marks and Spencer

If you're feeling peckish, why not pop in to Picasso's at 127 for a bite? It's one of London's endangered species - an original fifties coffee bar, that's not been Starbucked. Yet.

Flood Street is next on the left, and Chelsea Manor Studios at 1 - 11, the site of the Sgt. Pepper's photo-shoot .

One more Beatles location to come Fabs fan's

153, now Ad-Hoc, but used to be punk-turned-eighties favourite BOY. Head west along King's Road and you'll soon come to Oakley Street - I would recommend looping south to Cheyne Walk and ticking off...

Oakley Street
89 - Bowies seventies house of residence
87 - Lady Wilde, mother of Oscar Wilde. And Later, George Best

Cheyne Walk
48 - Mick Jagger's house '68-75
27 - Bram Stoker

3 - Keith Richards until '78

Back on King's Road, keep heading west and take a left into Old Church Street looking for 46a and Sound Techniques Studios - it's no longer used for recording, but while active produced a pitch perfect pedigree of - Floyd's 'Syd' period singles, and classic albums like : Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left, Bryter Later, John Martyn - Bless The Weather, Solid Air, Fairport -Liege and Leaf.

A jump to the north side of the street takes you to The Vale, and another The Beatles site - Robert Whitakers Studio at 1A being the site of the 'butcher' sleeve photo shoot..

Stay on this side for 380, where in the seventies Marc Bolan was a regular at Alkasura (closed long ago) for most of his swishy bits and satin jackets..

Marc Bolan in his Alkasura jacket

Round the bend, and into the World's End stretch of the street. Where nestling next to the Chelsea Conservative Club, like a neighbour from a hell, is 430 King's Road - the birthing pool of Punk. McLaren and Westwood moved in 1972, setting up shop as Let It Rock and selling fifties collectables and creepers to Teddy Boys. But it was the shops refitting and reformatting as SEX that pulled punk's earliest groovers and shakers - the art-school Bowie/Roxy crowd and safety pinned estate urchins - into it's orbit of Hate-Couture
Still Vivienne Westwood - Hurrah!

Finally the sixties 'scene' shop Granny Takes A Trip was sited at 488, and just around the corner you'll find the young Rolling Stones notoriously sqalid lodgings at 102 Edith Grove.

I could cram in James Bond's unamed square, Duke Ellington's earliest recordings, Judy Garland's death, George Melly and Quentin Crisp, The Killing of Sister Georgie, Don Letts and Acme Attractions, The Who, John Barry, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Mozart, James Whistler, Edith Sitwell and the invention of cotton but, perhaps I'll save that lot for later..


Keith said...

Hey Dave. This is such a cool post. I had heard of King's Road, but never realized how much is really there. Wow! It would definitely be somewhere to visit if I went to the UK again. Cheers!

Planet Mondo said...

It's a great area keith, I've been going there since I was 14 and still love it just as much - regardless of so many icons being 'Starbucked'

Cocktails said...

When I first went to the Kings Road 9 or so years ago, I visited with all the pop culture knowledge/baggage you've just outlined. I don't know what I was expecting (Mick Jagger buying some new tracksuit bottoms? John Martyn staggering out of the pub? Punks in bondage trousers sharing a ciggie on the corner?!), but of course I was majorly disappointed.

Nothing's there any more!

Although it was nice to see where things were, you just can't imagine that the area as it is now was ever even remotely hip, happening and 'cutting edge'. Your post is a lot better than the real thing.

Planet Mondo said...

No it's not anywhere near what it was Cocktails. I was there a couple of weeks, ago and even though so much of it's gone corporate now - there's still a small element of eccentric trendies and barmy boho's on parade (mainly around The World's End area), but it's always worth a visit to see what was oncewhere ..
Something you can't do with Kensington Market anymore (a giant sports shop now)...

This book's a cracker and puts it King's Roads history in context..

Ishouldbeworking said...

I read that post thinking 'wonder if he's read Max Decharne's book'. It's great (and his band aren't bad either.).

I used to have a holiday job when I was a student, selling 80s earrings in the Great Gear Market. The smell of poppers, hairspray and sweat...great stuff.

Roman Empress said...

Have you seen the 'look at life' DVD? Great footage of '60s Kings Rd.

Piley said...

What a great post. Was never really a 'Kings Road' lad, more ya Camden High St, so this is a great intro to the history of the place. Must go have a mooch again soon and take my Mondo book of Eye-Spy with me.


Cocktails said...

Ah, Roman Empress, Look at Life! I just posted something from that excellent DVD on my site.

If you don't have it PM, you should get it - it is, I think, right up your street.

Planet Mondo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Planet Mondo said...

ISB - that's mad I was a regular at GGM from 81 onwards. I can still picture it so clearly - military stall on the way in, mad amounts of badges on route downstairs, stoner shop at the back and the caff in the middle - loved it there.

I'll have to put that on my rental list RE, have a peep at the second clip in this posting there's a ton SW3 sixties boutiques in it - including Hung On You which later become the Vivienne Westwood shop.

I did Camden a few times P, but King's Road and Kensington Mkt were my two regular runs.
Couple of places to add to your tick list are ..

Bowies Mainman offices were located on King's Road.

Chelsea Town Hall where Give Peace A Chance had it's launch pary, and where Judy Garland's final marriage was made official - she also lived and died just a short hop from King's Road

Tom Salters Cafe (225 I think)where Cook, Jones and Matlock, billed as The Swankers played there first ever gig - and at the top end, 45 Gunter Grove where a post-Pistols Lydon lived

Just down the Road in Pimilico is 22 Westmorland Terrace where the Small Faces lived and wrote Lazy Sunday, and where Brian Epstein had his first LSD trip.

And nearby in Ebury Street is where Pete Townshend flat at the time he composed most of Tommy

Five-Centres said...

It's minutes from my home and I go there about once a week, and while I know bits of the history, I didn't realise it was quite so rich. So thanks for that. Remember when the punks used to hang out by Safeway? We'd scurry by quick smart.

planet mondo said...

I remember the Safeways punks really well - but I looked like this at the time so didn't mind them too much..

Who's the nutty old dear, with the shaved/tattooed head and pierced face dressed in white linen wandering around - I was there a couple of weeks ago and she was shuffling around the World's End area

ryan said...

The nutty dear haha .
ive seen her around for years..I
havent got a clue who she is..
but she really stands out..strange...proper eccentric.

its really nice to see the kings road in the past full of culture and colour...kings road 2009 boring and bad traffic..

Emma said...

I grew up on the Kings Road in the 1970's. My father had a hair salon, Hair by Tony there. Anyone remember it, next to Astrix and Kickers from late 1960 through to late 1970? Wow what a place to grow up, if I hadn't be a kid the celebrities would have blown me away....Dad had great stories about disappearing into nightclubs at World's End with the Stones and not coming out for 3 days !

planet mondo said...

Ryan - she was wearing a feather on her head last time I spotted her - whoever she is I bet she could tell a few tales..

Emma - If I had a time machine, I would set controls for Kings Road in the heart of the seventies. It was even more colourful and swishy than the sixties - what a time and place to be brought up in - you should do a blog bit about it (with location photos from the time)!!

Emma said...

Planet Mondo, you don't realise until you are much, much older, how much time you have wasted. Dad died last year with alzhiemers, so by the time I was interested in the 'hey days' it was too late to get the real info. I know he kept an autograph book for me at reception over those years but lost it years later...that would probably have been priceless now. I do remember some very odd fellows 'smoking' in the basement, turns out they were The Eagles....youth, wasted on the young ! The seventies was fantastic, Punk....I could watch for hours out of the window. The old bloke in the pub across the road, sat in the same place every lunch time, used to buy me a coke (paper straw) and chips (add your own salt) - turns out that was Joe Cocker...If I knew then, what I know now...

Planet Mondo said...

Have you read this book Emma - I chomped through it a couple of years ago - it's a must read if you're familiar with the area, and covers the history and legacy of King's Road

Also try trawling youtube for vintage footage you may see your dad's place on there...

Ken Krimstein said...

Anyone remember the wine bar "Nose" a few streets away from Sloan Square on the Kings Road? Used to meet my parents there after school.
Think it was near Kickers.

Zoë said...

This whole post was fascinating, especially as my Dad grew up in rural Ireland in the 1950s so none of these stories! Does anyone know about The Shop? I know it was beside World's End, but can't find any info online. It was a clothing shop. TIA!

Lynn Pesapane said...

Yes! Used to hang out there mid 70's. Ended up sleeping there one night & woke up to find decorators working around me! Many many happy (drunken) memories.

Lynn Pesapane said...

Yes! Used to hang out there mid 70's. Ended up sleeping there one night & woke up to find decorators working around me! Many many happy (drunken) memories.

Lynn Pesapane said...

Yes! Many happy (drunken) evenings spent there mid 70's. Think it was pink at one time? Used to watch the cruising nearby also. Happy times.