21 FEB 2019: In my youth, which I now wish was more misspent, I stumbled on to an early punk performance. Armed with a freshly issued VISA and a $200 credit limit, I flew to London where my friend Jane was spending a term off university working in an Aussie bar, the King’s Head in Earl’s Court.

On the advice of her Aussie patrons we found ourselves in a scuzzy bar in a non-touristy area of London. The name and location lost to us now. I do remember the pub’s backroom and its elevated stage where a group of malnourished, sun-deprived kids in torn clothes staggered about. The lead singer vomited, on stage. I was pretty convinced that was a career ender. Later, they went on to notoriety as The Sex Pistols. With the vomiting, I remembered the floors were so sticky every step took on a Herman Munster stagger. “Hmmm. Spit and cider pub. Which is what pubs were like then,” says Stuart Bridgeman.

Stuart is a friend who has worked in the London music scene for the last 25 years. He works now as a music pusher for the Alan James PR Agency getting air time for up and coming groups.

Stuart is also a punk purist. Over a fag and gin Stuart says, “In the 70s it was something that was needed. It was a transitional time. Things were so bad both economically and musically that something needed to change. It shone brightly for 12 months” until the Sex Pistols broke up. He concedes there were two other waves that extended punk, but they weren’t to his taste.

Punk was the response that rose from working class roots. According to Stuart, British punk was different from the American version. “American punk was much more pretentious, more pseudo-intellectual and far more arty. But here it was far more political and from the street. It was a working class movement that was much grittier, much tougher than the American.”

Considering London’s musical map, punk was centred in and around 1970s Soho, which was then a low-rent district populated by working girls, sex shops and dodgy clubs. By the 1990s London’s music scene had moved to Camden. Now, London’s music scene has moved to the Hoxton and Shoreditch areas. You won’t necessarily hear punk, but for newer groups head to the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen (www.hoxtonsquarebar.com).

After our liquid-fuelled philosophical discussion ended I took Aidan McManus’ Soho Punk Tour (www.flipsidelondontours.com). We met at the Tottenham Court Road Tube Station and spent two hours exploring the area in a fun, gritty, antidote-rich two-hour type of punk pilgrimage through Soho.

Our first stop was Denmark Street, London’s Tin Pan Alley. Music shops line this short block. It’s a place where you can buy anything from instruments to even sheet music. Peeking through the No.Tom guitar shop window at number 6, McManus points to a courtyard. Behind the ground floor window is where the Sex Pistols rehearsed. They lived in a rodent-filled room above. Next door, the Relentless building, was once a seedy hotel with in-room inhalers connected to a basement opium burner that glowed 24/7.

In the decades since the golden, gritty age of punk, Soho has been gentrified, bringing a certain respectability to former punk haunts. The old Marquee Club, where The Stones, David Bowie, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Billy Idol, Generation X and others performed and where the Pistols premiered God Save The Queen, has morphed into the Soho Lofts and a restaurant/bar/music club named for its address: 100 Wardour Street.

Nearby, the Leicester Square Theatre was a punk venue called the Notre Dame Hall. It was notable for the performances it hosted and its location in the basement of a Catholic hospital.

The former Roxy at 41 Neill Street, near Covent Garden, which everyone played at, is now a Speedo shop. The St Martin’s School of Art, Charring Cross Road (the school moved and the building is now offices and condos), is where The Sex Pistols did their first gig. It was so bad the students booed and fists followed. There were other clashes between audiences, club owners and groups, like the Teds (Teddy Boys), who more than once chased the Pistols’ to their solicitor’s offices at 119 Oxford Street. Once the HQ for the Sex Pistols, it’s now a Clark’s shoe store.

When not being chased, many punks hung out at Louise’s Club, 61 Poland Street. It was a lesbian after-hours bar run by an elderly French woman who dressed in men’s clothing and didn’t discriminate against punkers. The building now operates as the Milk & Honey members bar. Non-members are admitted by reservation (www.mlkhny.com).

The last of the old punk venues is the 100 Club on Oxford Street. Curiously, it survives. Squeezed between the red front of an Anne Summons lingerie shop and the blue-and-white of Boots the Chemist, is a respectable ten-foot-wide black granite slab and generic glass office-style door that looks like it should lead you to an accountant’s office instead of a legendary music venue. Walk down the first set of steps and you start to feel the transition from Oxford Street sobriety to dodgy piss up.

The 100 Club is a large basement room with a rural legion feel. The floor, ceiling and pillars are black. The chipped red walls are covered in framed photos and posters for past acts. A bar is cut into an end wall behind rows of yellow plastic stacking chairs. A modest stage faces an elevated, fortress-like DJ area. It was during the club’s first punk festival that Sid Vicious, seeing how tightly packed the people were, invented ‘The Pogo’, basically jumping up and down in place as a dance substitute. He later said, “It shows how gullible people are.”

Punk London is an earthy, un-gilded way to experience the city. It’s one of six themed tours McManus offers. Beyond his edgier introduction to London other guides and groups offer more traditional themes like a Jack The Ripper Tour of Whitechapel, A Sherlock Holmes Tour, Brit Movie Tours, an East End Food Tour, A Royal Tour, photographic tours, and many more. Check it out.
https://www.visitlondon.com/things-to-do/sightseeing/sightseeing-tours/walking-tour for options.

Three centuries ago, Dr. Johnston famously said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." For the modern traveller there’s a specialized experience to feed all interests and passions.

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