In my honest opinion, there’s few highs of life that can come close to being extremely passionate about music, especially in your formative years. For me, this was exemplified during my younger days in Bristol, where the music scene was – and remains – vibrant. Often, the biggest decisions of an evening focused on which venue to attend, to watch new bands and explore the many different musical genres that abounded in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Occasionally, myself and friends would venture up to London to see bands and be blown away by the variety of gigs on offer across the capital city; far more than our Bristol could hope to entertain. Astonishingly, as with my home city, many of the fabulous locations where we spent many happy days and nights have disappeared completely over time. So, when Paul Talling’s new book, London’s Lost Music Venues 2 (released on June 23rd by Damaged Goods Books) appeared on the Joyzine list, it was a no-brainer to explore the similarities and return to happy memories of bygone days. This collection is a follow-up to Paul’s 2020 publication on the same topic and covers 140 venues in London (40 more than its predecessor) that either no longer exist, or now function in a non-musical capacity.

Merely flicking through the book brought back instant, vivid memories, such as visiting London and always visiting the massive HMV store on Oxford Street, which had been in operation since 1921. This was our place to buy the mandatory t-shirt(s) and vinyl (plus treasuring the HMV white bag itself), whilst feeling that we were somehow in the mothership of all UK record shops; ‘Music HQ’. As I read of the location’s sad, musical demise (now operating as a Sports Direct store), key memories from forty years flashed back into view. The endless thumb flicking of vinyl albums, wandering through piles of cassettes and singles, while being amongst like-minded souls; punks, new romantics, skinheads, fans of reggae, ska, classical, heavy metal and countless more. The store felt like a living, breathing space and every time I went there it felt buzzing. I was truly sorry to hear that it was no longer emitting that glorious vibe and it felt akin to losing a beloved, old friend.  

The majority of places mentioned in Paul’s book naturally focus on where the magic happened several times a week, namely the musical venues that hosted new and established artists, alongside those just starting out on their musical journeys. Paul provides lists of artists who played in the venues mentioned and the lineups make the reader instantly wish for a time machine to return back to those heady days of phenomenal talent. For instance, we learn that The Granda in Woolwich (now a church) had opened in 1937 and played host to a wealth of music talent, such as Cliff Richard, The Crickets, Billy Fury, Little Richard, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones and many more, making the reader imagine what the reaction was back then to the new energy of early rock & roll. A venue I remember attending – The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park (also now a church) could name Bob Marley and the Wailers, Status Quo, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Beach Boys, Ella Fitzgerald and many hundreds more amongst their visiting musicians, with the last ever concert hosting Elvis Costello in 1981. Meanwhile, over in SW5, another location I’d visited back in the day, Earls Court Exhibition Centre (originally opened in 1937 but now a vacant plot of land) had welcomed the likes of Iron Maiden, U2, REM, Oasis, The Arctic Monkeys, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Queen, Bob Dylan and many, many more. 

Paul Talling lays out each venue with a very respectful nod to the enthralling excitement of days long past. From each location, we get several visual stimuli, mostly consisting of tickets and detailed posters of the artists who played there, alongside a history of each location and the story of its demise. We also get to see the current state of each venue in 2022, which can certainly inflict a wistful, sobering effect for anyone who treasured attending these landmark locations back in younger days. All genres of music are mentioned and, once again, it’s clear that – while I remember Bristol as being a vibrant source of creative choices – my home city had absolutely nothing on what was available in London.  

It’s impossible not to imagine the amount of people who retain life-long memories of attending these lost venues and the thrill of seeing young, emerging bands, such as The Stones, The Who and countless others, developing their musical craft. If time travel ever becomes a thing, there’s absolutely no doubt that there’s going to be a lot of people using both of Paul’s books on this topic as a gig guide, just to savour the passion and energy of music from the past, where the beer was usually less than a pound a pint. An absolutely fascinating read!  

London’s Lost Music Venues 2 is released via Damaged Goods Books on 23rd June. Order your copy here

Review by Kev Milsom

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