Camden Markets and Musical Legends

I’m a little ashamed to admit I probably now know more about San Francisco’s history and streets than I do of my own capital city where I lived for almost 7 years. So, on a recent trip back to London I decided to educate myself a little more about the history of the streets and places I frequented so often, but knew nothing about.

I chose the Camden Markets and Musical Legends walking tour with Undiscovered London and I really wish I’d done it years ago. When I lived in London I drank and listened to live music in KOKO, The Hawley Arms, Dingwalls and the Dublin Castle oblivious to the fact I was drinking the same places that legendary musicians had before me!

Camden’s music venues
We started the tour at KOKO, a venue I know best for ‘We Love the 80’s’ and the first place I ever tried a black Sambuca (don’t do it, it’s vile stuff). KOKO started life in 1900 as the Camden Theatre and has since been through several incarnations as Camden Hippodrome Theatre, The Music Machine and The Camden Palace before it was renovated and relaunched as KOKO in 2004. I won’t even attempt to list the artists that have played or started off their careers here but it’s long and impressive.

We detoured down several side streets to visit The Dublin Castle and The Good Mixer, the former famous for launching the band Madness and early Amy Winehouse gigs, the latter was the battleground for Blur and Oasis during their 90s rivalry.

We also visited the Electric Ballroom, the venue for Prince’s 2014 ‘guerilla gig’. I recall reports of this gig vividly, as I had heard a rumor about the gig and was contemplating going. At the time lots of rumors were swirling that Prince would play Glastonbury (which I was attending) and that he would also announce bigger venues. It was a freezing cold Tuesday in February and the weather was disgusting, so I decided to skip it and see him another time. We all know how that panned out for me.

Amy Winehouse
Despite her well documented troubles, Amy Winehouse was the darling of Camden and was much loved by music fans in the UK and worldwide. If you haven’t already, I urge you to watch the powerful documentary ‘Amy’, which depicts a troubled girl hounded by the media and struggling to cope with fame.

On this walking tour I loved hearing stories about Amy and her local hangouts – most people in Camden knew Amy as a charming and spirited girl before she became famous. They have lovely tales to tell about her that weren’t deemed interesting or outrageous enough to make the mainstream media.

The tour itself
As you might have guessed from my other blog posts, I love a walking tour. I’ve done lots of walking tours in San Francisco and now try to do them wherever I visit, whether led by a guide or using the Detour app.

The guide on this particular tour is a good friend of mine, so it was nice to see him doing his day job! Although I’m obviously biased, the tour really stands out because in addition to the guide giving a history of the area and showing you Camden’s hidden gems, live music is played throughout the walk and audience participation is encouraged. I can’t think of a better way to take in Camden’s unique musical history and soak in the atmosphere.

Though this post focuses on the music, we also toured Camden Market where you can buy almost anything. Camden was my go-to if I had a free Saturday when I lived in London and somewhere I would often take visitors; it’s also one of the first places I visited upon my return to the UK from a year traveling abroad. The treasures found in the marketplace compete with any bazaar or marketplace globally and the food is also amazing.

On a sad note…
Anecdotes on this tour featured Prince and Amy Winehouse – two of my favorite artists – as well as mentions of Wham! and John Lennon. So, this left me wondering not only why I didn’t take the time to get to know more about London’s history and secrets while living there, but also why I didn’t go to more gigs and see the artists I love live while I had the chance. Today we heard the news that Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave has joined the ever growing list of musicians taken too soon, so that lesson seems even more poignant.


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