Author Archives: donbrown

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Soho Walk

The map below (click the top right corner of it to get full screen) is the plan I’m building up of central London sites associated with (predominantly) ’60s and ’70s rock and pop.

So we have the site of the Beatles’ last live performance (and possibly their first London gig), the flat where Mama Cass Elliot and Keith Moon both died, the pub where Brian Jones auditioned Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for his new band, the club where the Sex Pistols, the Clash, Jimi Hendrix and The Who played, and the offices where Elton John worked.

The blue line is my ‘rock n roll Soho’ walk, taking in many of the places mentioned above, as well as the street where Bowie was photographed for the Ziggy Stardust album, the studios where Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded, and the shop where Eric Clapton (reputedly) bought his first guitar.

If you want to come on this walk one Sunday, click here to put your email address into my newsletter list and I’ll send you the dates as they are scheduled.

Curiocity – a very different type of guidebook

curicoityI’ve just done a review of Curiocity for the London Society (which you can read here).

If you’ve not seen the book, go and do so, because it’s a fantastic piece of work – page after page of stories, trivia, maps and itineraries that take in a huge amount of London’s history, sites, legends and literature. Like the city itself, it’s a place you can be happily lost in for hours, discovering new things and experiences.

The authors describe it as the ‘reimagining of London in 26 ways’. “While some people attempt to hold London still to map it and document it, everyone else is changing the city simply by being part of it.”

Single Spies | Richmond Theatre

Review of the Alan Bennett plays that form Single Spies, at the Richmond Theatre, March 2016. First published in Essential Surrey

single-spies-alan-bennett

In the 1930s, the British security services were penetrated by a group of double agents who passed on many secrets to Stalin’s Soviet Union over the next two decades. The group became known as the Cambridge Circle (they had all been friends from university) and included Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess and the art historian Sir Anthony Blunt. Burgess and Maclean fled to the USSR in 1951, Philby followed in 1963. Blunt was granted immunity from prosecution and anonymity on the basis he cooperated with the authorities.

Alan Bennett’s Single Spies, at the Richmond Theatre until Saturday, actually consists of two plays. The first is an adaptation of the script for the 1983 TV movie An Englishman Abroad, about a meeting in Moscow between the actress Coral Browne and Guy Burgess. The second is A Question of Attribution, an imagined encounter between the Queen and Blunt, who was Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures until he was exposed as a traitor and stripped of his knighthood in 1979. Continue reading

Merry Wives | Northern Broadsides

Review of the Northern Broadsides’ production of Merry Wives at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. March 2016

Northern Broadside’s Merry Wives, at the Rose Theatre in Kingston this week, is Shakespeare redone as a classic English farce, with entrances and exits timed to perfection, and all the characters that have become staples of the genre – the lecherous old man, the jealous husband, the dopey servant, thwarted lovers and the bawdy old woman.

In a fast-paced production the cast pull off the performance with great energy, communicating their enthusiasm to the audience throughout. Continue reading

Beryl

Review of the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of Maxine Peake’s Beryl at the Rose Theatre, Kingston. March 2016

main-image-listing-recoveredBeryl Burton is the cycling superstar that you’ve probably never heard of. British All Round champion for 25 consecutive years from 1959 to 1983, she held every national title (at one point simultaneously), won seven world titles, and her 1967 record for the 12 hour time trial is unbeaten to this day.

Maxine Peake’s Beryl is an entertaining celebration of this extraordinary woman’s life, told with a cast of just four, in a series of short scenes linked by narration.  There’s humour as well as drama, as we go from Beryl’s childhood in Leeds and her marriage to Charlie, to the years when she was the all-conquering champion of the road and track.  Samantha Power captures Beryl’s single-minded dedication to becoming the very best, and her refusal to give up, whatever the odds. Continue reading

Bye bye bonfire night

Over 400 years of tradition is coming to an end in London:- the public celebration of Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night.

Of course there are still some fireworks shows to go to, but these are now (with one or two exceptions) tightly-controlled, ticket-only, paid events. And they are displays of fireworks, disassociated from the ‘gunpowder, treason and plot’ of the rhyme; Guy-less, ahistorical.

Ten years ago one could – and I did – watch the free fireworks on Clapham Common and see in the distance the rockets from Lambeth’s other free shows in Brockwell Park and Tooting Bec. After cutting back these shows from three to one, this year Lambeth have axed the fireworks completely. In Wandsworth the free fireworks across the borough were condensed into the expensive Battersea Park event years ago, and it’s a similar story in Wimbledon and across the rest of the capital. Continue reading

The Lloyd’s Building

outside-columnIn 1978, the year after architect Richard Rogers’ Pompidou Centre opened in Paris, construction started on his first major London project, The Lloyd’s Building in Lime Street.

Built to house the London Insurance Market, this was the first “high tech” building in the UK and there is still nothing quite like it.

The building is “inside out”, with the service functions placed on the exterior. The pipework and air conditioning ducts wrapped around the outside, the glass lifts scooting up the outside walls, the corner staircases like corkscrew metal are all still a delight to behold. But the concept is not decorative per se: it allows for easy replacement and maintenance of the facilities, and it means the inside can be open and flexible, with uninterrupted activity on each level. Rogers has designed other buildings in London since Lloyd’s, but none provoke the same sense of looking at something otherworldly. Continue reading

The Monument

dsc_0100Climb the 311 stairs today to the top of the Monument and the view lays out the 21st century City. To the north the Walkie Talkie seems close enough to touch, and behind that are the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin, Heron Tower and the other towers of skyscraper alley.

To the south the view is dominated by the Shard, but the Elephant and Castle developments are now starting to block that horizon; the east has the packed legoland towers of Canary Wharf.

The west gives some relief with a great view of St Paul’s and down the river to Westminster, but look down into the City and one can see the current building boom with cranes and construction sites all around. Continue reading

Sunday morning walks and tours

img_2152Join me on Sunday mornings in November for a couple of walks and tours that will show you some hidden gems of the capital.

 

 

Rock n Roll Soho: Discover the heart of rock ‘n’ roll London – the places, clubs and venues that were the setting for the music that defined a generation. We’ll see where the Beatles’ did their last gig and the Pistols did their first; where the Stones were formed; the club where Hendrix performed; and the coffee bars that defined 1960s London.

13 November | 1030-1300 | Start at Savile Row W1 | More information and tickets here

 

Sunday Morning at the British Museum: Every visitor to London should see the British Museum, but with tens of thousands of objects on display, just where do you start? Discover the treasures of the British Museum – from over 4000 of human history.

20 November | 1030-1300 | British Museum Great Court | More information and tickets here

And also in November I’ll be looking at the treasures of the NATIONAL GALLERY on Friday evenings. If you want to find out more, email me and I’ll send you more information.

 

 

London in Miniature

IMG_0657They don’t make as big a deal of it as they should, but at the Building Centre in Store Street (off Tottenham Court Road, and just round the corner from the British Museum) there is the most fantastic architectural model of London.

You can see the capital stretch out in front of you, from Stratford in the east right across to Old Oak Common, and from Primrose Hill in the north down to Nine Elms.

There are the clusters of skyscrapers in the City and Canary Wharf, the new developments at Battersea and Paddington. You can take in the ordered streets and quiet squares; notice the Eye, the Orbit, the Post Office (Telecom) Tower and the way the river weaves along, and appreciate the extraordinary amount of green space with which London is blessed. Continue reading