The strains and pains produced by the capital’s ravenous growth are nowhere more vividly distilled than in and around Denmark Street, that tiny avenue off the north end of Charing Cross Road known to many for many years as London’s Tin Pan Alley. The street’s long history as a hive of creativity, especially the musical kind, has been written and re-written countless times, and with mounting poignance since 2013 when Camden Council gave permission for a Crossrail-driven redevelopment scheme that some fear has already sealed a fatal change in character.
Film maker Henry Scott-Irvine has been in the thick of a campaign to Save Tin Pan Alley – or what he can of what he likes about it – and has produced a crowdfunded documentary about its history and some of the musicians who have written, sung, played and recorded there – an astonishing roster that includes Charlie Chaplin, Englebert Humperdinck, the Rolling Stones, the Sex Pistols and the man who wrote the words to Teddy Bears’ Picnic. Here’s a trailer.
A screening of Tin Pan Alley Tales for crowdfund donors was held last month just round the corner at the Phoenix Artist Club, a venue described by Scott-Irvine to those gathered as “one of the last bastions of bohemia” in Soho and its fringes. He’s a romantic and a dauntless defender of those demimonde niches of London that produce so much light and sparkle. And even if you think him sentimental and the Denmark Street of pop legends to have long since had its day, his film is very good: rich in humour, anecdote and a history stretching from pre-war opium dens through the years when sheet music sales were crucial to the popular song industry, the advent of skiffle, the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, the Swinging Sixties, when future giants hung out in coffee bars and laid down tracks in tiny studios, and the influx of instruments makers and the now-disappearing guitar shops.
The film has already been named best documentary film at the Los Angeles Mindfield Film Festival and its first fully public screening will take place this Thursday evening as part of the Grand Opening Ceremony of this year’s Portobello Film & Arts Festival. You don’t need to buy a ticket, you just turn up at the Maxilla Social Club. It is well worth the Oyster fare.
LONDON AND BREXIT DEBATE: Will leaving the EU be good or bad for the capital? On London and the illustrious London Society have jointly organised a debate about this crucial question. Anti-Brexit campaigner Andrew Adonis, former Boris Johnson adviser Daniel Moylan, Lib Dem AM Caroline Pidgeon and Victoria Hewson from the Institute of Economic Affairs form an all-star line-up of speakers. Buy your tickets here.