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Category Archives: Roads of Renown

When Buddy came to London

Exactly 60 years ago today, the world lost an early rock and roll icon: Buddy Holly. 

Buddy Holly (image: Wikipedia)

During his short life, Buddy- who was born in Lubbock, Texas in 1936- made a huge impact on music and left a legacy which would go on to inspire and influence countless future stars. 

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In March 1958 Buddy Holly and his band, The Crickets (who were made up of Niki Sullivan, Jerry Allison and Joe Mauldin) embarked upon a UK tour.

The very first show they played was on the 1st of that month and took place at the former Trocadero Cinema which was located on the New Kent Road, Elephant and Castle. 

Poster advertising Buddy Holly at the Crickets at the Trocadero, Elephant and Castle, 1958

The image below shows Buddy backstage during rehearsals at this now long-lost venue.

Buddy Holly at the Trocadero, 1958

Whilst in London, Buddy and The Crickets stayed at the Cumberland Hotel near Marble Arch. 

The Cumberland Hotel

Apparently Jerry and Joe were so impressed with the service at the Cumberland that they tipped the shoeshine boy £5- a very considerable sum at the time. 

Just over a decade later, The Cumberland would accommodate another American music legend: Jimi Hendrix.

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On the 2nd March 1958 Buddy Holly and The Crickets travelled north of the Thames to play at the Kilburn Gaumont State. 

The former Gaumont State Cinema, Kilburn High Road (image: Wikipedia)

Situated on Kilburn High Road, the building is now home to the Ruach City Church.

On the same day, the band headed into the West End to appear in a live television broadcast of ‘Live at the London Palladium’. Their set included ‘That’ll Be The Day’, ‘Oh Boy’ and ‘Peggy Sue’.  

To hear audio from that performance- along with still images- please click below:

The picture below was taken during the Palladium performance by photographer, Harry Hammond.

Thirty years later, the same image was used on posters advertising ‘The Buddy Holly Story’; a long running stage musical which opened in London in 1989. 

Buddy Holly at the London Palladium, March 2nd 1958

The 1958 UK tour was compared by a then very young Des O’Conner with whom Buddy became friends.

When Buddy said he needed an acoustic guitar for the tour bus, the pair headed to Denmark Street– aka ‘Tin Pan Alley’- where, according to Des O’Conner, the young Texan tried out “about 17 guitars”. 

Denmark Street as seen from Charing Cross Road

Buddy also visited the Whiskey A Go-Go club on Soho’s Wardour Street where the image below was snapped:

Buddy Holly at Whiskey A Go-Go, Wardour Street (image by Bill Francis, Time Magazine)

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After their first stint in London, Buddy Holly and The Crickets headed on to many other towns and cities including Southampton, Sheffield, Newcastle, Nottingham and Birmingham.

On the 12th March they returned to the capital for three shows at the Croydon Davis, the East Ham Granada and the Woolwich Granada. 

The former Woolwich Granada Cinema (image: Wikipedia)

After further concerts across the country, Buddy Holly and The Crickets returned to London on the 25th of March for their final UK concert at the Hammersmith Gaumont (now the Hammersmith Apollo).

The Hammersmith Gaumont (now the Apollo) today

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Less than a year after his visit to Britain, Buddy Holly was back in the USA taking part in the Winter Dance Party Tour.

On the 2nd February 1959 he played at Clear Lake, Iowa.

Shortly after the gig, in the early hours of the 3rd February, Buddy crammed into a ‘Beechcraft Bonanza’ light aircraft alongside Jiles Perry Richardson Jr- aka the ‘Big Bopper’ – and the teenage sensation, Ritchie Valens. 

Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper

The trio had chartered the aircraft after experiencing poor weather conditions and problems with the tour buses and saw it as their best chance of getting to their next destination- Moorhead, Minnesota– as quickly as possible. 

The aircraft took off in light snow at 12.55am but quickly encountered difficulties and plummeted to the ground just after 1am.

All on board died instantly.

Buddy Holly was 22 years old. The Big Bopper was 28 and Ritchie Valens was just 17.

Please click on the clips below to hear these three musicians in their prime….

The Big Bopper: Chantilly Lace (broadcast autumn 1958)

Ritchie Valens: La Bamba (released October 1958)

Buddy Holly: It Doesn’t Matter Anymore (released January 1959)

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When Walt came to Southwark

Some years ago, a sage old cabbie told me about a mysterious photo which he’d claimed to have never seen himself but was sure existed somewhere; an image apparently depicting legendary American animator and entrepreneur, Walt Disney posing beneath a street sign on Borough’s aptly named Disney Street

Disney Street- and its little offshoot, Disney Place– are two thoroughfares which form a small dogleg between Marshalsea Road and Redcross Way.

‘Disney’ is in fact an extremely old name of Norman origin, deriving from d’Isigny; a surname historically used by folk from the town of Isigny-sur-Mer in north-western France.

The name has been borne by these two Borough streets since at least the 1860s- a quick search of The Times newspaper archive reveals a handful of vicious crimes taking place here, including numerous stabbings and an appalling incident in 1902 when a drunken woman was arrested after “ill-treating a baby by swinging it round” along with a verbal threat to “dash the child’s brains out by throwing it on the pavement.”

Late Victorian map depicting Disney Street (image: nls.uk)

In short, the name ‘Disney’ was being used in London long before Walt’s first flick- the jovial ‘Steamboat Willie’- hit screens in 1928… quite a relief really considering the rather brutal connotations with the two roads.

Going even further back in time when the area had a more rural vibe, the two paths, which have evolved over many decades, were known by completely different names- Bird Cage Alley (which really did refer to local artisans who made said pet accessories) and Harrow Street; an offshoot of which was ‘Harrow Dunghill’ which would no doubt have had quite a literal meaning back in the 18th century.

Original map depicting Harrow Street, Bird Cage Alley and Harrow Dunghill

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Returning to the cabbie’s fable with which I started this piece, I was told that, at some point in the mid-1960s, Walt Disney was on a visit to London with is wife, Lillian.

The pair hailed a taxi and, upon recognising his passenger’s face, the driver couldn’t resist telling his famous fare about the existence of Disney Street and Disney Place.

Unsurprisingly Walt was intrigued and asked be taken there, whereupon he and Lillian had their photos snapped.

For a long time I thought this was nothing more than a cabbie’s urban legend.

Until recently when I happened to discover the images…

The first is of Walt and Lillian:

Walt and Lillian Disney, Disney Street, Southwark, 1965

The second depicts Walt on Disney Place with his business partner, Arthur Allighan; a born Londoner who apparently confessed to having no prior knowledge of the streets which bore his colleague’s infamous surname.

Walt Disney and Arthur Allighan, Disney Place, Southwark 1965

These two images were taken in 1965 and were published in a 1966 edition of ‘Disney World Magazine’.

Sadly, they were amongst the last photos taken of Walt who died shortly after in December 1966 aged 65.

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Buffing Nelson’s Column

Londoners of a certain age- and indeed others who’ve visited the capital in years gone by- will remember how Trafalgar Square used to swarm with pigeons. Thousands of them. There was even a family-run stall in the square which sold bird seed to entice the critters.

Myself amongst Trafalgar Square’s pigeons in the early 1980s

Thanks to a clean-up initiative introduced by former mayor Ken Livingstone at the turn of the 21st century however, the pigeons have since flocked elsewhere, robbing the square of its ornithological character. It’s now easy to forget just how prevalent those tough little city birds were.

Pigeons at Trafalgar Square (copyright The Daily Herald)

When they ruled the roost the pigeons made quite a mess and it was the statue of Naval hero, Lord Horatio Nelson, standing at the centre of Trafalgar Square, which bore the brunt of their droppings. Consequently his statue often required a scrub- easier said than done when said sculpture is perched upon a 170 ft column.

Nelson’s Column as seen from the National Gallery

The chaps responsible for maintaining Nelson’s statue in days gone by were hardy blokes for sure; scaling the dizzying heights with steeplejack knowhow and practically zero safety gear. Their boldness was famously highlighted in 1977 when legendary children’s TV presenter, John Noakes– who sadly died on the 29th May 2017- joined them up top for an episode of Blue Peter. Just watching John scale the rickety ladders is enough to make your palms sweat… click below to view if you dare!

This wasn’t the only time the hair-raising process of cleaning Nelson’s Column was captured on film- please click below to view earlier footage which appears to date from the late 1950s/early 60s.