Musical Tourism: The UK, past and present.

Past: Camden Town

In Camden town, you can do anything you want to (Suggs – Camden Town)

Quirky, colorful Camden Town is still Britain’s most well known alternative centre. A bustling market district, Camden revolves around a new style of down and out grunge – one that appears in a range of vivid Technicolor. You can still visit the infamous old venues, buy dubious substances on nearly every street corner and wear tie dye and facial piercings in public without being considered an outcast. ‘Koko’ is still one of London’s most fashionable venues: even on an average night, expect serious difficulties getting in. The Underworld and Camden Palace are also amongst the most well known mid-sized venues the UK has to offer: the kind of place where if you pick the right night that Superstar just might make an unannounced appearance.

It all started in the late 60s. In the early days Camden Roundhouse was the place to be: Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors all put in early appearances. More recently Camden became the self proclaimed home of Britpop, as the home of star artists from bands including Oasis, Blur and Pulp. The fame resulted in MTV music and major record label Creation taking up residence in Camden Lock, where they remain to this day. Musicians as diverse as Bob Dylan, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, REM, The Ramones and Blondie also all claim some connection to Camden in their past.

It’s the old school ‘scene’ feel of Camden which is the real draw though. It’s a place where ‘alternative’ is normal: you’ll never feel so out of place walking around in jeans and a t-shirt. The market stalls sell everything you’ve never seen before and the venues all cater to the organic, the vegan and the international. Buildings are cartoon like, plastered in bright oversized signs and painted up like a large scale jester convention.

A world of oddities to be discovered then, and that’s without even touching on the extensive art and photography scene, propensity for oddly flavored lolly pops and numerous great drinking establishments. Is Camden the ultimate rock and roll tourist destination? It just might be.

Present: The Yorkshire Scene – Sheffield and Leeds.

Yeah, I’d love to tell you all my problem, You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham, So get off the bandwagon… (The Arctic Monkeys making Yorkshire cool in ‘Fake Tales of San Francisco’).

If red is the new black, and miniskirts are the new winter range then Yorkshire is definitely the new Manchester. The regional accent ‘thing’ is back, and this time it’s the dour realism of the Yorkshire man that’s all the rage. Much to Londoner’s dismay, Sheffield is dead centre of the UK Indie scene now. The home of Pulp has recently spawned a huge range of chart bothering acts, most notably the Artic Monkeys. The heavily-hyped, accent-based act’s music is heavily Sheffield influenced, with multiple references to the city falling into almost every one of the teenager’s songs. Venues such as the Leadmill and Mojo Club have acquired a big national reputation.

Much of the rest of the Yorkshire scene is based around Leeds – a city with a growing reputation as the UK’s party- hard student capital. With bands as prominent as the Kaiser Chiefs, Pigeon Detectives and Corinne Bailey Rae leading the charge, and their very own rock festival, perhaps the scale of the Leeds scene is less shocking then the level to which the rest of the UK have taken it to heart: a night out in Leeds has become something of a musical pilgrimage.

This looks like a scene set to last: in 04/05 simply having guitars and a Yorkshire accent was enough to provoke a gamble from most record labels, but the scene seems to have leveled off instead of peaked. Of course, most of the bands are still shrouded in a fog of obscurity, but despite the commercial scramble the scene lives on. Sheffield and Leeds are still the places to be for music.  Quite a change from the days of the infamous Monty Python sketch that depicts ‘the third world: Yorkshire’, then.

As published in Rokon Magazine, February 2008.