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Last Updated: Monday, 11 February 2008, 15:31 GMT
Camden - Britain's musical Mecca?
By Stephen Dowling
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The Clash
The Clash had their first rehearsals in Camden
When Amy Winehouse mentioned Camden at the Grammy Awards, it was hours after the blaze which damaged part of the area's historic market and one of its most famous celebrity hang-outs, the Hawley Arms pub.

"Camden Town ain't burning down!" she shouted via a video-link to a no-doubt mystified Grammy audience in Los Angeles.

It may feature in travel guides and tourist to-do lists as the home of London's busiest market, but Camden has another claim to fame - the after-hours home of London's, and by default Britain's, music industry.

The offices of the major record companies may lie in west London.

But when the music industry decamps for a night out or to check out up-and-coming bands, it's usually to Camden with its clutch of music venues - big, small, scruffy or newly renovated.

Pubs and clubs

Camden's links with rock 'n' roll go back to the mid-'60s, after a disused railway yard was turned into a counter-culture landmark called the Roundhouse. Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix played in its cavernous interior.

During the early 1970s, a number of new venues sprang up, including several that continue to this day - Dingwalls (1973), the Music Machine aka the Camden Palace (1977), and the Electric Ballroom (1978).

Meanwhile, pubs across Camden - including the Falcon, the Dublin Castle and the Monarch - also began putting on gigs.

The launch of the Underworld - a predominantly punk, metal and hard-rock venue beneath the World's End pub by the Tube station - brought a new audience to Camden's music scene, as did the Jazz Cafe, which opened in 1990.

The Dublin Castle pub
The Dublin Castle is just one of Camden's "music" pubs

The list of bands playing Camden venues is long and illustrious - the Sex Pistols, Bob Dylan, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Manic Street Preachers, The Clash, Van Morrison, Gil Scott-Heron, The Killers, U2 and Blondie.

Music publicists' offices, MTV and some smaller labels - most famously Britpop hit factory Creation, along the road in Primrose Hill - have all helped to add to its mystique.

Madness frontman Suggs even mentioned Camden Town on his debut solo album.

Immigrant roots

BBC London 94.9 radio host Robert Elms is a Camden resident and a long-time fan of the area.

"Camden Town is perfectly pitched," he says. "It's the right distance from the centre; it's central London but just on the edge of it. It's not really poor but it's never been chi-chi.

Rock 'n' roll grows best in dark places, just like mushrooms
Robert Elms

"It's always been a place of immigrants, of Irish and Greek Cypriots, and of students. It's always had that mix."

Music and fashion have thrived there because of the markets and the clothes stalls as much as the number of music venues, he says.

"It's the kind of place where you can be whoever you want to be. They're used to people who look a bit different and sound a bit different."

Camden's Irish immigrant roots are an integral part of it, too, Elms says.

"It's had an awful lot of pubs, and that's a good thing. Where there's a pub, there's usually a back room, and where there's a back room there's a band."

The Clash had the photos taken for their debut album in Camden
Bon Scott, AC/DC's singer, died after a night's heavy drinking in Camden
Bob Marley lived in Camden in 1972
Britpop bands Pulp and Lush both mentioned Camden in songs - Sorted for Es & Wizz and Ladykiller
Prince had a boutique in Camden in the mid-'90s

Camden is, Elms says, not a place to see established bands in massive venues. Its live music circuit is built around smaller clubs, and the emphasis is on new bands. And its venues can often be found off the main streets.

"One of the other things about Camden Town is that it's lacerated by canals, and there's always back alleys.

"Rock 'n' roll grows best in dark places, just like mushrooms."

The at-least temporary loss of the Hawley Arms - frequented by the likes of Winehouse and the band Razorlight - might mean the locality gets fewer mentions in the tabloid press.

But, believes Elms, its rock 'n' roll spirit will not die out.

Cordons lifted after market fire
11 Feb 08 |  England
In pictures: Camden fire
10 Feb 08 |  In Pictures
Grammy glory for absent Winehouse
11 Feb 08 |  Entertainment
Plan to help London music venues
17 Dec 07 |  Entertainment
Rock history landmarks celebrated
05 Feb 07 |  Entertainment

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