London 15 years ago: Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London in April 2004

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

It’s now changed out of all recognition with the legendary 12 Bar Club closing and several music stores moving out due to redevelopment, but this small road in central London (known as Tin Pan Alley) played a major part in Britain’s musical heritage

Here’s a selection of photos showing how Denmark Street used to look, along with a few snaps from the much missed Astoria:

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

The Guardian wrote about the death of Denmark Street in January 2015:

Nicknamed Tin Pan Alley (because streets sound cooler when you name them after bits of New York), the 100-yard stretch right on the lip of Soho was, once upon a time, the centre of the UK music industry. The NME (or to give it its full title at the time ‘The Musical Express, incorporating Accordion Times’) and Melody Maker both had their early offices on the street, most of the major music publishing and management companies of the 50s and 60s were based there and the strip housed recording studios put to use by the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and Elton John.

Bowie spent the 60s sipping coffee in the La Giocondo cafe, the Sex Pistols rehearsed at number 6 and, probably best of all, two of Bananarama actually lived there in the late 70s. Of course that’s the distant past – the managers, magazines and labels long ago moved on (though the Pistols left some grafitti to remember them by and since the 90s Denmark Street has been a promenade of near-identical guitar shops. We probably didn’t need all of them, but that’s not the point.

This was a tiny corner of London that retained its personality and escaped the signs of soft corporate power that pervade almost every other high street in the land – no chain stores or branded coffee shops, no Subways or McDonalds, and unlike the traditional “alternative paradise” of Camden High Street, no “I Heart London” keyrings, faux-wooden iPhone covers and badges saying “free the weed”.

Admittedly all of that can be found just round the corner on Charing Cross Road, but its absence here felt meaningful. The big players may have moved out, but Denmark Street remained a bastion of the city’s genuine alternative culture, and one of the shrinking islands of central London that didn’t seem designed exclusively for tourists, hipsters or rich people, where musicians, metalheads, rockabillys, punks and indie kids, old and young, still felt at home. Central to this, at least until last week, were the 12 Bar Club and Enterprise Studios.>

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

Happily, Hanks Guitar Shop is still doing business in Denmark Street.

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

The much missed 12 Bar venue.

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

Musician adverts.

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

Drinking in the CrowBar,  rock/goth bar opposite Denmark Street.

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

The wonderful Le Tigre in the now demolished Astoria, which was a short walk from Denmark Street.

My blog at the time said:

Le Tigre were fantastic: a head on clash of Human League meets X Ray Spex meets The Slits meets the B52s meets the Shangri Las all mixed up with attitude and a healthy dose of political outrage. They were chuffing superb!

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

After the show we repaired to the Ghetto – a small underground gay bar behind the Astoria in Falconberg Court. It closed over a decade ago.

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004

My 2004 blog entry noted:

The vibe inside was friendly, up-for-it and fun. And cans of lager were only £1.50! Definitely a club to check out again. We left as the mixed dancefloor went mad to the sounds of Sparks: “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us”.

Denmark Street, 12 Bar Club & The Astoria, Soho, London, April 2004