Photography: Kaye Ford | Words: Zoe London
London Calling to a faraway town…
I think one of the reasons why I love London so much is that you can almost feel the history dripping from the streets. The walls seem alive with stories, and the narrow cobbled paths conjure up a thousand images of years gone by. There is so much history in my city that often, I just don’t know where to begin. I find myself transfixed by the smallest things – the peeling of a billboard, revealing a mere peeking of Victorian Britain underneath, or the wandering aimlessly past plethoras of pubs down Soho built in eras I can’t even begin to imagine. Of course, with my love in life being music, my mind often turns to the music that lead the way in putting London on the map and that sprung a whole new era of British rock and punk – the 70s. I’ve explored Camden before in photosets, but neglected a very vital and incredible piece of music history until now – The Hard Rock Cafe.
A lot of people don’t realise our Hard Rock Cafe is the original one. Yup. Built in 1971 by two Americans – Peter Morton and Isaac Tigrett – who wanted to bring an American diner to our fair city, little did they know just how iconic it would become. The story goes that these two very well connected men had a guitar gifted to them by Eric Clapton, who said to put it on the wall above the stool in the bar where he sat – his stool. A short while later another guitar arrived from Pete Townshend – “mine’s just as good as his!” History was born and before we know it we’re here in 2017, with Hard Rock Cafe being one of the most iconic brands in the world, with restaurants and stores all over the world. But really, it’s born and raised here, in London Town, right out of the 70s.
It’s really not hard to imagine those original musicians in the bar. Okay sure, there’s more tourists now then there were back then, but it still has the most authentic, vintage feel to it. I long to have known the conversations made and deals had in that bar, the late nights and the early mornings. It’s dimly lit cosy tables setting the scene for back then would have been the bar du jour, the rock n roll hang out. I can imagine the fashion of the clientele now. I tried to bring it back to life, wearing suedette and velvet kick flares, adorned in glittering stars. I’d like to think it was very Debbie Harry of me, a bit of that Stevie Nicks flair and the glam of Pat Benetar. The interior seems not to have changed all that much, and I often wonder if the tourists do really realise this is actually the very first Hard Rock, the most special of them all.
Something I know they definitely don’t realise is the hidden gem of the The Vault. I got lucky, my parents 1. used to take us into London from Cambridge as often as they could at weekends when I was a kid, and 2. are both into music, and knew I was too. When I was a teenager they took me down to the Vault, and I have some of the most amazing photos of me holding these guitars from icons I just looked up to and more. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, I think around 13-14, and really cutting my teeth on The Clash, Pistols and Nirvana – all of which have authentic memorabilia both in the cafe and the Vault. It’s completely free to visit The Vault, and tours run every 20 minutes. You really can get up close and personal with some of the most intimate and beautiful pieces of music history. In these photos I treasured the fact I was sat mere inches away from Freddie Mercury’s chair, from David Bowie’s guitar and across the room even more treasures to behold. Priceless artefacts from the inner makings of some of our most treasured – and lost – musicians.
I can’t experience exactly how Joe Strummer’s London looked, but I can imagine. I know the Soho streets in which they played and the Camden haunts in which they dwelled like the back of my hand, but I don’t know them like they did. Small afternoons like this spent treasured deep in the Vault underneath bustling London allow me those moments to be at peace with the music that inspires me, the music that shaped me into who I am. I got lucky, I was able to head down there by myself to shoot these, but the tours are an intimate small group affair, and the cafe itself has many little nooks you can easily hide away into, while you listen to the music on the stereo and imagine the conversations Eric Clapton must have had sat on the very same stool.
I love my city, and I love it’s history. We are a politically charged capital, with music running deep into our veins.
With special thanks to The Hard Rock Cafe: http://www.hardrock.com/cafes/london/