Croydon: a historic musical mecca


By - Tuesday 5th November, 2013

Francesca Baker takes us on a tour of Croydon’s diverse musical heritage, from the Beatles to dubstep producer Skream


Image used under Creative Commons License

A few miles down the road, in nearby Peckham, there is something of a musical renaissance happening. Billed as the new Dalston, the area which is famed more for Delboy than chords and choruses, is bubbling with musical talent, a burgeoning club culture and pop-up gigs galore. Croydon is never going to be billed as the new cool and spawn a Pekhamania-like movement — the mainstream press just wouldn’t allow it — but is this unfair? A rummage through the borough’s musical heritage suggests that when it comes to  melodies, there is more here than many realise.

Back in March 1963 the ABC cinema played host to some of the promising new bands on the scene. Opening the bill that included Chris Montez, Tommy Roe and the Terry Young Six was a promising group of four lads from Liverpool, Britain’s Dynamic Beatles, who had driven down from central London where they had earlier recorded a session for the BBC’s On The Scene show.

The band were to play Croydon twice more that year. Once at the (then) brand new Fairfield Halls as part of the Merseybeat Showcase, as the final gig of a series featuring bands from Brian Epstein’s management repertoire. Also on the bill were Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and The Big Three. But as neither they nor the Beatles had experienced major chart success at the time, promoter John Smith booked singer John Leyton as the headliner. Leyton pulled out on the day due to illness, and the fab four were bumped up, some would say rightfully, to the star act.

Record Stores

In the last few years, as with many high streets feeling the financial and market pressures, Croydon’s record stores which were once vibrant have now dwindled. It was hearing Love Me Do that first instilled a passion for music in the owner of Memory Lane Records, Mick. Originally based in Morden, the independent record store moved to its current location on Frith Road in 1993. Keeley Road’s 101 Frith Street closed at the start of the decade, after owner Duncan Barnes made the decision to focus on the online and e-commerce side of the business, having spent thirty years selling records. More than just shops, record stores are social spaces where people come to feel at once inspired and at home.

Photo by Ewan Munro and used under Creative Commons License

Other notable names from Croydon’s record store repertoire that have unfortunately faded include Swag, Broad Green, Big Apple, and the legendary Beanos. The closure of Beanos has been long lamented. Its role as an aural escape on Church Street was an important one for the local scene. Founded by David Lashmar in 1975 it ended up in an old printing works in Middle Street during the 1990s. In it its heyday it was one of the largest second hand record stores in Europe. However, money matters caused it to gradually dwindle in size before closing for good in 2009, selling all remaining stock to a mystery fan of the store. A little piece of the store has been immortalised in film, through eight thousand of its records being used in the Richard Curtis film The Boat that Rocked.

The closure of Beanos has been long lamented

The aforementioned Big Apple Records is notorious as the ‘birthplace’ of dubstep. A salesman at the store, Oliver Jones, also known as Skream, worked alongside other early pioneers of the genre, including Benga and Hatcha. Big Apple became a place where the producers and DJs would come together to share their sounds. Without a particular image or set of rules to follow, the area become a thriving bed for the fluid and evolving genre, and was even referred to as “the new Detroit” by Don’t Panic. A “playground” according to leading artist Mala, the proximity to Caribbean culture in Brixton and Peckham helped the scene to grow and build into one of the most popular of recent years. At the 2012 Grammys, when collecting his three awards, the producer Skrillex gave a shout out to Croydon, and earlier this year The Red Bull Music Academy even took their ‘No Sleep Til Croydon’ event over to the coolest of cool areas, Brooklyn.

Croydon’s Southbank

In 2012 Fairfield Halls celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Opened by the Queen Mother on November 2nd 1962 the venue (actually made of three spaces, the Concert Hall, the Ashcroft Theatre and the Arnhem Gallery) was based on the Royal Festival Hall, but better. The main hall, seating 1,794 people is renowned for its excellent acoustics, with the story being that all the mistakes made at the Southbank venue were rectified and improved. Hundreds of bands have played over the years, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Kraftwerk, T-Rex, Bucks Fizz and David Bowie.

Fairfield Halls was where legendary punk rocker, Captain Sensible, had his first job cleaning the toilets. Once a pupil at Stanley Tech Boys, he formed a covers band called Oasis before joining local band Johnny Moped. Along with his colleague Rat Scabies (real name Christopher John Millar) he co-founded punk rock band The Damned in 1976, one of the original punk bands in the UK. Debut single New Rose was released in November of that year, and their debut album Damned Damned Damned went on to enter the charts in 1977. Their last album was released in 2008, entitled So, Who’s Paranoid?, and Captain Sensible has toured, written and played solo and with other bands in the nearly forty years since the birth of The Damned, always with a soft spot for Croydon.

Photo by Ewan Munro and used under Creative Commons License

Bob Stanley and childhood friend, Pete Wiggs, entered a Croydon studio in the 1980s, and came out as indie band Saint Etienne.  A cover of Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart gave them their first hit, and the addition of Sarah Cracknell’s soothing vocals more mainstream appeal. Having just published his book Yeah Yeah Yeah: The History of Modern Pop, the borough has clearly had an impact on his music, and his musings on the topic can be read on his blog Croydon Municipal.

Croydon clearly has a strong heritage when it comes to music, but is this all over now? One thing that is evident is where there exists a vibrant community,  creative passions,  social diversity and a will to make change, art can and will thrive. Croydon’s musical heyday is far from over.

Francesca Baker

Francesca Baker

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.

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  • trypewriter

    Could have done with additional comments on bands who recorded at the Fairfield.

    • Terry Coleman

      Stan Kenton and his orchestra recorded there in 1972 or maybe 3, I was there with a girl named Janet. The band played a number entitled ‘What are you doing for the rest of your life’.I proposed to Jan later that evening and she accepted, we married in 1974. Happy memories.

Croydon: a historic musical mecca Copy


By - Tuesday 5th November, 2013

Francesca Baker takes us on a tour of Croydon’s diverse musical heritage, from the Beatles to dubstep producer Skream


Image used under Creative Commons License

A few miles down the road, in nearby Peckham, there is something of a musical renaissance happening. Billed as the new Dalston, the area which is famed more for Delboy than chords and choruses, is bubbling with musical talent, a burgeoning club culture and pop-up gigs galore. Croydon is never going to be billed as the new cool and spawn a Pekhamania-like movement — the mainstream press just wouldn’t allow it — but is this unfair? A rummage through the borough’s musical heritage suggests that when it comes to  melodies, there is more here than many realise.

Back in March 1963 the ABC cinema played host to some of the promising new bands on the scene. Opening the bill that included Chris Montez, Tommy Roe and the Terry Young Six was a promising group of four lads from Liverpool, Britain’s Dynamic Beatles, who had driven down from central London where they had earlier recorded a session for the BBC’s On The Scene show.

The band were to play Croydon twice more that year. Once at the (then) brand new Fairfield Halls as part of the Merseybeat Showcase, as the final gig of a series featuring bands from Brian Epstein’s management repertoire. Also on the bill were Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and The Big Three. But as neither they nor the Beatles had experienced major chart success at the time, promoter John Smith booked singer John Leyton as the headliner. Leyton pulled out on the day due to illness, and the fab four were bumped up, some would say rightfully, to the star act.

Record Stores

In the last few years, as with many high streets feeling the financial and market pressures, Croydon’s record stores which were once vibrant have now dwindled. It was hearing Love Me Do that first instilled a passion for music in the owner of Memory Lane Records, Mick. Originally based in Morden, the independent record store moved to its current location on Frith Road in 1993. Keeley Road’s 101 Frith Street closed at the start of the decade, after owner Duncan Barnes made the decision to focus on the online and e-commerce side of the business, having spent thirty years selling records. More than just shops, record stores are social spaces where people come to feel at once inspired and at home.

Photo by Ewan Munro and used under Creative Commons License

Other notable names from Croydon’s record store repertoire that have unfortunately faded include Swag, Broad Green, Big Apple, and the legendary Beanos. The closure of Beanos has been long lamented. Its role as an aural escape on Church Street was an important one for the local scene. Founded by David Lashmar in 1975 it ended up in an old printing works in Middle Street during the 1990s. In it its heyday it was one of the largest second hand record stores in Europe. However, money matters caused it to gradually dwindle in size before closing for good in 2009, selling all remaining stock to a mystery fan of the store. A little piece of the store has been immortalised in film, through eight thousand of its records being used in the Richard Curtis film The Boat that Rocked.

The closure of Beanos has been long lamented

The aforementioned Big Apple Records is notorious as the ‘birthplace’ of dubstep. A salesman at the store, Oliver Jones, also known as Skream, worked alongside other early pioneers of the genre, including Benga and Hatcha. Big Apple became a place where the producers and DJs would come together to share their sounds. Without a particular image or set of rules to follow, the area become a thriving bed for the fluid and evolving genre, and was even referred to as “the new Detroit” by Don’t Panic. A “playground” according to leading artist Mala, the proximity to Caribbean culture in Brixton and Peckham helped the scene to grow and build into one of the most popular of recent years. At the 2012 Grammys, when collecting his three awards, the producer Skrillex gave a shout out to Croydon, and earlier this year The Red Bull Music Academy even took their ‘No Sleep Til Croydon’ event over to the coolest of cool areas, Brooklyn.

Croydon’s Southbank

In 2012 Fairfield Halls celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Opened by the Queen Mother on November 2nd 1962 the venue (actually made of three spaces, the Concert Hall, the Ashcroft Theatre and the Arnhem Gallery) was based on the Royal Festival Hall, but better. The main hall, seating 1,794 people is renowned for its excellent acoustics, with the story being that all the mistakes made at the Southbank venue were rectified and improved. Hundreds of bands have played over the years, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Kraftwerk, T-Rex, Bucks Fizz and David Bowie.

Fairfield Halls was where legendary punk rocker, Captain Sensible, had his first job cleaning the toilets. Once a pupil at Stanley Tech Boys, he formed a covers band called Oasis before joining local band Johnny Moped. Along with his colleague Rat Scabies (real name Christopher John Millar) he co-founded punk rock band The Damned in 1976, one of the original punk bands in the UK. Debut single New Rose was released in November of that year, and their debut album Damned Damned Damned went on to enter the charts in 1977. Their last album was released in 2008, entitled So, Who’s Paranoid?, and Captain Sensible has toured, written and played solo and with other bands in the nearly forty years since the birth of The Damned, always with a soft spot for Croydon.

Photo by Ewan Munro and used under Creative Commons License

Bob Stanley and childhood friend, Pete Wiggs, entered a Croydon studio in the 1980s, and came out as indie band Saint Etienne.  A cover of Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart gave them their first hit, and the addition of Sarah Cracknell’s soothing vocals more mainstream appeal. Having just published his book Yeah Yeah Yeah: The History of Modern Pop, the borough has clearly had an impact on his music, and his musings on the topic can be read on his blog Croydon Municipal.

Croydon clearly has a strong heritage when it comes to music, but is this all over now? One thing that is evident is where there exists a vibrant community,  creative passions,  social diversity and a will to make change, art can and will thrive. Croydon’s musical heyday is far from over.

Francesca Baker

Francesca Baker

Francesca Baker is curious about life and enjoys writing about it. A freelance journalist, event organiser, and minor marketing whizz, she has plenty of ideas, and likes to share them. She writes about music, literature, life, travel, art, London, and other general musings, and organises events that contain at least one of the above. You can find out more at www.andsoshethinks.co.uk.

More Posts - Website - Twitter





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