Tin Pan Alley 2004

The Others at Tin Pan Alley Festival 2004 by John Bownas
The Others at Tin Pan Alley Festival 2004 by John Bownas

A narrow street in London's West End played host to a small new event that could become an annual must-see fixture on the capital's free fixture calendar.

[l-zone1]Denmark Street celebrated some of London’s best new music (and the 50th anniversary of the opening of Tin Pan Alley Studios) with the first Tin Pan Alley Festival – a free cavalcade of bands who played from 11am to 9pm in the street, followed by an aftershow with two further acts in warren-like rooms of the street’s infamous 12 Bar Club.

Worried looks from the organisers about the threat of rain were banished by the beaming, happy and sun-kissed faces of the crowds who thronged into the narrow canyon of Denmark Street as the day drew on. And for those who stayed the course of the whole event, the day will no doubt go down as one of this summer’s best ever free days out in central London – a real rarity these days!

[r-zone2]Lined by some of the world’s most star-visited music shops, the heritage of Tin Pan Alley screams out musical history from the very brickwork, and if this little festival doesn’t become an annual homage to London’s past and future rock greats then there is something very wrong with the world!

[l-zone3]Of course nothing really comes for free, and the event’s sponsors (Gibson Guitars, Shelter, Total Guitar and Guitar Techniques Magazine – as well as Tin Pan Alley Studios themselves) were the ones who put their hands into their pockets to bring this festival to London’s West End. And Shelter also brought a campaigning stance to the proceedings – in the best tradition of Glastonbury’s own good causes. They put their money where their mouth usually is to use the event to promote their latest ‘Million Children‘ campaign. Even if you didn’t make it to the festival then you can help support the charity by signing up on-line. The campaign focuses on the hidden problem that lurks behind the housing boom – the million children who are unsung victims of Britain’s growing housing crisis. These children are living in damp, cold, infested housing or on estates that are shamefully neglected and ridden with fear and filth. This isn’t maybe what you want to be thinking about at a festival where you’ve gone to enjoy yourself…but it is the sort of thing that you ought to be thinking about the rest of the time!

[r-zone4]The bands also had a not-so-small part to play in keeping the day moving along, and whether it was Junkbox playing the dreaded opening slot (and still managing to shift CD’s to new fans) or The Others inciting their crowd to commit it’s usual acts of stage-invading insanity, every band threw themselves into the spirit of the event and probably managed to win over new converts in the process.

[l-zone5]The organisers carefully avoided genre stagnation, so there was a steady circulation of people in the crowd, as the emphasis switched from the occasionally Muse-esque vocal gymnastics of 50Hz, through the simple acoustic brilliance of Catherine Shepherd to the wildly hilarious Mexican hombre covers of Senor Senor, the much-vaunted punk chic of The Barbs and the spiky-soft mop-top madness that is The Others. As the action moved indoors then The Dash and The Education proved how they both know exactly what it takes to light the blue touch paper under a small and intimate audience, as they managed to put on the most frenzied of performances on the tiniest and most cramped of stages.

To bring a little of the history of the street back up onto the stage in the living flesh, Mick Jones appeared briefly with Xfm’s John Kennedy (the compere of the day) to present a prize winner with a lovely new shiny Gibson Les Paul guitar.

As the world seemingly fills up with new festivals, you occasionally happen on one or two that really mean something. The Levellers’ Beautiful Days Festival was our pick of 2003, with it’s spirit of freedom that harkened back to the ‘good old days’ prior to the current commercial trends that often seem to prevail at bigger events. Tin Pan Alley may well be in with a shot at scooping the prize in 2004, for no other reason than the fact that it probably deserves to!