Part 2: “Let’s all go down the strand”…Music Hall.
“The music hall is dying, and with it, a significant part of England. some of the heart of England has gone; something that once belonged to everyone, for this was truly a folk art.” John Osbourne – 1957.
Music Hall helped to shape the entertainment scene in London. It’s even had a bit of a revival of late, with music and supper clubs like the Pigalle coming back into fashion. Music Hall might just become cool again. The question is, where did it begin in the first place?
Music Hall started becoming popular way back in 1850 and lasted into 1960 – although it was probably ousted by more contemporary music like rock ‘n’ roll that’s a pretty long stretch for any music genre. TV didn’t help much either. But we don’t think we can blame Big Brother for this.
Basically, Music Hall was the best way for theatre go-ers to get drunk and be entertained at the same time. Simple. So we can understand why this was so popular! But it wasn’t just the notion of getting pissed and having a sing song that the audience liked. Music Hall had performers such as Charlie Chaplin (what did you think he did before the movies?) and Stan Laurel. Even Peter Ustinov trod a few boards in a Music Hall theatre.
Now, we know this post is a bit old fashioned for Londonist, but this is the genre that brought London songs like ‘Lambeth Walk’ and ‘Let’s All Go Down The Strand’. not forgetting Londonists favourite ‘I Live In Trafalgar Square’. Frankly Londonist would quite like to live in Trafalgar Square. But that’s just us.
Unfortunately, many of London’s Music Hall venues were destroyed during war and demolished over the years. Including The Middlesex on Drury Lane, which is now The New London theatre.
But there are still a few standing venues you can take a look at. Some more intact that others. Londonist can confirm that The Coal Hole on the Strand is probably the most intact of them all. It’s a great little pub where we had a rather nice pint after work.
Don’t forget about the Hackney Empire and Hoxton Hall, both are still pretty much in one piece. Greenwich Theatre used to be part of The Rose and Crown Music Hall, but although very little of the originial structure is left, the Rose and Crown pub on the corner is a nice reminder of what once was.
The Clapham Grand is an unlikely contender for a modern Music Hall venue, but after BBC4 had filmed their Music Hall Meltdown there, it’s came back into the limelight just a little bit. (If your idea of music hall is Phil Jupitus in a tweed jacket.) Be warned though, don’t go to the Grand thinking it’s going to be steeped in history. It’s mostly steeped in drunken students.
Sad as it seems, music hall is a dying art. Even with a few hardy attempts to make it modern, it’s just not as sexy as Burlesque, and not as cool as Jazz. This is a definite shame as we lose a great English entertainment genre and a huge part of London’s history.
Hackney Empire image from Kenoir’s flickr stream.