Where To Be Punk In London

Kyra Hanson
By Kyra Hanson Last edited 10 months ago
Where To Be Punk In London
Friends at Dead and Buried, a regular club night which specialises in "Old School Goth, Deathrock, Post Punk, Gothabilly, Punk and Electropunk" Photo: Chris Low (2016)

Punk is dead. Or so lingerie salesman Joe Corré would have you believe. The son of late Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and designer Vivienne Westwood marked the 40th anniversary of the movement by burning £5m worth of memorabilia to protest its endorsement by the likes of Boris Johnson and the very establishment it set out to tear up. But if you were paying attention to social media you'd have noticed that the punk community, which is very much alive and kicking, don't all agree with Corré's "bonfire of the vanities", as one critic called it.*

Although most of the original spaces where punk erupted – squats, art schools, colleges, venues and rehearsal studios – might have gone, there are still pockets of London that show that punk isn’t just an artefact to be peered at inside a perspex box. Whether it’s an angry lyric and a raucous beat at a gig, a two-fingers-to-the-establishment attitude at a political protest, a DIY aesthetic you can’t buy in Urban Outfitters, or – crucially – a fierce sense of comradeship, you’ll find it all still going strong in London's punk scene. Here’s where.

At Gigs

Yes, it’s true London’s venues have been closing at an alarming rate (in the past ten years, 40% have kicked out their last punter for the final time) and punks have felt that loss keenly. Camden – where The Clash shot the moody, glaring alleyway pic for the cover of their debut album – is slowly being colonised by high street chains, but it hasn’t lost its gritty charm completely. There's a handful of indie promoters and venues who still host gigs here and around the city, sometimes in places you might not expect...

Punk Ethics: Trespass gigs

May Mansur performing at a Trespass gig on the Thames beach in September. Photo: Pawel Dziurawiec (2016)

The Thames foreshore: patrolled by seagulls, made pretty by the occasional sand sculpture, but mostly a collection point for fag ends and whatever else South Bank tourists leave. But it’s also become an unlikely music venue. For the last two years the foreshore has become a mosh-pit for mohawked DM-wearers as bands thrash it out on a makeshift pallet stage, just a stone’s throw from the Oxo Tower and ITV Studios.

The gigs are organised by Jay Kerr, who champions the "socially conscious" element of punk culture. "We all feel the pressure of a changing city, a sense that the powers that be are constantly pushing the undesirable elements out to the fringes, whether that’s in terms of race, class, or subculture,” he says.

“The Trespass Gigs are a definite reaction to that. The beach of the river Thames, for example, is an area that the public have a right to access but it is essentially private property owned by the Queen through Crown Estates." Trespass is about reclaiming that space and using it to promote progressive causes – the last gave a platform to TCOS, the campaign against the Garden Bridge.

For Kerr, it all starts with music. "Every punk, young or old, has a story of a band that shaped them, of a song that grabs them by the stomach and made them think about the world in a different light, and it’s these bands and these songs that drive people to take action." Keep an eye on eroding.org.uk for upcoming gigs.

Garageland

A night out at Garageland. Photo: Zig Criscuolo / Zigpix (2016)

To hear the sounds of this subculture, look no further than Garageland. Promoter and photographer Spike Valtzer launched this club night in 2010 as a return to London's 1977 punk rock roots. He describes Garageland as "showcasing up-and-coming '77-style punk rock and garage punk bands, with three to four bands playing live and DJs spinning early punk and garage vinyl." Garageland takes place on the second Friday of every month at The Unicorn in Camden and entry is free, but donations are encouraged.

T Chances

Outside of Camden, there’s a community centre in Tottenham called T Chances that regularly hosts gigs, art class and dance workshops – a scroll through its varied calendar of events is a sonic journey through the UK’s youth subcultures. Reggae, mod, ska, punk – it’s got the lot.

The South London Punk Collective

In south London, there's The Bird’s Nest in Deptford, a friendly boozer-turned-hostel hosting bands, art and lively conversation, and the New Cross Inn in Lewisham. With its nightly roster of local and international bands, you can forgive it for smelling like a club at the end of freshers’ week – besides, it isn’t an authentic punk gig if no-one gets a bit sweaty. But the real DIY tour de force is the South London Punk Collective, a group of over 40 bands supporting and promoting each other through free concerts and charity gigs. (Request to join their Facebook group South London DIY Punk Gigs).

If all that gig-hopping has got you wanting a slice of the stage action, where can you go for instruments and rehearsal space?

Pick up a guitar from Tin Pan Alley

Hanks Acoustic Guitars on Denmark Street. Photo: Andy Kirby (2012)

Guitar shops opened on Denmark Street in the ’60s and ’70s, hot on the heels of the many British music publishers that were once based here, but you’ll have to hurry, as the street is swiftly being gobbled up by Crossrail and Consolidated Developments and spat back out as luxury hotels, flats, and restaurants.

Filmmaker and founder of the Save Tin Pan Alley campaign Henry Scott-Irvine has done his utmost to protect these buildings and the culture they represent. Earlier this year, the campaign managed to secure listed status for Number 6 – the home of the Sex Pistols between 1975-1977. But Consolidated Developments, which owns most of the buildings, has a predilection for six-month renewable rolling leases (if you have a six-month lease you relinquish all rights under The Landlords & Tenants Act), so Scott-Irvine is uneasy about the future of the area. In a gracious nod to the birthplace of punk, you could help fund his film Tin Pan Alley Tales and, of course, support the local businesses that remain.

Hanks Acoustic Guitars

Hanks Acoustic Guitars, established in 1985, is still going strong, as are a few other guitar shops on Denmark Street. There used to be six guitar-makers on this street, now there’s only one – Andy Gibson, who works out of the basement at Number 25.

Busk in the 'Joe Strummer Subway'

Photo: John Willoughby (2014)

In a nod to the frontman of The Clash, you could strum some tunes where the man himself used to busk. At the entrance to the Edgware Road subway are two signs installed by artist Robert Gordon McHarg, who also runs a gallery out of a 1960s kiosk in the subway.

Alternatively, Strummer Studios in Holloway and the aforementioned T Chances in Tottenham rent out reasonably priced rehearsal space.

Plan the future revolution at the Anarchist bookfair

Author and editor Kit Caless says the best time to set up a radical press is during a Tory term. You can find inspiration at the London Anarchist bookfair, organised by Freedom Press, the radical booksellers on Whitechapel High Street. It's an annual hub for anti-capitalist sentiment, with plenty of books, zines, meetings and workshops for you to sink your teeth into. Strike Magazine's excellent guide to anarchist book fairs demystifies the event for newcomers, casting aside preconceptions of punk as all masked thugs or hippy idealists. Essentially, the book fair is a space for anyone sick of mainstream politics and wants to do something about it.

We also recommend Housmans booksellers,  The Feminist Library and Brick Lane Debates, where you'll encounter engaging discussions for the left-leaning, hinged on topical events, contemporary politics and radical history. Zines were an integral way of disseminating punk music and culture – we selected the ten best zine and comic shops here.

Let off steam on the picket line

Poet Tim Wells reads verse outside St Thomas's Hospital in London during the junior doctor's strike in March. Photo: Yeu-ing Mo (2016)

Referencing the 1980s Stop the City protests, when people converged on the City of London to protest against the banking establishment, photographer Chris Low says: "Punk has expanded well beyond its initial boundaries – all the recent anti-establishment protests and general air of dissent have their bloodline in anarcho-punk, and the enemies are still the same." Protest doesn’t have to stop at the signing of an online petition: check out Occupy London, Stop the War coalition and the Radical Housing Network for further information. And while you're there, listen out for Poetry on the Picket Line, a rowdy bunch of wordsmiths who regularly perform at demonstrations to keep spirits high and show solidarity with London's disenfranchised workers.

Shop like a punk

Chris Low says there's an element of "postcard punk" to Camden. Photo: Becky Frances (2015)

With its grunge shops selling band memorabilia, chequered laces and ironic badges, we agree with Chris Low that Camden has an element of "postcard-punk" to it. To avoid the tourist traps, head to All Ages Records, an independent record shop at 27 Pratt Street or Rock n Roll Rescue at 96 Parkway, a punk-rock charity shop founded by Knox from the Vibrators. As well as offering guitar and sound equipment repairs, the shop regularly hosts gigs in aid of food banks, the women's refuge centre in Kentish Town, and others in need.

Tattoo Parlours

If you want to get inked, these places come highly commended: Tattoos Primitive Origins in Hammersmith, Haunted Tattoos at 159 Holloway Road, MXM Tattoos by Maxime Buchi in Dalston and King’s Cross Tattoo.

Retrace London's punk history

Hackney squatters. Photo: Chris Low (1983)

Photographer Chris Low started taken photos of punk bands in the 80s on his Pocket Instamatic camera, (bought with Bazooka Joe coupons) which he reproduced in his fanzine. Low has since gone on to document the punk scene across Europe, the USA and Tokyo. He doesn't subscribe to all the hostility surrounding the 40th anniversary punk London celebrations, arguing that the movement should be celebrated not eradicated. "Would you rather have 1977 remembered for being the Queen's Jubilee or for the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen topping the charts?" If, like Low, you answered the latter, you'll enjoy this map.

Designed by Mike Haddad, the map includes 111 locations with cultural commentary from Paul Gorman. Photo: Herb Lester (2016)

This Punk London map is a comprehensive guide to key locations that played a role in the emergence of punk between 1975 and 1978. It contains juicy tales about what John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), John Beverley (Sid Vicious), Joe Strummer and others got up to in their teens, as well as the art schools, police stations, squats and venues where rebellious behaviour flourished, friendships were forged and bands were formed.

As Kerr says: "The embers of his [Joe Corré's] memorabilia will blow away in the wind, quickly forgotten, but the global punk scene will continue and punks will carry on with a DIY attitude and a punk ethics that will inevitably be taken up by the next generation."

* We've heard rumours everything of value was sold off to a certain established artist and collector a few weeks previously, and there have been claims that the whole thing was a hoax.

Last Updated 06 December 2016