‘London Calling’: Jools Holland’s personal guide to London’s musical history

Musician, cheeky-chappie, and renowned Boogie-Woogie pianist, Jools Holland takes a personal tour through the theaters, music halls and performance venues, at the heart of London’s diverse musical history.

Unlike Chicago blues or Memphis soul, London has no one definitive sound. Its noisy history is full of grime, clamour, industry and countless different voices demanding to be heard. But there is a strain of street-wise realism that is forever present, from its world-famous nursery rhymes to its music hall traditions, and from the Broadside Ballad through to punk and beyond.

Jools’s investigation - at once probing and humorous - identifies the many ingredients of a salty tone that could be called ‘the London sound’ as he tracks through the centuries from the ballads of Tyburn Gallows to Broadside publishing in Seven Dials in the 18th century, to Wilton’s Music Hall in the late 19th century, to the Caribbean sounds and styles that first docked at Tilbury with the Windrush in 1948, to his own conception to the strains of Humphrey Lyttelton at the 100 Club in 1957.

On the way, Jools meets Ray Davies, Damon Albarn, Suggs from Madness, Roy Hudd, Lisa Hannigan, Joe Brown and Eliza Carthy who perform and talk about such classic songs as “London Bridge is Falling Down”, “While London Sleeps”, “Knocked ‘Em in the Old Kent Road”, “St James Infirmary Blues” and “Oranges and Lemons”.


Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Queen Elizabeth’s Magician: a docu-drama about Dr John Dee

A couple of months ago Damon Albarn premiered his new work Dr Dee: An English Opera as part of the Manchester International Festival. As the name would suggest, Dr Dee concerns the life of the Elizabethan mathematician, cartographer and magician John Dee, with original music composed by Albarn (singing and conducting a chamber group live on stage throughout the show). Well, maybe it was because I was so blown away by Bjork’s magical Biophilia show a few days earlier at the festival, but I found the opera to be a massive let down. You can read more of my thoughts on Dr Dee An English Opera here.

One of the main complaints levelled at Albarn’s production was that its oblique nature did nothing to explain the fascinating story of John Dee to an audience unfamiliar with the man. I was lucky enough to have some knowledge in advance and was able to spot some of the key moments in Dee’s life - but even then the narrative felt scrambled and made little use of some incredible source material (namely the man’s incredible life story). That’s despite this promising write up in the MIF’s program:

There was once an Englishman so influential that he defined how we measure years, so quintessential that he lives on in Shakespeare’s words; yet so shrouded in mystery that he’s fallen from the very pages of history itself.
That man was Dr Dee – astrologer, courtier, alchemist, and spy.

Queen Elizabeth’s Magician - John Dee is a 2002 television show produced by the UK’s Channel 4 for their Masters of Darkness series, and tells the man’s incredible story in a much more accessible way. While perhaps not revealing anything that the more avid Dee student wouldn’t already know, the show is informative and entertaining (if slightly cheesy) and serves as a good introduction to the man and his legacy. It’s also a good watch for fans of Alan Moore, who appears throughout the show and talks of Dee’s magical practices and their influence - and the three-note “spooky” sax motif is more memorable than anything in Albarn’s opera: 

Previously on DM:
Dr. Dee: sneak preview of new Damon Albarn opera about 16th Century Alchemist

Written by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
Dr. Dee: Sneak preview of new Damon Albarn opera about 16th century alchemist

Damon Albarn has written and will star in a new opera about a 16th Century alchemist, Doctor John Dee. Titled simply Dr. Dee: An English Opera, the production will premiere next month at the Manchester International Festival, running July 1-9.

Albarn played one of his compositions from new production, titled “Apple Carts,” on The Andrew Marr Show over the weekend. Simply gorgeous.

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
Fantastic 45-minute long concert by Gorillaz
03:21 pm


Damon Albarn
Gorillaz. David Letterman

NICE! Watch the entire fantastic 45-minute set performed by Gorillaz last night after their David Letterman taping at the Ed Sullivan Theater. There’s a new thing called “Live on Letterman” where his musical guests hang out and do a complete set streamed live at CBS.com. Considering Letterman’s normal production values—no show on TV has better-sounding music—these ought to be a treat.

Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion
The Spectrum: Psychedelic funhouse designed by Damon Albarn’s Father


Witness “The Spectrum” a fantastically psychedelic carnival fun house designed by Keith Albarn (father of Damon Albarn, a man considered a musical god in this household). Sadly this British Pathe film short is probably the only thing that remains of it and there is little to no information about it anywhere on the Internet. I’d have loved a chance to see this in person!


Watching this I got to thinking about a different druggy funhouse on this side of the pond—also no longer standing—the infamous Palladium night club of New York City. Once the fabled Palladium Ballroom, where Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Frank Zappa, Patti Smith, The Clash and Lou Reed all played, the Palladium reopened in 1985 owned by former jailbirds Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, who had previously run Studio 54. Artists like Francesco Clemente, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Laurie Anderson and Arata Isozaki were all commissioned to build installations.

The staircase was amazing (especially if you were super high!) and the Basquiat mural behind the upstairs bar was nothing short of astonishing (and really huge). A house would crash from the ceiling onto the dance floor like the one that killed the Wicked Witch of the West. It was a fantastically decadent place to spend one’s youth. Now it’s an NYU dorm with a Trader Joe’s grocery store downstairs! (I wonder if they were able to preserve the Basquiat? It was painted on the wall and probably as valuable as the real estate itself).


Written by Richard Metzger | Discussion