If you threw a house party in London in the late twentieth century, before the smart phone rendered it redundant, you could guarantee that the following morning there would be a dog-eared copy of the A to Z behind the sofa, or under the coffee table, probably in a Tesco bag. Everybody had at least one. It was an essential aid in understanding London. It joined the dots and threw up obscure names printed over hitherto unexplored grids of streets: Alperton, Shooters Hill, Honor Oak, Tooting Graveney, Childs Hill, Ladywell. It invited you to create your own personal map of London, discover your own secret routes, your own special places.
You could peruse the A to Z with the knowledge of who lived where – Sandy Denny in Wimbledon, before she moved to Muswell Hill which was already legendary as the home of the Kinks. Arterial roads as grisly as Archway Road (Rod Stewart) or Holloway Road (Joe Meek) or could be made magic through their pop connections.
Put together by Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley, this is the soundtrack of London’s centre (Bert Jansch and John Renbourn’s ‘Soho’, Nick Drake’s ‘Mayfair’) and its hinterlands (Al Stewart’s ‘Swiss Cottage Manoeuvres’, Humble Pie’s ‘Beckton Dumps’, Julie Driscoll’s ‘Vauxhall To Lambeth Bridge’) with a few transport links (Barbara Ruskin’s ‘Euston Station’, Norma Tanega’s ‘Clapham Junction’) thrown in to help you navigate your A to Z. This isn’t London swinging cinematically, but it has the exact feel of the city’s streets and suburbs in the late 60s and early 70s.
What might be lurking in these locations, waiting to be uncovered on a cold winter Saturday? Corner caffs with Pepsi signs. Second-hand record shops and rickety street markets. Many are gone, but not all. This compilation is a musical travel guide – squint, and sometimes London can still seem magical. This is it’s soundtrack.