London has been a happening place for music for decades. When Blues, R&B, and Rock n’ Roll crossed the Atlantic from the United States, it caught on like fire. Eventually, Britain returned the favor by sending back The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many many more. While The Beatles originated in Liverpool, of course, London has been the epicenter of many a great group’s origins. From rock to pop to punk, many London bands have been able to call London home. We present five of these groups below, and while this is by no means an exhaustive list, you can let us know your favorite London-born groups in the comments.
The Rolling Stones
Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been childhood friends in Dartford, Kent when they formed their first band based on their mutual love of American Blues music. In March 1962, they visited a jazz club in Ealing where they met Brian Jones, Ian Stewart, and Charlie Watts. While Watts didn’t initially join the group, the rest got together with drummer Tony Chapman and named themselves after a Muddy Waters song. They started by performing in blues and jazz clubs in West London, then moved onto a tour of the UK and by 1963 had a manager and signed a deal with Decca Records. The rest was history.
The origins of Girl Power start in the heart of London. Bob and Chris Herbert of Heart Management had the thought of forming a girl group to compete with the massively popular boy bands of the 1990s. After placing an ad in The Stage trade magazine, they auditioned some 400 singers and eventually narrowed it down to Victoria Adams, Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm, Geri Halliwell, and…Michelle Stephenson. Stephenson was eventually fired during training and replaced with Emma Bunton. Additionally, the band was originally named “Touch” before taking Spice Girls from one of their early songs “Sugar and Spice”. The Spice girls then left Heart Management, taking their master recordings with them, and found new management and a record deal with Virgin Records. When “Wannabe” hit TV and radio waves in July 1996, it was an instant hit and propelled the group into superstardom.
Guitarist Jimmy Page was living in London and playing for the Yardbirds before they broke up in 1968. However, the Yardbirds still had some concerts in Scandinavia that needed to be played, so with the band’s blessing Page and bassist Chris Dreja put together a new lineup that included Robert Plant on vocals and John Bonham on drums. Dreja opted to leave and was replaced with John Paul Jones on bass, and they played for a time as the New Yardbirds. When they tried to record an album, Dreja issued a “cease and desist” letter as the band was only authorized to use the name for the Scandinavia tour, so the four changed the name to Led Zeppelin. Signing a deal with Atlantic Records, they began to tour the UK and US in 1968 and hit it big when their first, self-titled album landed in the Top 10 of the US Charts.
Pet Shop Boys
Perhaps the biggest synth-pop group in British music history, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys found each other at a high fidelity shop (also known as “Hi-Fi” shops, they often sell records and audio equipment) on the King’s Road in Chelsea in 1981. The two got to talking about dance and electronic music and decided to start collaborating with each other. They started off in Tennant’s Chelsea flat before getting a small studio in Camden and took their name from friends who worked in an Ealing pet shop. Tennant, who was still a music journalist, slipped the group’s demo that included “Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)” which would go on to be a hit from the group’s first album, which also featured the supremely popular “West End Girls”.
The definitive British punk band (and I say this as someone who prefers The Clash), the Sex Pistols started out as a group of teens hanging out at the punk clothing shops on the King’s Road in Chelsea. One of the teens, Steve Jones, asked shop owner Malcolm McLaren to manage his band The Strand. McLaren then left the UK for a short time to manage the New York Dolls on an informal basis before returning to Britain and reforming The Strand into the Sex Pistols with Jones, Glen Matlock, Paul Cook, and new vocalist John Lyndon (aka “Johnny Rotten”). As the band grew in popularity for its brash, angry style, Matlock would leave the group and be replaced with Sid Vicious. The band really took off from here thanks to controversial songs like “God Save the Queen” and albums including Never Mind the Bollocks. In many ways, the legend of the band’s acts is almost as large as its music.