Tin Pan Alley set for a musical renaissance

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The Independent Online
THE area around London's Tin Pan Alley - Denmark Street, in Soho - could be revitalised if proposals for a major national music centre are approved.

The planned multi-faceted music venue, which would include a large performance space, a hotel, a television station, a radio station, a satellite link, restaurants, bars and music-themed retail outlets, would be situated near Tottenham Court Road Underground station close by Denmark Street, the traditional home of the music business in the capital.

The project, dubbed Music Inc, is the brainchild of Laurence Kirschel, who has previously owned a number of music venues including Ronnie Scott's, The Rainbow, the old and new Marquees. He also developed Terence Conran's restaurant Mezzo on Dean Street. He will submit his plans for developing the heart of London's music industry to Camden Council in the next couple of months.

"The plan is to create a completely new institution, a cultural centre for all kinds of music, including everything - folk, jazz, rock 'n' roll, reggae," said a source close to the project. "Britain makes so much good music but there is no one to develop it ... It's not just a themed restaurant. It's very big and very, very expensive ... It's not one of these Planet Hollywood, `we've got a few famous names' places. We're talking about institutional names."

The source added that current music venues are badly designed, with poor facilities. Music Inc would aim to promote new bands rather than just "focusing on the golden oldies," he said. The plans include revamping Denmark Street, but the street itself is likely to remain intact. The street is part of a conservation area with some listed buildings dating back to the 17th century.

The list of the street's past inhabitants reads like a history of rock 'n' roll. The Rolling Stones recorded "Route 66" in the then Regent Sounds Studios (No 4); the Sex Pistols lived above a shop (No 6), as did the all-girl trio Bananarama; David Bowie, Ray Davies, Tom Jones and Rod Stewart used to hang out at La Gioconda, a musicians' cafe (No 9), while George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler all frequented Andy's Guitar Workshop at No 27.

It was at Mills Music Ltd (No 20) that young Reg Dwight started his working life in the post room for the princely sum of pounds 4.50 a week, before he became Elton John. And on 27 October 1969, he wrote his first hit, "Your Song", with Bernie Taupin. Paul McCartney, Sting, Status Quo and the Moody Blues bought instruments at Rose Morris Music (No 11), one of Britain's leading musical instrument stores. Preserved in concrete on the pavement outside are the handprints of Level 42 and Joan Armatrading.

Tommy Steele, Adam Faith, Cliff Richard and Petula Clark were frequent visitors at Peter Maurice Music Co, which has occupied No 21 since the 1930s. Next door, at No 22, is the UK's most famous guitar shop, Rhodes Music, patronised by the Who, Stevie Wonder and Bryan Adams. And so it goes on.

Mr Kirschel is director of Freeholder Consolidated Developments Ltd, which owns a large block of land taking in buildings between the northern end of Charing Cross Road, St Giles High Street and Denmark Street. He refused to comment on the plans "due to the sensitivity with Camden Council". Successive companies have tried and failed to develop the area, which is one of the few remaining large prime-site locations in central London.