Cool Britannia

Undertaking a musical pilgrimage to the UK is one adventure that could require a lot of planning. Famous bands and artists hail from every city and major town. Three cities in particular have aided in the creation of new music that has voiced the ideals of several generations. Liverpool, Manchester and London are melting pots of creativity and ideas that have changed the landscape of music — and helped produce some of the most popular songs and albums ever written. 


At 5pm on a sunny Thursday in June the giant bird sculptures on top of the Royal Liver Building, famous symbols of the northern-English city of Liverpool, preside over the waterfront. In front of the building, a group of people line up to take photos next to giant statues of the city’s most famous sons: John, Paul, George and Ringo. Fitting neatly in the decade from 1960-70, The Beatles gained a stardom rarely matched 50 years on. 
On nearby Mathew Street, tourists crowd beneath the famous arches of the Cavern Club as Beatles devotee Jon Keats begins his daily two-hour set of Fab Four covers. Soon, visitors from Australia, the USA, Brazil, Italy and Japan are dancing to Love Me Do. This was one of the first places it was played live.

The tourism industry of Liverpool is buoyed primarily by its association with the groundbreaking pop group. The Cavern and its other venues, such as the Cavern Pub, located opposite the Club’s red neon-signed entrance, remain at the heart of that industry. 
The Beatles performed at the Cavern Club nearly 300 times in their early days, giving the underground venue an aura that remains to this day.


More than two decades after The Beatles broke up, about 50 kilometres away the Liverpool legends would become the main influence for up-and-coming Manchester band Oasis. Lead singer Liam Gallagher even borrowed lyrics from a Lennon song when describing himself: “I’m a working-class hero”.  
Oasis were at the forefront of the mid-1990s Britpop movement, with 1995’s (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? their seminal album, and it’s not hard to see the mark they left on the city. Piccadilly Records, a record store on busy Oldham Street in the historic Northern Quarter, was an early champion of the band, and today you can still see a platinum version of their 1994 debut album Definitely Maybe hanging on the wall there. 
On the same hip street you will find quirky emporium Afflecks, which opened in the 1980s to give small businesses an opportunity to trade in the city centre. In a city that constantly fosters new trends, this warren of independent shops is the best place to find the latest music-driven styles and top memorabilia — and to discover the wall of mosaics depicting proud Mancunians from past eras, including the Gallagher brothers and former The Smiths frontman Morrissey.

His band are perhaps the most lauded from Manchester and it’s the Salford area that is home to a must-visit site for any fan — the Salford Lads Club, made famous for appearing on the inner sleeve of The Smiths’ critically acclaimed 1986 album The Queen is Dead. Still a working club, the venue maintains The Smiths Room, opened to visitors in 2004.  

A New Order

Today, Manchester’s city centre largely features plate-glass high-rises and fancy restaurants, with little left of that earlier atmosphere. The Haçienda, the nightclub that was once the epicentre of the late 1980s ‘Madchester’ music scene, is now a block of flats. Not very rock’n’roll. 

However, you can stay in another venue rich in musical lore: the Free Trade Hall. Once an auditorium for concerts, it survives as the five-star Radisson Blu Edwardian hotel. It was here in 1976, at upstairs venue the Lesser Free Trade Hall, that then little-known punk band the Sex Pistols played to about 40 people in a gig so influential to the local music scene that thousands later claimed to have attended. 


For centuries London has been home to influential artists, writers and musicians. That creative spirit is no more apparent than in the city’s central neighbourhood of Soho. Here, where the Swinging Sixties came to life, different genres each have their own specific venues, some upstairs from bars or shops, others in basements.
“This area was the birthplace of British rock’n’roll,” says Bruce Cherry of London Rock Tours, as he walks the streets of Soho reeling off rock names: here, the Taiwanese restaurant that was once the original Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club (where Jimi Hendrix played for the last time); there, the former Flamingo Club where Eric Clapton, The Animals, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd played in the 1960s and ’70s, now a betting shop. At De Hems bar he explains this is where The Rolling Stones were offered their first recording contract.

Dancing in the Street

Time may have moved on, but in many ways the atmosphere of those earlier years is evident. In Denmark Street, for instance, musical instrument shops still line what is known as ‘Tin Pan Alley’, where many early studios were located — the Sex Pistols, Black Sabbath, The Rolling Stones and The Kinks all recorded here. And on St Annes Court, a narrow ribbon of shopfronts and bars intersecting Dean Street and Wardour Street, look out for the blue plaque dedicated to David Bowie on the wall of Trident Studios: this is where Bowie, Queen, Sir Elton John, Genesis and Thin Lizzy all recorded some of their most famous tunes. However, time and redevelopment has taken its toll on some areas. The Scene Club in Ham 
Yard, where The Who — known for their dynamic energy — started their careers, is now a nondescript cul-de-sac.

Getting there 

Virgin Australia offers flights to London and Manchester with its codeshare partners Virgin Atlantic Airways, Etihad Airways and Singapore Airlines/Silkair. To book, visit

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