Most people have got favourite pop or rock stars and some cities have produced large numbers of musicians who have gone on to become household names. So if music is your first love, why not take in some of the sites that have shaped music history.
We’ve spoken with tour guides about what’s on offer in New York, London and Manchester.
The former drummer of the successful 1990s band Inspiral Carpets, Craig Gill, has hosted Manchester Music Tours since 2005. “I think we’re right up there with London or Liverpool in terms of music tourism,” he says.
Craig specialises in the Indie scene that put the city in the music spotlight but he has also started featuring the city’s 60s heritage. “I stick to bands that I know and like,” says Craig. “I don’t feature M People and Take That but I have put together a 1960s tour, which features the Hollies and the Beatles. I can take you to stand on a stage that they shared.”
“In the past few years I’ve managed to get a minibus, so I’ve been able to develop specialist tours. The Smiths and Morrissey trips are the busiest band-specific tours I run, although Oasis and Joy Division are increasing in popularity.”
Craig became friends with Oasis’s Noel Gallagher, who auditioned as singer with the Inspiral Carpets. Noel ended up becoming their roadie so Craig shares plenty of anecdotes during the walks. Some of the guests want gossip and inside information and Craig is often asked whether Oasis are reforming. “Generally they want to know about things they can’t find out from their inbox or online. They want my take,” he explains.
Craig says guests often know where they want to visit and suggest sites, depending on which Manchester band is their favourite. “With a Smiths tour, Salford Lads Club is most popular. It is an amazing place,” he adds. “When you go inside the building there is a room which is a shrine to the band, although the building is more connected to the Hollies, really,” says Craig. “The Hollies were club members.”
Sifters, the record shop where Oasis used to buy their vinyl, is also a popular stop. It’s still a record shop, Craig tells me. The ‘Joy Division Bridge’, a footbridge over Princess Street in Hulme where the band was photographed in the snow in 1979, is also often requested.
Craig’s walking tour takes in the site of the now-demolished and iconic Hacienda nightclub. His customers will also get to view artwork on the paving stones, which he refers to as the Manchester version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Lee Sargent is behind Rock Tours of London. He guides people around London’s music sites on walking tours lasting around three hours. Most of his sessions are based in the square mile of Soho, with a trail that goes off through Marylebone and Manchester Square, where EMI was based, onto Baker Street and Ivor Court. Rolling Stones fans enjoy that stop – they can see where Charlie Watts lived.
But there’s one site everybody seems to want to go to. “I always end up at Abbey Road. You can’t not,” says Lee.
Typically people stand on the side of the zebra crossing made famous on the cover of the Beatles album. “They take the best shot they can. I stand in the middle of the road and tell people what to do,” he adds. Lee says you can also watch yourself up to 24 hours afterwards on the webcam archive. “You can do a screen grab as a souvenir,” he advises.
Most of Lee’s guests want to know about musicians who were big in the 1960s and 1970s. “There’s a little bit of 80s music interest, which runs into the big acts of the 1990s like Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys and Oasis,” he says. Lee asks his guests who their favourite bands are so the tour can be tailored to their interests. “There’s huge interest in David Bowie since his death,” he told me. Many enquires have come from young people. “I’m often curious to find out how they discovered these artists,” he says.
“I love it when people ask me difficult questions,” says Lee. “I recently had somebody in the tour who was a massive fan of Matt Johnson from the band The The. So I took him to see the lions in Trafalgar Square because Johnson’s manager insisted he signed his CBS contract whilst resting the paper on them!”
“Do you get people who want to follow in the footsteps of Simon Cowell and find out where he worked?” I ask. “Oh no. I wouldn’t know where he worked. I’ll have to look it up now,” he laughs. Clearly nobody is interested if he hasn’t been asked already!
Lee gives guests an insight into London’s rich musical heritage. Last week he had visitors from the Philippines, Mexico, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, “and three from Market Harborough!” he joked.
Part of Lee’s website has a section called Rock Shots where his guests can recreate images they’ve seen on album covers or on iconic publicity shots. “In some cases it’s really easy to do,” he tells me. “Oasis on Berwick Street – that’s the picture featured on What’s The Story Morning Glory in 1995. It looks pretty much as it did then. Abbey Road is the same. But taking pictures of Heddon Street in Mayfair, where David Bowie perched on a rubbish bin as Ziggy Stardust, is trickier. There’s a restaurant, trees and tables in the way now.”
A bit further afield, Matt Levy’s family offer rock tours of New York City through Levy’s Unique New York. He’s had lots of David Bowie tour requests recently. Matt sees Bowie as a Brit musically, but a New Yorker socially.
“New York City is where rock ‘n’ roll hit the big time – a place emblematic of big record labels, talent scouts and marketing and tiny little venues in downtown neighbourhoods like Greenwich Village, The Bowery, the East Village and the Lower East Side. On our tours we drill down and focus on influential music making moments in folk, rock ‘n’ roll, punk, rock, jazz and the new wave era – Talking Heads and the Ramones in 1977,” he tells me.
Matt says he can also shape the itinerary according to the age and interests of the party. “We can show older visitors where Bob Dylan lived. Teenyboppers might want to see where The Strokes performed. If we have old punk rockers who swear that punk came from London, I can correct them and show them a club on The Bowery where punk was born,” he tells me. Fighting talk. You don’t really want to mess with a punk, do you?
“Have you ever had a younger guest who has been puzzled by your references to Bob Dylan?” I asked.
“People say ‘who’ all the time,” says Matt. “But it can be worse,” he adds. “I’ve had youngsters who haven’t heard of John Lennon. I have to tell them the song titles, like Strawberry Fields Forever or Imagine. They know those,” he says.
Many tourists are interested in Lennon and want to see the Dakota Building – the apartment block in which the Beatle lived and outside where he was shot. “The Dakota is opposite Strawberry Fields, which is in Central Park,” Matt says. It’s one of their first stops in the city highlights tour. “It’s considered to be New York City’s first apartment building. The first time New Yorkers were stacked vertically,” he adds. “The Upper West Side area was, incidentally, the inspiration for the setting of TVs Sesame Street!”
“Are there areas of Manhattan which have a much richer rock and pop heritage?” I ask him.
“Greenwich Village is legendary as the focal point of The Bohemians, The Beats and folk musicians like Joan Baez, The Mamas and Papas, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and even a young Madonna. In the punk rock era it was synonymous with Blondie, Talking Heads and The Ramones. You can even go in deeper and look at certain streets. The centrepiece of the folk music movement was West 3rd St and Bleecker Street. Rock ‘n’ roll was centred on Mercer Street, West 3rd and Bleecker. All the punk rock happened on The Bowery.”
Matt’s company operates thirty different New York tours and around half a dozen of them concentrate on rock ‘n’ roll history.