Is Denmark Street, London’s ‘Music Alley’, Under Threat?

Development plans prompt last-gasp preservation campaign. But what’s really being proposed?

Denmark Street protest

THE WHO, THE ROLLING STONES and Black Sabbath recorded in the basement of Number 4, and Donovan cut his debut in Number 9. In Number 20, a young Elton John worked as a teaboy, and some archaeologists consider the graffiti that The Sex Pistols left behind on the upper floor of Number 6 as important a find as the cave paintings at Lascaux.

“This is demolition. Denmark St should be given full heritage status.”

Protester Henry Scott-Irvine

Unsurprisingly then, developers Consolidated Developments have encountered resistance to their plans to redevelop Denmark Street, central London’s seminal Tin Pan Alley – formerly the centre of UK music publishing and latterly a symbolic hub of music instrument retail.

The firm’s plans include new housing, an 800-seat underground music venue, a hotel and new retail spaces positioned near the soon-to-be-completed Tottenham Court Road Crossrail hub.

The firm claims that preserving music retail in the area is of the highest priority, and has promised that all displaced businesses will be allowed to return to their current locations. But, as one guitar shop employee explains, this may be difficult to implement. “Honestly, I think it’ll be very grievous for a lot of shops to sustain, with the increase in rents, as well as the fact that they’ll be closed for six months at least. I think it’ll be very hard.”

Macari's guitar shop, Denmark Street, London
Macari’s guitar shop, Denmark Street, London, by Freebird. Still here, for now.

But other Denmark St proprietors appear less concerned.

“This street is a historical site, and the landlords of the street are quite aware of that,” says another Denmark St denizen. His shop, Regent Sounds, operates on the former site of the legendary Regent Sound Studio. “They want to keep it a music place, which is very good, and I know that for a fact.”

“There will be Starbucks,” he continues, “but that’s the way it works. And I’m sure that will increase the footflow around here. Hopefully that’ll just mean more money.”

But the formal building application submitted to Camden Council in early 2013 suggests more substantial changes than some retailers expect or predict.

It details “demolition of 1-6, 17-21 Denmark Place and York and Clifton Mansions; and partial demolition of 21 Denmark Street.” The back alley of Denmark Place is to be demolished, with retained façades on new buildings in Numbers 1-3, plus York and Clifton Mansions.

“There will be Starbucks. Hopefully that’ll just mean more money.”
Denmark St denizen

Writer and broadcaster Henry Scott-Irvine launched a change.org petition last month, Don’t Bin Tin Pan Alley, urging Camden Council to reconsider their support for the development. He has already gathered nearly 10,000 signatures, including those of many musicians.

“This is demolition,” he tells MOJO. “This should be stopped. Denmark St and the surrounding St Giles area should be given full heritage status like Covent Garden Market, Hatton Garden, and Savile Row.”

Consolidated Developments were unavailable to answer MOJO’s questions, but have issued a statement insisting that they are “committed to preserving and enhancing the rich musical heritage of Tin Pan Alley. The 12 Bar Club and existing music traders are at the heart of the area and keeping them has always been central to our plans.”

With the beginning of construction slated for October 1, 2014, radical change of some sort seems inevitable for Denmark Street. Scott—Irvine’s petition is available to sign here.