Sweet Hub of Music
Tucked away off Charing Cross Road, Denmark Street is an indie oasis for guitar lovers
Article by Andrew Steel Photograph by Tim Wright
London has never exactly been short of a musical scene. Ever since popular music ventured onto the wireless in the fifties, there has been a burgeoning vein of musicianship snaking its way throughout the capital. The currency of music may have changed over the past 70 years – from blues standards to rock and roll, through soft jazz and hard rock, into hip-hop and trip-pop – but underneath all music is instrumentation, in particular that six-string merchant of noise known as the guitar.
Denmark Street, whilst only a narrow alley barely a hundred metres in length, is a hub in the city for pros, amateurs and everything in between in terms of furnishing oneself with such an instrument. This quirky avenue is hidden amongst a busy commute but well worth the discovery; situated off Charring Cross Road to the right, just before the hullaballoo of Tottenham Court Road junction, it is locked between three-storey structures and is a cavalcade of mostly indie retailers. The odd chain store lingers on the fringes – and a clutch of piano and keyboard outlets border a coffee shop at one end – but three-quarters of the stores form a proud, easy-going network between each other that helps create a sense of community.
This community is important, and is part of what makes Denmark Street an inviting place to shop. High-end music retail chains have a certain elitism to them, particularly elsewhere across the country; they will accept first-time players with an easy smile, but sniff at those whose skill level is intermediate, or even advanced, out of some self-wrought sense of superiority. Here, in the independent branches, experience – or lack of – is championed widely. Can play the solo from Free Bird? Awesome. Don’t even know what a chord is? If you want to know, you’re in the right place.
The community aspect goes a step further though. Despite being in direct competition, no shop seems locked in a game of one-upmanship with their fellow retailers. Indeed, if you go searching for a specific model at one shop and find it unavailable, they are highly likely to point you in the direction of another store across the street who are perhaps more likely to have what you seek. It is a refreshing spirit to see in the marketplace – and combined with the innate knowledge possessed by its denizens, Denmark Street is a superb place to come and feel the music.
Visit if: you’re a seasoned veteran of the six-string or a mere novice on a Les Paul – no matter the skill or experience, this is a place for the lover of the guitar.
Don’t visit if: you’re only interested in instruments as accessories – though most stores will be patient, it is somewhat poor form to not treat and play the thousands of creations as they deserve to be.