London Calling – Camden Town

Camden Town is probably the most unique and vibrant of London’s 32 boroughs. With it’s winding canals, sprawling, eclectic markets, restaurants, shops, and pubs on every corner, Camden has inspired some of the most influential musicians in rock n’ roll.

Every space in Camden is a canvas. Art is everywhere. From the stunning hand-carved walls of Gilgamesh restaurant to the tattooed skin and dyed clothes of the colourful locals. Even the air is alive with art. Music fills the air in every part of Camden. Whether it is a reggae beat from a tribal body art vendor’s stall, hardcore electro-dance thumping out of the must-see rave shop Cyberdog, or live rock echoing from one of the many pubs and bars, Camden is alive with music.

Heading south from Camden Town tube station, the first musical legend encountered by visitors is the famous World’s End pub, and it’s adjoining downstairs live music venue, the Underworld. Resting on the site of Camden’s first pub, dating back to the 18th Century, The Underworld has hosted bands like Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, to name but a few. Today, it is a hub for live hard rock, punk and metal.

Only a few steps north of the tube station is the Electric Ballroom, a Camden music mainstay since the 1950s. During the day the Electric Ballroom is crowded with vendors selling retro fashion, unique art, and it is the best place to find rare music in all forms from vinyl to cds. At night, the ballroom is a buzzing concert hall. Camden legends like the Clash, Sid Vicious, and the Smiths have electrified audiences at the Electric Ballroom, as have other global sensations like U2, Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Public Enemy.

Continue north from the Electric Ballroom, perusing the Buck Street Market. Don’t be confused by the sign above the entrance to this clothing market. While it reads “Camden Market”, the real Camden Market lies further north, as Camden High Street becomes Chalk Farm Road. You can find many unique, hand-made and locally designed clothes at the Buck Street Market. Buck Street is a good beginner’s exercise to get used to navigating the maze of stalls and sea of people that will be encoutered at the other Camden Markets. Check out the many shops that line Chalk Farm Road on your way to the famous Camden Lock and Stables Markets. Most of the big name stores have been kept out of Camden Town, so you will find more interesting clothing at these privately owned shops. Everything from furniture to fashion can be found here. Even if you don’t buy anything, check out some of the more colourful shops to see some strange fashions and the people who sport them.

Crossing the bridge over Regent’s Canal, a popular hangout for true Camden punks with their wild hair and outrageous clothing, you will come to the Camden Lock Village. Although gutted by a fire in 2008, the Village has been rebuilt and now contains more than 100 stalls and shops selling arts, crafts, food, clothing and accessories.

The most vital part of visiting Camden is to not let yourself get worn out. By the time you reach the legendary Stables Market, you will have already passed all of the other Camden Markets and dozens of shops. These were all just a preemptive strike on the senses, a warm up for the Stables. Located within the old confines of the horse hospital and stable area used when horses pulled barges around the canals of Camden, the Stables Market has something for everyone. Jammed with people from all walks of life, the market is a kaleidoscope of culture. While it houses several high quality restaurants and bars, the best way to sample the foods of the Stables is to try one of the stalls near the entrance, selling all types of ethnic world cuisine. The air around this area is filled with the aroma of spices from all over the world, and the aggressive food vendors will put a smile on the face of the most hardened shopper.

Wander the maze of stalls, garages, stables, and catacombs that make up the wonderful Stables Market. This market can take hours to navigate fully. It is impossible for a newcomer to explore the winding corridors and caverns and not get lost. The alternative vibe that has thrived in Camden for so long is everywhere. Try on retro clothing or check out world-class art in the former squat flat and studio of the Clash. Find the best reggae music and clothing outside Kingston. Play a sitar, a santoor, a djembe, or a dulcimer. Check out the Roundhouse, an old railway generator shed turned into a venue, which hosted Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and Cream. Musicians and fans will be in heaven exploring the Stables Market.

Camden Town is a treasure in musical history. The area and people have been shaped as much by the music as the music has been shaped by them. It is a mecca for music lovers. Visitors to Camden are swept up in subculture and history. The Clash formed and recorded here. Bon Scott died here. George Orwell and Charles Dickens lived here. Coldplay played their first shows here. Sid Vicious played his last show here. The anti-authority, almost subterranean culture of Camden will inspire music fans to have a riot of their own and instill a little bit of anarchy in the UK.

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