A brief introduction to

8 Important Sites in the History of Black Music in England

We look at some of the most important buildings and places in the history of music by Black musicians.

In this by no means an exhaustive list, we look at some of the most important buildings and places in the history of music by Black musicians.

Tudor music at Greenwich Palace, London

Coming to London at the beginning of the 16th Century, the trumpeter John Blanke is one of the earliest recorded Black people to have lived in Britain.

The Royal Naval College, 1870-1900 © Historic England Archive CC97/01513
The Royal Naval College, photographed in 1870-1900. © Historic England Archive CC97/01513.

He arrived with Catherine of Aragon, and records show payments to him from the Treasurer of the Chamber in 1507 (by Henry VII) and then 1509 (by Henry VIII).

Blanke is thought to be portrayed on the 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll.

Extract from the Westminster Tournament Roll, almost certainly showing John Blanke. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

He likely performed at Greenwich Palace (today, the Old Royal Naval College). In 2016, historian David Olusoga unveiled a plaque at the site honouring Blanke.

Jazz at the Shim Sham Club, London

Opening just before the Second World War, the Shim Sham Club was located at 37 Wardour Street in Soho (now an O’Neills) and was presented as a members club, to avoid alcohol restrictions.

Garland Wilson, between 1938 and 1948, by William P. Gottlieb. Image public domain
Garland Wilson, photographed between 1938 and 1948 by William P. Gottlieb. Image in the public domain.

A haven for bohemians and outsiders, it welcomed artists, models, writers and musicians, and Queer, Black and Jewish Londoners.

Garland Wilson, an African American jazz pianist who came to England in the 1930s, regularly performed at the club – notably on its opening night in 1935.

Calypso at the Tilbury Docks, Essex

Located 25 miles east of central London, the Port of Tilbury is the city’s primary dock.

Until the 1960s, it served passengers and cargo, and in 1948, 492 Caribbeans arrived aboard the Empire Windrush seeking a new life.

The arrivals featured several calypso musicians, including Lord Kitchener, Lord Woodbine and Lord Beginner, shown on their arrival in this video from 0.48 seconds.

Rock at 23-25 Brook Street, London

Having spent several years struggling to get his career off the ground in his native America, Jimi Hendrix arrived in England in 1966.

23 Brook Street,City of Westminster,London,View from north. Detail of blue plaque © Historic England Archive DP187271
Detail of a blue plaque at 23 Brook Street, City of Westminster, London. © Historic England Archive DP187271.

His talent was soon noticed, and he earned rapturous praise from musicians like Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton.

In 1968 he moved into a flat with his girlfriend at 23 Brook Street. Though Hendrix only lived there briefly, it is his only recognised residence worldwide.

In 1997 English Heritage commemorated Hendrix with a blue plaque.

Trip Hop at Bristol Beacon (formerly Colston Hall), Bristol

A Grade II Listed building in the centre of Bristol, Bristol Beacon (formerly known as Colston Hall) has played host to a range of performers since it opened at the end of the 19th century. 

The hall, alongside schools and several other civic buildings in the city, took its name from Edward Colston, who made his vast personal wealth from the slave trade.

The name has been a source of contention. Trip-hop pioneers Massive Attack, arguably Bristol’s most famous musical sons, refused to play at the venue until the name was changed. In 2020, Colston Hall was renamed Bristol Beacon.

Soca at the Town Hall, Leeds

Notting Hill Carnival is England’s biggest Caribbean carnival, but it wasn’t the first.

Leeds Town Hall, The Headrow, Leeds, West Yorkshire. © Historic England Archive DP174187.

In 1967 a young student named Arthur France arrived in Leeds from the island of Nevis. To combat his ‘crippling homesickness’, France set about organising a street parade to lift the spirits of his fellow migrants.

Static, indoor events had taken place in London, but this was the first time that a West Indian Parade, organised by Caribbeans and consisting of predominantly Black people, had taken place in England.

The now annual parade formerly began in Potternewton Park, Chapeltown, and ended at Leeds Town Hall (the route now starts and ends in Potternewton Park).

Drum & Bass and Jungle at Hoxton Square, London

Before Hoxton underwent massive gentrification, it was home to Blue Note, a pioneering club that opened in 1993.

It was here that Kemi Olusanya, Clifford Joseph Price and Jayne Conneely launched one of London’s most important club nights.

Better known as Kemistry, Goldie and Storm, the trio launched the record label and night Metalheadz in 1995, where they performed alongside DJs like Fabio and Grooverider, Doc Scott and Peshay. The night swiftly became legendary, attracting audiences from around the world and celebrity guests like Bjork, David Bowie and Lauryn Hill.

Beyond being a site of importance to Black British music, Metalheadz at Blue Note is an important landmark in the often-ignored history of women in dance music.

Grime, Garage and UK Funky at Ingram House, London

In the 1960s, the lack of genre diversity on the radio led to the emergence of Pirate Radio, initially to cater to pop and rock fans.

New stations sprung up across the UK in the following decades, broadcasting out of bedrooms, kitchens and warehouses, providing a vital lifeline for Black music.

Launched over Carnival weekend in 1995 on the 18th floor of Ingram House in Bow, Rinse FM was pivotal to the growth of several genres, including Garage, Grime and UK Funky.

In 2005 one of the founders, DJ Slimzee was caught on the roof of a block in Shadwell setting up a new rig: he received an ASBO banning him from every roof in Tower Hamlets, ending his career with Rinse. However, the team persisted, and in 2010 they were finally granted a community FM licence.

Black and British
In 2016, Historic England supported the BBC’s ‘Black and British’ season with new listings celebrating Black British history.

Further reading

3 comments on “8 Important Sites in the History of Black Music in England

  1. Reblogged this on msamba.

  2. In Leeds the Town Hall was were the first international steel pan contest took place in 1967. The Trades Hall in Chapeltown, Leeds was were the Calypso King contest took place. The article doesn’t really explain that.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: