Some songs about London

If you ask me where I live, I will answer ‘Norfolk’. However, ask me where I am from, and the answer will always be ‘London’. Lots of places have songs or music written about them, and I have mentioned some on other posts on this blog. But it is the songs about my home town that have the biggest impact on me. Often corny, sometimes coarse, these songs have followed me through my life so far, and will continue to do so. Here are just some of them.

London Pride.  Written by Noel Coward in 1941, this song was designed to inspire Londoners during the Blitz, and remains as one of the most evocative songs ever written about London, and the Londoners who lived there at the time, and since. This version is actually sung by Coward, in his distinctive upper-class lisp. A piece of history on the page, courtesy of You Tube.

Maybe It’s Because I’m A Londoner.  Again written during the war years, this time in 1943, by Hubert Gregg. This is the song us Londoners all sing when we have had too much to drink, or we are in the company of non-Londoners. It is the anthem of the ‘old’ Londoners, and in its day, was the equivalent of ‘New York, New York’. This hackneyed, sentimental old tune runs through my head whenever I think of my city. To me, it is priceless. This version is performed by Flanagan and Allen, a music hall act who made many wartime songs famous.

A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.  Just before the outbreak of the second world war, this song was written by Eric Mashwitz, and released in 1940. It has been recorded by many famous artists, but perhaps the best-known version, at least here in England, was by Dame Vera Lynn. Here she is, singing the song live on TV, in 1969, thirty years after it was published.

The Lambeth Walk.  I was born in Lambeth Hospital, so I have something of an emotional attachment to this song. Lambeth was a small area of South London, bordering the Thames, on the opposite bank of the river to the Houses of Parliament. It is now an enormous London Borough, and as such, has lost much of its original identity. Lambeth Walk, once a street market, still exists. This song, from the 1937 musical, ‘Me and My Girl’, also has an accompanying dance, that I have attempted more times than I care to remember. This clip, from the 1939 film of the show, not only demonstrates the old song, but also the dance that went with it. It resembles the earliest form of Line-Dancing. Just fabulous!

Wotcher!Knocked Em In The Old Kent Road.  Composed in 1891, by the Chevalier Brothers, famous music hall performers, this old song also has a personal involvement for me. The Old Kent Road is a famously long road in South London, once the way of pilgrimage to Canterbury, and as the name suggests, the main route from London, to the county of Kent. I lived near it, went to school just off of it, and shopped along it, until as recently as 2011. The shop fronts have changed, but the essence of the place remains the same to this day. ‘Wotcher’, for the benefit of non-Londoners, is a greeting, possibly an abbreviation of ‘Watch You’. It was very common in my youth, and is still heard, though less used by younger people. In 1939, in the Hollywood film, ‘The Little Princess’, Shirley Temple sang a version of this song, alongside English character actor, Arthur Treacher. This is a short clip of that performance.

A Foggy Day In London Town.   Written by George and Ira Gershwin, this song, from 1937, was intended for Fred Astaire, in the film ‘A Damsel In Distress’. It has been recorded countless times since, by most of the greatest singers ever known. It continues the long connection of London with Fog, made famous in so many films. The best version is probably that recorded by Frank Sinatra, but I cannot resist the original version, so here is the grainy old film clip.

Waterloo Sunset.  London group, The Kinks, released this tribute to London’s sights and sounds in 1967. It has a timeless quality about it, and is rightly regarded as a tribute to the great city, despite its melancholy love-song feel, and the story that Ray Davies originally titled the song ‘Liverpool Sunset’. The view from Waterloo Bridge is one of the best anywhere in London, taking in all the iconic riverside buildings, as well as many of the other bridges. Here they are, performing the song live, in black and white.

London Calling.  In 1979, punk band The Clash released an album of this name, including this track, issued as a single. It is a political record, about many things, as well as London. However, it has since been widely associated with the city, and is often used to represent it, in film clips, and advertisements. It has undeniable power.

There are many more songs relating to London, either directly, or by association. This is a varied sample, and I hope that you enjoy them. You can be an honorary Londoner, for the short time it takes to listen to them.

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11 thoughts on “Some songs about London

  1. Pete, Loved these selections and the commentary. Went to London first time in 1976, age 18 after having saved up for years from an after school job. Being a big Kinks fan, walking across Waterloo Bridge was on the itinerary. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend “In the City: A Celebration of London Music” by Paul Du Noyer. One of the best books I read in recent years, he writes about many of these songs you posted.
    Best, Rick

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    1. I don’t know the book at all Rick. I was thinking about the Noel Coward song one day, and decided to write about some London songs I already knew. I will look out for it, and hope to read it one day. Thanks for the comment, it is always much appreciated.
      Regards from Norfolk, Pete.

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  2. Pete, I finally found a moment to sit down and listen to the music. We’ve been out and about on the Las Vegas Strip taking photos, and running errands here and there…. I don’t know any of these songs. The one I like best is “London Pride.” But I thoroughly enjoyed Shirley Temple dancing and singing “Wotcher! Knocked ‘Em in the Old Kent Road.” Best moment for me visually was Fred Astaire sitting on the fence in the fog (although, the foggy scene towards the end of the film clip was nearly as good). I have several Fred Astaire movies, but, as you might expect, the main attraction for me is the flawless dancing in them. Thank you for the songs. There is nothing wrong with being sentimental about songs that one associates with one’s identity, whether past or present.

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    1. Thanks David. I suspect that Fred was a long way from London, filming on that fence! However, I did enjoy this somewhat self-indulgent stroll down Memory Lane.
      Regards to you both, Pete.

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  3. Dear Pete,
    your collection of music is very familar to me and I do enjoy them very much, thank you so much for sharing. (Unforunately I’m at work right now and the Flashplayer is too old and I can’t watch it righ now, but I’ll later, from home) The Flash Player has to be updated os often, you can be sure that one you updated last week is already too old, sigh … 🙂
    Have a great start in teh new week, Pete. I really look forward to some sleep, that’s how my Monday is going to start!:-)
    Big pat for Ollie x
    Dina

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  4. Nice array of songs and your commentary celebrating London.

    I feel that I first met London from hearing about it from my father’s experience as an Airman stationed in Great Britain in WWII. Dover or somewhere nearby, as I recall. He and his buddies went to London when they were on leave and mostly got drunk but my father also got to do some sight-seeing and went to jazz clubs etc. I sometimes watch Foyles War for a taste of what he might have experienced.

    My personal experience with London as an armchair traveler came from reading Charles Dickens and other English novels, also Chaucer. It was fun to hear your experience as a modern Londoner.

    Thanks for a fun read and associated music..

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    1. Thanks for your comments and recollections Gretchen. ‘Foyle’s War’ is actually reasonably accurate, and set in Hastings, about 60 miles from London, on the South Coast. So, not that far from where your Dad was stationed. He does go to London a lot in the series, and they do the costumes and atmosphere very well.
      As for Dickensian London, it is becoming like that again in some parts, with harsh living conditions, crime, and unemployment. I think Charles would still recognise most of it!
      Regards and best wishes as always, Pete.

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