UK pop pilgrimages: from Paul McCartney’s Kintyre to Giggs’s Peckham

With festivals looking thin on the ground, why not visit the places that have inspired some of our best songs and greatest bands, including Pulp, the Undertones and … Cliff Richard

Paul McCartney’s Kintyre

Your desire to be among dramatic Scottish scenery where mist may or may not roll in from the sea will depend on at least some appreciation for Paul McCartney and Wings’ 1977 hit Mull of Kintyre. Naff as its faux-Scots stylings may be, its emotion is pure, romanticising Macca’s back-to-basics rural bolthole, High Park farm – his life-saving sanctuary from Beatlemania.

The Beatles’ final single, The Long and Winding Road, was inspired by an unknown route on the Kintyre peninsula – perhaps the coast road past roaring Atlantic waves. The estate in the hills above Campbeltown still belongs to McCartney, though he no longer visits. A memorial garden and statue beside the local library commemorate Linda’s death from cancer in 1998.

Mull of Kintyre.

Home today to a human-like sculpture by Antony Gormley standing eerily below the tideline, postcard-pretty Saddell Bay may be familiar from the Mull of Kintyre video, where pipers in full regalia march along the beach. (The cottage in the video is commonly mistaken for the McCartney home.) To the south stands the Mull of Kintyre itself, the peninsula’s high headland where, provided there’s no mist, you can see clearly all the way to Northern Ireland. Malcolm Jack

The Undertones’ Derry

The Undertones in 1980.
The Undertones in 1980. Photograph: Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Derry is Northern Ireland’s second city, but claims its greatest band: the Undertones. Their effervescent optimism amid the Troubles are Derry’s spirit incarnate. Sadly, the Casbah, the flat-roof bar on the junction of Bridge Street and Orchard Street where they were resident in 1977, was flattened to make way for Foyleside shopping centre. The band’s singer, Feargal Sharkey, once claimed the bar was a plastered portable building covering a crater where, poignantly, the former pub had been blown up.

The wall the band sat on for the cover of their debut album is in Bull park; 22 Beechwood Avenue, childhood home of guitarists John and Damian O’Neill but since demolished, was the band’s HQ, its back yard featuring in the My Perfect Cousin video.

The Nerve Centre opened on Magazine Street in 1990 and remains a key arts and performance space. A walk around Creggan and the city walls to gaze over the Foyle will allow you to drink in the inspiration for Phil Coulter’s hymn to the beauty and pain of the city in The Town I Loved So Well. Finally, Free Derry Corner, on the junction of Lecky Road and Fahan Street, is where visiting rock bands (never local ones) would crassly pose. Eamonn Forde

Giggs’s Peckham

Talkin Da Hardest.

If you’re coming to Peckham in south London, start with a walk in Burgess park past Willowbrook Bridge, beneath which Giggs shot the video for his 2008 single Talkin Da Hardest, now considered a national anthem by Britons of a certain generation. From there, head south to Peckham Rye (scene of Giggs and B.o.B’s Don’t Go There video), then on to Peckham’s covered market, where Giggs’s crew, SN1, once opened a merch store to satisfy adoring local fans. Reporting from Peckham in 2012, a writer in the Evening Standard said: “Every two minutes somebody shuffles past wearing SN1 hoodies, T-shirts or even PVC leggings with the word ‘UUMMM!’ on the derrière” – “UUMMM” being a trademarked Giggs ad-lib.

Hungry? Get some Morley’s chicken. Nike filmed an ad here in 2018, showing a runner complaining about having to run through Peckham at night, before cutting to a hooded man in a chicken shop (Giggs), asking: “What’s wrong with Peckham?” It’s much less dangerous than it once was, in part thanks to Giggs, whose collaborations with the Brixton rappers Tempman and Sneakbo helped pacify gang friction in the late 2000s. Peckham High Street’s vintage shops and pop-up food trucks even attract hipsters. Just remember who the landlord is. Sam Davies

Aphex Twin’s Cornwall

Carn Marth, Cornwall.
Carn Marth, Cornwall. Photograph: Laura Snapes

Lanner, the village where Richard D James grew up, hides its charms. To drive straight through on the road to Redruth reveals little more than pasty shops, off-licences and pubs. It’s off the main drag that you’ll find the locales that have cropped up in James’s work over the years: Gwennap Pit is a natural amphitheatre formed as a result of mining subsidence, hailed by the Methodist leader John Wesley, who frequently preached there, as “the most magnificent spectacle this side of heaven”. You can see James and fellow local producer Luke Vibert chatting to John Peel there in the 1999 Channel 4 show Sounds of the Suburbs, and James warps its concentric geometry into the shape of the Aphex logo in the video for 2018’s T69 Collapse (and on the cover of the Collapse EP).

Richard D James, AKA Aphex Twin.
Richard D James, AKA Aphex Twin. Photograph: Publicity image

Up the hill towards Redruth is Carn Marth, the inspiration for the title of a flickering, prismatic track from the 1996 Richard D James album. The highest point in the area, it offers magnificent views on a clear day and conceals kaleidoscopic delights: two different quarries, one littered with mysterious holes in the cliff face (where miners tested their drills), one another natural amphitheatre where local theatre companies stage shows. At the top is a chilly lake fit for – I sincerely apologise – a fine spot of wild swimming, or some robust teenage delinquency. Continuing on towards the north coast, head to Chapel Porth, a beach that appears on the cover of the Surfing on Sine Waves EP, and home to a cafe where most things come with some degree of clotted cream, including the sausage sandwich. Get the famous hedgehog ice-cream: scoop of vanilla, scoop of clotted, rolled in crushed hazelnuts.

If you dodge the coronary, take the long drive west to two more sterling Aphex spots. Just off Marazion is castle island St Michael’s Mount, immortalised on Drukqs. And at the rugged tiptoe of the country, Treen is where you’ll find the titular teetering edifice of Logan Rock Witch (the last song on Richard D James), a 65-tonne block of granite balanced on a cliff, which used to rock until some naughty navy men pushed it off as a dare in 1824. If you’re feeling similarly brazen, take the vertigo-inducing steps down to Pedn Vounder nudist beach, listening to Aphex to double down on disorientation. Laura Snapes

Cliff Richard’s Hertfordshire

Cliff Richard mobbed by fans at the Hulton Boys and Girls Exhibition at Olympia’s Disc theatre.
Cliff Richard mobbed by fans at the Hulton Boys and Girls Exhibition at Olympia’s Disc theatre. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

The leafy environs of Hertfordshire appear an unlikely crucible for the birth of British rock’n’roll, but a day trip can retrace the steps of how Cliff Richard became the English Elvis. Start in Hargreaves Close, Bury Green, Cheshunt, where 10-year-old Harry Webb moved to a council house with his family in 1951, having arrived in the UK from India three years earlier. Head to nearby Riversmead school (formerly Cheshunt secondary modern), where he sang in a hobby doo-wop quintet, the Quintones. Proceed to the site of an epiphany: the corner of Waltham Cross High Street and Park Lane, where, one Saturday morning in May 1956, 15-year-old Harry heard Heartbreak Hotel blaring from a car outside a newsagent named Aspland’s, fell in love with Elvis Presley and resolved to become a singer.

Go on to the former Regal cinema in Sterling Way, Edmonton (today a Lidl), where he watched Bill Haley play the first US rock’n’roll tour of Britain in 1957. Finish up in Burford Road, Hoddesdon, where Harry was talent spotted, later in 1957, playing the now-demolished Five Horseshoes pub with his band, the Drifters (the embryonic Shadows). The following year, Harry became Cliff, and the rest is history. Ian Gittins

Pulp’s Sheffield

The City Hall ballroom in Sheffield.
The City Hall ballroom in Sheffield. Photograph: Dennis Gilbert-VIEW/Alamy

Pulp’s official commemorative blue plaque is outside gig venue the Leadmill. But an unofficial plaque was placed outside Plantology on Division Street by Sensoria festival, marking the location where Jarvis Cocker fell out of a window doing a Spider-Man impression to woo a girl. It’s the key to Cocker’s appeal, and the perfect starting point from which to explore Sheffield’s musical history: you’ll find the light-up dancefloor as in Pulp’s Disco 2000 video in the City Hall ballroom, a venue once home to pioneering club night Jive Turkey. A room behind it birthed Meat Whistle, the theatre and arts group that attracted future members of the Human League, Clock DVA and Heaven 17. Cabaret Voltaire drank in the nearby Beehive (although the Red Deer is a better modern option) after rehearsing at Western Works studio, a since demolished industrial building that captured the Cab’s singular sound, along with New Order’s first demos.

Disco 2000.

Pop into Bear Tree Records before walking past the old Cole Brothers department store, which Richard Hawley nods to on Coles Corner. Further down – near food hall, Kommune – was the Boardwalk, where the Clash played their first ever gig. Underneath – as epitomised on the Beneath the Boardwalk demos by Arctic Monkeys – is now an e-sports bar, but the nearby DIY venue Delicious Clam is where you’ll hear the next wave of Sheffield talent. Daniel Dylan Wray

• What are your favourite UK pop pilgrimages? Tell us in the comments below.

Contributors

Malcolm Jack, Eamonn Forde, Sam Davies, Laura Snapes, Ian Gittins, Daniel Dylan Wray

The GuardianTramp

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