Nobody is sure where the term ‘Tin Pan Alley’ originated. It’s a place, a sound, a phenomenon and a people; a film, a play and a band.
In 1885 several music publishers all set up to trade from the same district in Manhattan, back in the day when songs were written in the offices on cheap upright pianos. Some say ‘Tin Pan Alley’ was originally a distainful term for the sound of lots of these cheap pianos hammering away at different tunes all day.
Another account of the origin of the name says it was published in a book about the music business in 1930. In this version, popular songwriter Harry von Tilzer was being interviewed about the area around 28th Street and Fifth Avenue, where many music publishers had their offices. Von Tilzer had modified his expensive Kindler & Collins piano by placing strips of paper down the strings to give the instrument a more percussive sound. The journalist told von Tilzer, “Your Kindler & Collins sounds exactly like a tin can. I’ll call the article ‘Tin Pan Alley’.”
Anyway, it soon became the term for the music business in general in the US, and for any area within a major city that has a high concentration of music publishers and music shops,
which has attracted A-List artists across the decades. Such an area in the UK is Denmark Street, off the West End, nicknames ‘Britain’s Tin Pan Alley’. Named after Prince George of Denmark in the 17th century, it has been central to the music industry in the UK since the 1950s, when it was populated by music publishers. This gave way to music shops and recording studios in the 60s, and now holds music clubs as well.
This place holds a lot of history for our popular culture, and some buildings are now listed; The Sex Pistols lived above number 6 and recorded their first demos there. David Bowie, a The Small Faces and other artists used to hang out at a popular cafe at number 9. At number 4, now a specialist music store and music venue called The Alleycat Club, was Regent Sounds Studio, where in 1964 The Rolling Stones recorded their first album, followed by a stream of fantastic artists from Jimi Hendrix to Elton John.
Soaked with great stories, Denmark Street is a gossip corner for our music history. All sorts of music magazines were published from NME to Melody Maker; Bob Marley bought his first guitar; David Bowie lived on this street in a camper van; Reg Dwight (now Elton John) worked here as an office boy at Mills Music at number 20.
And in 2015, DiElle played The Alleycat Club, soaking up the musically historical vibes in the air. Thanks for having us guys – a great night had by all..