London’s REAL rock underground
The Floyd played there, Hendrix, Bowie… but The Beatles asked for too much bread and Led Zeppelin turned it into a pit of flesh! Chislehurst Caves was the capital’s weirdest rock’n’roll venue. Alistair MacQueen unearths the story...
Walk into the south London tourist attraction of Chislehurst Caves today, and you’re ushered down by a tour guide and offered the obligatory anachronistic gas lantern to hold. After passing some World War II ephemera dating back to the Caves’ days as a bomb shelter, almost the first thing you come to is a stage with rudimentary drum kit on. This harks back to its days as a music venue. The platform is no bigger than any you’ll find in pubs and clubs around the country, while the audience area in front occupies a space nearer to the Bull & Gate at Kentish Town than Earl’s Court Arena. However, the naturally great acoustics, numerous sections and warren-like passageways meant people who couldn’t see the band could listen to it just as clearly, even if it meant they weren’t necessarily in the same room.
The guide will fill you in on a couple of rock legends who played here – Hendrix, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd – before you’re swiftly ushered on. But those names just skim the surface of the legends that performed in this labyrinthine venue and what happened within it.
Dating back over 8,000 years, the Caves were mainly used to mine for chalk to produce lime and flint. Used to store munitions during World War I, their myriad passageways were deployed as a …
by Alistair MacQueen
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