There’s no denying that the United Kingdom has given the world a lot in the way of music. The nation is steeped in musical culture, from The Beatles to Bonobo; Oasis to One Direction; Elvis Costello to Elton John. It’s given us The Spice Girls and ‘Careless Whisper’. In short, its veins run thick with musical wealth — but there’s more to it than just strolling through The Beatles museum in Liverpool.
With the European summer just around the corner, we’ve been thinking about seminal musical experiences you can tick off your bucket list in the UK. And luckily, Contiki has launched a tour that covers exactly that. Dubbed Contiki Sounds, this ten-day journey includes stops in England’s major cities — London, York, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool— and culminates in a VIP experience at long-running rock and pop extravaganza Reading Festival. This Aussie winter, pack your guitar (probably sacrificing some undies for space), head over the water to (somewhat) sunnier plains and prepare to pay homage to some legends. Tell your mum you love her and let her know you’re off to find your inner John Lennon.
1. ABBEY ROAD CROSSING, LONDON
There’s no getting around the Fab Four’s reputation as paving the way for modern pop music and music fandom. Speaking of paving the way, the Abbey Road crossing in London’s St John’s Wood neighbourhood is certainly one of the enduring symbols of the band. The crosswalk is traipsed by countless fans of The Beatles daily in a bid to recreate the iconic Abbey Road album cover — undoubtedly frustrating traffic to no end. You can join the crowds and stroll your way across the road in tribute to the fallen members, John and George, and enduring larrikins Ringo and Paul. Sneak a peek at the current musical talent who might be ensconced inside the famous Abbey Road Studios across the way, where many of The Beatles’ hits were recorded.
2. DENMARK STREET, LONDON
Another London road worth a visit is Denmark Street. Traipsing this patch of pavement will have you walking in the boots of the ghosts of the London music scene founders. Somewhat of a musical mecca in the mid-20th century, the street is even referenced in a song of the same name by The Kinks. Here, many bands quintessential to the British music world either rehearsed or recorded, and David Bowie even lived on the street in a campervan. Bowie has passed but the street’s resonance lives on. Today it’s a hotspot for musical instrument sales and repairs, as well as being home to famous grungy live music venue Crobar.
3. READING FESTIVAL, READING
There’s no greater musical experience than packing up a tent, dancing to live music in your gumboots with your best friends for a few days and coming back having had the time of your life. If you’re seeking a definitive musical experience and are up for a good time, an all-in UK music festival is a must — and this is one of the best. Reading is the longest-running pop music festival in existence and serves up a jampacked lineup of pop, rock and alternative heavyweights each year in conjunction with its partner festival in Leeds. It also boasts a number of important moments in musical history, including Nirvana’s first ever UK show and Arctic Monkey’s launch into superstardom in 2005. And if you’re going tick this musical mecca off your bucket list, you’ll want to do it in style. If you hop on board the Contiki Sounds trip, the on-site crew will take care of all the logistics — from setting up your tent and mattress to making sure you’ve got brekkie every day — so you can concentrate on donning your boots and moshing in front of the main stage.
4. SALFORD LADS CLUB, MANCHESTER
Made famous by the sleeve art of The Smiths 1986 album The Queen Is Dead, Salford Lads Club has been on the scene since 1903, when it was still a boys club. Over 100 years later, the club has had a whole fleet of musical legends as members (The Hollies also used to practise there). A decade or so ago saw some necessary refurbs, partly financed by Morrissey himself. These days, it’s often used as a film and TV location for the likes of British series Coronation Street and hosts a variety of sports and talks geared towards young people. While that might sound like a far cry from The Smiths posing moodily outside, true fans need not fear — there’s still an entire room dedicated to the band inside. The Salford Lads Club’s musical pedigree is impossible not to acknowledge.
5. CAVERN CLUB, LIVERPOOL
A guide to the British music scene wouldn’t be complete without Liverpool — the epicentre of a huge part of the UK’s music roots. And yep, it’s generally down to The Beatles. Every year thousands of people flock to the harbourside town, many wanting to explore The Beatles Story museum. The Cavern Club is equally as important and just as drenched in musical history. Step inside and take a deep breath — you’ll be inhaling the atmosphere of years of musical history (along with beer). Still an important live music venue to the town, The Beatles made a name for themselves here, playing their first gig in 1961. Over the years, countless other British bands have followed suit, including The Wombats and The Rolling Stones. Pay your respects to this holy stage.