The sun is setting over the scenery that is defining your latest adventure and the radio is playing a catchy tune. Perhaps you’ve never heard it before, but somehow it is the perfect soundtrack to accompany the moment. Or maybe you are sitting in a café near home, sipping coffee and that same tune plays on the radio. Magically you are transported back to the warming sun on your face, the sound of crickets in the air and the musky scent of the hired car that you were leaning on, breathing it all in. Music has the power to inspire, to evoke memories and to change your mood. While contemplating your next road trip, perhaps this playlist can inspire your UK travels. The bands are British, the music indicative of moments in our cultural history and the places are often the inspiration.
With visitor numbers topping over 30 million this year, London is obviously on everyone’s list when visiting the UK, but it’s not just tourists that are inspired by its culture, heritage, architecture and overall vibe. Many musicians have used London as their muse, from the English punk rock band The Clash and north London’s The Kinks to the Scottish band The Pogues, all have celebrated London in their song writing. More recently, Ed Sheeran has been among those to pen his experience of London. Although born and bred in Yorkshire, his song ‘The City’ is Sheeran’s reflections on London as his new home, a city that never sleeps and a far cry from where he was brought up. His attention to detail is captured in such lyrics as, ‘Sirens bleed through my window sill’, an experience that resonates with those who have ever stayed in such bustling cities as London.
To the south of London and, as the crow flies a mere 47 miles (75.6 km) away or only 60 minutes by train, sits the bohemian, often grungy sister city of London, Brighton & Hove. This journey is a well-trodden route, one that has been undertaken many times over the years not least of all by the famous London to Brighton veteran car run. FatBoy Slim is the most famous of all Brightonians, but despite being born in another county entirely, he has played many gigs there and now even owns his own café in Hove (perhaps his music has even been inspired by his time spent living there). Alongside the hugely famous Brian May who penned the lyrics to Queen’s, ‘Brighton Rock’, to the lesser known Irish band Bell X1 who wrote a heart-warming, multi instrumental layered song about the murmurations of starlings over the pier, Brighton has also had its fair share of musical coverage. Although Bell X1 hail from Ireland, not Brighton, their chilled out memories and reflections on life are definitely songs to accompany your travels wherever they take you.
To the east of Brighton, far along the coast is Dover. Most famous for its white cliffs, Dover has more to offer than the lofty chalk hills. The 90’s British sensation Blur wrote about a much darker side to these white cliffs but in their song also managed to include a nod to a more political and historical version by Vera Lynn. The English singer, songwriter and actress, sung about the ‘bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover’, however, the ‘bluebirds’ she sang about were actually not the avian kind but the fighter pilots doing battle in the skies during the war. Today Dover is obviously a very different place to that in Lynn’s time but perhaps while listening to her delightfully British female vocals, you can consider what else there is to offer the tourist here. There’s a castle, gardens, coastal and countryside walks. If you want to view the white cliffs from afar, a trip on the Dover to Calais ferry will give you some of the best views. Why not have a listen to Vera Lynn while aboard, and transport yourself to a different time in history.
4. East country to West Country
From the white cliffs in the East to the West Country. The psychedelic rock band Kula Shaker wrote not about a particular place, but about the journey on the A303 from Basingstoke to near Honiton. Although the UK have vast stretches of roads, motorways that criss-cross the country, none are quite like America’s Route 66. However, this 90s band have managed to inspire your very own UK road trip. Even if, unlike them, you’re not riding out in your Mercedes Benz from the land of the summer sun, the route will take you past many a tourist stop. The road itself passes near the Blackdown Hills area of outstanding natural beauty, as well as past the Thruxton Motorsport Centre.
Released back in 1978, Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ appeared on his self-titled first album. With classics like ‘Sledgehammer’ and ‘Red Rain’, Gabriel’s music has also appeared on many film soundtracks with ‘Solsbury Hill’ itself being used in the alternative film ‘Vanilla Sky’ featuring Tom Cruise. ‘Solsbury Hill’, it has been suggested, was about Gabriel’s own personal spiritual experience on top of Solsbury Hill in Somerset, although an alternative explanation was that the lyrics referenced his leaving the band Genesis. Either way, in reality, this small flat topped hill, located near the village of Batheaston in Somerset, was also the location of an Iron Age walled settlement that existed between 500-100 BC. It lies within the Cotswold’s own area of outstanding natural beauty, with views out towards Bath and is a great pit stop on any journey around the area.
A coastal town on the Severn Estuary, this little commuter town near Bristol, may seem an unlikely place to visit. As its name suggests, it’s a port at the head of the river and that body of water laps the shorelines on southern Wales and North Somerset. There are some stunning views across the water on clear days. It is also the birthplace of the English band of the same name. Having headlined one of the stages at Glastonbury in 2013, it seems they aren’t just a distant memory but are very much still active in their musical pursuits. Their debut album ‘Dummy’ in 1994 was dark, edgy and tinged with a hauntingly beautiful female vocalist. Defining new music known as trip hop, the band’s Facebook page has nearly a million likes, so take a trip to their home town to see what all the fuss is about.
As popular a destination as Liverpool and London, the UK’s fifth largest city, Manchester, has had quite a few songs written about it. The Beautiful South, The Smiths, Take That and Elbow have all used Manchester as their muse. Of all the songs, one of the catchiest is ‘Whippin’ Piccadilly’ by Gomez. This indie band from Southport won a Mercury Music Prize in 1998 for their first album. In the song they write about a day trip they took to Manchester where they ‘played a bit of football, fell into the union, barged our way to the toilet’. Gomez clearly kept it simple on their day out, but there is more to do in Manchester. With Mancunians being equally as nutty about football, let’s face it, travel anywhere in the world and people have heard about Manchester United football club. Manchester is also home to Christmas markets, an art gallery, cathedral, shopping center and botanical gardens among many other things, but don’t wait for the high speed travel link to be built, make your own road trip there now.
Approximately 40 miles (64 km) from Manchester sits the City of Liverpool. Liverpool, like London, has had its fair share of songs written about it. Most famously, Liverpool lays claim to being the birthplace of The Beatles, even if not many of their songs are actually inspired by their home city. Formed in 1960 the band wrote only a handful of songs about places in Liverpool, which included Penny Lane and Strawberry fields. Despite this, they do include quite a lot of British references in their songs and there are plenty of places to visit while visiting Liverpool with links to the band. The Cavern Club where they played on a number of occasions, and the Casbah Coffee Club, where it all began, are among those spots to visit. So if you’re a bit of a fan then why not make the pilgrimage to the land of football, culture and music.
I don’t think it’s possible to talk about Dublin without mentioning one of the largest rock bands on the planet. U2 formed in Dublin in 1976 and have been rocking the world with their guitar riffs, politics and celebrating their Irishness all the way. They have won more Grammy awards than any other band and appear in Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 greatest artist of all time. Of their own songs about Dublin, ‘Bad’ covers a darker side to the city. If there is one thing to be said of their music and that of many other Irish bands, they certainly don’t lack passion. The Script’s 'Paint the Town Green’ plays with the saying 'paint the town red’ but changes the colour to that of the Irish national colour. They said in an interview that the song was about missing home. Dublin itself is a historic city, with a castle dating back to the 13th century, a cathedral founded in 1191, parks, museums and much more. If you want to continue your road trip then you can catch a ferry from Holyhead in Wales to Dublin in just under 2 hours.
Finally we head North to bonnie Scotland. Think Scotland, think Simple Minds, Belle & Sebastian, Biffy Clyro, Primal Scream, Chvrches and Mogwai. Some of the greatest music of the last few decades has emerged from Scotland and perhaps it’s easy to see why. The cities have emerged from their own socio-political backdrops and Scotland harbours a powerful and traumatic history that has often divided it from its southern counterparts. This aside, it’s scenery is rugged, the lochs hauntingly beautiful and the music often echoes this. Mogwai’s ‘Hungry Face’ track literally ticks through a cinematic ambient piece, which would accompany any trip into the wilds of Scotland. But what of songs that actually mention places in Scotland. Glasgow and Edinburgh feature heavily in songs and their titles but with all the great Scottish talent listed above, why pin the place down to one song. Let the music take you to the land of kilts, shortbread and monster legends. If you are musical, you may even be inspired to write something of your own.
Wherever the road takes you
A whistle-stop tour of the UK it might be, but there is definitely plenty to see and listen to along the way. Great British bands not mentioned here, but not forgotten, should also include Oasis, Coldplay, The Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Kasabian and The Verve. There’s definitely plenty of tracks to accompany you on your Great British Road Trip, or even rail, bike or walk. Whichever way you chose to explore, let the music take you.