It’s hard to find signs of the borough’s musical heritage trail

So just what do we get for the £220,000 of Lottery cash splurged on Croydon’s Music Heritage Trail? We sent LOUISA GAUTREY along to road-test the trail and its accompanying app

Recognisable: but who are the others on the mural?

As a teenager who listens to a wide range of music, I was intrigued when I heard about the Croydon Music Heritage Trail, and hoped that it might give me some insight into the area’s musical history.

I set out for Queen’s Gardens, because according to the map in the trail’s app, that’s where it is all supposed to start. I walked past the mural in the gardens. I didn’t know what it was, nor that it is in any way connected with the trail. I thought it was just well-drawn graffiti.

I couldn’t find anything about it on the app, beyond that it is called “Croydon Symphony”. So I Googled it. According to something on the Croydon Council website, it was designed to represent the “diverse musical culture” in the artists’ hometown.

Of the nine artists featured on the mural, I could only recognise one: grime rapper Stormzy. Of all points on the Heritage Trail map, it is probably the easiest to find. But I didn’t see anything in the Gardens or on the app to explain what the mural is there for, or to tell me who the various people in the mural might be.

Starting point: The Queen’s Gardens has the biggest, easiest to spot feature on the Music Heritage Trail. But there’s nothing there to explain what it is all for. Pic: Louisa Gautrey

I turned back to the app to move on to the first stop on the trail, the Fairfield Halls.

The Fairfield Halls is just a two-minute walk, across a very busy road, from the starting point. When I arrived, I did not know what I was looking for. Was it a sign? Was it a poster? The app was unhelpful, again.

No signs: apart from a banner on the side of the building for an event that took place nearly four  months ago, there’s nothing to direct anyone following the Heritage Trail to what they might be looking for. Pic: Louisa Gautrey

In the end, I had to ask a nice lady from the Fairfield Halls. She directed me to what I was supposed to be looking for.

When I found it, I was quite disappointed.

Drain on resources: the first plaque is easy to miss

It is a plaque that has been placed in the pavement, but unlike the Hollywood Walk of Fame, where the idea has been copied from, the Croydon plaque blends in with the pathway. It is unpolished and does not look finished. It could have been a drain.

If I were just passing by, I probably wouldn’t even notice it.

Now I knew what I was looking for, it did make the rest of the plaques on the trail easier to find.

But some were easier to locate than others. The Fairfield Halls and the plaque for the Greyhound and the Blue Orchid were in obvious places, directly outside the buildings.

College of arts: David Bowie is missing from the mural, but gets a mention for his brief stay at Croydon Art School. We couldn’t find the plaque, and couldn’t find any mention of Jamie Reid, either. Pic: Louisa Gautrey

The Croydon College plaque was much harder to find. In fact, I couldn’t find it. I moved on to the next one.

The choice of locations for some of the plaques might seem odd, too. The plaque for Kirsty MacColl, for example, is outside Boxpark, because she worked for a while in the Bonaparte’s record shop that used to be on the site.

The plaque tells me that “Elvis Costello was on the building”. The app explains how that is not actually true.

Polished: Kirsty MacColl’s been stuck outside Boxpark

At least this plaque, unlike its Fairfield Halls equivalent, looks as if it has been given a polish.

I was getting used to how the app operated by now. When you neared the plaque area, the place popped up on your screen with the information to tell you that you have arrived. The location tracker follows you.

It is not the most accurate, but that happens with most apps trying to track your every step. It was not a massive concern, but it did make it harder to find the plaques.

The app does include lots of history about the buildings on the trail. For instance, it includes a long list of the famous acts that have performed at the Fairfield Halls. “The heart of cultural Croydon for six decades”, it tells me. “Fairfield Halls has reverberated with the sounds of musical pioneers throughout the years.”

I would recommend the trail if you are interested in finding out more about the music culture of Croydon. However, before you start, you need to know what you are looking for. So following the trail is hardly a journey of discovery…

Mapped out: how the trail appears on the app

The app does supply lots of information on each of the subject points, but it is not always easy to follow and, to be honest, it doesn’t tell you anything you can’t find with a simple internet search. So you do not need to take the trail to discover these things.

The trail really needs to be much better signposted, with signs, to give more information to passers-by. More people would feel more involved.

Overall, it was interesting to indulge in a bit of Croydon’s musical history, seeing where some of the well-known artists once performed or found their inspiration.

And at least I know who Kirsty MacColl was now…

  • Louisa Gautrey is 17 years old and has just finished the first year of her A level course

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This entry was posted in Art, Borough of Culture 2023, Croydon College, Croydon Council, Croydon School of Art, Fairfield Halls, Music, Queens Gardens and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to It’s hard to find signs of the borough’s musical heritage trail

  1. Diana Pinnell says:

    Thanks for trying out the trail and the app, Louisa, I live abroad now, so can’t follow the trail myself, but I will look at the app to bring back some memories!

  2. David White says:

    Louisa’s article has encouraged me to download the Heritage Trail app. I found this to be very good and to contain a lot of information.

    It seems the physical trail is a bit of a disappointment. The only plaque I’ve seen so far is the one on the pavement outside Ruskin House in Coombe Road, commemorating the Folk and Blues Club. But it looks rather unpolished and unprepossessing, a bit like the Fairfield Halls one which Louisa describes.

  3. Charles Barber says:

    At least it sounds as though the App might tell people a bit more about Croydon’s musical heritage. However, the lack of info about the people on the mural, the rather unnoticeable ground level plaques and the comment ‘Elvis Costello was on the building’, make me feel that once again a good idea has been implemented in such a way as to be a missed opportunity. What does the comment about Elvis Costello even mean? Did he once work on a building site at this location and stand on top of the building?

  4. A Croydon Counter-Culture Tour app would be great.

    It could lead people to places like the unsold and empty Brick by Brick developments dotted around the borough, the boarded up College Green next to Fairfield Halls that used to be home to Peter Youngman’s metal sculpture until it was nicked / scrapped and the failed foreign property ventures within staggering distance of Fisher’s Folly that councillors fail to see on the few occasions they turn up for meetings at the Town Hall

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Arfur – you do tempt me – can we include those disasterous ‘perfectly legal developents- rampant fly tipping masqueading as rubbish collection points for local business and really crappy public realm dis-enhancements?

      Other than that well done to Louisa – hopfully future endevours will be more rewarding albeit this was perhaps good experience of an exercise in futility.

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