A ‘Strangeland’ Musical Trail through East Sussex, England

Keane is an international super-group who herald from East Sussex. Bexhill, Hastings and Battle are the towns that will forever be remembered collectively as ‘Strangeland’, the name of the band’s fifth consecutive number-one album, which speaks of places that influenced their lives. Now, a local initiative together with Keane, share a geographical and emotional journey that helped shape the Strangeland album via an intuitive and well informed website that connects the lyrics with the actual landmarks they refer to.

The website’s online map signposts the locality of each landmark and provides postcodes for Sat-Nav users. The trail works on all mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones which, coupled with a downloadable PDF map, guides fans through a Keane pilgrimage, touring through Strangeland.

BATTLE

Keane’s moody and atmospheric lyrics help demonstrate that not only does the picturesque market town of Battle have a remarkable past, but a present and future filled with beauty. Added to which are high-end character shops, independent traders, contemporary arts, live music and unique events like the Battle Bonfire Boyes, who celebrate Battle once being home to England’s most successful gunpowder works by marching through the town. Reference to this is made in Strangelands’ lyrics in ‘Sovereign Light Café: “I’m going back to a time when I owned this town / Down Powdermill Lane & the Battlegrounds”. Leading out of Battle, Powdermill Lane is one of the roads links the town to neighbouring Bexhill, with the battlegrounds on your right.

The North Trade Road referred to in ‘Sovereign Light Café’: “I wheel my bike off the train / Up the North Trade Road North Trade Road” is on the northern edge of Battle and leads directly onto the High Street. Historically this would have been the route traders took into town when delivering supplies required during the build of Battle Abbey.

Sung with the porcelain-choirboy competence of Tom Chaplin, the same song refers to Marley Lane: “I wheel my bike off the train / Up the North Trade Road / And look for you on Marley Lane.” Marley Lane is short walk from the station in the direction of the town centre. Half way down Marley Lane is the beautiful Battle Great Wood, owned by the Forestry Commission, and open to the public.

The lyrics of ‘Snowed Under’ refers to Manser’s Shaw and in ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ reference is made to a stretch of land: “I walked across an empty land / I knew the pathway like the back of my hand / I felt the earth beneath my feet/ Sat by the river and it made me complete.” Mansers Shaw, a publicly owned wood, set back from the road, is largely believed to be the site referred to.

‘Sovereign Light Café’, written and arranged by Tim Rice-Oxley, speaks of “Going back to a time when I owned this town / Down Powdermill Lane & the Battlegrounds.” This refers to the site of the world famous Battle of Hastings (October 14, 1066). Every year a Battle of Hastings re-enactment takes place over two days on the weekend nearest the battle’s October 14th anniversary. (Due to bad weather during the 2012 annual re-enactment English Heritage, who runs Battle Abbey and Battlefield site, has taken the advice of experts to allow the battlefield to recover during 2013. There will therefore be no re-enactment for 2013, although alternative events are planned for around the same weekend in October. The re-enactment will return in 2014).

In ‘Neon River’, the lyrics are noted as, “She took a train into the city / But you stood still / You stood still above the track.” Regular trains run between London and Battle taking around 75 minutes; the Battle to Hastings journey (also stops at St Leonards Warrior Square where it’s possible to change and take a train to Bexhill) takes around 12 minutes.

BEXHILL

Famed for its notorious smuggling gangs in the 17th and 18th centuries, Bexhill is now better known as an elegant Edwardian seaside town, birthplace of British motor racing, home to the country’s first cinema and the first place in Britain to permit mixed bathing. It is also where the De La Warr Pavilion is to be found – one of the UK’s finest examples of modernist architecture. Adjacent to the De La Warr Pavilion and Bexhill Rowing Club on Marina Arcade is the amusements arcade featured on the Strangeland artwork and the video for ‘Sovereign Light Café’.

Nearby the amusement arcade is the Bandstand referred to in ‘Sovereign Light Café’ in which Chaplin voices “Let’s go down to the bandstand on the pier.” However, the stylish bandstand at the De La Warr Pavilion featured in a Keane photo-shoot is not the Bandstand referred to in ‘Sovereign Light Café’. Keane celebrated the completion of Strangeland fittingly, with two shows at the De La Warr Pavilion, which sold out in minutes. The iconic ‘30s modernist De La Warr Pavilion features prominently on the artwork of the album.

‘Sovereign Light Café’ speaks of a section of Bexhill seafront which lies east of the De La Warr Pavilion. “We’d go down to the rides on East Parade / By the lights of the Palace Arcade…” Strictly speaking, there are no rides on Bexhill’s East Parade but elements of the parade were used in the artwork for the Strangeland album, including the Old Bathing Station and the shelter. And “By the lights of the Palace Arcade” takes you to the row of amusements located off Marine Parade in Bexhill which were used in the filming of the ‘Sovereign Light Café’ video.

The red roofed shelter on Bexhill’s East Parade is one of the original shelters built on Earl De La Warr’s private estate in the 1890’s. The Earl had hired Stanislaus Wurm and his White Viennese Band to play on the seafront in 1894 who soon became a regular attraction for summer visitors. An early member of the Band was the composer Gustav Holst who, it is said, would sometimes visit his friends and perform with them on Bexhill seafront. The bandstand that they used has survived although it is reduced in height and is now the shelter near the Bexhill Sailing Club. This may well be the bandstand that is referred to in the lyrics of ‘Sovereign Light Café’. Fittingly, the Bexhill Classic Cycle Group and local BMXers took part in the ‘Sovereign Light Café’ music video which was filmed along this section of the parade. In Victorian times this stretch of parade was known as Bicycle Boulevard, and later became Britain’s first motor racing track.

Still with ‘Sovereign Light Café’ that speaks of: “Watch the drunks and the lovers appear / to take turns as the stars of the Sovereign Light Café.” The Sovereign Light Café sits proudly on Bexhill’s newly developed, stylish West Parade promenade and has uninterrupted sea views out to sea to the Royal Sovereign Lighthouse.

The Old Bathing Station, now a café, featured on the Strangeland artwork, serves ice creams, snacks, homemade cakes and drinks – all washed down with a five star panoramic view of Bexhill seafront.

HASTINGS

Hastings is a storied East Sussex resort town filled with seafront squares, grand Victorian facades, and elegant parks. Okay, it may be a little ramshackle on the fringes, which you’d kind of expect of a town dating back to the 8th century, but the antique look is half the appeal.

Hastings is the birthplace of numerous famous artists, stage personalities and musicians, including Tom Chaplin – vocalist and frontman of Keane. Hastings is a medieval Cinque Port which has, for centuries, been an important fishing port. Nowadays the fishing has much reduced, but it still has the largest beach-based fishing fleet in England.

The East Parade postcode referred to in ‘Sovereign Light Café’ is actually not in Bexhill at all but in Hastings, and the rides referred to include the boating lake and the funfair.

If you’re a Keane fan and want to walk in their footsteps through their home towns and see for yourself the places they sing of, then here you’ll find exactly what you need to do just that. Take a tour of Strangeland and see Powdermill Lane and the Battlefields for yourself. Go back even further, to the very beginning with Hopes and Fears, and visit where they “felt the earth beneath my feet” and see exactly where in Battle Keane last played.

 

WHERE TO STAY WHEN VISITING STRANGELAND

Zanzibar is a Victorian townhouse turned boutique hotel which, apart from its fabulous beachfront location near Hastings, it has a big wow factor. It’s modern, chic and contemporary – with Nina Simone crooning softly in the background. The communal areas are tastefully decorated and most of the original features have been kept. Candy striped arm chairs in the bar, white-washed tables from Bali in the dining room, an ice-white Baby Grand, crystal chandeliers, endless sea views through open windows – and out back there’s a stylish el fresco dining terrace.

Equally elegant are the nine regionally themed suites, spread over three floors. The prized beachfront location is again highlighted from the third floor ‘Africa’ room. Other than the dark and luxurious Jacuzzi bathroom, the walls of the suite are dressed in polar white and are adorned with ornate African wood carvings. Hemp and reed bedside lamps; a dramatic white orchids floral arrangement; strips of fur stitched together to form a rug; soft white bed linens; a faux mink throw; an antique travel trunk serving as a coffee table between two leather arm chairs; and mocha coloured curtains framing a drop dead gorgeous gold and red sunset. It’s no wonder Hastings inspired Catherine Cookson’s writings.

With prices starting at £99, including a champagne breakfast, this represents excellent value. You’ll be hard pressed to find a boutique hotel to top this anywhere in the south-east.

Zanzibar Hotel
9 Eversfield Place
St Leonards-on-Sea
Hastings, East Sussex TN37 6BY
Ph 01424 460109
www.zanzibarhotel.co.uk

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About the author: Cindy-Lou Dale

Cindy-Lou Dale is a freelance writer who originates from a small farming community in Southern Africa, which possibly contributed to her adventurous spirit and led her to become an internationally acclaimed photojournalist. Her career has moved her around the world but currently she lives in a picture postcard village in England, surrounded by rolling green hills and ancient parish churches. Her work is featured in numerous international magazines, including TIME and National Geographic.

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