London is an ever-changing landscape, and none more so than Shoreditch, with its street art, murals and creative hubs. It’s been a place where people have flocked to for entertainment, from the 16th century Elizabethan theatres to the achingly trendy bars and nightclubs of today.
Mark T Cox is the perfect tour guide for this East End district of London. Born in County Clare, Ireland, Cox headed to the bright lights of London ten years ago. He produces and hosts regular solo and variety shows at infamous venues such as The Glory, Dalston Superstore, The Old Church Stoke Newington, plus a fab weekly residency at The Cellar Door piano bar in the West End.
He enjoys the vibrancy of Shoreditch. “I think it’s much more interesting for Londoners to explore areas where there isn’t necessarily a well-known landmark but to explore a neighbourhood.
“So the street art tour is a great way of exploring an area, the history of gentrification which is something everyone has opinions about. Great debate comes about while you are walking around.”
Shoreditch literally changes every day, with buildings knocked down and rebuilt, which keeps Cox on his toes. “It’s interesting to do as a tour guide as you have to be a bit reactive.”
The variety of street art is endlessly surprising – from the big, commissioned pieces – where an office or the local council approaches artists to create massive murals. This is big business now, with companies like Burberry, Gucci and Chanel using street art as advertising. One such agency is Global Street Art has been going since 2012, organising more than 2,500 legal murals, working with graffiti and street artists.
At one end of the spectrum you have the very public and commercial artists, with thousands of Instagram followers, and at the other end, there are the anonymous street artists. “You have to forget about who it is, or what you think it is supposed to be. Just enjoy it and take from it whatever you can, whatever you think is interesting,” says Cox.
Being prepared is not only a motto for the boy scouts but also for a street art tour guide. Cox always does a recce of the area on the morning of the tour to double check that the street art is still there and hasn’t mysteriously disappeared. There might be filming, photo shoots or building works taking place which can close streets to the public for hours.
The political prints and posters are centuries old, from Hogarth to Punch cartoons. In Shoreditch, the art form is thriving. Cox includes these in his tour such as those poking fun at the Prime Minister or Trump, to more serious statements about climate change. “They are a marker of the political situation and change every week. There are portraits of political leaders, with a clever caption or nickname.”
The people who come on the street art tour are a mixed bag. They range from trendy hipsters who wouldn’t necessarily come on a general history tour. “They want to see the vintage shops, bars and clubs,” Cox says.
Interestingly, other street art tour aficionados include “older people who remember Shoreditch from working there years ago and tell me how the area has changed, so that’s nice.”
Street Art Tour – Shoreditch, Saturday, 15 July 2023, 10:00 am - 12:00 pm, £7.5-£15
Shoreditch High Street Station, Braithwaite St, London E1 6GJ
Book the event here