Folk Legends in the Hood
A Walking Tour
Remember the early days of the pandemic when there was nothing to do but walk the empty streets in your one permitted daily outing and Google everything obsessively? Well somehow this combo of activities led my nerdy/rockstar partner JF to discover that an uncanny number of our folk music heroes spent time dwelling in our immediate vicinity at some point or another (aka. 1959 - 1972).
Remember the Broken Bicycles cover I did for Every Tom Waits Song? Well Ray Padgett, who was responsible for that commission, flew to London a couple weeks ago to see not one but two Dylan shows (as you do when you also run a Bob Dylan Live Concert Substack). This seemed a fine opportunity to finally meet in person, but also to test out the local musical walking tour which had accidentally come together while the world stood still and finding the house where Dylan may or may not have chopped up a piano for firewood brought unexpected joy to our otherwise stress-is-an-understatement days. Ray, we felt, was the target audience we’d been waiting for, what with his self-proclaimed fetish for folky folklore.
I won’t give away the entire tour in case you ever find yourself with a day off in London and want the company of two expert guides (ok, let’s be honest, JF’s brings the encyclopaedic knowledge, but I do provide excellent tangential anecdotes). I will however divulge some highlights in case you prefer to walk alone…
When you exit Hampstead Heath overground station don’t walk up the main entrance to the park. Instead, walk all the way around the perimeter (much as Orwell [now on Substack!] did on his walk home from work at the bookshop which is now the bakery opposite the hospital). Keep looking left and don’t lose your cool. You will think you’ve missed the turning, but it’s just a little further than you think. And then there it is, the beautiful back entrance to the ponds, hopefully familiar from a certain Nick Drake photo shoot circa Pink Moon. This is your photo op.
I’ll skim over the over-priced baby clothes shop above which Leonard boarded in exchange for coal and promising the landlady he would write three pages of his novel each day, because I’m fully aware that I’m in danger of Leonard Cohen overkill. I’ll also skip over Nick Drake’s humble abode as we’re not really sure whether that was the original building or another which was built in it’s place. I will instead direct you to 184 Haverstock Hill, where both Dylan and Paul Simon potentially “borrowed” Scarborough Fair from Martin Carthy whilst enjoying his hospitality. I won’t tell you that we walked right up to the front door and took several pictures before hearing a big brawl break out inside and realising we were outside the wrong house. I will however urge you to end your walk at the legendary Roundhouse, which needs no introduction from me, but where I have seen both Patti Smith and Ezra Furman play Halloween shows, which for someone who hates Halloween was, I thought, rather brave. Toddler trick-or-treating went well despite the downpour, thanks for asking.
I’ll leave you with another folky pandemic memory, when the second verse of Paul Simon’s American Tune echoed loudly in the wells of silence…
And here are all those buttons, to which you are hopefully not yet immune: