In this excerpt from Curious Crouch End, we discover how Bob Dylan once accidentally hung out with a plumber … or did he?
For a quarter of a century, Crouch End has been home to one of London’s most enduring and delightful city myths, retold in pubs and newspapers, fanzines and chat rooms and even in a TV comedy. It feels almost like heresy to subject this narrative to scrutiny.
Let’s start with what we know is true. Dave Stewart, who along with Annie Lennox formed the band Eurythmics, lived locally at one point. He had a recording studio based in part of the former Congregational Church and church hall at the foot of Crouch Hill – at Crouch Hill 145, to be exact. Sweet Dreams was recorded here – and Adele, U2, Radiohead and Mumford & Sons are among those associated with the place.
Anyway, Dave Stewart knew Bob Dylan, who came to the studio and was seen out and about in Crouch End and was patronizing a couple of the local restaurants (Banners on Park Road still has a plaque that says’ Bob Dylan was sitting by this board August 1993 ‘). Bob was even shown around a house in the area that was for sale, an ‘Edwardian semi’ on Birchington Road, apparently.
But the city myth is about the very first time Dylan took the N8 to call Dave. Here’s the story as told by Russell Clarke, the self-proclaimed Rock’n’Roll Routemaster, in a letter to The Times – yes, THE Times, not the Fortean Times, Crouch End Times or any other, minor title – in 2012:
In 1985, Stewart had worked in Los Angeles with Bob Dylan, inviting him to come by his recording studio whenever he was in London. A few months later, Dylan decided to visit him and asked a taxi driver to take him to the address in Crouch End. There is a Crouch Hill, a Crouch End Hill, a Crouch Hall just to name three. Dylan knocked on the front door of a house where he had been dropped off and asked the lady who answered if Dave was with. The woman said he was out but would be back in 20 minutes and invited Dylan to come in and wait. 20 minutes later, Dave – a plumber rather than a rock star – returned and asked if there were any messages to which his wife said, “No, but Bob Dylan is in the living room drinking a cup of tea.”
This is by no means the first recitation of the myth – the earliest we have found came out in print in August 1993 and dated Dylan’s first acquaintance with Crouch End to the previous year. Russell Clarke goes on to insist that the story is absolutely true – why, he tells us, as if to demonstrate the rock-solid truth of the yarn, on the Robert Elms show on Radio London came a woman who worked on the advertising side of Dylan’s record label. in the air to say that it had really happened. Hmm.
Others swear they heard the yarn directly from an impeccable source, Dave Stewart himself. We would be much more impressed if they had heard it from Dylan … or from Plumber Dave … or Dave’s wife … or someone who was actually there.
The most commonly quoted version of Ballad of Dave the Plumber is that Bob, intending to go to the studio on Crouch Hill, got off at Crouch End Hill 145. The problem with that is – you guessed it! – there is no 145 Crouch End Hill; the odd numbers disappear at 85.
But wait … maybe Bob was dropped off at 145 Crouch Hall Road? No – there is nothing beyond 73 on the ‘odd’ side of the road.
All of this did not deter Sky Arts, which in 2017 released a half-hour comedy based on the meeting – Knocking on Dave’s Door (yes, the potential for puns on Dylan songs is limitless) – as the first in their Urban Myths series. They set it in August 1993 and cleverly included a scene of ‘Bob’ outside Banner’s restaurant. And they just used another ‘145’ as Dave and Angie’s place (maybe they wanted to call Dave’s partner Annie – like in Lennox – but thought it would just be too rude).
So you can believe the story and ‘Blame it on a simple twist of fate’ or take Dylan’s protest to heart that ‘No, no, no, it’s not me darling’ or maybe ‘The answer, my friend, blows’ in the wind’.
But for those who like a good, feel-good story, then ‘it does not matter, anyway’.
Curious Crouch End by Andrew Whitehead, published by Five Leaves, suggested retail price £ 9.95