In this extract from Curious Crouch End, we discover how Bob Dylan once accidentally hung out with a plumber... or did he?
For quarter of a century Crouch End has been home to one of London's most enduring and delightful urban myths, retold in pubs and newspapers, fanzines and chat rooms and even in a TV comedy. It feels almost like heresy to subject this tale to scrutiny.
Let's start with what we know to be true. Dave Stewart who, with Annie Lennox, formed the band Eurythmics, at one time lived locally. He had a recording studio based in part of the former Congregational Church and church hall at the foot of Crouch Hill — at 145 Crouch Hill, to be precise. Sweet Dreams was recorded here — and Adele, U2, Radiohead and Mumford & Sons are among those with a connection to the place.
Anyway, Dave Stewart knew Bob Dylan, who came to the studio and was seen out and about around in Crouch End and patronised a couple of the local restaurants (Banners on Park Road still has a plaque reading 'Bob Dylan sat at this table August 1993'). Bob was even shown round a house in the area which was for sale, an 'Edwardian semi' on Birchington Road, apparently.
But the urban myth is about the very first time Dylan headed to N8 to call on Dave. Here's the story as told by Russell Clarke, the self-styled Rock'n'Roll Routemaster, in a letter to The Times — yep, THE Times, not the Fortean Times, the Crouch End Times or any other, lesser title — in 2012:
In 1985 Stewart had been working in Los Angeles with Bob Dylan and invited him to stop by his recording studio any time he was in London. Some months later Dylan decided to visit him and asked a taxi driver to take him to the address in Crouch End. There's a Crouch Hill, a Crouch End Hill, a Crouch Hall to name but three. Dylan knocked at the front door of a house where he had been dropped off and asked the lady who answered if Dave was in. 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's in the living room having a cup of tea."
This is not by any stretch the first recitation of the myth — the earliest we've found appeared in print in August 1993, and dated Dylan's first acquaintance with Crouch End to the previous year. Russell Clarke continues to insist that the story is absolutely true — why, he tells us as if to demonstrate the rock solid veracity of the yarn, on the Robert Elms show on Radio London a woman who worked on the publicity side of Dylan's record label came on air to say it really had happened. Hmm.
Others swear that they heard the yarn direct from an unimpeachable source, Dave Stewart himself. We'd be much more impressed if they had heard it from Dylan... or from Dave the Plumber... or Dave's wife... or anyone who was actually there.
The most commonly cited version of the Ballad of Dave the Plumber is that Bob, intending to go to the studio on Crouch Hill, alighted at 145 Crouch End Hill. The problem with that is — you’ve guessed it! — there is no 145 Crouch End Hill; the odd numbers peter out at 85.
But wait... perhaps Bob was dropped off at 145 Crouch Hall Road? No — there's nothing beyond 73 on the 'odd' side of the road.
All this didn't put off Sky Arts, who in 2017 broadcast a half-hour comedy based on the encounter — Knocking on Dave’s Door (yes, the potential for wordplays 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 Banners restaurant. And they just used another '145' as Dave and Angie's place (perhaps they wanted to call Dave's partner Annie — as in Lennox — but thought that would just be too cruddy).
So you can believe the tale and 'Blame it on a simple twist of fate' or take to heart Dylan's protestation that 'No, no, no, it ain’t me babe' or perhaps 'The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind'.
But for those who like a good, feel-good, story, then 'It don’t matter, anyhow'.
Curious Crouch End by Andrew Whitehead, published by Five Leaves, RRP £9.95