That’s the way it was when we hatched a plan rather late in the day to try to fit in a fraction of the Kinks Little North London Tour one December afternoon last week. Having unexpectedly managed to get last-minute £10 tickets for a sold-out play at the Royal Court (the excellent The Westbridge), we wanted to get some value for money out of our overpriced one-day travelcards.
Our trusty, ancient A-Z is falling apart and one of the relevant pages, p.28, is loose so could come with us but its facing page, 29, is still attached to a small sheaf of others. I’m pathologically incapable of damaging any book, even one in so sorry a state, so I hand-draw a map of the main streets, sights, landmarks, bus numbers, stations and tube stations. Our printer is currently workshy so I also have to copy out the details of the tour from the http://kinks.freeservers.com/route/ and staple this to the hastily pencilled map. I’m rather proud of the results, especially when the bottom part actually roughly connects to the top half.
We realistically reason that we’ll be hungry on arrival in town so opt to start the tour from the end point, The Lane Café at 55 Tottenham Lane, greasy spoons being our kind of thing.
As soon as we decide to spend the afternoon walking around London, the skies open and a steady rain begins to fall. On top of that, the first puddle I meet alerts me to the fact that my boot soles have a hole where the rain gets in. Oh well, our indoor failsafe option is to go to a museum somewhere central so we can always do this if it’s still wet when we get into town. Pick up a copy of Metro at London Bridge tube, in which today’s horoscope urges me to ‘venture further afield’. ‘Turnpike Lane, here we come,’ we say and make tracks for the Northern Line.
Change at Kings Cross, boarding a Piccadilly Line service to Turnpike Lane. Sometimes tube station names sound inviting, like Mornington Crescent or Ladbroke Grove (don’t bother, believe me), but I don’t think I’ve ever been tempted by Turnpike Lane. Maybe down to bad memories of driving the New Jersey Turnpike, to return our rental car, and being stranded in Newark without enough money to get the bus back to Port Authority in NYC. Believe me, the driver wasn’t going to accept $13.50 and one odd shoe, salvaged from the car at the last moment. But that’s a whole other story.
Emerging onto the busy street, the rain continues to pour down most unhospitably, and it’s already past three o’clock, getting late for lunch. Thinking we can maybe catch a bus to Tottenham Lane, we fortuitously chance upon a 41 to Archway at the stop outside and it takes us right where we want to go.
A twenty-first-century innovation that actually has made life easier is the introduction of displays and announcements on board buses. In earlier days you were dependent on the memory and goodwill of the driver. When Hornsey Police Station flashes up as the next stop, we know that this is opposite the working man’s caff in question so immediately alight. It’s still pouring as we push in through the door to the mild astonishment of the otherwise exclusively male customers at the cafe, said to be the inspiration for Ray Davies’s ‘Working Man’s Cafe’.
Fairly typical of its ilk, almost the entire surface area of walls carries menu options handwritten on neon-bright coloured card. The selection is so extensive I’d challenge anyone not to find something they fancy. Tea comes quickly in mugs with milk already added and teabags still in situ. Pretty good. Meals take a while but were also fine and the service friendly. Umbrellas still up outside so we have more cuppas in order to linger in the warm and dry a little longer.
A few actual working men in evidence, including one in hi-vis yellow jacket. Some finish meals and take teas to go and I imagine them toiling away somewhere in the open air far from a kettle. An odd threesome of guys (I want to say they’re taxi drivers) seem to be sitting at the same table but mostly engaged in mobile-phone conversations with people elsewhere. Otherwise mostly old geezers, probably regulars, doing the crossword or reading bits out of the paper to each other in some unintelligibly slurred dialect.
Next stop, and now it’s dark as well as rainy, is Konk, http://www.konkstudios.com/main.php, back up at 84-86 Tottenham Lane. This is also easy to find, thanks to the blue neon sign. I hadn’t realised that it was still a working studio, though recently reported to be on the market, a snip at £1,495,000 (anyone want to club together?), http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-30532007.html?premiumA=true (now down as sold or off market). Lurk in the doorway for a spell before daring to ring the bell for the office but are denied entrance, clients being on the premises. I wish I could have been there when they recorded the To the Bone album live at Konk in front of a select few.
Maunder back up to Tottenham Lane and catch a 144 to Muswell Hill Broadway. Exiting a shop, we see a 102 across the road and run for it, braving the early rush-hour traffic. We hadn’t much hope of making it but thought a chap running fifty yards ahead of us would, allowing us to catch up while he was boarding. He gets to the doors before it leaves but the driver ignores him and sets off anyway. That’s the Christmas spirit for you.
So walk along Fortis Green Road until it turns into Fortis Green (the area celebrated in the Dave Davies song), in the relentless rain, stepping out of the way of a family of three, each brandishing their own massive, striped golf umbrella when one would have sufficed for all of them. It’s approaching 5 o’clock by the time we take a butcher’s down Midhurst Avenue (4-bed, 2-bath homes going for about £900,000 today), where Ray and Rasa Davies once lived. Its houses are mainly quite large, linked terraces with fancy porticoes and big bay windows, through which we were able to get a bigger and better TV picture than at home. But they didn’t hear me calling ‘Turn the sound up!’ And the rain continued to pour down.
Pass The Alexandra pub, 98 Fortis Green, where the family would often celebrate New Year, before entering The Clissold Arms, at 105, which wasn’t at all what I expected – I thought it would still be more of a traditional boozer rather than the trendy, distinctly upper-class eaterie it’s now become.
We walked right into the Kinks Room and came face to face with the lads’ faces reproduced on a sofa that looked a bit too posh and clean to actually sit on, especially as we’d been trudging around in the rain getting a bit glum in our parkas most of the afternoon. Framed exhibits behind glass on the walls were also more upscale and professionally produced than I’d imagined. I had pictured a rundown upstairs backroom, bigger than the one downstairs, with a few faded photos and dusty memorabilia.
Although the owners obviously cherish the connection, the place no longer seems authentic, having been done up so drastically that little of the old character remains. The barmaid serves us mulled wine as we sit on velvet or leather-upholstered bar chairs (the tables being all elaborately laid for dinner) and tells us that she thought the Kinks played their first gig in the room now named after them. Says that when they redid the room, dedicating it to the band, Ray Davies had come to the opening, along with ‘one of the drummers who’d played with the band; they had several, a big guy’. The name Mick Avory doesn’t appear to ring a bell. And they had a band doing sixties covers, with some Kinks material.
Another member of staff juggles three oranges in an overconfident and frankly ill-advised attempt to impress the barmaid between shelves of bottles and glasses and a mammoth vase of fabric flowers on the bar. The accessories are of the gigantic variety, attractive but enormously tall lampshades, etc. We down a couple more glasses of mulled wine.
The barmaid further confides that the Kinks had lived (I think she thinks it was the entire band, in some kind of Monkees-type forced cohabitation) in one of the houses opposite but doesn’t know the number. And 6 Denmark Terrace is a modest, pretty, cottage-type dwelling so close to the pub that it must have been like playing in your own front room.
In the overheated ladies’ room, a flyer for an upcoming event lies face-up on the floor in my cubicle – a singer called Max will be performing renditions of songs from various eras, including some Kinks and more up-to-date fare (Robbie Williams and Adele are mentioned) later in December. Early booking is advised. Here’s the gastropub’s Christmas Day menu – http://www.clissoldarms.co.uk/menus/xmas_day_25_12_2011.pdf – to give you an idea of what’s on offer these days.
Walking further along Fortis Green, we have to scramble between puddles on the roadside to avoid getting drenched by passing cars. Don’t imagine it was this busy in the sixties. We can’t see the house numbers in the dark so don’t find number 87. The next one we end up seeing is 63 so we know we must have walked by it. But these large homes are set further back from the road and are subsequently harder to nose into or gawp at. We’ll find it some other time. In daylight and more clement weather preferably.
Despite the rain and the limited time, walking in the footsteps of the Kinks made for an enjoyable jaunt around north London. Can’t wait to do the Great North London Kinks Tour soon.
Then it’s back past the Phoenix in East Finchley, which we would regularly visit in past times, an independent cinema that used to have cheap days. Not sure those exist any more outside Bexleyheath Cineworld, where all that plays is a combination of blockbuster action flicks and 3D kids’ movies. Tube it over to Sloane Square’s excessively opulent Christmas lights display and the theatre
A 1977 performance of ‘Muswell Hillbilly’. Is Ray being outrageously ungracious by introducing his brother as ‘Mr “Death of a Clown” Dave Davies’, tacitly reducing Dave’s output to this one hit? Or does he mean well? Can’t work it out. But will try in an upcoming blog on the Kinks and the ever-adversarial relationship between the Davies brothers.
See other blog on the trail of The Kinks.