When Bob Dylan came to Crouch End – the truth and the legend
- Credit: Remi Golec at Banner's restaurant
The defining aspect of an urban myth is not that it's true – manifestly, if it's slam-dunk hard fact it's not a myth – nor that it could be true, but that it should be true.
It's the sort of story that sounds barely credible but could just have happened – and that you want to believe did happen.
For thirty years or so, Crouch End has been home to one of London's most enduring and delightful urban myths. The tale has been 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... but here goes.
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. Indeed, Banner's in Park Road still has the Bob Dylan Table with a plaque reading "Bob Dylan sat at this table August 1993". Bob seems to have taken to the area and was even shown around a house which was for sale, an "Edwardian semi" in Birchington Road.
But the urban myth is about the very first time Dylan headed to Crouch End 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 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.
"Twenty 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.'"
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As celebrity stories go, this one is a gem!
This is not by any stretch the first recitation of the tale – its earliest appearance in print appears to have been as long ago as 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 – and sets out as supporting evidence the testimony of a woman who worked on the publicity side of Dylan's record label. She once appeared on the Robert Elms show on Radio London to vouch that every bit of the tale is correct.
Others swear that they heard the yarn direct from an unimpeachable source, Dave Stewart himself. Though to be honest, the evidence would be more compelling if they had heard it from Dylan... or from Dave the Plumber (it is strange that he's never surfaced to confirm the encounter!) 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 Dylan, intending to go to the studio in 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, which in 2017 broadcast a half-hour comedy based on the encounter – Knocking on Dave's Door (the potential for wordplays on Dylan songs is limitless). The programme was set in August 1993, and cleverly included a scene of "Bob" outside Banner's restaurant. It was the first in a series with the title Urban Myths.
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 feelgood story, then "it don't matter, anyhow".
Andrew Whitehead is the author of the just published Curious Crouch End.