Monday 31 October 2022

London Symphonies - Dublin's finest Castle in Camden Town

 Time for another installment of London Symphonies. Today we are in Camden Town. When I was formulating this series, I started to think about what parts of London changed me and why. My Damascene moment occurred when I became a punk rocker in Camden Town on the 6th June 1977. My sister took me to see the Ramones, Talking Heads and The Saints at The Roundhouse. I was fourteen years old, not into music or going out. Seeing the Ramones changed me and have never been the same since . I've documented this and the Roundhouse used the experience as part of their 50th Anniversary celebrations. They even kindly put my name up on the wall by the bar.

I fell in love with Camden Town, which in many ways was the spiritual home of punk rock, the sloop between Chalk Farm and Mornington Crescent stations, a mile or so that was the heart of the UK music tribes in the 1970's and 80's, when we defined ourselves by our music, Hippy, Punk, Rude Boy, Skinhead, Mod or Ted.  Camden Town tube station is often the first and last thing you see on a visit. It is a sight to behold as tourists descended the elevator to see what was probably the most confusing train indicator in the world. Coming up the elevator, is always something that excites me. You never know what the evening will hold. Having a chip shop next to the station, it has it's own aroma as well.

As to Camden, looking back to the punk era, I have to mention a couple of venues in particular. At the top end by Chalk Farm,  there was the Roundhouse, with it's regular Sunday night punk slot. I saw some amazing gigs, including a brilliant night with The Vibrators, 999 and The Radiators from Space, another  was the Xmas 77 bill with Eddie and The Hot Rods, the Only Ones and The Stukas. At Mornington Crescent, there was the Music Machine. You could get vouchers to get in cheaply for midweek gigs and the beer was most reasonably priced. We had certain bands we'd see all the time, The Yatchs spring to mind. 

In May 1978, I well remember bunking off school with Pete Conway to hang out in Camden. We were going to see The Vibrators at The Music Machine. We made our way to the Wimpy opposite, drinking tea for hours. We spent a good couple of hours trying to chat up a young lady who'd come over from East Germany to check out the punk scene. As she was about 23 and we were 15, she wasn't particularly interested. She told us that punk had started to emerge in East Germany and was hated by the repressive authorities. She'd been rather disappointed by Camden on wet Thursday afternoon in May and the fact that the only punks she'd met were two adolescents who were bunking off school. Later we met our mate Paul Fox, AKA Foxy of The Ruts, who was working at the gig as a roadie and was getting us in for free. She lightened up considerably when Foxy got her in as well and introduced her to the bands. 

The support band were the Depressions from Brighton. They had a superfan called Pete, who had a Mohican hair cut. We'd never seen a Mohican hairdo before. His hairdo caught the imagination that night and wthin a couple of months, it seemed that every punk in London had a Mohican. If you check out the 1976/77 punk gig footage, the style was unknown. That was how fashion worked in punk circles. You'd get seen in Camden or on the Kings Road, with a new style and within a week everyone had nicked your trademark.  Foxy introduced us to 'Pete the mohican', who was almost a celebrity in Brighton. A year or so later I was chatting to Foxy and he commented that Pete the Mohican was mightily annoyed that he never got credit for inventing the style. I don't know if it's true but I was told he'd even had punch ups with other pretenders to the crown of inventor of the Mohican over who had worn the style first. 

At the Music Machine, there were a plethora of bars on different levels, if you didn't like the band on that night, you'd nip up and play pool in one of the more remote bars.  There were little gangs from area's of London that claimed certain bars for their own. It was all pretty friendly usually, but you'd stick with your own crew. I always imagined that the 999 hit "Feeling alright with the crew" was about the bars at the Music Machine. I recall seeing one band and finding out that one of my mates had been there all night in a different bar. It was the sort of place you could get lost or lose yourself if you want. 

During the late 1970's and early 1980's, the live music scene was driven by flyers and by the live pages of the NME. You'd check the London venues you liked and select the gigs you wanted to see. Entering and leaving gigs, you'd be bombarded with flyers. Of all these, the Music Machine were the best, because they gave you massive savings on the entrance price. The only trouble with the music machine was that it was open late and it was easy to miss the last tube home.

On Parkway, we had The Dublin Castle, much frequented by Madness at the time, a pub with great gigs in the evening and a wonderful jukebox. Madness were very much the Kings of the castle. Chas Smash was an ex FCHS pupil and was mates with a couple of my friends older brothers. Everyone who knew him at FCHS claims he owes them a fiver from poker games in the 6th form common room. Was he really that bad at Poker? Quite a few of my mates bands would play at The Dubin Castle in this period. It seemed to me that at the gigs there, the audience had more musicians than punters watching the bands. As I have always enjoyed a bit of Ska, I spent quite a lot of time in what was the spiritual home of the London Ska scene. 

Another location we spent a lot of time at was  the Odeon Cinema. The cinema would show films that we never saw at  more suburban venues such as The Hendon Odeon, such as stoner films by Cheech and Chong and The Woodstock film. We'd go to all night screenings, and watch as the cinema became filled with the pungent aroma of illegal smoking materials, and all manner of strange and wonderful clientelle. I remember one time going to a Exorcist all nighter with my Ex. She was absolutely terrified by the film and couldn't sleep. The next night, as she was dozing off, I put on my best possessed Devil voice and said "Lorna, This is the Devil, I've come for your soul". She screamed and when she got her composure back, informed me that if I ever did it again, we'd be finished. I loved those all night screenings. 

Another venue of note was rather wonderful The Electric Ballroom. My best memory of that was when my friends The Polecats played at a Buddy Holly convention, as they were starting to break into the charts. The audience was largely made up of aged Teds. The event was billed as a Roller Disco. Watching fat old drunken Teds trying to roller jive whilst rollerskating with beers was the funniest thing I've ever seen. The next day I went to The Dublin Castle and ended up getting drunk with a couple of Teds who'd come up from Cornwall for the previous nights entertainment. One scrawled "Cornish Teds Rule" on the wall of the toilets, which amused us no end. 

I formed the False Dots with a fellow punk school mate, Pete Conway. Pete once got drunkat a gig at the Electric Ballroom and fell asleep in the gents toilets. He awoke at four AM locked in and totally disorientated. He eventually found a fire door to escape via. As he left, all of the burglar alarms went off. As he walked up Camden High St, the Police arrived en mass to catch the burglars, little knowing the true story. He wrote a song called Reality Ballroom about his experience. 

By the lock we had Dingwalls and opposite it the Carnarvon Castle. 

Dingwalls was much loved as it had a deal where drinks were half price before 8.30pm. Lemmy would be prop up the bars most nights, buying him a drink was one of the great pleasures in life. When he spied my Ramones T-Shirt he bestowed his approval, which to me was the equivalent of a knighthood. At Dingwalls in the summer of 1981, I had another life changing moment. I can't remember the band, but I met a girl visiting from Stockholm and immediately decided to relocate their to be with her. She'd made the pilgrimmage from Scandinavia to Camden Town and I was lucky enough to be in Dingwalls when she arrived. I hadn't really thought it through. I'd just left school, had no job, no skills and no money, but that wasn't going to stop me. I was there for nearly six months and got my band a tour of Scandinavia. All thanks to the heady Camden air. My first date with my wife Clare was at Dingwalls. I took her to see Desmond Dekker with a group of mates for the New Years eve party. It was amazing. When we finally left, there were no buses. A group of about 8 of us stood there debating what to do, when an Australian in a Camper van tootled past. We flagged him down and he gave us a lift home, in exchange for the promise of a party when we arrived. In Mill Hill, it would probably be reported to the police as a hijacking, but in Camden on New Years eve it was sheer fun. 

The Carnarvon Castle was probably the most raucous of all pubs in Camden, with loud, noisy rythme and blues bands. I was in there once, when two herberts started fighting. I grabbed them and pulled them apart, telling them to behave. The next thing I saw a giant bouncer heading my way with a baseball bat in hand. I thought I was doomed, but he said "Don't worry mate, your alright, I saw what happened" and threw the other two out. After that I'd always chat to him and we became mates. 

Compared to sleepy Mill Hill, Camden seemed to be the centre of the Universe. Although there were decent venues in other parts of London, such as The Marquee in Wardour Street, in Camden there were many in one small area and it was a magnet for the weird and wonderful. It seemed that every pub and club had it's own subculture, all on top of each other. In my teenage years,  this was what Camden meant to me. A great night out, gigs, films and nefarious deals. 

When I returned from Stockholm, I was absolutely skint and in debt. I had to get work and I was lucky to get a job in Delancy Passage for a firm called Physiological Instrumentation. They needed someone who could solder. I'd knocked up a few guitar effects units at home and knew my way around a soldering iron, so applied and ended up working their for six months, making devices to detect bats for Queen Mary College (I still have one of the stickers on my guitar case). The company got into financial trouble and I ended up working for a book publisher called Acedemic press on Oval Road. At Acedemic Press, I got very friendly with the elder brother of a Mill Hill mate, who coincidentally worked there, Dave London a pro boxer. Dave was a hellishly good looking and charismatic character. Women would literally swoon as he walked past, perfect six pack and huge arms. He'd bring in boxing gloves and we'd spar with him at lunchtime in the warehouse when he had a fight to prepare for. I got a real love of boxing there. I realised how hard he had to work just to get by in the ring.  Dave was a larger than life character, who was ultra competetive. If he beat me at pool, I'd never hear the end of it. If I beat him, I'd see no sight of him for the rest of the day. 

During this period, I got to learn about the area far better. When you work in an area, you see a different side of it, turning up at 830am for work. I'd got to know many of the residents of Arlington House, a hostel for men down on their luck.  A few would drink in the Bucks Head, as they were less choosey about their clientelle. I enjoyed visiting the cafe's, meeting the characters, seeing the streets being cleaned and becoming part of the furniture.  You'd see various rock and rollers such as Knox from The Vibrators strolling around.  

The pub of choice for a post match beer with work colleagues was The Oxford Arms, we'd play pool in there after work and have a couple of beers, before the merrymakers started to arrive for the night time scene. Sometimes we'd nip up the canal to the Engineer, when we wanted a quieter location. Often I'd have a couple of beers in the Oxford with workmates, then nip down to the Dublin Castle to meet muso friends.

In the spring of 1983, I got the sack. Academic Press counted the number of books you put in boxes and I was too busy chatting and not doing any work. I was really disappointed to stop working in Camden, but in truth it did me a favour as it was the ultimate dead end job with no prospects. At the time, Camden was just starting to become what it is today. The signs were there, the market was starting to be a key feature of the area, subtly changing from being a typical North London street market to the hive of counter culture that it is today. As often happens, when an area becomes fashionable, the first thing to happen is that the property prices start to rise, the pubs get gentrified and the area starts to become a bit more sterile. By this time the Roundhouse had closed as a music venue and The Music Machine had become the Camden Palace. I'd been to the opening night of The Camden palace. My Swedish girlfriend was obsessed with the place. She was into New Romantic music and liked shiny, new things, hating the dull dingy venues I loved. I, though, was horrified to see how it had changed, no pool tables and no soul. 

In February 1984, I achieved a long held ambition and played Dingwalls with The False Dots. The band was at it's height and we smashed it. We felt that the world was at our feet. Sadly that was a peak that the band never hit again. As a result of the gig, we acquired 'Dennis', a manager, a man with a plan. Sadly, he never got us a gig and very successfully split up the unit, undermining key members and starting arguments, but that's another story. That night was special. Playing on the stage of a venue you love and seeing the whole place go mad was a  moment I'll aways remember. 

The Dingwall venue was comprehensively revamped when Vince Power took over around 2000. The new venue is nice enough but it doesn't feel the same. The old Acedemic Press warehouse has now been redeveloped and is flats. The Camden Palace became Koko and then burned down. Happily it is rising from the dead like a Phoenix, but not as the rather grotty but wonderful Music Machine. In truth, Camden was a bit like an old high school girlfriend, you look back on it with nostalgic glee, but you've both moved on from it. I go there for gigs regularly, but I don't work or hang about the pubs and cafes anymore.

Fast forward nearly 40 years to 2022.  I regularly go to gigs at The Dublin Castle to this day. In recent years, our regular Xmas dose of The Pogues with my friend Paul Evans Pogues tribute band, The Pogue Traders, has been a fixture of Xmas. Lee Thompson of Madness has appeared quite regularly with his other bands, The Ska Orchestra and The Silencerz and a host of other bands from my studios regularly play there, with The Shoals and Dubvocalisa recently performing. 

A friend of mine got in touch in September and said that the Dublin Castle needed a band to fill in at short notice as they'd been let down, asking if the False Dots would be interested. As we had a rehearsal booked on that date, it seemed like a good idea, we were all available.  We put a few things out on social media, hoping to see a face or two and expected to play to an almost empty hall. We were pleasantly surprised to find it busy. We've been working on a new set with a view to releasing an album in the Spring, with a small tour. The gig, which we originally just viewed as a 'live rehearsal' gave us a big lift and validated what we are doing. It was great to be back in Camden. Our last Camden gig had been at the sadly closed Purple Turtle back in 2010, supporting punk icon Jock McDonald and the Bollock Brothers

As we had to arrive at 5.30 for a sound check, I got to spend longer in Camden than I had for ages. It got me thinking about how the area has changed.  As we waited, I filmed some clips of the venue. Just looking at the posters on the wall and the jukebox inspired me to write a new song. We'd already decided that we'd put 12 songs on our forthcoming album, all new. I'd been stuck on eleven, running out of inspiration for a 12th song. Performing at the gig, I was inspired to write a song about the Dublin Castle and Camden Town, which I entitled "Dublin's finest castle".  The songs sums up much of what I have to say here. Once I knew what I wanted in the video, I went down and spent a day filming footage of the area and drinking in some of my old haunts, which helped me form my thoughts and complete the song. It was quite strange to see how much even the less well known parts have changed. 

 It confirmed what I'd felt for a long time. What was starting in 1983 has more or less completed now. There are no old school cafe's with formica tables and builders tea, such as the Delancy Cafe, where I'd have  a cuppa and a bacon sandwich and chat to the local dustmen on their tea break. The Pool tables are gone. There are a few decent music pubs still putting on bands, with the Dublin Castle, Fiddlers Elbow and the Monarch springing to mind, but it is rare to see a bunch of teenagers in a band playing their own numbers. Whereas in the 1970's, as a teenager I'd nip down to Camden and pay to watch a band I'd never seen, on the offchance they may be good, with a buzz being generated by flyers and word of mouth, now it's all done on social media. It was nice that when we played at the Dublin Castle, a few tourists nipped in to watch us and stayed to the end. 

As to the Jazz Cafe, they have some great artists, especially from the Reggae scene. This year I've seen a couple of Reggae legends - Eek a mouse and Yellowman.  Before I visit the Jazz Cafe I usually have a beer before at the Spreadeagle, which has my favourite chair of any pub in London, where you can sit and watch the world go by on Parkway. 

It's not all gloom and doom though, back in the 70's it seemed as if the Odeon cinema was on it's last legs. It was run down and there were constant rumours that it was going to be redeveloped. Somehow it survived and seems to be going stronger than ever. The regeneration of The Roundhouse has been a joy to behold. I've seen some absolutely amazing gigs there, Smokey Robinson, The Sex Pistols, The Damned, Nile Rodgers are a few that spring to mind as especially good. The space is a wonderful place for live music and they've done a fine job restoring and repurposing a wonderful Victorian space.

The canal and the lock have always had a special fascination for me. I love taking the train from Mill Hill to St Pancras and walking up the canal to Camden. You really see how London has changed. That may well be a London symphony of  it's own. I find I don't recognise much of what has been built by the side of the canal. The canal seems cleaner and the people who live on barges now are not the characters of old. 

Camden has always been a great place for people watching. I miss many aspects of the old Camden Town and in many ways, the new Camden Town is spiritual home to a completely different generation. They will be writing their own London Symphonies and telling the stories for years to come. They won't tell tales of working packing books in warehouses and drinking builders tea, but the stories will be there. 

My story and my love affair with Camden has not died. Whist the Dublin Castle still puts on bands and serves Guinness, a part of me will always feel very at home in Camden Town. Next door to The Dublin Castle is the Rock and Roll rescue shop, a charity run by Knox, the singer of the Vibrators. I nipped in for a chinwag with Knox on my travels. He sums up the changing face of Camden. The Vibrators at The Roundhouse was the first gig I went to with my mates and without older siblings etc. The band were then an up and coming band, with Knox at the helm and Eddie on an illuminated perspex kit. Now he's the senior statesman of Camdens Rock dignitaries. 

 I am delighted that The Dublin Castle have asked The False Dots back on the 23rd November. I'm even more delighted that The Shoals are the support, a new band featuring the son of Madness legend Lee Thompson and also legendary ska sax player Spencer Wade (Bad Manners, Madness). 

When we recorded the track Dublins finest castle, we wanted the song to capture the feeling of Camden and the Dublin Castle. The musical genius that is Fil Ross, my co-producer did an amazing job (a hint to all aspiring muso's, always have a musical genius in the band). Fil played a banjo solo at the end, to give an  authentic Irish feel. He also replicated my guitar riff from the intro, whistling it on the bridge between the chorus and second verse, as I'd said I wanted the song to sound like you were walking down Parkway to the Dublin Castle whistling the riff. I am really pleased with this video, it really captures the vibe of Camden and the Dublin Castle. 

As the chorus of the song says

C#m / / /                  Bm / / /                          A / / /                                 Bm / / /

The Dublin Castle, it just hasn’t changed, nothing else round there is quite the same

C#m / / /               Bm / / /                        A / / /                              Bm / / /

Madness to Amy, they’ve all been here, for just a few quid and a pint of beer

A / / /                             Bm / / /            C#m / / /                        Bm / / /                         

Dublins finest castle in Camden Town If you love your music come on down

A / / /                                  Bm / / /            C#m / / /            Bm / /

The Guinness is good the bands are great getdown early it starts at 8!

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