As touched upon before, songs about places can go from the macro to the micro, from the whole sweep of an entire country to a small individual spot at ground level, a cafe, a station, a hotel. These can include those songs about a particular street or road. These can be an ode to a famous landmark, as in On Broadway or Hollywood Boulevard, or ETBTG’s teenage yearning to be in Oxford Street. They can romanticise the ordinary , as with Donovan’s Sunny Goodge Street. They can push the unknown and obscure into the spotlight. Without The Beatles’ Penny Lane, who would bother going to see the street near Allerton Road and Smithdown Road in Liverpool? Or Woking’s Stanley Road without Paul Weller’s album of the same name?
It can be, however, that the filter of music and lyrics can cast even the shabbiest of thoroughfares in a new light for the listener. The Holloway Road in North London lies at the start of the A1 that runs up to Scotland. It remains a road that is resolutely ungentrified, one that sits amidst the noise of the traffic and sirens and police vans, the litter, cheap cafes and burger joints, the discount stores. It looks totally unprepossessing. Yet with its cultural diversity - Jamaican, Columbian, Brazilian, Russian, Mexican, Australian, French, Polish, Turkish, British, Swedish, Irish, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Bahraini, Chinese, Congolese, Japanese and Beninese all live here - it has its supporters: here is N7 Heaven. Metropolitan University is here, as is Holloway Prison.
It has also appeared in pop songs at regular intervals. In fact, as a location it has a special place in pop history. Outside 304 Holloway Road, now a grocery store, is a small plaque to the eccentric record producer Joe Meek: ‘Joe Meek, the Telstar Man, lived, worked and died here’. In the almost forgotten pre-Beatles era of British pop music, Joe Meek was responsible for some of the most memorable and idiosyncratic records of the time, all recorded in his small studio above a leather goods shop on Holloway Road. The most famous was the Tornados’ Telstar, an instrumental intended to invoke the space age but which evokes more than anything a British funfair.Yet the Tornados were the first British group to get to number one in America - and Telstar was Margaret Thatcher’s favourite pop record. But there were a string of other Meek hits between 1961 and 1964, including the trio of hits by sometime actor, John Leyton, ( the ghostly Johnny Remember Me, Wild Wind and the grammatically correct Son, This is She) and Meek’s final big hit, Have I the Right, by the Honeycombs, ‘discovered’ in a pub in the nearby Balls Pond Road.(Have I the Right was marked by a tub- thumping sound from female drummer Honey Lantree, augmented by the other members of the group standing on the wooden stairs leading up to the studio and stamping their feet, the sound captured by microphones attached to the banisters by bicycle clips)
This, alone, was enough to make the Holloway Road a mini-Mecca for lovers of British pop. It has, however, been referenced since in a number of songs. The Kinks sang of “ my baby impaled in Holloway jail.” Marillion also sang of a Holloway Girl. St Etienne set their dreamy Madeleine there (“Down Holloway Road she goes, wasting time”). Koop’s Beyond the Son must be the only record in history to mention the South China seas and the Holloway Road in the same lyrics, with an intriguing reference – “ Saw Mr Brenan in the Holloway Road yesterday, Walked past with a bag of potatoes on his shoulder”. And the song here , Painting and Kissing by Hefner from their 2000 album We Love the City, a suite of songs about London and the lives of people living there.
Hefner were a British indie band that had echoes of Pulp and the Smiths. Against the deadbeat backdrop of Holloway Road and the Wig and Gown - a football pub named after Highbury Magistrate’s Court - the song is an ironic story of an unexpected relationship and self-delusion. Underneath, the music careers away driven by a tinny organ riff and at times seems to be going down a path of its own. On top, vocalist Darren Hayman tries to convince himself that the relationship was better than he sometimes suspects it might have been: “And as her kissing got worse, Oh her paintings improved, but what does that prove? It proves nothing.” The listener, however, is not really sure that he has learnt anything. For once, Holloway Road comes out on top and it is Linda from Holloway Road, with her paintings and Chardonnay, who is the sophisticated one in this relationship. Crikey.
When you come out of the tube station on Holloway Road , there are a lot of ghosts of the past about. From highwayman Dick Turpin; to all the groups of yesterday who lugged their amps and drum kits up the stairs to Meek’s recording studio; to John Lennon and Yoko Ono visiting Michael X at his Black House at No 101.The eyes might see Argos, Chicken Village, Pizza Zone, Holloway Express, The Nag’s Head; but it is not hard to find a bit of music to give a brief glimpse through coloured, if not rose-tinted, glasses.
Link to song