12 miles or so from Kew Gardens is Hampstead, not far at all geographically from two of the locations of previous columns – Finchley Central and Willesden/Cricklewood – but very far away in other ways. Houses there have sold for £50m but it has also long been associated with the literary, the cosmopolitan and the bohemian and presents itself as an urban village where film stars and musicians can find a home from home. Donovan, in one of his songs about London, Hampstead Incident, painted a rather mystical picture of the district: “Standing by the Everyman, digging the rigging on my sail, rain fell to sounds of harpsichords, to the spell of fairy tale. The heath was hung in magic mists, enchanted dripping glades”. (The Heath referred to is Hampstead Heath. The Everyman is an art house cinema ,once a theatre, and supposedly one of the oldest in the world. One Saturday years ago, a mist of intellectualism descended round me as I crossed the border into Hampstead from the Willesden direction and I found myself in the Everyman watching the Fellini film La Strada. In Italian.). There was also a curious British film from 1968, Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, which despite its title was a dream-like summery piece of whimsy shot round Hampstead village, with Englebert Humperdink scoring a hit with the title song. The clip below shows the opening credits panning over a scene across Hampstead.
At the same time as Mary Hopkin was singing of Kew Gardens, across London Linda Lewis wrote and sang Hampstead Way, released on her 1971 album Say No More. A British artist who has never really achieved the commercial success that her vocal and song writing talents suggest, Linda Lewis has some obvious parallels with Minnie Riperton. Before her solo work she was part of a psychedelic soul band, Ferris Wheel, that was not dissimilar to Rotary Connection. She has a 5-octave vocal range and ability to sing in the whistle register, a range hinted at in her first hit in 1973, the self-penned Rock-a -Doodle-Doo . And over her career she has blended a range of genres—pop, rock, soul, folk, funk – that make categorisation difficult.
At the time of this record, however, a better comparison was perhaps more with the singer-songwriters of the time like Joni Mitchell or Cat Stevens. This is one of her early songs and not one of her best but, unlike Kew Gardens, Hampstead Way is very much of its time. The song is apparently about a house she lived in at Hampstead Way – a road running north of Hampstead Heath – that was a kind of artistic/hippy commune: probably better situated at that time in Hampstead than her own home stomping ground of West Ham in East London. Rightly or wrongly, my mind’s eye imagines a house with a large kitchen (possibly the Funky Kitchen that is another track on the same album) where there is brown rice, aduki beans and hash cakes and a garden with a patch of herbs irregularly tended. On the record player would be an album by Captain Beefheart or the Staple Singers or maybe Fotheringay. Down the road on Parliament Hill, Pete Brown and his Battered Ornaments and the Edgar Broughton Band would be doing a free concert.
The music, too, is of an era, with just bass and guitars providing a pastoral and bucolic mood, with intermittent bursts of guitar virtuosity ( judging from the album credits these are by Chris Spedding, formerly of the Battered Ornaments and later popping up as a Womble on Remember You’re a Womble).It also ends rather pleasingly with something not that common in pop music: a burst of whistling that naturally fits the mood of sunny vibes. As shown here, whistling can work. Another effective instance was on Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain album, on the title track and on Lovely Head, though there was a slightly sinister undertone to both of these. However, often whistling on records is either for comic effect (Always Look On the Bright Side of Life); as a musical shorthand to indicate a jolly mood,(Don’t Worry, Be Happy) ,rather in the way that milkmen in old British films are always whistling ; or sounds like the singer has temporarily forgotten the words (Jealous Guy). The story also goes with Dock of the Bay that when Otis Redding went to record it, the last verse hadn’t been written: hence the whistling outro.
To my knowledge, there have only been two hit records that had whistling all the way through: The Happy Whistler (surely a tautology) by Don Robertson in 1956 and the 1967 record I was Kaiser Bill’s Batman. This tune had been recorded by the Mike Sammes Singers under the name of Whistling Jack Smith but when it became an unexpected hit - possibly because people found it easy to whistle to – someone had to be found to promote it on the road. For some reason, that task was given to Billy Moeller, brother of Tommy Moeller of Unit 4 +2 (Concrete and Clay) and roadie for the group. So one week he was lugging amps and drums, the next he was touring the world dressed up in Carnaby Street gear and miming to someone else’s whistling, as in the clip below.
I have not been to Hampstead that often and, because those times have been in the summer I always think of it as sunny, which suits Linda Lewis’s voice and music. There is an odd thing, however, when comparing this song to Kew Gardens from the same year. Kew Gardens could have been describing a little potential romance 100 years or more ago but it also seems very appropriate to wandering round Kew Gardens today. However, I would not imagine that any of the world in which Hampstead Way was set would be visible today if you walked down the road. The street and buildings are there and the views would be much the same as 40 years ago, I guess, but the rest might as well be from 500 years ago. Maybe this says something about how the past can be recast or erased to suit the present. Or maybe ‘Everything’s OK now, Hampstead Way’ was always a state of mind more than anything : somewhere where it is always sunny and someone is whistling in the garden. If so, then perhaps after all Hampstead Way does escape its moorings in the London of 1971 as much as Kew Gardens has.