North London's Cultural Guide

Free Weekend: A Musical Tour of North London

From The Kinks to Imelda May and beyond, we whisk you around some of the area's musical tributes

First, a disclaimer: there are so many songs and bands associated with our patch of north London that this piece can only ever be subjective. A sliver of knowledge. A taster.

But without further ado, let’s start our musical flight across the manor – but don’t forget to add your own suggestions at the end.

We’ll begin with The Kinks, who formed in the near province of Muswell Hill in 1964. Their local heritage, combined with a ban on the band touring in the USA in 1965 (for being naughty and fighting on stage a lot), resulted in songs as British as they come. While their contemporaries were touring America, The Kinks were looking closer to home for inspiration: ‘Muswell Hillbilly’, for example, and tale of woe, ‘Holloway Jail’.


Fancy a more recent ode to N7? Try ‘Eyeless in Holloway’, the accordian-driven Johnny Flynn track with locally-shot low-budget video:



Back up in the north, Britain’s Eurovision hope Englebert Humperdinck’s finest moment is ‘Les Bicyclettes De Belsize’ (theme tune to the cult film of the same name). And if we delve further back into the mists of time look, there’s sixties folkster Donovan crooning about the Hampstead Everyman cinema in ‘Hampstead Incident’.

‘Come Back To Camden’, said Morrissey, a highlight of superior seventh album ‘You Are The Quarry’ – and that’s where we head now.

On ‘The Prisoner’, The Clash claimed enigmatically that ‘the prisoner lives in Camden Town,’ whilst in the 1990s, NW1 was all the rage: Saint Etienne, in one of their most wistful songs, ‘London Belongs To Me,’ included the line ‘Walk down Parkway and settle down’, whilst a little later Pulp claimed to have, ‘got the tickets from some mashed up bloke in Camden Town’. Here they are playing it live for the first time:

‘Camden Town’ by Suggs is complete with the line that strikes a chord with any North Londoner from the pre-mobile phone era: ‘I’ll meet you by the Underground.’ And even in 2012 the area continues to be name-checked. Everybody’s favourite hat-wearing rapper Dappy, on his #1 single ‘No Regrets’, sang the following, um, couplet: ‘I came from nothing, some kid in Camden / Now I’m flying in the birds, Richard Branson.’ But our favourite recent Camden reference is ‘Man Like Me’s ‘London Town’:

Keeping up NW1’s rear (so to speak) are plinky-plonky Scottish songsters Belle and Sebastian – as well as 90s Britpop hopefuls My Life Story – who both celebrated the down-at-heel urbanity of ‘Mornington Crescent’. And further south towards Euston Road, don’t get Mrs Kentishtowner started on Pet Shop Boys classic King’s Cross, an ode to decline on their 1987 album ‘Actually’.

Keeping it Kentish? Head back in a DeLorean to the 1980s and one of Spandau Ballet’s lesser known hits, the saxophone-heavy ballad ‘Empty Spaces’, containing the line ‘I walk through Kentish Town and all the rain, rain pouring down.’

And this bad weather ushers in a musical theme synonymous with our glorious postcode. Whereas Camden is all about drugs, partying and nights out, Kentish Town – for years the land of bedsits, pound shops, mixed fortunes – seems to be a place to bathe in a kind of morning-after urban melancholy. Saint Etienne, those great chroniclers of the area, meet in the eponymous ‘Mario’s Cafe’ (from 1992’s So Tough album) for a gossip every rainy Tuesday morning.

No north London list is complete without Sinead O’Connor’s paean to the railway bridges at Gospel Oak, which leant its name to her EP in 1997 (but none of the actual tracks). And a couple of years back, Everything But The Girl vocalist Tracey Thorn released a track simply titled ‘Kentish Town’, and although the area doesn’t get a direct namecheck in the lyrics, its maudlin vibe is unsurprising (‘it sounds like the country, if you didn’t know’ she sings sadly).

But on the melancholy front no-one has (or, we reckon, ever will) top Imelda May’s majestic ‘Kentish Town Waltz’, as reported in an early post by The Kentishtowner back in 2010. A nostalgic portrait of a place that has become ingrained in her memory, May reflects on their times making ends meet around the Fiddler’s Elbow and Malden Road.


But it’s not all doom and gloom. Perhaps our favourite KT-referencing track in recent years is local duo Dansette Junior’s bouncy ‘Drums N Bass’ (which was first aired at last year’s Alma Street Festival): ‘Driving with the top down/ On my way back to Kentish Town’:

(You should see Mrs Kentishtowner move to that (and we all know she likes to throw a shape or two).

Finally, who could ignore Madness, K-Town’s original pop heros back when the Circle In The Square record shop plied its trade on the High St (now occupied by Tescos)? We simply love their recent (‘Paint It Black’-referencing) classic, ‘NW5’, which contains the line (blink and you can almost miss it) ‘From those humble beginnings in NW5’? Sing it now: ‘I would give you everything…’



So now: add your own songs below…

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About Kentishtowner

The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.