Its pavements may be made up of more discarded take away containers and chewing gum than concrete, but Camden’s musical heritage and rich variety of pubs is hard to deny. It’s no museum, though –most of these venues still regularly host live bands. Free up a Saturday evening, gather your most trusted drinking pals and head out…
We start at the Pembroke Castle (150 Gloucester Avenue), perched above Camden in Primrose Hill. A rather genteel gastropub now, in the mid-’90s its proximity to the former Creation Records HQ in Regent’s Park Road saw it become the daytime boozer of choice for Oasis. The era culminated with an emotional Liam Gallagher walloping an insistent paparazzo on the pub’s steps.
If you haven’t filled up on the Pembroke’s very decent menu, head over to Marathon Kebab (87 Chalk Farm Rd), the setting for a 24-hour bender featuring The Pogues and Steve Earle back in 1988. Earle was in town to record ‘Johnny Come Lately’ (‘We’re gonna drink Camden Town dry tonight!’) with Shane and co for his Copperhead Road’ LP. The result was a hangover Earle has described as ‘structural and permanent’.
Gliding past the Roundhouse, a venue which has entertained Pink Floyd, The Doors and Led Zep in its day, we come to Barfly (49 Chalk Farm Rd). A youthful band scene currently holds sway, but its previous incarnation, the Monarch, which dated back to the 1860s, was the pub that legendary drinking pals Keith Moon and Python Graham Chapman used to frequent whenever The Who were rehearsing at the Roundhouse.
Skidding across the cobbles of the Stables Market, you can pose for photos on the stone stairway on which The Clash are pictured on the cover of their first album, then it’s onwards – because we’ve come this far and there’s really no getting out of it – to the Hawley Arms (2 Castlehaven Rd). For years a refreshingly dank and sinister hangout for bikers and wastrels, in the late ’90s it attracted a new crowd, including Amy Winehouse and Razorlight. It’s a very decent pub if you catch it on a quiet afternoon, especially if you can wangle a spot on the roof terrace.
If it’s bona fide rock lore you’re after, then it’s time to pop across Chalk Farm Road to Dingwalls (Camden Lock). As well as staging gigs by Blondie, REM, Foo Fighters and Coldplay, Dingwalls can realistically lay claim to be the place where punk was born. The Ramones headlined here on July 5 1976 with The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers and The Clash all in the audience. The Pistols were thrown out and Clash bass player Paul Simonon squared off with Strangler JJ Burnel. The terrace bar above the venue is a fine perch for nursing a pint or two.
On now to the dubious charms of the Good Mixer (30 Inverness St). This tatty two-room Irish boozer gained notoriety in the mid-’90s as the epicentre of Britpop. It truly was bizarre to see so many Top 40 faces in one place. Blur, Oasis, Menswear – yes, Menswear! – and anyone else you care to name were all living in each other’s pockets for a couple of years. Perhaps it was the resulting tension that caused Liam and Noel to reportedly be barred for pitching Blur’s Graham Coxon into the long urinal in the gents.
The equally famous Dublin Castle (94 Parkway) is next. Signed memorabilia from Travis, Winehouse and Madness – whose video for ‘My Girl’ was shot in the back room – leaves one in no doubt as to the venue’s credentials. But why is there a signed, framed photo of Phil Collins behind the bar? You’ll just have to find that out for yourself… Suitably refreshed, it’s down Arlington Road – commemorated in song by Camden swamp-rockers Gallon Drunk, and the pre-Supernova Heights address of Noel Gallagher – to our final destination, Koko(1a Camden High St). Formerly the Camden Palace, then the Music Machine, it’s a grand old venue that has not only hosted The Birthday Party, Iggy Pop and Iron Maiden, but is also sadly remembered as the place where AC/DC vocalist Bon Scott was drinking one night in 1980 before he passed out and choked to death on his own vomit. And on that note we bid goodbye to the streets of Camden Town, where, as Shane MacGowan has it, ‘the cold north winds blow’. Adam Lee Davies