Tales of a riverbanker - July 11
Steve on the river at Richmond
The disused Cloud Factory
Cross Keys pub
Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner, but walk the river with me. Of course it's a beautiful day...
"As Father Thames lies sleeping his ever watchful sons"... when I wrote those words to Many Sides to the Night I remembered the view from my bedroom window of the Battersea Power Station and the neon glow of the green and red Nine Elms sign snaking through the water, a lullaby of the early 1950s. Coal barges tooted all night long in reassuring fashion. The coal-consuming monster was snoozing, warming us all with its heat. By day it became a cloud factory, its pall covering much of south west London, an ashtray to the skies. Such was the power of the mighty building, long before the Floyd appropriated it as a backdrop to a floating pig...
And then there was 'London's only permanent funfair' at Battersea. Some years later my proudest moment as a twelve year old was spent dishing out change on the one-armed bandits at the fair itself.
Run sweet river flow... Like a charm through the passing of time the river was always there at the edge of my reveries.
I'd always dreamed of a pad in Chelsea. Indeed in 1976 when I was Tricking the Tale for a week at Hammy Odeon I had a tiny flat there in Lawrence Street just off Cheyne Walk beside the Thames and a few doors from the Cross Keys pub (later owned by Bryan Adams). The flat was rented for the summer from Nona Bell, novelist and writer. I felt I'd arrived. I liked nothing better than to hose the plants on the patio outside during that summer of endless sun. On stage it was so hot during gigs I swear you could've fried an egg on my head. Heady times indeed!
Looking west, Chelsea Embankment soon becomes Putney, where grandpa used to fearlessly dive off the bridge when he was a kid.
Hammersmith Bridge and Chiswick Mall are well worth waiting for. The river takes on the appearance of a mini seafront where the smell of briny is particularly strong. You'll pass the Dove, London's oldest pub, sometimes cut off by flood, but I'm drunk on nothing stronger than reminiscences. The river won't disappoint on a hot day with a pair of sensible shoes, hip flask, shooting stick and monocle... monocle optional.
Pass Dukes Meadow to beautiful Strand on the Green, home to the City Barge where I spent many a beer ridden evening with pals in my teens until I sobered up in my twenties. I never did have quite enough Dutch courage to invite out the barmaid at the Barge, so afraid was I that she'd turn me down.
You'll find the odd spare Pagoda straying incongruously on to the English landscape between Battersea and Kew. At Syon House on the opposite riverbank the Goddess Flora gazes from atop a tall Grecian pillar across rose gardens and lake. She seems to be proffering the visitor the whole of nature from her hands. Jo and I have enjoyed picnicking at her feet. Enter the butterfly house where the tiny creatures may land on you and you'll feel like a giant in fairyland. I remember my grandmother's childlike delight when I took her there, though she was already well into her nineties.
I love this river and the memories that it holds... the Blues at Eel Pie Island Twickenham, watching John Mayall with Peter Green, studying Pete's every move on his Les Paul, Blues in the night in a bayou backwater of England.
A boyhood dream and a love letter to a past that shaped me, the music and the world beyond. Passport to Pimlico here we come...
Steve at an old haunt
David Wynne statue in Cheyne Walk