Streets of London Rossmore Road - Barry Andrews (1980)
This week I'm visiting five London streets celebrated in song. Today's song is desperately obscure, which is kind of appropriate because it's about a totally insignificant north London street - RossmoreRoad. But this obscurity has one major drawback, which is that only a tiny handful of you will ever have heard this utterly charming song before. And that's a shame, because today's post won't make much sense otherwise.
"Rossmore Road" was written by Barry Andrews (the founder keyboard player with XTC, and later one of the geniuses behind Shriekback) during his brief solo period. For inspiration Barry paid a visit to this minor Marylebone backroad, looked around at the local street furniture and then composed this modest ballad about what he saw. I've loved the song for years, so I went on a pilgrimage to see what's changed down Rossmore Road over the last quarter century. Does Barry's "fine proto-Psychogeographical anthem" still hold true, or not?
"The 159 runs along it" Not any more it doesn't. The 139 took over in 1992. Which is a shame, because I'd liked to have seen London's last Routemaster down Rossmore Road. "Around the corner from Baker Street" Yes, only a five minute walk from yesterday's location. "There's a dolls house shop on the corner of Lisson Grove and Rossmore Road" Alas, the miniature furniture emporium on the corner has closed down, replaced by the very ordinary Food Fayre mini-market (pictured). And all because newspapers and samosas are rather more useful to local residents than tiny four-poster beds and replica Welsh dressers.
"Turn left at the DHSS in Lisson Grove, you find yourself in Rossmore Road" No you don't Barry, you find yourself in Hayes Place or Shroton Street. I can't believe you've been lying to me all these years. Rossmore Road's a good 150 yards further north. "And there's a number of public buildings" A right mixture of public buildings in fact. There's the Fourth Feathers youth and community centre (a 70s brick fortress secured behind unwelcoming steel gates). There are a couple of churches (one offering repentance to ungodly sinners, the other offering line dancing and short mat bowls). And there's also the very marvellous Sylvia YoungTheatreSchool (in a converted Victorian building, complete with hanging baskets) whose previous students include Denise Van Outen, Billie Piper, Emma Bunton and three quarters of All Saints. Bravo. "And a safety barrier down the middle of the road, in Rossmore Road" No Barry, you're lying to me again. There's a safety barrier along the edge of the road, to stop pedestrians accidentally falling several feet onto Taunton Place or the Chiltern railway, but nothing down the middle.
"In Rossmore Road... white and yellow lines" Several, although the yellow lines all look rather thin and distinctly amateur. [photo] "and street signs" Several, mostly parking-related. [photo] "and public phones" Two, painted black [photo], up at the eastern end opposite the drive-thru florist. [photo] "and traffic cones" Several, with flashing lamps on top, but only because they're currently doing building work on the railway bridge. [photo] "and belisha beacons on the central reservation" There is no central reservation, Barry. And any old fashioned flashing yellow globes are long gone. [photo]
"To the north: the Grand Canal" It's hardly Venice, Barry, but the Regent's Canal (about which I wrote tons last summer) runs nearby. "Round the corner: Regent's Park" True, and much more worthy of a visit. "Next stop on the tube: Marylebone Road" There is no tube station called Marylebone Road, nor has there ever been, but the platforms of elegant Marylebone station extend almost to within touching distance. [photo] "And you can see Balcombe Street from Rossmore Road" You can indeed see Balcombe Street, if you look through the blue iron railings just to the right of the London Business School [photo]. Balcombe Street is the kind of glorious London terrace which barristers aspire to live in and English Heritage rush to protect. It's also a notorious street where, back in the 1970s, four IRA gunmen holed up with two hostages for a week longsiege. In fact Balcombe Street is far far more characterful and interesting than poor old Rossmore Road, and Barry might well have chosen to write his song about it instead. But I'm glad he didn't.
"All humming now, all humming now, all humming now..."