Wednesday, 25 November 2015

An American In #London – A 53-Year-Old #Thanksgiving Tale

For any of our U.S visitors joining us tonight on the Rock'n'Roll London Pub Walk on the eve of Thanksgiving, here's a tale of a young Midwesterner making his first trip to London…

Fifty-three years ago, in November 1962, Bob Dylan played his first British gig at the King and Queen pub in Fitzrovia.

The performance is the stuff of music legend. If the number of people who claim to have been in the pub that night were actually there, then this modest corner boozer would be bigger than Shea Stadium.

Dylan was in London not to sing – nothing is ever straightforward when it comes to Dylan – but to act in a BBC play. The play was The Madhouse on Castle Street by young Jamaican playwright Evan Jones, the tape of which was wiped by the BBC in 1968. No copy has ever been found. 

Dylan was billeted at the Mayfair Hotel near Berkeley Square where, legend has it, his dope smoking habits incurred the ire of the management. During his stay, he also swung by London's famous folk venues – The Troubadour on Cromwell Road, Soho's Les Cousins and Bunjies Coffee House (we'll call by the latter later this evening on the walk).

He returned to the U.S in January 1963 to complete his second album, the epochal Freewheelin'. Legendary English folkie Martin Carthy, with whom Dylan became firm friends (even crashing with Carthy in his Belsize Park flat) believes that Dylan's first London visit had a big impact on the the singer's journey. Quoted in the (much-missed) Observer Music Monthly a few years back, he said:

"'His time in England was actually crucial to his development. If you listen to Freewheelin', most of which was made before he came to England, and you listen to the next album after that, there's an enormous difference in the way he's singing, in the sort of tunes he's singing, the way he's putting words together... Bob Dylan's a piece of blotting paper when it comes to listening to tunes.... It [London] had an enormous effect on him.'

Bob Dylan features tonight on The Rock'n'Roll London Pub Walk. Meet at Tottenham Court Road station at 7pm.

Before the walk, you can catch up with our London Walks Podcast episode which features a piece on Dylan's most famous trip to London – in 1965 – when he stayed at the Savoy and welcomed The Beatles to his court…

In addition, here's a playlist of Dylan's songs as featured in the movie of his 1965 visit, Don't Look Back

In 1984, Dylan told Rolling Stone: "I ran into some people in England who really knew those [traditional English] songs. Martin Carthy, another guy named [Bob] Davenport. Martin Carthy's incredible. I learned a lot of stuff from Martin."

You can catch up with Carthy's first album here:

P.S. Our debt to Dylan is clear in our very own Rock'n'Roll London Video…

A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at

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