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28 May 2017updated 06 Aug 2021 6:04am

David Hepworth’s diary: Chatting with Danny Baker, pontificating about Bob Dylan

Why does he only open at weekends? He looks both ways in the manner of Arthur Daley. “Trading Standards don’t work weekends.” There’s your true spirit of punk rock.

By David Hepworth

The celebrations marking the last game at White Hart Lane are the standard combination of ancient and modern. A marching band plays as Spurs legends are introduced to the crowd. The Welsh winger Cliff Jones can still sprint on to the pitch at 82. The French winger David Ginola, who would lick himself if only he were a choc ice, is unaccountably filming himself on his phone throughout. Rain hammers down. A gospel choir sings “When the Spurs Go Marching In”. There’s not a dry eye in the place even though, as friends from other clubs kindly point out, we’re only moving a few feet in a northerly direction. In the days afterwards, social media is full of fans’ mementos of the day. The most popular is the bloke who got his mates to snap him during the pitch invasion, snorting cocaine off an iPad. Something to show his grandchildren.

Behind punk curtains

The woman from Sky News wants me to reflect on the 40th anniversary of the release of the Sex Pistols “God Save the Queen”. She has sorted a venue for the filming. Do I need a car? Since all the people who actually remember the Sex Pistols now qualify for a Freedom Pass, we decide a car won’t be required. The venue is a record shop in Camden Town dedicated to punk and hardcore. It seems the few remaining record shops in London are similarly specialist. “People come from all over the world,” the owner says. He literally lifts a curtain and ushers me into a back room where he has a second shop that opens only at weekends.

This one is packed with home-copied DVDs of cult films and TV programmes that are (cough) not commercially available. Here you’ll find Rik Mayall’s early performances as Kevin Turvey. Here’s Anthony Newley’s long-lost and unwatchable film Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?. Why does he only open at weekends? He looks both ways in the manner of Arthur Daley. “Trading Standards don’t work weekends.”

There’s your true spirit of punk rock.

Invisible windows

Thirty years ago, we moved into this house in a tree-lined north London road. At election time in those days, people would put posters in their windows declaring their loyalties. Most of the posters were blue, with the occasional Liberal. A Labour flyer would have been an outright provocation.

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That all changed in the Nineties. Slowly, as the properties changed hands, there were more Labour posters than Conservative. Stephen Twigg took the seat on the night everybody remembers; then it went Tory again. Recently, we’ve had another wave of gentrification as my contemporaries downsized and the houses have been bought again, this time by two-lawyer families. I’ve just walked up the road, and there’s not a single flyer to be seen. Clearly, the new people are keeping their thoughts behind their newly installed plantation shutters.

Gifted with the gab

I’ve known Danny Baker since the mid-Seventies, when we worked in neighbouring West End record shops. Guesting on his radio programme on BBC Radio 5 Live is like picking up the threads of a conversation we’ve been having since those days. He’s just done a 60-date tour, on each stop of which he spoke off the top of his head for over three hours. There are very few people who can do that without the ­services of scriptwriters. He sold out all but two dates.

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Despite being one of the few radio personalities who the public will pay money to hear live, Danny can’t get hired anywhere on radio except 5 Live. Nowadays, all radio stations, even the ones that like to flaunt their allegedly maverick credentials, are controlled with an iron hand. The people who run them would rather not have talent than have talent they can’t push around.

Bob’s your uncle

To Bath, to take part in a session about Bob Dylan at the festival. Sid Griffin and Barb Jungr play his songs while Danny Kelly, Dorian Lynskey and I pontificate about him. The subject of the Nobel Prize comes up. I think we should stop giving awards to musicians. Unlike novelists, they don’t need the glory. Now we know that, when he does shuffle off, the item on the news will start with the words, “Nobel Prizewinner Bob Dylan, whose protest songs earned him the title ‘spokesman for a generation’ . . .”

Bah. Back at the hotel, I go online and do my weekly duty as a member of the Council of the Advertising Standards Authority, casting an avuncular eye over the executive’s rulings on the claims made in adverts. Are they legal, decent, honest and truthful? I’m coming to the end of my six-year term. It’s been my only experience of the great and the good at work and I’ve been impressed.

Tongue twisters

On the way back from Bath I’m thinking about the next day, when I’ll go into the studio to start reading the audio version of my book Uncommon People. It takes just under four days to record an audiobook. There are no short cuts. You just stand there and do it, stopping and going back to correct the fluffs when the producer hears one. After I recorded the last book I swore I would never again write a sentence that was difficult to get my tongue round. Tomorrow, I’ll find out if I was right. On the train, I’m reading Francis Spufford’s acclaimed novel Golden Hill. It includes the word “desultorily”. Bet he got an actor to say it.

Gigging on the edge

As I’m dropping off on Monday night, there’s Twitter traffic about some incident at the Manchester Arena. Nobody knows quite what it is or how serious. Hence it is the following morning before I learn of the enormity of the attack there. We veterans used to boast that gig-going back in the Seventies could be a dangerous business. I think we’ll stop saying that now.

David Hepworth’s “Uncommon People: the Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars (1955-1994)” is newly published by Bantam Press

This article appears in the 24 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain