Music: Dartford: the suburb where no Stone was left unturned

Dartford is not a pretty place, but a generation ago it offered life-changing opportunities for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Andy Bull revisited their old stamping-ground.
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The Independent Online
I took the train from Sundridge Park in search of Mick and Keith. Trains and stations had become inseparable to the story I was following, and Sundridge Park was a particularly nice one. It's a spotless little place, hidden in a cutting and flanked by beech trees, and exists on a little three-station line that would take me just one stop on my journey to Grove Park. It even has a period open-air gents' urinal.

I could tell I was in a time-warp from the only other passenger. It was Wednesday, and he was still reading last Sunday's News of the World. I changed trains and headed for Lewisham, from where I could get to Dartford. On the way I sat back with my feet up, improvising that scene from Quadrophenia where the sound track is "Out of my Brain on the Train".

Dartford is not a pretty sight. The town centre is swamped under monoliths, including the Orchard Theatre, a multi-storey car park and a string of warehouse shops. To the east the Glaxo Wellcome headquarters manages to look exactly like an architectural model of a new building, rather than the real thing: all immaculate grass, gushing fountains and neat little figures striding purposefully.

The station is a mess. The indicator boards don't work, and nor do the staff.

It is, nevertheless, historic. Because it was here, in 1960, on the London- bound platform, that former friends and neighbours Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were reunited. Mick was going to lectures at the London School of Economics; Keith to Sidcup Art College, where he was studying technical illustration. Mick was carrying a pile of blues records, and on the train journey they got talking about what music they liked.

Shortly afterwards Keith joined Mick in a band called Little Boy Blues and the Blue Boys, and the partnership from which the Rolling Stones would develop was born.

I walked out to their childhood homes, past the schools that had divided them. Mick went to the grammar in West Hill, Keith to the technical school one street away in Miskin Road. If Dartford is a suburb, then the little Thirties enclave where Mick and Keith grew up is a suburb of the suburb. Keith lived in a flat above a now-empty shop at 33 Chastillian Road, across the street from a pub called The Dart - referring, if its sign is to be believed, to a river rather than the game of arrows - and a gift shop called Grott, presumably in homage to Reggie Perrin.

First left is Denver Road, where Mick lived at number 39, and in the garden of which, each morning, he went through a daily regime of physical exercise instilled in him by his fitness instructor father. Oh, how the neighbours must have laughed. As I walked along, those old familiar suburban smells of creosote and conifer hedges hit me once again. There was Number 39, with its neat little front garden full of orange marigolds and its semi-detached front freshly pebbledashed. And suddenly I realised that the suburbs were growing on me - that they have a character that is cruelly overlooked. After all, if stucco is quite acceptable on New Mexico pueblos, why is pebbledash so derided? If cobblestones and sash windows are OK in Coronation Street, why can't UPVC and pink concrete brick-effect paving be admired in Acacia Avenue?

And then, as I trekked on down Chastillian Road to Wentworth Primary School, where the Glimmer Twins first met as five-year-olds, the answer to my question presented itself. It is because pebbledash, plastic windows and concrete blocks are innately, irrefutably horrible.

The suburbs were beginning to get to me, as they got to Mick and Keith. But before I fled I had to pay homage at one last location - Bexley Hospital, just across the A2 in old Bexley Lane. In fact, this hospital features twice in the Rolling Stones story. In the Seventies, it was the place where Mick's ex-girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, spent seven months trying to cure her drug addiction. But, in the late Fifties, it had a far more important role in forming the Mick Jagger that we know and love. For it was here that, working as a porter during his school holidays, Mick lost his virginity, in a cupboard, to a nurse. Proving, once and for all, that, whatever else they may lack, there is sex in the suburbs.

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