Walking London in the footsteps of the most iconic pop group in the world.
“Turn that ‘yah-yah’ music down!” my Mum called out to me as she came into my bedroom. I was lying on my bed listening to the nightly “Beatles Show” on Radio 4BC in Brisbane on my transistor radio. Love Me Do had been and gone and She Loves You and I Saw Her Standing There were currently topping the record charts. It was 1963, my first year at grammar school, and the Beatles invasion had well and truly started.
I admit it. I was then, and 50 years later, still am a Beatles fan. It wasn’t just their music. It was everything about them and their influence on the world. I saw the Beatles when they toured Australia in 1964, and I do mean “saw”. Small amps and 10,000 screaming teenagers and that was it for the sound and the music. Today, I have dozens of books on the Beatles, as individuals and as a group. I have their complete CD collection and I have their complete LP collection. I also have all three releases of the iconic Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band LP – an original 1967 release complete with moustache and military insignia cut-outs; the 1987 20th Anniversary red vinyl release; and the 50th Anniversary re-mastered release. Plus, my pride and joy; an original 1962 Silver Beatles Like Dreamers Do LP that I purchased in London during our recent trip. The band, originally a skiffle group formed by John Lennon in 1956 called the Quarrymen in recognition of their school days at Quarry Bank High School, was subsequently renamed the Silver Beatles, eventually evolving into the Beatles in 1960. The LP is pre-Ringo Starr, with Pete Best on drums.
If Hamburg established the Beatles and Liverpool is where they made their mark, then London is definitely where they conquered the world.
Our first sojourn to London was in 1972. It was one year after Dinah and I were married. Beatlemania of the 1960’s had passed, and London was moving to a new beat driven largely by Ziggy Stardust aka a young David Bowie. A number of our friends had embarked on what was then the great Aussie pilgrimage to London. Dinah and I had talked about joining them there. I was 21 and Dinah was 20. We arrived in London in March 1972. We were organised and had sufficient funds (just) to support us until we found work in the UK. We had friends working there and we had friends following us from Australia with whom we planned to share accommodation. We enjoyed a fabulous two years in London working, partying with old friends, making new friends and travelling to the continent.
Decades past and it wasn’t until recently that we had the opportunity to go back to London. While I had business in London, Dinah and I still had time to re-explore the city where we had lived and worked in the 1970’s. In particular, I wanted to visit places that were synonymous with the Beatles legacy.
Our accommodation in London was the Rose Park Hotel in Talbot Square in Paddington. This is a moderately priced, 3-star hotel in the traditional Victorian terrace style. Small but comfortable bedrooms, your own bathroom and a free English breakfast. It is within walking distance of the West End and a 5-minute walk to Paddington station, making it an ideal location for day trippers wanting to explore London. Check out the Rose Park Hotel and book at: www.roseparkhotelpaddington.com
Paddington Station is a Central London railway terminus and London Underground station complex. It is where you will arrive in London on the Express train from Heathrow Airport. It is also where you can connect with the majority of tube lines that speed you across London. To find your way around London, there are two essential items you will need: a map of the London Underground tube network, and the A-Z of London providing detailed maps of the city streets. These days, both are available online. As well there is Google Maps. Getting around is a lot easier today than it was 40 years ago. View and download the London Tube map at: www.tfl.gov/getting-around-londonandcheckLondon street maps at:www.az.co.uk
Roll up, roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour
London is alive with memories of the Beatles, so many in fact that you could spend months exploring them all. I maintain that the best way to see any city is to walk it. We combined the tube and walking for our magical mystery tour of London. Here then are our top 10 favourite Beatles places to see, listed in suggested visiting order.
- Abbey Road
Arguably there is no more famous street in pop history than this one road that runs through St John’s Wood in the north west of London. This is the perfect place to start our journey for it is here that the Fab Four wrote and produced music that was destined to change the world and become the soundtrack of the 20thCentury. Catch the tube to St John’s Wood Station and walk about 15 minutes to Abbey Road and the pedestrian crossing made famous on the cover of the iconic Abbey Road Beatles album. The crossing is manned by local council employees who obligingly stop the traffic and take photos on your mobile phone of you crossing the road, Beatles-style. Here you’ll also find the legendary EMI Abbey Road Studios where the Beatles recorded on the Parlophone label with producer George Martin from 1962 to 1970. You can read about the history of the studios at:www.abbeyroad.com
- St Johns Wood Collectables
Located at 2 Violet Hill St John’s Wood, this amazing store is a 4-minute walk from Abbey Road. Forget tourist souvenirs, this store is packed with the real thing. And I do mean packed, and the guy who owns this store really knows his stuff. Here you’ll find a fantastic selection of Beatles and Abbey Road-related merchandise including books, posters, clothing, CDs and original vinyl records by the Beatles and many other bands. It was here that I discovered my original 1962 Silver Beatles Like Dreamers DoLP. Today it takes pride of place in my Beatles record collection. Here you’ll also find many exhibits on display (and not necessarily for sale), including life-size figures of the Beatles which you can have your photo taken with. More on St John’s Wood Collectables at: www.vinylhub.com.shop
- Paul’s home in Cavendish Road
A short 5 to 10-minute walk from Abbey Road, we next visit Paul McCartney’s London home at No. 4 Cavendish Road, St John’s Wood. While the other Beatles opted for the more spacious surrounds of the ‘stockbroker belt’ outside of London, Paul McCartney loved the social life of the city. Having previously lived with girlfriend Jane Asher’s parents in inner London, in 1965 Paul bought the Cavendish Road property for 40,000 pounds. Having undertaken significant renovations, including installing a sizeable gate and intercom system to ensure his privacy from the bevy of fans who continually surrounded the house, Paul moved into the three-storey Regency townhouse in March 1966. The proximity of the house to the Abbey Road Studios meant that it often functioned as a base for group meetings. Many of the Beatles hit records were conceived here. As such, the house remains a significant part of Beatles history.
- Helter Skelter – the Beatles Coffee Shop
Time to head back to central London. We’ve had an enjoyable couple of hours visiting the Abbey Road studios, admiring Paul McCartney’s Cavendish Road house and discovering our piece of Beatles memorabilia. Now it’s time for a coffee before we catch the tube back to London to continue our tour. The coffee shop and gift shop, originally simply named the Beatles Coffee Shop due to its proximity to Abbey Road, is now called Helter Skelter in recognition of Paul McCartney’s 1968 high octane song on the White Album. It is conveniently located at the entrance to the St John’s Wood underground station. A quiet latte, cappuccino or a flat white surrounded by appropriate Beatles memorabilia and it’s time to catch the tube. We take the Jubilee Line (that’s the Purple Line). It is one station to our next stop, Baker Street, a 5-minute journey.
- The London Beatles Store
The store is located at 231 to 233 Baker Street, a short walk from Baker Street tube station. The street was made famous as the home of Sherlock Holmes and the store is right next door to the Sherlock Holmes Museum. This is one of the largest Beatles merchandise stores, selling everything to do with the Beatles including t-shirts and clothing, mugs, posters, collectables, photographs and records. The store also sells original signed memorabilia. This is a great place to browse while listening to Beatles music. The store also has a significant online presence, so if you are not sure what to buy while you are in the shop or would like to consider your purchase, you can always shop online later at: www.beatlesstorelondon.co.uk
- Apple Boutique
One of the most enduring aspects of the Beatles is the “Apple’ brand (not to be confused with Steve Jobs’ Apple Computer brand). Principally a means of recording and marketing their music on their own record label, the brand also appeared as a retail store, the Apple Boutique on the corner of Baker Street and Paddington Street. Opening on the 7 December 1967, the shop sold mainly fashion and apparel and was described by Paul McCartney as “a beautiful place where people could buy beautiful things.” The concept was short-lived with the store closing on the 31 July 1968. One of the most notable aspects of the store was its presence in a somewhat conservative Baker Street. A giant psychedelic mural painted by Dutch collective The Fool adorned one outer wall. It caused such consternation amongst other Baker Street store owners that it was eventually whitewashed over. Today, the building remains, and it is definitely worth a visit.
- Indica Bookshop and Gallery
1960’s London was not just about the music, it was also about a changing culture, a counterculture in which music played a leading role. One of the most notable locations of this counterculture and one frequented and supported by Paul McCartney, was a small bookshop in Mason’s Yard off Duke Street in St James’s in central London. Named Indicia in reference to Cannabis indicia, the bookshop subsequently opened a basement gallery which in November 1966 hosted a show of the work of young Japanese/American artist Yoko Ono. It was at this show that Yoko Ono first met John Lennon and the rest, as they say, is history. This is an interesting place to visit in that it highlights Paul McCartney’s growing interest in literature, which is subsequently reflected in his music. It also a represents a major turning point in the Beatles’ collective careers and music.
- Carnaby Street
Perhaps no other street symbolises more appropriately the fashion, music and mood of the “Swinging 60’s” than Carnaby Street. An ordinary London street located behind the bustling traditionalism of Regent Street, Carnaby Street was everything Regent Street wasn’t. It was the loud, bright and colourful epicentre of world fashion and an emerging youth culture. It was also the birthplace of some of the world’s leading fashion brands including Lord John, Biba and Mary Quant and a place where music icons like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Small Faces and ‘the dedicated followers of fashion’, the Kinks were all shopping regulars. A cobbled pedestrian walkway, today Carnaby Street is one of London’s most popular shopping, food and drink destinations and is home to over 150 unique independent stores and global flagship brands. This is a must-visit location as it provides an insight into the pop culture of London during the time of the Beatles. And, it is a great place to shop. You can visit Carnaby Street at: www.carnaby.co.uk
- Ringo’s apartment in Mayfair
Like Paul, Ringo opted to live in London during the 1960’s.He rented a ground floor and basement flat at 34 Montagu Square, Marylebone about 1.3 kilometres from Abbey Road and a short walk from Baker Street. Many notable people had lived at this desirable inner-London address, including parliamentarians and prominent members of London society. Paul McCartney often dropped by and it was here that he recorded demos for I’m Looking Through You and the classic McCartney hit Eleanor Rigby. For three months, John and Yoko rented the flat and it was here that the photograph that would become the cover of their Two Virgins album was shot. Today it is classified an English Heritage “building of historical interest”.
- Apple HQ and a Rooftop Farewell
The final stop on the tour of my ten favourite Beatles sites is appropriately, the location of the last-ever Beatles live performance. At lunchtime on a bitterly cold January day in 1969, the sounds of electric guitars and drums could be heard in the streets surrounding London’s Savile Row. For the first time in over two years, the Beatles were back together on the roof of their Apple Corps Mayfair headquarters building playing live their new songs Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down to the bewilderment of the police (who were instructing them to turn the volume down!) and a growing audience of eager spectators below. While the event seemed spontaneous, it had in fact been a year in the planning. Their final performance as a group was recorded and today is one of the most viewed music clips of all time. At the end of their performance, John Lennon summed up the Beatle years in his own unique way, saying:
“I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we’ve passed the audition.”
I really believe that you are never too young or too old to be a Beatles fan. I’ve been one for over 50 years. Discover or rediscover the Beatles for yourself the next time you visit London.
Main picture: The legendary Abby Road, just up from the pedestrian crossing in North West London
- The Beatles Coffee Shop at St John’s Wood tube station
- Yep, that’s Dinah and I crossing Abbey Road – Beatles-style
- Abbey Road Recording Studios today, complete with fans’ graffiti on the wall
- St John’s Wood Collectables
- Paul McCartney’s house at No. 4 Cavendish Road, St John’s Wood
- The London Beatles Store in Baker Street
- The Indica Bookshop in St James’s today
- Carnaby Street in London’s West End
- Apple Corps HQ: the building today at No. 3 Saville Row
- Through these doors and on this roof…
- The plaque says it all – farewell Beatles