Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Visiting Beatles sites in London, England

The Beatles have inspired me to be a day tripper three times to date.

In 1993, as a college student, I went to Europe for the first time and traveled by train to 11 countries; a highlight was a detour to Liverpool, England, to soak up some iconic Beatles hotspots. Some excited me more than the Eiffel Tower.

In 2018, I worked out a customized walking tour of locations associated with the Beatles in Hamburg, Germany (where my wife is from). Each is a short walk from the next.

Recently, I put together a third Beatles tour, this time for London, where the sites are a bit more spread out. I’m sure there are other points of interest I could’ve included, but I focused on seven of the biggies. I was in Londontown for my sister-in-law’s wedding—a whirlwind trip, only two nights—but I built in just enough time to squeeze in this experience. In fact, I went straight from a red-eye flight to a COVID test to the tour, then a quick shower and on to the pre-wedding family dinner.

The tour took about four hours. By day’s end, I’d walked more than 15 miles (but that factors in some walking not related to the Beatles, such as at the airport).

In order of appearance:

Abbey Road

Speaking of walking! 

My first stop was perhaps the mother nature’s son of all Beatles sites, yet also the most unassuming—a crosswalk. Of all the places I went on my tour, I spent the most time here because it’s the trickiest to photograph. In a case like this, a selfie won’t do, though I did take some because I was alone.

aiming camera at the end that the Beatles walked from

aiming camera at the end that the Beatles walked to

standing in the vicinity of where the photographer shot from;
note commemorative plate in pavement

close-up of plate

But you also need to ask a stranger to document your personal re-creation of the famous album cover image—while you both dodge cars. (It’s an active road. Many locals must hate that tourists are disrupting traffic literally all day.) 

Why don’t we do it in the road? 
(AKA almost getting run over to get the shot)

Finding a willing accomplice is actually not that hard because almost everyone or every group making pilgrimage to Abbey Road needs someone else’s help, so there’s a lot of quid photo quo. In the approximately 45 minutes I was there, people were taking turns taking photos the whole time, almost constantly.

At one point, a spirited woman from Israel recruited me and two others to form a foursome of strangers. She even took off her shoes (à la Paul).

I wish I’d known in advance about the Abbey Road Crossing Cam where you can see yourself go through the paces from a different angle. (Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, the footage is archived for only a day and I missed mine.)

Abbey Road Studios is mere steps away, heralded by clever signs on a low brick wall and encouraged graffiti. The low white barrier in front of Abbey Road Studios (seen in the distance) is marked with a John Lennon quotation. (I would have gone with a Beatles lyric.)

7 Cavendish Avenue; Paul McCartney’s house since 1965; 7 minutes by foot from Abbey Road

I thought this was a former address. Only when I was standing in front of the house did I learn that Paul still lives here! 

A shirtless man who was helping to renovate a house across the street told me (in an American accent) that Paul’s front gate is regularly wide open. It was when I arrived, with one security guard there, but before I worked up the nerve to take a photo, he closed it. The guy working on the renovation showed me a video on his phone of Paul waving to him from his front step...then waving for him to stop filming.  

Marylebone Rail Station; when facing the building, the street to the right is Boston Place, where all but Paul ran down to escape a throng of fans at the start of the film A Hard Day’s Night“Boston Place” is also mentioned in the opening chatter in the take of “Hey Jude” that appears on the Anthology 3 album; 23 minutes from Cavendish

I was not sure of the exact section of the street to photograph because the details of the area have (obviously) changed since the scene was filmed in the early 1960s. Based on the visibility of the building in the background of the shot, I think that the Beatles were running down the far end of Boston Place (meaning the other end of Boston Place from the Marylebone front entrance).

view from the side of Boston Place closer to the station front entrance

20 Manchester Square; building that housed EMI from 1960-1995 and the stairwell seen on the album covers of Please Please Me and the anthologies 1962-1966 and 1967-1970; 16 minutes from Marylebone

As you can see, the building was under construction so I was not able to go inside, but the workers outside told me that it had been reconfigured anyway. (I think they meant prior to the current construction.)

57 Wimpole Street; the house in which Paul and John wrote “I Want to Hold Your Hand”; 7 minutes from Manchester Square

5-6 Argyll Street; former office of Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein and alleged site of interview in which John Lennon said the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus”; today the ground floor is a Five Guys (apropos since Epstein is one of the people considered the “Fifth Beatle”); 14 minutes from Wimpole

Inexplicably, the circular blue heritage sign here (and at Savile Row) is way above eye level.

3 Savile Row; formerly the location of Apple Records and the site of the Beatles final live performance (the famous, impromptu 1969 rooftop concert); 7 minutes from Argyll

If Abbey Road is the crown jewel of Beatles sites, 3 Savile Row—specifically the roof—is the Holy Grail. That’s because it’s not open to the public. Yet I tried in advance to get permission to go up there. 

The building was the headquarters of the Beatles’ record label, Apple. It is currently owned (or rented) by Abercrombie & Fitch, and the ground floor was, until a week before I went there, an A&F store. That store has moved a few blocks away.

It took a while to wend my way through A&F contacts till I reached the correct one: the Health & Safety Manager. He kindly took the time to respond to my request:

“We are not accepting any requests for access to the roof. This policy has been in place since we have taken over this location. The policy is built around our landlord agreements, privacy requests from neighbors, etc. So unfortunately too many elements to list.”

Naturally, I didn’t give up just yet. I tried to appeal to a larger sense of cultural posterity—as well as the basic human desire to feel appreciated. I wrote this:

“The acknowledgements in my books thank many people who at first declined a research request (sometimes multiple times), but eventually said yes, which helped me tell stories no one else was and in some cases helped me change things for the better.”

I then emphasized a writer’s reliance on the good will of strangers and assured him that I’d be quick, quiet, and careful. I also offered to sign a liability waiver and give him free books. 

Alas, access was still denied. At least now I know who to ask when I try again…

“And, in the end, the tour you take is equal to the tour you make.”

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