Beatles Tracks: Walking Tour of 5 Beatles Sites In London
Describe the 1960’s in a single word, and the word has to be Beatles. No other artist in history has affected the human population to the extent the Beatles have. Not Mozart, not Elvis, not Taylor Swift, not anyone. The Beatles changed the course of history in a way that had never been seen. They appeared at just the right time and didn’t overstay their welcome. Like true professionals they left us wanting more. The Beatles’ influence went beyond music. Fashion, mindsets, beliefs and politics were all affected by the Fab Four. The evolution of the four lads from Liverpool in 7 short years are still felt 50 years on. From hard rockers to British Music Hall, many of the songs in their varied repertoire are now ingrained in our collective consciousness – as familiar as “Happy Birthday To You”. The legacy and phenomenon that was the Fab Four is not likely to ever happen again.
In 1963 The Beatles recorded their debut album in just 10 hours at Abbey Road Studios. They soon relocated to London and through the 60s made the city their home base. Today, you can still visit numerous sites related to the Beatles and their history. Even a casual or non-fan visiting the city is likely to head to Abbey Road and mimic one of the most famous album covers of all time. As an attraction, the Abbey Road zebra crossing is probably right up there with Buckingham Palace.
The Abbey Road Studios, located on the street of the same name in St. John’s Wood is one of the most famous recording studios in the world. Originally known as EMI Studios, it’s been there since the 30’s. Top musicians have recorded here and still do. Adele, Oasis, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Amy Winehouse, The Hollies, The Zombies and Lady Gaga is a very short list. The Beatles called Abbey Road home while they were actively recording. Almost everyone of their studio tracks were produced here, mostly in Studio 2. Tourists flock here not because of Pink Floyd or Gaga, they flock here because of The Beatles and that iconic album cover that took 10 minutes to shoot.
While you aren’t likely to be granted access to the studio, you can still brave traffic on this busy roadway and have a friend take your picture on this most famous of street crossings. You will certainly have to wait your turn and “share” the crossing with other tourists and fans who are likely to be there.
The easiest way to get to Abbey Road is by tube. On the Jubilee Line, exit at St. John’s Wood. This is Beatles Country. Two steps outside the tube entrance is a Beatles souvenir shop offering decals and refrigerator magnets and books and a variety of other trinkets. From here, it’s an easy 5 minute walk along Grove End Road to Abbey Road. You’ll know you’re at the right place because there will undoubtedly be people there getting in the way of traffic to get pictures taken.
It’s fun to read the graffiti on the wall along the front of the actual studio. I’m told this white wall gets repainted every so often, offering a blank canvas for fans to write messages. I was at Abbey Road one rainy evening a few years back and had my picture taken right there by the door on the studio steps. This time we were there on a nice summer day, and there were too many people around for that to happen. The front parking lot was gated. Next door is the Abbey Road gift shop offering all kinds of Abbey Road related merchandise. From books pertaining to audio production to Pink Floyd coffee mugs to Beatles drink coasters. Spending a few minutes in the Abbey Road area is a great way to walk in the footsteps of the Beatles. They were here practically on a daily basis in the 60’s.
Just a couple of blocks away is another Beatles site: Paul McCartney’s home on Cavendish Avenue. The Beatles often gathered at McCartney’s before and after sessions at Abbey Road. From Abbey Road Studios, walk south one block and turn left onto Circus Road. 2 blocks in is Cavendish Avenue. At number 7 you will find a home that McCartney bought in 1965, and is apparently where he still spends his time when in London. In the world of rock star mansions, his looks positively humble, at least from the outside. If you’re lucky the front gate will be open. Otherwise expect the 8 foot high gate to be closed giving you little to see. I suspect most fans loiter for a few minutes and take pictures by front of the gate. Others probably ring the bell in the hopes of being invited in. What could you possibly say to be invited in?
Interestingly, across the street is an official Blue Plaque marking a house where another Liverpool rock and roll singer once resided, Billy Fury. Almost forgotten now, at least in North America, Fury scored 24 hits in the UK from the late 50s to the mid 60s.
From Cavendish Avenue on a beautiful warm sunny day we walked just over a mile south along Wellington Avenue, then Park Road to Baker Street. I had forgotten all about it, but Baker Street is where the fictional character Sherlock Holmes spent his time. You will find all sorts of Sherlock Holmes related sites here, from hotels bearing his name to a huge bronze statue outside the Baker Street tube station. You’d think Mr. Holmes actually lived at one time.
But what brought us here is that Baker Street (at the corner of Crawford) was the location of the Beatles’ Apple Boutique. When the money was really rolling in hand over fist at the end of the 60s and The Beatles didn’t know what to do with it all, they formed their own company, naming it Apple Corp. The storefront here was the Apple Boutique and it featured a psychedelic mural on one of it outside walls. Look up around the first floor, and a Blue Plaque indicates that John and George “worked here”. No doubt that Paul’s and Ringo’s names will be added in the future, seeing as they worked there too. The mural is long gone, the street corner as normal as it gets. We had a nice lunch at Chipotle across the street. It’s a nice site to walk by on the way to 34 Montagu Square, a few blocks off.
34 Montagu Square in Marylebone features a nice leafy oasis that conveys peace and quiet in the middle of busy London. On the corner of Montagu Square and Montagu Place is a flat once owned by Ringo. Although he lived here for a spell, he eventually moved on but kept the flat. For a time Jimi Hendrix resided here. When Jimi was evicted, John and Yoko moved in. Although they didn’t live here very long, a major event occurred here when they were busted on marijuana charges. This – along with his political views – really hampered Lennon’s Green Card application in the United States later. An official Blue Plaque marks the spot. You can easily visualize John and Yoko spending time in the park across the street, hand in hand.
From here, it’s a 10 or 15 minute walk back to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and the Baker Street tube. Hop the tube to Piccadilly Circus (you can also walk another mile or two to this next location). From Piccadilly Circus head north along Regent Street to Vigo and take a left. Just a few steps away is Saville Row. Here, on this corner in Mayfair, is where the offices of Apple Corp were located. The Beatles bought the building in 1968, installed a recording studio in the basement, and ran their day to day operations.
Although there is no indication, no plaque, no marker of any sort, 3 Saville Row is where one of the greatest moments in pop culture took place when the Beatles, along with Billy Preston, played their famous rooftop concert. One cold January day in 1969, surrounded by friends, wives, and crew (including sound engineer Alan Parsons), The Beatles performed an impromptu lunchtime concert for bankers and tailors and secretaries hustling and bustling at street level below. They played 42 minutes before being shut down – in true rock and roll fashion – by the police. It would be the last time the band played together in public. And it’s all captured on film for posterity. Around a couple of corners from 3 Saville Row is 23 Heddon Street, the site of another rock and roll landmark.
Today, looking up to the rooftop, you can almost hear the sweet music reverberating through the neighbourhood, and what turned out to be John’s final farewell as a Beatle. “I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition”.
They certainly did.
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Dianne & Mike