No, I think not. In reality, it's the site of a quest, it seems fair to say---and any Beatlemaniac worth his or her salt should consider the advice of Katrina and The Waves (or listen to the American version by the Bangles), who wrote a song called "Going Down to Liverpool (for the Rest of My Life)."
Well, if it were up to me, Liverpool wouldn't be such a bad place to stay---maybe not for the rest of my life but for a decent portion of it. Then again, there may be a bit of bias here. Do you detect it, perchance? Or were you going to be polite and not mention it?
I'll admit that I even gave the cab driver a moment's pause---a wonderful fellow with a characteristic Scouse accent---when I told him I'd put Liverpool at the top of my "must see" list. He thought I was kidding. When he realized that I was utterly serious, he asked tentatively, "You don't believe all those nasty stories you hear about Liverpool, do you, love?" Whatever those nasty stories were, I assured him I didn't believe a *word* of it. He seemed satisfied. But what did he mean? Too many working-class heroes? Too much unemployment? Dangerous crime?
It's not really paradise, I'll admit, except to those with stars in their eyes. Most Beatles fans have a surfeit of stars, so I'll remind you at the outset: you're not going to see Disneyland here. Pick up a copy of the Liverpool Echo, the daily (except Sunday) paper, and you'll read that, miraculously, it's a city much like other cities: there were two "louts" who "pounced" on a nun near Lime Street; an oil rig worker who lost his life's possessions in the back of a taxi while he "popped into a local pub"; pleas by MPs and striking union workers to preserve 1,500 jobs; various charity stories about sick kids and overworked hospitals....
It's the self-proclaimed "*only* paper that speaks for Merseyside" and it'll show you a side of the town that you might as well see. Remember that Merseyside is home to 1.5 million people, some of whom, like my envious taxi driver, ruefully admit to never having been anywhere *but* Liverpool. Except for a twist of fate, raw talent and the drive to succeed, perhaps our Boys would never have made it out either.
The irony is that you can look at Liverpool today and try to imagine it as if the Beatles had never left it. This is very recent history. Many of the places they remember are still here. It's a shock to the system to be able to walk along Penny Lane or touch the walls of Strawberry Fields; to drive up to Quarry Bank Grammar School (now, surprisingly, renamed Calderstones Community Comprehensive School... though the headmaster, with whom I and my entourage exchanged a few pleasantries, thought there was a movement afoot to change it back).
Just thirty years ago John and Stuart were walking on the boulevard outside Liverpool Art Institute, wandering into Ye Cracke on Rice Street...and you can do the same today, though the clientele has changed a tad and there's a reverent, if badly-executed, painting of the Fabs in this humble pub. You can walk right up to Litherland Town Hall at the north end of town and touch the stone walls; or peer over the high fence into what used to be the Best house, where Mona Best put together a little club for her son Pete and his musical friends back in the late 'fifties.
But the fact is that on some level Liverpool is forever changed, if just by the fans who come (even in the dead of winter) to pay tribute, or just to breathe the air where their Boys once breathed, or to shop in the several souvenir shops, or buy records in the hip establishments on Mathew Street. And the citizens know it. Five years ago, during my first trip, I found the locals just a tad resentful that visitors ignored the excellent art galleries (the Walker and the Tate), the famous architecture of the old churches, the culture and society that were untouched by Beatlemania. This time, the Liverpudlians were more friendly, encouraging; and, I think it's safe to say, more proud of their their heritage---recent and ancient, classical and pop---than ever before.
Before you go (and you *should* go), write to the Merseyside Tourism Board and ask for an information packet. There's a so-called "Merseyside Welcome Centre" in the Clayton Square Shopping Center, relocated from its former location on Lime Street, but damned if I could find it; every single arrow pointing toward it seemed to be leading me around in circles, and it was a cold day too, so I picked up my brochures from the Tourist Information Centre at Albert Dock (call from the USA 011-44-51- 708-8854 or write MTB Tourist Information, Albert Dock, Liverpool L3 4AA, England). Ask for the Pocket Guide to Merseyside, which has a list of hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments (a fine bargain, with a hearty morning meal included; I recommend the Solna Hotel at Sefton Park) as well as Beatles-related tours (if you hire a tour guide---and for your first time it's sensible; it's about $56 for up to four people for three hours---ask for Anne Morton; she's the best). Also covered are galleries, museums and gardens. For transit system information, request ferry schedules, bus schedules (the comprehensive Liverpool Bus Map is very helpful) and guides to the waterfront.
When you arrive in England, you might want to consider taking the train up from London; it's about L38 (L=pounds) roundtrip and the fast train (i.e. if you don't get stuck in winter weather---normally about 2-3 hours from London) is a great way to enter the Fabs' home town. I can heartily recommend taking the Wilburys' music with you for listening pleasure as you whiz by the heartrendingly-beautiful English midlands (why do you think they're called the *Traveling* Wilburys?), or, equally appropriate, the soundtrack of "A Hard Day's Night"---you can't imagine the thrill of listening to that first chord (whatever it is) as your train rumbles into, or out of, Lime Street Station.
Lime Street Station is the only train station in town; you'll be confronted with a plethora of choices for transit once you alight from your (presumably) first class compartment. I was astonished to see an escalator leading to the Merseyrail Underground (i.e. subway train). "Oh, you mean *Misery*rail", my cab driver said cheerfully. "Never goes anywhere, never gets you there on time." Buses will get you handily wherever you want to go, but you may be disoriented when you first come to town, so take a cab. It's reasonably cheap (especially if you're burdened with luggage) and you'll need to relax for a few moments at your establishment before you wander though the city.
Before you can do much sightseeing (and it's possible to do it all on your own, without a guide), make sure you have two books, if you can find them. I've recommended David Bacon and Norman Maslov's terrific "The Beatles England" before; it's a must for seeing the important sites in Liverpool and London. Also, pop into a WH Smith store (newsstand, stationery, etc.) for a "Liverpool AZ" (often referred to as "Liverpool A to Zed", published by the Georgrapher's A-Z Map Co. Ltd), which is the best street map you'll find; the London A to Zed is essential for getting around there, as well. Streets are often tiny and wind around more than seems possible, so expect to get lost, even with the map. Of course you could also have the company of a real Liverpudlian, as I had for part of my visit (more on him later), but even so you'll still get lost under the best of circumstances. Don't worry; there's always a pub nearby for those moments of utter despair.
Before you get going, try to plan your tour sensibly. To see everything (giving sufficient time to pause reverently at the best sites), I'd suggest two days, or one-and-a-half minimum; a single day in Liverpool means you'll have to miss out on some real hot spots, such as they are. You can do much of this on foot, though a car or tour bus will help; Strawberry Field [sic] and Menlove Avenue are a *long* walk from City Centre, and if you're intent on seeing the Boys' old neighborhoods, Speke (whence George) and Dingle (whence Ringo) are too distant to reach on foot, unless you're a particularly enthusiastic walker.
A word to the would-be wise: the newly rennovated Albert Dock area is pleasant but hardly the place you'll want to spend all your time. It's being touted as the place from which all things Beatlesesque are to be enjoyed, but that's inaccurate. It's really just a series of large warehouses turned into shopping malls. Admittedly the Beatles Exhibition is there---a self-proclaimed re-creation of the Cavern Club and related exhibits---but I'll confess that I declined to go through it, preferring to spend my L3.50 (three pounds fifty) in some deserving record store.
Just to the north of Albert Dock you can catch the famous Liverpool ferries---they *do* cross the Mersey, and if the weather's nice it can give you a stunning vantage of the waterfront. It's not as anonymous as it used to be, nor as cheap, but you can catch the ferry at Pier Head and cruise over to the Wirral and back again for L2.00 (two pounds).
But there's real history in this town---Beatles history---so why not walk where the Fabs walked, and enjoy the sights properly? From Pier Head, where the Liver Birds (pronounced Lye-ver) perch on the Royal Liver Building, you can walk back to City Centre (via Water Street, which becomes Dale Street, turn right at Sir Thomas Street to Whitechapel).
Whitechapel is fairly important; walk to 12/13 Whitchapel Street and you'll behold Rumbelow's, now an appliance store but once the noble headquarters of North End Music Stores, a.k.a. NEMS, where Brian Epstein proudly maintained his record shop. I spent a few moments standing inside, looking at the merchandise, and eavesdropping on the wonderful accents of the salesmen. Then it struck me: if in 1961 the Beatles hadn't been playing just down the street, and if Brian had never heard of them (however it was he *did* hear of them), would he be here today, selling stereos and microwave ovens? It's a little sobering.
But facing Rumbelow's is a winding little street, with a McLachlan's Sweet Shop right at the corner. Walk down it. According to Bacon and Maslov, you're only ninety-nine steps away from the Cavern Club. Your strides may vary, but you're within breathing distance of the Boys' once-regular gig, and the place where, as legend has it, It All Began.
Except that the Cavern Club, technically, isn't there anymore. It was cleverly demolished to make way for a parking area in 1973---surely one of the most poorly planned decisions in Liverpool history. But it *was* at 10 Mathew Street, and you can stand there and still imagine it; they saved the sign, anyway, and hung it on the building next door.
Around 1985 the city planners allowed the construction of Cavern Walks, a small, trendy shopping plaza. The day I was there---December 8th--- the Lord Mayor of Liverpool was about to lay a wreath at the base of a statue of the Fabs; Allan Williams, the Beatles first manager, was lurking about, ready to make some sort of speech; a young man with a guitar was singing "Nowhere Man" and "In My Life"; the statues were covered with flowers, hand-written notes of sympathy and pictures of John (one from his Dovedale Primary School days...and some of the children who'd gathered for the ceremony were no older than that.)
If you're ready for a respite from your travels, you can go directly across the street to Grapes, the pub where the Beatles used to hang out. Apparently the fans have treated Grapes as a place for free souvenirs (I must admit that I spirited out a brandy glass when I was here in 1985) so the sign on the back of the door now warns of a L50 fine for stealing glassware. Have a pint, in their memory, and you'll soon be cheered enough to tackle the Beatles Shop, 31 Mathew Street; arguably the best Beatles-related shop in town. Their record selection (all legitimate) is well-stocked; they had the Macca CD singles I was looking for. And if you're a collector, you can find original autographs, memorabilia, and posters (some are reproductions but they're excellent), plus the ubiquitous mugs, keychains, and watches with the Fabs' visage plastered all over them.
Very close to Whitechapel street is Stanley Street, where Hessy's Music Store still stands---the place the Beatles bought their guitars in the early days. Meander back through Clayton Square Shopping Centre towards Lime Street (where, as we all know, Maggie May *used* to walk). There's one little gem at the base of Lime Street Station, and it took an expert like Harold Somers, r.m.b. regular and linguist extraordinaire (not to mention an enthusiatic guide to his old home town) to remind me of it. There's an innocuous tea shop---once called the Punch and Judy (that name has been appropriated by the pub around the corner) but now just sporting a yellow Benson & Hedges sign---where the Beatles used to wait in ardent hopefulness, drinking tea and eating butties or sarnies (i.e. sandwiches), while Brian Epstein was traveling to and from London to secure them a record contract. It was here that Brian inevitably gave them the bad news---no, Boys, not today; maybe Mike Smith at Decca; someday, just hang in there....Anyway, the tea's still good, and you might need the rest.
Walk down Lime Street and you'll come to Ranelagh Street, and a grand Liverpool institution---the famous Adelphi Hotel. If you're wealthy, you might well stay here instead of one of those tiny-butcharming bed-and-breakfasts. If not, you can have a nice pub lunch, or at least a drink. It was at the Adelphi that Brian and the Beatles made their agreement to become partners, though the first contract they signed was invalid, so it was said, because George was underage and Brian forgot to sign altogether.
From Ranelagh, turn briefly on Renshaw to Mount Street, and follow it down to Hope Street. The Liverpool Art Institute is here, and what an inspiring edifice. This was John and Stu's alma mater. More importantly, you'll want to spend a few moments around the corner in Rice Street, where Ye Cracke is located. John used to come here with some of his art school teachers, but also met Stuart Sutcliffe here; and I suspect the whole Art School crowd, including young Cynthia Powell, used to congregate regularly at this spot. (There's no visible proscription against glassware thievery here, but I'm not condoning criminal actions, you understand.) Almost exactly opposite Rice Street is Falkner Street, and further down (you needn't go unless you're curious) is the flat where Brian Epstein used to live...the same place he magnanimously offered, free of charge, to newlyweds John and Cynthia in 1962. And if you walk further down Hope Street you'll come to a small street opposite the huge Church of England cathedral, called Gambier Terrace. John and Stu shared typical artist's digs here around 1960.
At the moment, you'll need to do some real hiking to get to the rest of the Fabs' old stomping grounds; or take a bus or hire a car. For now, let's pretend we've done just that, and we'll continue on shortly.
Liverpool Part II
Certainly the people who innocently bought Aunt Mimi's house and now live at 251 Menlove Avenue must have a faint idea why tour buses keep pulling over, but do remember that you're a guest here in this slightly-Victorian, mostly-quiescent area, so please behave with gratitude and respect, as befits your status as pilgrim; viz., when you're peering over somebody's tall fence, do it discreetly and refrain from loud whoops or other expostulations.
I'd recommend, just for a change of pace (and to keep the suspense building) that you start with a lovely area, Sefton Park. It's near Ullet Road; Croxteth Drive, Aigburth Drive and Mossley Hill Drive all surround it. This large city park is actually nice for a pleasant stroll. In 1963 Dezo Hoffman posed the Boys leaping wildly into the air, with several apartment buildings and expanses of lawn as backdrop, for cover art on several EP's. You can find almost the very same view, if you want, and photograph your friends the same way...not quite the thrill of posing in the Abbey Road zebra crossing ( = crosswalk), but it'll do for starters. There's also a small boating lake at the end of the park. Legend has it that in the early thirties Alfred Lennon met Julia Stanley here, thus beginning a peculiar, if productive, romance.
Before seeing the Fabs' boyhood homes, you're so close to another landmark that you might as well continue onwards from Sefton Park to Greenbank Lane; at the end, jog right briefly on Greenbank *Road* and you'll be standing at Penny Lane.
It's really here; a modest street, at first lined with houses, then a small railway bridge (more houses beneath, with lovely brickwork), and then a small cluster of shops---nothing fancy, quite suburban. You can walk its length easily in a few minutes, and you'll know you've arrived when you see the famous roundabout---a sensible system the British have for the meeting of two or more streets. The bank mentioned in the song is still there, though I didn't see a barber; must've closed long ago. The shelter in the middle of the roundabout is intact, though boarded up, but people can sit here (on sunny days) and enjoy the busy traffic.
And once you've been there, you may notice a delightful phenomenon: you'll never hear the song again without being transported back to this spot, instantly, or seeing it in your mind. Being in Liverpool gives *all* the Beatles' songs a striking resonance; like many ineffable mysteries in life, you'll actually perceive this aura of meaning through some sense beyond the five normal ones. It's almost as if their former presence here has transfered some sort of core-deep understanding to you. But don't ask me to prove it scientifically. :-)
At the roundabout you'll find Smithdown Road; turn right and continue roughly southeast till Smithdown Road turns into Menlove Avenue. We all know who used to live here. The two-story house at 251 is surrounded by a black wrought-iron fence and dense, if thankfully short, foliage. It looks very much as it did when John was growing up here, though the decorated glass-panes in the window are obviously of recent origin.
People stop here frequently: huge tour buses, cars, cyclists, walkers. It's a wonder there's only a *small* sign reminding pilgrims that this is a private residence. Anyway, please don't intrude beyond the front gate. Just stand and admire.
Close by, and walkable, is Beaconsfield Road. Walk down it about halfway and you'll come to a big running wall; a red-painted ironwork gate with stylized berries and leaves; and a gatepost that says "Strawberry Field". Singular. The gate is closed but you don't want to go in, anyway; you want to stand before the little sign and read the graffiti from various travelers. Long ago, during John's childhood, the orphanage that was run from here (in a Victorian brick building that has since been replaced) held carnivals, or "fetes" regularly. Now there's a new building, and if you're lucky you'll see a face in one of the windows, peering curiously at you as you peer reverently across the fields.
Backtrack down Beaconsfield (if you can tear yourself away) up Menlove Avenue, and take the fork to Calderstones Road. Turn left at Harthill Road and you'll be near Quarry Bank Grammar School, now called (after the park in which it's situated) Calderstone's Community Comprehensive School. You can wander into the front drive if you want and imagine the place where John and his young friends spent many wearying moments as schoolkids, but which nevertheless impressed John so much that to the end of his days he proudly wore the Quarry Bank tie. The day I was there (in the happy company, among others, of Geoff Eddy and Harold Somers, the latter our generous guide), the headmaster came out and spoke to us; agreed that the name change was ill-advised; and told us it would have been his pleasure to show us around had we only come earlier in the day; the school had been having its annual Christmas fete.
At the end of Calderstones Road is Allerton Road; and if you remember your Beatles history you'll know that Dr. Macca comes from Allerton, a less-posh neighborhood than Woolton (whence John). If you follow Allerton Road all the way down to Cleveley or Chalfont Roads, you can turn west and jog right or left off the main boulevard, Mather Avenue, to Forthlin Road. Here was Paul's dad's humble abode; look for the house number 20. It's a small, flat-fronted, connected row house with a few rose bushes in front and a fence. You might recall that Aunt Mimi did not approve of John's practicing the guitar, so more often than not the incipient team of Lennon-McCartney would practice and compose here; there's a photo of J and P strumming furiously over a notebook in which the words to "I Saw Her Standing There" can be seen, and Mike McCartney, Paul's younger brother, took that shot in the front room of the house at Forthlin Road.
If you're extremely hard-core, you can certainly go down to Speke to see George's house (25 Upton Green; take Aigburth to Speke Road to get there), though the Harrisons also lived at 174 Mackets Lane, east of Woolton and practically on the border of Knowsley, the next town over; at Mackets Lane the Quarrymen would often come for raucous rehearsals, cheered on by George's mother Louise, a tireless fan. Ringo's homes are in a run-down neighborhood west of Sefton Park and south of Toxteth, called Dingle; you can take Aigburth north or follow Ullet Road to Dingle Lane to reach it. Ringo lived at 9 Madryn Street and (more famous) 10 Admiralty Grove, in a rather grim government row-house.
It can be enlightening to broaden your outlook as far as West Derby, where Randolph Peter Best was brought up. True, his home isn't invested with the same sense of solemnity, but it has its points: at 8 Haymans Green was the site of the Casbah Club, really the basement of the Best family home but turned into a coffee house by Mona Best and her son. What could the neighbors have thought? And how did teenagers ever get over here? It's 'way across town---past Wavertree, Old Swan and Knotty Ash. It's really the biggest of all the Beatles' homes, surrounded by a large yard (now heavily fenced and gated), but the basement would certainly have been roomy enough for burgeoning rock 'n' roll bands. This is where The Quarry Men played while Pete was still technically in the Blackjacks, though Pete was soon to be invited to provide pagan droombeats for that perpetually-drummerless other band.
Several of the other small clubs the Beatles played are back in City Centre---the Jacaranda at 23 Slater Street and the Blue Angel at 8 Seel Street. Allan Williams was their nominal manager then; and today these sites are just drab, nondescript storefronts. Far be it from me to discourage you on your pilgrimage! But if you want to venture further out of town---to the north near Crosby in the Litherland district--- you might journey to Litherland Town Hall, on Hatton Hill Road. It was the site of a famous reawakening of sorts, on 27 December 1960.
It was at the end of a disappointing first season in Hamburg, though it started out well. The Beatles met Astrid Kirscherr and Klaus Voorman; Stuart Sutcliffe fell in love with his soulmate Astrid; the Boys met Richard Starkey, who was drumming for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. But their luck ran out when they changed clubs without renegotiating their contract with Bruno Koschmider (a minor technicality. :-) And he, incensed, discovered George was underage and deported him from Germany. The other Beatles soon followed, in despair. When they reached Liverpool they were broke, and John remembers not knowing whether he wanted the band to continue or not.
Nevertheless, they somehow got it together to play a gig at Litherland Town Hall, just thirty years ago last month. It was the biggest venue The Beatles had ever played, and it was the first time the teenagers at Litherland---a respectable social hall---had seen such a performance: boys in black leather, playing sweaty rock 'n' roll as they'd just been doing in Germany for far rougher crowds. That night, there was something akin to a core meltdown in response to the liberating effects of the music. Fans rushed the stage; there was a small riot just outside the doors, and Stu received a blow to the head that---as some stories had it---may have contributed to his later tragic death. And as some of the Fabs have reported, it was their first experience with the power of musical mania.
All just a forerunner of what was to come later...and today, in the shadows of tall trees, Litherland Town Hall still holds the echoes of the screams and shouts that night that heralded the genesis of a new musical era.
Are you a little tired, perhaps? Well then I have two recommendations for your non-Beatles-related enjoyment of Liverpool. Before you explore London and Europe for traces of the Fabs (coming up in the next, and very probably final, installment of this diatribe), stop in at the Liverpool Philharmonic at 36 Hope Street. No, it's not high-brow music, it's one of the best pubs in town (thanks to Harold Somers for the introduction), with astonishing architecture and intimate drinking rooms names after unknown musicians such as Brahms or Liszt. And a very cozy fire. It's only open till 9.00p so get there early. And while Liverpool can offer you the same haute cuisine that the Quarry Men enjoyed (jam butties, ham sarnies, chips, pints and the like), you may want to explore Liverpool's Chinatown for restaurant fare for adventurous options in dining pleasure.
On to London, and beyond, shortly.
Beatles sites/sights in London
There are more Beatle-places in London than I can adequately cover. David Bacon and Norman Maslov's book "The Beatles England" will give you a menu of places to go, and you can tailor it to your whim. Without knowing it, you'll probably happen upon many hot spots, almost subconsciously.
Just an ordinary tube-stop can set you spinning. In London the subway system is called the underground, or the "tube". If you exit at, say, Picadilly Circus, a famous square in its own right (not unlike Times Square at night), you'll be facing the London Pavilion.
Seeing it, I caught my breath in wonderment. The building was the site of premieres for all the Beatles' cinematic greats, and I was actually transported into the past, to 1964, when "A Hard Day's Night" had just opened. I could see the night sky, even though it was noon; I could see the banners and lights, feel the crowds of that night, all without having been there. Is it this elusive, indefinable magic? Or just an indefatigable case of lingering Beatlemania?
But there's a lot to see, no matter where you are. I can think of a few highlights, of course. As long as you're so close (and, I presume, have a music budget?), you can go record shopping on Tottenham Court Road nearby, where the Virgin Megastore (three storeys) and the HMV Record Shop (same) are located. As my guides, Steve Carter and Andy Clews, were careful to caution, it's *not* quite the same HMV store where Brian Epstein was introduced to Syd Coleman, a music publisher, which led to the Beatles' demo tape being submitted to EMI and George Martin... that's further down. But if you have interests in British and/or Merseybeat artists, there are records and CDs here that you'll never find in the States. Despite the cost (about double the cost of vinyl and discs domestically...but then everything is expensive in London these days, thanks to Mrs. Thatcher), snap 'em up. You'll probably never see them again.
Macca is close by in Soho Square; use your London A to Zed and you'll find you can walk easily to 1 Soho Square, where the offices of MPL are located. Of course, the Grand Master Himself may be in residence, or he may not. It's a tall, thin red building with artwork hanging in the lobby from various Macca solo albums (the "Tug of War" cover is nice). If Paul is there, you can hang around and eventually (so the theory goes) he'll have to leave, and you can wave to him. *If* you're on speaking terms with him. In the winding streets around Soho Square are also a passel of fascinating import/used record stores, some with real rarities. Try to spend a little time exploring.
There are probably some sights you'd want to hit, even if there were no Beatles connection...but of course there is. Foyles Bookstore is at 119 Charing Cross Road (you can walk from MPL, or use the Tottenham Court Road or Leicester Square tube stop). Foyles handed out a book award to John in 1964 for "In His Own Write"; now you can pick up a new Penguin edition of that and "A Spaniard in the Works", with nicely re-set type. And at Harrods in Knightsbridge, this immense department store (a full city block in size) used to close to regular customers to let the Boys do their holiday shopping. You can't find many bargains here, but you can surely find anything else (except records, I think), from foodhalls to furniture.
How about some film sites? My favorite, among many, is Paddington Train Station; you can take the Circle or District lines on the underground to the immense structure from which a special train car carried the Fabs in "A Hard Day's Night." It's so similar you could almost see the frenzied fans running rampant across the platform...though I notice the photo booth has been moved elsewhere.
Take the tube to Marble Arch and travel several blocks east to 20 Manchester Square if you'd like to see EMI House, Parlophone's parent company and the site of two important photo shoots: the "Please Please Me" cover and the "Get Back" session six years later (seen on the Red and Blue albums, for those familiar with these domestic packages).
The only rooftop concert in London proper was given by the Beatles at 3 Saville Row, the former site of Apple Studios. It's near Oxford and Picadilly Circuses, and it's a very run-down building today, alas. You'll find a little graffiti on the door and carved into the walls; it's the closest you'll get to the late-period essence of the Beatles, who used it from 1968 to 1972. If you stand quietly, you can probably still hear the echoes of their music wafting down from above.
The big pilgrimage should be saved for last, I'll suggest, just so it has the impact it deserves. Abbey Road is waiting. Take the Jubilee line to St. John's Wood. For some reason the London A to Zed index doesn't list the right map to help you find your way (probably a test to see if you're a true fan), so I'll save you the trouble: it's map 60. As you walk out of the underground station, you'll notice a sense of suburban peacefulness; it's quite different from the bright lights of London proper, even though London has now somewhat engulfed this formerly remote sanctuary.
Walk down Grove End Road; it's very pleasant. It's especially nice early in the morning; there are expensive apartments and homes here, and Paul's old mansion (7 Cavendish Street) is just around the corner. Grove End runs into Abbey Road; and you've suddenly arrived. Walk right to 3 Abbey Road, and behold the studios from which so much music emanated. It's fenced but the fenceposts are painted white--- apparently only once a year, to preserve a year's worth of graffiti--- and you can spend awhile reading what people have scrawled there ("Paul! You're so sexy! --Edwina xxx", "The Beatles: Here, There and Everywhere", "One sweet dream came true...---Rick, 1990", "All you need is love and give peace a chance, 29.3.1990..." "Cliff, you are the best!" [who let that person in here?], "'Cause I'm happy just to dance 4-ever with the Beatles!!!..."). All languages, all levels of literacy.
While you're here, you can watch other fans converge. It's the one spot I noticed in London where you're likely to see more Beatlemaniacs per square inch than anywhere else. Some just stand. Some take pictures, either of the plain white building or the famous "zebra" crossing just down the street, where you can still cross (but watch the traffic.) In 1983, to celebrate their anniversary, Abbey Road opened up their studio for a limited tour. Nothing like this is available today, unfortunately, but we can still dream.
If you're of a mind to cross the channel, there are a few places I'll mention briefly.
Germany has its points. By train, you can go to Hamburg, where the Reeperbahn is still as sleazy as it was when the Beatles played here in 1960-1962; keep in mind that Hamburg is approximately a long day's journey from major cities such as Amsterdam or Cologne, and even longer from Paris. My itinerary took me to Berlin, where I was convinced I'd find no trace of the Beatles. But wonder of wonders: in "East" Berlin on the subway a busker (street musician) got on the train with his companion; with guitar (the companion played a Coke-can filled with sand, for percussion), the busker sang a meltingly-sweet version of "All My Loving", sounding appealingly like Gerry Marsden as a matter of fact; and finished the mini-concert with "Let It Be". No need to seach for synchrony; it'll find *you*. :-)
For you curious record shoppers: yes, the records we would normally consider "bootlegs" in the United States are sold freely in Germany, especially in the record stores on the Kufurstendamm ("Ku-Damm"), a major shopping boulevard in Berlin. Not only were there excellent legitimate releases (a CD single of the Wilburys, for instance, that I've seen nowhere else, with an instrumental "New Blue Moon" and an unreelased track, a cover of Del Shannon's "Runaway"); there were also a plethora of Japanese repackages (I picked up a collection of various Beatles' solo works, nicely mastered). There is actually a separate bin-marker for "Ultra Rare Tracks", and the CDs are priced from about DM 29,90---close to $20 American. I've seen these going for $100 per disc in the US, so it's quite a bargain. But remember that they're legal only if you keep them in Germany. If you bring them back to any country that has copyright laws protecting such material (the US is one), they're illegal.
The only thing I really wanted to do in Paris (yes, I admit it's a nice city for other reasons, but let's keep our priorities straight :-) was see the George V Hotel, near the Arche d'Triomphe. Why? Foolish question: because the Beatles stayed here in 1964, when they had a brief concert tour in Paris, and it was here that the Boys, Brian and George Martin first heard that "I Want To Hold Your Hand" had gone to Number One in America...unheard-of for a British group! Is this place posh? It is, indeed. So posh that you can do little more than walk through the lobby without going into debt. You have to admire Brian's taste in putting the Boys up here, but whom was he trying to impress? I decided against a commemorative drink in the bar when I discovered that a mixed drink cost the equivalent of $18 per shot, and a Coke was about $9. I seriously considered swiping an ashtray with the hotel name on it, but couldn't figure out a neat or elegant way to do it. So much for Beatlesesque atmosphere.
But Amsterdam is well worth a visit. Particularly if you're of a mind to see the Amsterdam Hilton. On the day in question my entourage included my host and r.m.b. reader (he's too shy to post), Nick Todd. Our group of three traipsed in and I asked the hotel desk clerks about Room 1902, the famous room in which John&Yoko spent part of their honeymoon. After politely answering my questions, the concierge said, "Would you like to see it?" She explained that they don't usually do this, but they'd just finished rennovating the room, and as there was no one staying there.... I found my voice and thanked her profusely.
We were led up to a room with a small plaque on the door, sporting a copy of the lithograph John drew of himself and Yoko, stylistically (if suggestively) intertwined (don't worry...it's very clean) and the title "John and Yoko Honeymoon Suite". The expansive, spare room has been completely done over in white; the bedspread has a print of the lithograph as well; the windows have been repainted with Yoko's calligraphic "Bed Peace" and "Hair Peace". There was a state-of-theart Sony sound system with Beatles/Lennon-related CDs; several videos similary related; a good collection of books that any Beatlemaniac would enjoy (*not* one by an author named Moe)...though if this is really supposed to be a honeymoon suite, why all this paraphernalia, I couldn't help wondering?
The concierge was very proud of it. "Yoko and Sean were here last week at the hotel," she said, "but Yoko didn't want to stay in here, naturally." Not because of the price, of course; too many memories. Just for fun, though, I asked the daily rate. It's a mere 1,500 guilders ($900). You'd think that would be beyond most people's budget, but the white guest book had many names of people, obviously drawn to the mystique of the room. If you run into money, you might consider it.
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