Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Beatles’ London

By John D
beatles-londonCitizens of Liverpool may take issue with me about this because, although The Beatles hail form that city and were undoubtedly shaped by it, I always associate them with London. It is, after all, where they moved to very soon after signing their recording contract with Parlophone, and it’s where the majority of their defining moments happened.

Which brings me to the subject of this piece, The Beatles’ London by Piet Schreuders, Mark Lewisohn, and Adam Smith. This is the updated 2009 edition (it was first published in 1994), and the presence of Lewisohn gives the book ample Beatley credibility, as he has become the go-to guy for all things Fab Four related. His several books on the band are, in the words of the late Derek Taylor (the Beatles’ press officer) in his foreword to this book, “relentlessly researched”. And he was right. This book is a guide to 467 sites in and around the capital where The Beatles lived, ate, drank, socialized, recorded, played, were photographed and filmed, and just generally appeared.

When they first arrived in London, The Beatles stayed in hotels; firstly the Royal Court in Sloane Square, and then the President in Russell Square. Then, in the autumn of 1963, they moved into a flat at 57 Green Street, Mayfair. This was the only place (other than the hotels) where the band lived together. The other notable address from this time was 57 Wimpole Street in Marylebone, which was the residence of the Asher family. As everyone knows, Paul McCartney was in a relationship with Jane Asher during this period, which eventually led to an engagement, and he lived in their spare room in the attic.  It was in this room that the melody of what would become ‘Yesterday’ came to him in a dream. Not only that, but Lennon and McCartney also wrote ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ together on Dr Richard Asher’s piano in the basement.

And this in only the beginning. The book takes you to the sites of various photo shoots, to night clubs (some now no longer there) where they went after late night recording sessions, to the iconic Abbey Road Studios (then known simply as EMI Recording Studios) where most of those recordings were done, to other studios they occasionally used (Trident, Regent Sound, and Olympic), to various flats and houses where they lived (including Paul’s house in Cavendish avenue, which he still owns), to where they met future wives, to where they got married, to… well, you get the picture.

Outside of central London there are, amongst others, the locations for their films and short promotional pieces; Knole Park in Kent for the short sequences for ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Penny Lane’, the sequence from ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ at West Malling Air Station near Maidstone (another location which is no longer there) that accompanied ‘I Am The Walrus’. Not to mention the last photo shoot at John Lennon’s Tittenhurst estate in Ascot, Surrey.

Although this is effectively a directory of locations, it is not a dry and merely factual one. It is engagingly written and presented, with a wealth of then and now pictures, and the enthusiasm of its authors for the subject matter is very evident.  The Beatles’ London is a great book for any fan of the band to own. It is an almost mind-bogglingly rich seam of information that, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, can be just as easily enjoyed at home using Google Street View as it can by tramping the streets of London. For those who do live in the capital, or who may want to visit there to do a Beatles tour, every entry has the nearest tube stations to the location in question. I very much look forward to spending some days out in London, accompanied by this book, and visiting sites where The Beatles once stood in those days when London was swinging.

The Beatles’ London by Piet Schreuders, Mark Lewisohn, and Adam Smith (Northampton: Interlink Books, 2009). ISBN 9781566567473, RRP £12.99

John D is the husband of Book Fox Kirsty D. His earliest memory is hearing his parents playing Hello, Goodbye by The Beatles when he was but a toddler. These days he’s a musician and music teacher.

3 comments on “The Beatles’ London

  1. Andrew Leon Hudson
    February 3, 2014

    Very interesting. This is a bit of a sideways link, but may I recommend William Shaw’s debut novel “A Song from Dead Lips” to you and your readers? It is a piece of crime fiction set in London at the height of Beatles mania, describing a murder investigation which takes place at the same time as the recording of The White Album, Lennon’s drugs arrest, etc. The issue of the Liverpool/London divide even raises its head, I think, in passing. Plotting aside, the focus is more on late 60s culture than the city and the view of London and the South which ASfDL presents is maybe more earthy (at times squalid) than I imagine TB’sL does, but interest in this title would be rewarded there as well.

  2. David Boyd
    February 3, 2014

    A privileged classmate at the Regent Street Poly lived with hi family during the lateish 60s in a vast flat on Abbey Road in St John’s Wood, overlooking the EMI recording studios and what has become the most-photographed zebra crossing in the world: visiting his home was always of great interest!

    The Poly Students Union of the day took great pride in the rock band etc gigs they promoted – student in charge of Entertainments was even entitled to an extra year’s Sabbatical. The Beatles I think eluded them, but still vividly recall The Who, in the big basement at Tichfield Street. Their amplifiers were so loud that the sound caused me intolerable physical pain, and I had to retire to the quiet of the deserted lecture rooms above. On another, somewhat less-raucous occasion, Joe Cocker and Spooky Tooth proved infinitely more pleasing.

    Happy Days !

  3. Jackie
    February 3, 2014

    What a cool book this must be and would certainly inspire envy at anyone who could actually visit the locations mentioned. There must’ve been a tremendous amount of research put into this book to find so many places associated with them. I like the idea of then and now pics, though that is probably also dispiriting with some of the places gone.

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