By Harry Bedford, Music Editor
The Beatles are without doubt the greatest pop band ever to have existed. They almost single- handedly invented popular music as we know it today, and it wasn’t just their music that was so phenomenal, their story is unimaginable. Four working class boys from Liverpool who became icons of one of the most iconic periods in recent history. While everyone else was riding the revolutionary wave of the 1960s, The Beatles were directing it.
Although the lads were from Liverpool, London was the epicenter of their journey. That’s where they lived, wrote, recorded and hung out. So fifty years on from their monumental rise, how does London remember them? I took my friend on a tour of the major locations of The Beatles in London, starting out at Abbey Road and finishing the day at the Garrick Theatre for the musical Let It Be.
The two of us started the day by taking the Jubilee Line up to St John’s Wood, the wealthy suburb that is home to the world’s most famous zebra crossing. On approaching Abbey Road, we were greeted by a crowd of tourists risking their lives in pursuit of recreating the album cover to their 1969 masterpiece Abbey Road. The studio itself, just to the side of the crossing, is very much active today and the general public are forbidden from entering the gates. Nevertheless graffitiing the wall outside is very much encouraged and hundreds of personal messages to the fab four can be seen. My friend wrote her message, I took many pictures and we continued our tour back into central London.
Walking down towards the centre of London, we came across Marylebone Rail Station. The elegantly designed exterior is recognisable to Beatles’ fans because it features in their 1964 Beatlemania-era film A Hard Day’s Night in a scene where crowds of screaming fans wait for them. And just around the corner at the top of Baker Street is The Beatles Store, a souvenir hunter’s dream, jam-packed with everything you could possible think of relating the band. Further down Baker Street stands the Apple Boutique, The Beatles own shop in the 1960s, although it is now a bathroom store with no sign of the former boutique.
Just off Piccadilly Circus on the stylish Savile Row stands the building that once housed Apple Records, The Beatles’ record label and the site of the infamous roof top concert in 1969. It’s difficult to imagine the world’s most famous band performing on top of the high terrace building today, but 45 years ago they were up there pounding the rhythms of Get Back.
We finally ended up at The Garrick Theatre, just off Leicester Square, for the musical Let It Be. From the moment we entered the old-style auditorium the atmosphere hit you with Beatles records playing over the PA system and the excitement from the crowd. At around half past seven the lights went down and the announcer declared that the taking of photographs, singing and dancing were strictly encouraged. The excitement grew and the band appeared in front of a backdrop of the Cavern, the small underground cave where The Beatles made their name. 1,2,3,4 was the cry before I Saw Her Standing There and the dark lighting made it easy to mistake this tribute band for the real deal. The excitement continued as the band recreated famous performances from the 1963 Royal Variety Performance to the epic Shea Stadium sell-out, accurately performing countless classics as they did.
To make it to the West End stage the band were obviously well practised, but they seemed to go further and replicated very minor mannerism such as the slight band in Lennon’s legs as he faced the crowd and Harrison’s subtle shyness in the earlier performances. The drummer had Ringo’s head shake perfect and the only thing separating Paul McCartney from the man himself was the right- handed bass guitar, when any fan would tell you that Macca’s a leftie.
There was no real story to go along with the performance, and that was the right decision. We have all heard countless Beatles stories over the years and heard hit after hit on the radio. But the one thing we have been starved of is a live performance. If you don’t include the 1969 rooftop concert then it was 1966 that The Beatles last performed live. This show gives the audience exactly what it wants, a chance to dance and sing along to live performances of Beatles songs, feel the excitement, feel the adrenaline, lose yourself in music. The only break from the music came in the form of vintage advertisements played on the large screens during the costume change. This amusing look back at sixties lifestyle made a great respite and helped to set the scene. In addition to the advertisements, the screens were used to show the performers as if they were being filmed for television, which both added to the atmosphere and gave those in the cheaper seats a better view as they clapped their hands. We in the stalls just rattled our jewellery.
Highlights of the show included I Wanna Hold Your Hand, We Can Work It Out and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, performed in the full Sgt Pepper costumes.
Despite the Abbey Road excitement and the brilliance of Let It Be, I was left feeling that there was something missing from the day. You could ask almost anyone in London and they would be able to sing you at least one Beatles chorus and no one can deny their cultural significance on the city, but there is sadly no tribute within the capital that measures up The Beatle’s impact. When you go to Liverpool, there are museums, hotels, tours, bars all celebrating their legacy and giving adorning fans the experiences they crave. But London has nothing, except a cafe outside the St John’s Wood station, which is little more than an afterthought. I believe that London is crying out for a huge Beatles tribute to match up to their greatness.
Nevertheless, Let It Be is an excellent idea and a splendid time is guaranteed for all. Abbey Road doesn’t disappoint either, but if you really want to enjoy The Beatles in London, you had better do your research first.