Thursday 9 March 2023

Walking The Beatles' London - October 2022 (part five)

A recap: On Saturday 8 October 2022, I travelled down to ‘That London’[1] with my fellow Beatles historian Steve Bradley [2] to attend Evolver 62, Mark Lewisohn’s one-man show at the Bloomsbury Theatre. 

The show didn’t start until 7.30pm so we agreed in advance that it would be too late to travel home afterwards and decided to make a weekend of it. Armed with The Beatles London[3], the indispensable guide to the 467 Beatles’ sites in the capital, Steve drew up an itinerary and we decided to try and visit as many as we could. 

Of course, we didn't get anywhere near the magic 467, but we managed to see quite a lot of them...

And so, without further ado, here's part five:

Remaining in Soho, we returned to Rupert Street. 

24 Rupert Street, W1

This shop was formerly the premises of Sound City, a guitar shop where (one of) the Beatles came (at least once) to buy instruments.

In the Summer of 1963, George Harrison popped into the shop, attracted by the selection of Gretsch guitars and met the manager Bob Adams. George left with a brand new Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman guitar which he used a few weeks later on the recording session for 'She Loves You.'  

The Rolling Stones were also patrons, Brian Jones purchasing a Harmony Stratotone Mars H46 guitar here in October 1962.

The shop was owned by Ivor Arbiter who had began his career working in a saxophone repair shops around Soho. His father Joe Arbiter was the saxophonist in Harry Roy's big band during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1961 Ivor opened Drum City, which we'll visit shortly, and a year later Sound City, which specialised in guitars and amplifiers. 

Sound City became so popular that by March 1964 Ivor had moved to larger premises just a few doors away from Drum City.  It continued to be frequented by all the big names through the 1960s and beyond.

Sound City in 1963 (photo: Andy Babiuk)

7-14 Coventry Street (at Rupert Street), W1

Carrying on to the end of Rupert Street we paused for a moment on the north west corner at the junction with Coventry Street. What is now the Shrimp and Grill was formerly J Lyons & Co's first corner house restaurant, which opened in 1909 and only closed in 1990.

On the evening of 31 December 1966, George Harrison, Brian Epstein and friends went to Annabel’s nightclub, planning to see in the New Year there. However, even by 1966 being a Beatles wasn't always enough to circumvent a strict dress policy. George was refused entry for not wearing a tie, and knowing his outspoken views on said accessory, he probably didn’t like the one he was offered.

Instead, the party moved on, welcoming 1967 here in less stuffy surroundings.

The black and white photograph above was taken in 1966.

31 Coventry Street (at Oxendon Street), W1

Directly opposite is the Prince of Wales Theatre, built in 1937 to replace a previous theatre on the site. In the 1950s it hosted variety and revues starring performers such as Norman WIsdom, Peter Sellers, Bob Hope, Gracie Fields, Benny Hill, Frankie Howerd and Morecambe and Wise.

It was the venue for the 1963 Royal Variety Show, where in the presence of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, John famously asked the audience for assistance: ‘For our last number, I’d like to ask your help. Will the people in the cheaper seats clay your hands? And the rest of you, if you just rattle your jewellery.’ 

Two shots of the Beatles' arrival at the Prince of Wales Theatre on 4 November 1963, taken from the theatre doorway. Note J Lyon's Corner House in the first photo. 

Less celebrated - except perhaps by those who were there - is their return on 31 May 1964, performing as part of a series of ‘Pops Alive!’ concerts promoted by Brian Epstein. Ringo was back again on 27 September 1964 as part of the judging panel for the Oxfam Beat Group Contest.

39 Coventry Street, W1

Adjacent to the theatre is the Thistle Hotel, formerly known as the Mapleton Hotel, seen on the left of this photo. 

Following their Royal Variety performance on 4 November 1963, the Beatles were able to walk, unmolested via a ‘fan proof corridor’, directly from the theatre to the hotel where they retired to the bar. 

After a short walk along Coventry Street, passing the Hard Rock Café (our tight schedule meant we had to bypass it) and we were in Piccadilly Circus, finding ourselves slap bang in the middle of a sit-down protest by environmentalists from Just Stop Oil, vegans and animal rights activists from the Animal Rebellion calling for a Plant-based Future. The demonstrators appeared to be outnumbered by the tourists and curious on-lookers taking photographs of them, which I guess means their message had found an audience. It all seemed pretty peaceful despite being mad busy.

Looking towards Piccadilly Circus.  The statue of Anteros (popularly mistaken for Eros) atop the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain will be familiar to many Liverpudlians who have visited Sefton Park and seen the replica at its centre, next to the café.  

3 Piccadilly, W1

Now the home of Body Worlds, the award winning exhibition of Human bodies [4] this was formerly the London Pavilion, a major West End cinema which hosted the world premieres of the Beatles’ films A Hard Day’s Night (6 July 1964), Help! (29 July 1965), Yellow Submarine (17 July 1968, the last time all four Beatles attended a public event) and Let It Be (20 May 1970).  Of course, each premiere drew crowds of fans in their thousands.  This was also the venue for the premiere of John Lennon’s solo role in the film How I Won the War, attended by all four Beatles and their partners on 18 October 1967.

The Beatles with Maureen Starkey and Cynthia Lennon at the Help! premiere.

12 Regent Street, W1

In the basement of Rex House was the former BBC’s Paris Studios.  The Beatles recorded 12 sessions for BBC radio here between November 1962 and July 1964.

On 4 April 1963, the Beatles were accompanied by photographer Dezo Hoffmann[5] who snapped them walking down Regent Street pretending to arrive at the studio. The resulting image, later used for the front cover of the 1994 album ‘Live at The BBC’ was actually taken after the session.  Also present was Kevin Neill, a member of the Karl Denver Trio, who shot some silent 8mm colour film of the Beatles clowning about on the pavement. This footage was later used in the promotional film for the Beatles’ BBC recording of Baby It’s You, released as a single in 1995.

114 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1

This was the former premises of Drum City – a whole shop just for drums! – opened in October 1961 by Joe Arbiter, ex-saxist for the Harry Roy dance band.  In April 1963, Ringo came here to choose his Ludwig drum kit, the brand he would most closely be associated with throughout the Beatles’ tour years. He took delivery of the set on 12 May 1963 during a TV recording for ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ at the Alpha Television Studios in Birmingham. Drum City supplied all except one of Ringo's Ludwig kits, and all 7 drum heads affixed to them were supplied and painted with the band's name here.

114 Shaftesbury Avenue (formerly Drum City) (left) with the former New Record Mirror Offices next door.

116 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1

Situated above Drum City was the editorial office of the New Record Mirror. On Tuesday 9 October 1962, the Beatles spent the second of a two-day trip to the capital visiting the offices of the music papers, courting music journalists in the hope they would write something favourable about them and their just released debut single ‘Love Me Do.’  Lewisohn writes that they were met with a ‘sneering negativity they’d not forget.’[6]    John Lennon, who happened to be ‘celebrating’ his 22nd birthday later recalled how the Southerners ‘looked down upon us as animals’, while Paul would remember ‘We were told ‘you’ll never do it from Liverpool, you’ll have to move down to London’. We stayed in Liverpool quite a long time to defeat that rule.’ 

In both editions of The Beatles London book it says that this was one of the offices they visited that day. However, in the more recently published Tune In, Lewisohn writes that as no article appeared in the New Record Mirror (or Melody Maker or Disc) they may have been turned away.  On 16 November, Paul and Brian paid the office a second visit, meeting with 18-year-old Norman Jopling, then the youngest writer on the music press. Suitably charmed, Jopling’s subsequent article appeared in the 24 November 1962 issue.       

51 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1

Staying in the West End, we next paused at the Sondheim Theatre (formerly the Queen's Theatre) on the corner of Wardour Street. It opened as the Queen's Theatre on 8 October 1907, as a twin to the neighbouring Hicks Theatre (now the Gielgud Theatre, see photo below) which had opened ten months earlier. Both theatres were designed by W. G. R. Sprague. The theatre was Grade II listed by English Heritage in June 1972. 

In 2019 the theatre's name was changed to the Sondheim Theatre (after Stephen Sondheim) following a 20 week refurbishment. The theatre reopened on 18 December 2019.

In 1968 the Beatles launched Apple Records and invited Stan Gortikov, the president of their US record company Capitol records, to come over for the opening. On the evening of 10 August, after a day in which Gortikov had been suitably wined and dined at all the best places, John and Yoko brought him here to watch Halfway Up The Tree, a play written by Peter Ustinov, in which a frantic father comes to understand what the younger generation is trying to say. [7]   

39 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1

Sandwiched between the Sondheim and Gielgud theatres is the Marcellaio Ristorante (next to the white taxi on the above photo). In 1963 this was the premises of Cecil Gee, a menswear store catering for the ‘professional artist and musician’, where Dezo Hoffmann photographed the Beatles on 4 April, shortly after their session at the BBC Paris Studio (see earlier in this blog).

135-149 Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2

Continuing along Shafesbury Avenue across Charing Cross Road, we came to the impressive Odeon Cinema, notable for its 129 foot freize showing drama through the ages by Gilbert Bayes.  Interesting enough, but for Beatles fans this is also noteworthy because it was the former Saville Theatre, opened in 1931.

On 1 April 1965, the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein took over the lease of the venue so he could live out his showbiz aspirations in full.  Under Brian’s control the theatre enjoyed a number of years of success staging plays, ballet, opera and Sunday night rock concerts, the latter including performances by the Who, Chuck Berry, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Procol Harum, Denny Laine and his String Band, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, The Chiffons, Traffic, Cream, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and others, often with the Beatles in attendance, watching from the Royal Box. 

The Who at the Savile Theatre, 1967

On 29 January 1967 all four Fabs, accompanied by Cynthia and Mal Evans were photographed watching Hendrix open for the Who.

Anyone who has seen Paul McCartney in concert over the last 25 or so years -  and many of you who haven’t - will have heard the story of him going to watch Hendrix at the Saville one evening and being blown away when he opened his set with ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band’ which had only been released a few days earlier:

Jimi was a sweetie, a very nice guy. I remember him opening at the Saville on a Sunday night, 4 June 1967… the curtains flew back and he came walking forward, playing 'Sgt. Pepper', and it had only been released on the Thursday so that was like the ultimate compliment. It's still obviously a shining memory for me because I admired him so much anyway, he was so accomplished. To think that that album had meant so much to him as to actually do it by the Sunday night, three days after the release. He must have been so into it, because normally it might take a day for rehearsal and then you might wonder whether you'd put it in, but he just opened with it. It's a pretty major compliment in anyone's book. I put that down as one of the great honours of my career. I mean, I'm sure he wouldn't have thought of it as an honour, I'm sure he thought it was the other way round, but to me that was like a great boost. (Paul McCartney, ‘Many Years from Now’)

According to one eyewitness, the late, great, Lizzie Bravo, who saw the show, Paul McCartney, Jane Asher (both seen above), George Harrison, Pattie Boyd and Cynthia Lennon were at the concert. (photo above from the collection of Sara Schmidt)

Although the Beatles never performed there, they did use the Epstein connection to their advantage, rehearsing for the ‘Blackpool Night Live’ television show on 30 July 1965, hosting a press conference in the Stalls bar on 26 0ctober 1965 after being presented with the MBE at Buckingham Palace, and finally on 10 November 1967, eleven weeks after Brian’s death they used the stage to film promotional videos for their ‘Hello Goodbye’ single.

The Saville was converted into a cinema in 1970.

We crossed Shaftesbury Avenue and turned right into Mercer Street, turning left at the historic Seven Dials into Monmouth Street, and stopped at the far end on the right-hand side.

13 Monmouth Street, WC2

This was the first London office of both Nems and the Official Beatles fan club following the move down from Liverpool in the summer of 1963, and the group visited fairly often during that first year.  Offices were maintained on the first and second floors until 4 November 1966. Tony Barrow ran the press office from here.

The girls are: Kathy Belcher (17). Rosanna Scivetter (16). Anne Collingham (18). Bettina Rose (20). Monica Stringer (21). Nita Keeble (18). (Photo by Daily Herald/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images, April 1964)

9-11 Monmouth Street, WC2

Now two separate cafes, the basement of 9-11 was formerly the Nucleus Coffee House, a meeting place in the late 1950s for jazz musicians, artists and beatniks. 

At night it operated as a members-only coffee club until 5am where inevitably, various substances could be imbibed.  As it was next-door to Nems, the Beatles occasionally popped in and on one such visit in 1963 they were offered the amphetamine known as ‘speed’, which they’d first become acquainted with in Hamburg in 1961.   

A certain amount of hurry up was now involved. The light was starting to fade and we hadn’t eaten all day, but we were determined to tick off as many locations as we could before we had to be at the Bloomsbury Theatre and so, returning to Shaftesbury Avenue and crossing back over Charing Cross road, we turned right into Greek Street. 

6 Greek Street (at Manette Street), W1

This Grade II listed building was once the Budapest Restaurant.  Photographer Dezo Hoffmann brought the Beatles here to sample the Hungarian menu following a photo session on 20 June 1963.[8] 

I sort of messed up with my photo on this one, Number 6 is actually on the left (just!).

18 Greek Street, W1

This was formerly the Establishment Club, Soho’s hip satirical venue opened by Peter Cook in October 1961. 

When Paul visited in 1964 he met his future Help! co-star, the actress Eleanor Bron for the first time.  A year earlier he befriended Sandra Cohen, sister of Alma Cogan with whom the Beatles and Brian Epstein would enjoy a warm friendship until her premature death in 1966. 

Earlier still on 23/24 October 1962, Paul and his then girlfriend Celia Mortimer decided to hitch-hike to London to visit Ivan Vaughan, his Liverpool Institute schoolfriend who had introduced him to John Lennon in 1957.  ‘Ivy’ had moved to London and was working as a doorman at, you’ve guessed it, the Establishment Club.  Not arriving in Soho until after midnight, they missed the cabaret (which included Eleanor Bron) but danced and drank into the night, retiring to Ivan’s flat where they slept on the floor. 


At the end of Greek Street we came to a well-known location I hadn't visited since 1989.


1 Soho Square, W1D

This elegant 18th century building  is the headquarters of MPL Communications (which stands for McCartney Productions Ltd.) the umbrella company for the business interests of Paul McCartney.

In addition to handling all of Paul's post-Beatles work, MPL is also one of the world's largest privately owned music publishers through its acquisition of other publishing companies. 

In 1978 Paul built an exact replica of EMI's No. 2 studio in the basement when the real thing wasn't available. Nicknamed 'Replica Studios" it was used during the sessions for the 'Back to the Egg' album, and then mothballed.

Obviously the building is off limits to the public but as this is Paul's central London office, its probably still the place where you are most likely to have a random encounter with him in the capital. 

As a result, 1 Soho Square continues to attract fans and organised London Beatle walks on a daily basis.  Given the number of on-line photos of Paul taken around Soho Square it appears he can highly accessible when the mood takes him.

Although we didn’t see Paul, I was pleased to spot this in the second floor window. If it looks familiar, it's Linda McCartney's chryselephantine statuete created by the famous art deco sculptor Demetre Chiparus, which appeared on the front cover of the Wings Greatest album in 1978.  What? You thought it would be bigger?

Incidentally, I spotted a framed print of this photograph behind Paul during some of his on-line 'rockdown' interviews to promote McCartney III conducted in his office at MPL (seen bottom right on the above picture). Being of a  curious disposition, I determined to track it down and discover why it might hold some significance for him. My immediate thought/hope was that it might be an unseen photo of the Quarry Men in Liverpool somewhere.

It was taken on Saturday, 14 July, 1956 during the Soho Fair, a week long carnival, that took place in the enclave around Old Compton Street, Wardour Street and Carnaby Street. Three young men calling themselves the Vipers performed outside the 2i's Coffee bar drawing a crowd sufficient for the proprietor to ask them if they wanted a regular booking performing in his cellar, thus kickstarting the UK skiffle boom which inspired John Lennon to form the Quarry Men.

I thought that was probably significant enough for Paul to want to display a copy of the print, but more so when I realised it was taken in Soho Square, yards from his front door!

The same spot today (Google Street View)

It was 17:30 and we’d not eaten all day. It was time to take a break, so we called into the All Bar One wine bar on New Oxford Street for a rest and a recap on the day so far. The food and wine was excellent and our table was next to a couple of plugs which was a godsend as neither Steve nor I had much battery left on our phones and there was still much to do. We only had two hours left before Lewisohn's show started and hoped to be able to squeeze in a few more locations on our way there.   

Fab Fish, skin on fries and mushy peas. 

Suitably refreshed, we set off again, along Bloomsbury Way past Bloomsbury Square Garden and then turned left into Southampton Row.  It was nearly dusk and the light was really starting to go now.

100 Southampton Row, WC1

The top floor flat of Ormonde Mansions was once the home of Barry Miles,  a key figure in the 1960s counter-culture in the UK, editor of the International Times underground newspaper, friend of Paul McCartney and his (much) later co-author on the book Many Years From Now. 

Paul, Miles and Luciano Berio at the 'Italian Institute', 24 February 1966.  

102 Southampton Row, WC1

Next door to Miles's flat was the offices of the International Times newspaper, or IT as it was known. It was occasionally visited by John, Paul and George who all gave financial assistance and 'decidedly non-pop music interviews', Paul even helping to decorate the office.    

Russell Square Gardens, WC1

Continuing along Southampton Row, we paused for a moment at Russell Square, the largest in central London.  Dezo Hoffmann photographed the Beatles here on 2 July 1963 and the pictures are well known.

We didn't stop long because all the fountains, hexagonal flower pots and deckchairs featured in Hoffmann's images were cleared in 2000, preventing me from staging any then and now shots for the purposes of this blog and my own amusement. Thankfully the next well-known location was unchanged.    

Guilford Street, WC1

The Hotel President was the Beatles' main home away from Liverpool during the spring/summer of 1963. 

Just prior to taking the photographs in Russell Square, Hoffmann took a single image of the Beatles walking there from the hotel. Described in the Beatles London book as one of the best and liveliest pictures of the group, it was the inspiration for the statues on Liverpool's waterfront unveiled in 2015.  The photo has appeared in countless books and magazines over the years, most notably  on the front cover of the album 'On Air - Live At The BBC Vol. 2'.  

Woburn Place, WC1

The Royal Hotel (now the Royal National)

On New Years Eve, 31 December 1961, the Beatles,  John, Paul, George and Pete Best stayed here ahead of their early morning audition at Decca Records, briefly venturing out to join in the revelry in Trafalgar Square.  

Neil Aspinall and Pete Best shared room 1057 at the Royal Hotel.

And so, with the final moments of daylight fading, we cut across Tavistock Square to Gordon Street where we found the Bloomsbury Theatre and headed for the bar ahead of Mr. Lewisohn's show.

Coming soon(ish): Part Six where we finally get to see Mark Lewishon's Evolver 62 show.


[1] As we Northerners habitually refer to the Capital. It's a phrase from a 1990s comedy sketch show by Harry Enfield. One group of characters were called “The Scousers" and were a mashup of Liverpool stereotypes, and while their main catchphrase was “ay, ay, calm down" (sigh) there was a one-off sketch where they took a trip to London and constantly used the phrase “going down to that London". For some reason the phrase stuck.

[3] By Mark Lewisohn, Piet Schreuders and Adam Smith (2008 edition)

[4] Dead ones, obviously.

[5] See Walking The Beatles’ London Part Four.

[6] ‘Tune In’, Mark Lewisohn (6-31 October 1962)  

[7] Sunday Mirror, 21 January 1968.

[8] At the time of writing The Beatles London, the date was only given as "late June".  The book 'The Beatles 1963: A Year in the Life', by Dafydd Rees (2022) gives the precise date.   

No comments:

Post a Comment