Rock 'N Roll Case Study: A Beatles-fanatic's pilgrimage to England in 1981
A Beatles-Punk Visits 'Mecca'
A Beatles-fanatic's pilgrimage to England in 1981
With the current Beatles media blitz of "it was 40 years ago today", I thought I would hop on the Beatles-wagon. Instead of a "how the Beatles influenced me" type article, I decided to write about my Beatle 'pilgrimage' to England in 1981. I ventured into the attic, finally finding what I was looking for: my journal from my trip to England and the photos from my trip. I also found some things I had forgotten about, including a brochure from the Cavern Mecca and a pre-trip letter from Liz and Jan, who ran the place.
A little disclaimer: the photos are sometimes amateurish as I had yet to take any kind of photo-composition class. And while my journal was interesting, it was never intended to be 'turned in' for a grade - it was simply notes for myself about my trip. Original journal entries are highlighted - the rest are comments that I added afterwards.
PREPARING FOR THE TRIP
Right: That "fucking Beatle freak" (as Allan Williams jokingly called me) in the summer of 1981
During the summer of my junior year in high school in 1981, I had the opportunity to travel to England for three weeks to 'audit' a college course (English 3327-World Drama before 1880) offered by the local college. Here is the course description:
"You will decide on, plan, and write about your play going and sightseeing. You will write about seeing 10 to 15 plays or "15 other culturally broadening experiences." This report will be both term paper and final. This meant that I had to attend a certain number of plays/theatrical productions during my visit. But, since I was 'auditing' the course, I didn't have to keep a journal like the regular students.
However, I DID keep a journal of my trip to England. Sure, I could have gone into a lot more detail, but hell, I was 17 years old in a foreign country -- the land of the Beatles! At the time I didn't want to 'waste' my trip writing. I also took along my brand new compact 110-instamatic camera, which were all the rage at the time. (I used 400 ASA film; the pictures were a little better than regular instamatic shots.)
In 1981, I was just a second generation Beatles fan who gobbled up what information I could find. Remember, this was before the Internet; before videotape recorders; pretty much before the onslaught of Beatles books that eventually emerged. Beatlefests had started, but they were a long way from central Texas! My lifelines to the Beatles (and rock 'n roll in general) consisted of CREEM, CIRCUS and ROLLING STONE magazines. Also, THE BEATLES' ENGLAND book was published a year after my trip - so I really had to dig to find the locations and addresses of Beatle sites.
Right: A flyer for the CAVERN MECCA
On the Beatles front, I had subscribed to the 'fanzine' called THE WRITE THING, which supplied me with my Beatles lifeline. Beatles fanzines were printed on legal-size paper, with a heavy stock cover and a single staple - folded in half and mailed. Each issue was full of Beatles news, photos, fan reminiscences and all sorts of Beatles-related stories. Sure, there were other Beatles fanzines (some of which I subscribed to for brief periods), but I thought THE WRITE THING reigned supreme. [Note: these 8 ½” x 14" fanzines eventually turned into the 'slicker' Beatles fanzines of the '80s such as GOOD DAY SUNSHINE and BEATLEFAN. BEATLEFAN survives today as one of the primo Beatles fanzines on the market!]
One issue of the WRITE THING especially caught my attention - a fan’s story of his tour of Liverpool with Allan Williams. Those familiar with Beatles lore recognize Allan as the first "manager" of the Beatles. The story described the tour and, most importantly, listed Allan's phone numbers in Liverpool! Private tours given by Allan were £10. For some reason, I decided to wait until I was actually in England to call Allan and set up a tour. Also in Liverpool was the CAVERN MECCA Beatles Museum and Information Centre. I wrote to Cavern Mecca and told them of my upcoming trip to England. They mailed back a flyer, which mentioned that fan tours were available.
In the months leading up to my trip, I scanned any British travel book I could find, until I had amassed a list of sites and addresses that I wanted to see. These not only included Beatle sites, but the standard tourist haunts such as: Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, The Tower of London, Stonehenge, etc. My Beatles-related list included: Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, Abbey Road/EMI Studios, Paul's London home on Cavendish Ave., George Harrison's Friar Park Mansion at Henley-on Thames, the Magical Mystery Store, the Cavern Mecca on Mathew St. in Liverpool, Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. I figured that since I was going to take a tour, I didn't have to research too much on the actual addresses. In case I had time, I also listed a few other rock 'n roll related sites: Brian Jones's gravesite at the Cheltenham Cemetery, Jim Morrison's gravesite at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
We flew out of San Antonio on July 5th at 3:55pm. After a stopover in Dallas, we continued on to London, arriving at Gatwick at 9:15am on July 6th. After a train ride to London, we took a taxi to our home for the next three weeks - the Nutford House (University of London) Brown Street, London W1H 6AH.
Monday July 6
Once at the Nutford House we checked into our rooms. The Nutford House has 5 stories, and you guessed it, we're on the 5th. My room has a single bed, a dresser, a desk, a chair and a lockable closet. Out the window you can see the Holiday Inn across the street. If you want to use a hair dryer you have to put money in a machine for electricity. It lasts a long time though. I'm lucky, the bathroom is across the hall. There are two separate sinks and the bathtub and toilet are in two separate rooms. The washing machines are in the basement, which means five flights of stairs. Breakfast is served in another part of the basement. The lift (you couldn't possibly call it an 'elevator') only carries four people and that's without suitcases. It also won't stop between floors.
Non-Beatles events from July 6th to July 8th included:
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre seeing "Androcles and the Lion", the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and seeing "Annie". We also got tickets to see Def Leppard at the Hammersmith Odeon on the 25th.
Right: Abbey Road/EMI Studios - 3 Abbey Road
Thursday, July 9th
The first thing we did today was to take the underground to St. John's Wood to see Abbey Road, the site of the cover of the famous Beatles' album. Just about 40 feet from the site is EMI Recording Studios at 3 Abbey Road. This is where the Beatles recorded many of their records.
Right: Abbey Road Crosswalk - Intersection of Abbey Road and Grove End Road
We then took the underground to Baker Street where we went to Madame Tussaud's wax museum. In a way it was kind of a rip-off because it was too crowded, especially in the 'Chamber of Horrors'. The highlight for me was seeing Ronald Reagan & the Beatles in wax. But somebody had stolen John Lennon's glasses.
Non-Beatles events from July 9th to July 12th included:
We walked through Regent's Park to the London Zoo. Lots of Rain. We stopped at a MacDonald's and purchased a take-out meal, the least expensive meal so far. MacDonald's would become my restaurant of choice in England, since we had been burned so many times by 'hidden' charges and taxes on our meals. But, once I returned to the U.S. it was about 2 years before I could eat at a MacDonald's again!
Also visited: the Museum of Natural Science, Harrods's Department Store, Hampton Court, the London Dungeon, Southwark Cathedral, the Wellington Museum, Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park. I met up with Eric Scheie, one of my high school friends, who had just arrived in London with his family. They were returning from a year-long trip to Norway. Eric was in London for 3 days and we decided to see some sights together.
Right: Ronnie & Eric crossing Abbey Road
Monday July 13th
I met Eric at Victoria Station. It wasn't easy finding him because Victoria must be the most crowded of all the subway stations. Then we all went to Abbey Road. After trying to find Paul McCartney's house, with no success, we took some pictures of us walking across the crosswalk like on the album cover. This was not easy because the traffic was busy (around noon).
Right: Ronnie & Eric crossing Abbey Road
Then a bearded Englishman came up and said "Is this the one on the album cover?" We told him yes. He also asked where the recording studio was. I asked him if he would take a picture of us walking across. He said sure. As it was near lunchtime, we went back to the underground. Just as we entered the station I saw a map with Cavendish Avenue on it. That's the street that McCartney lives on. I guess I'll come back another day.
Non-Beatles events from July 13th to July 17th included:
The British Museum (where we saw Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta Stone, the Magna Carta and a document written by Shakespeare), a mystery play called "House Guest", the Royal Hospital at Chelsea, shopping for gifts on Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, the musical called "They're Playing Our Song," the comedy called "No Sex Please, We're British", the Laserium (a laser-rock show at the London Planetarium) and St. Paul's Cathedral, where Prince Charles and Lady Diana will be married soon.
Right: McCartney's London home - 7 Cavendish
Friday July 17th
In the afternoon I headed out, by myself, to St. John's Wood to find Paul McCartney's home on Cavendish Ave. Although it was not on my map, there was a map in the subway station, which showed the street. As I walked down the street I couldn't find it. As I walked back, on the other side, I saw a high gate & wall with graffiti on it. Everywhere it said "Beatles", "I Love Paul" and "Happy Birthday". It had the names of fans and their home state or country. To see the house you have to pull yourself up the wall to look over. It was about 2:30 when I got there and I looked around for about 45 minutes. During this time, 2 guys pulled up in a car, one got out and looked through the crack in the gate. He looked over the wall, and mumbled "I guess he's not home then." I didn't recognize him, so I guess he wasn't famous, he looked as if he hadn't shaved in a week. He was kind of short with black hair. He got back in the car and drove off. I'm not surprised that Paul wasn't home, I think he goes to Scotland during the summer. It started raining so I came back to the Nutford.
I also remember searching around the neighborhood for Paul's home. At one point I approached a typical distinguished older British gentleman to ask him where Cavendish Avenue was. He responded in a very snooty voice, "Cavendish Avenue? I've lived here for 25 years and haven't heard of such a place!"
Non-Beatles events on July 17th included:
Seeing the play, "Overheard" - a comedy set at the British Embassy.
We had purchased Brit-Rail passes to use one week out of the three that we were in England. My friend Artie (a fellow high school classmate who also came along on the trip and audited the course) and I decided to first take the train to Liverpool and see the Beatle sights. Incidentally, this was actually the first of two trips I ended up taking to Liverpool.
Right: The "Cavern" club
Saturday July 18th
Artie and I used our Rail passes to go to Liverpool. After a 2 hour, 45 minute trip, we finally arrived at the Lime Street Station. We took a cab to Mathew St and saw the sign "Cavern" and the parking lot where it used to be. It was the club in Liverpool that the Beatles played at. Further on down the street was the Cavern Mecca. It had a "museum" with only two showcases. There was a giant statue of the Beatles and a replica of the Cavern stage. I bought a few things and joined as a member. We were disappointed that they had no tours as advertised. We decided that, since we had to leave within an hour to make it back to see the play, that we would come back later in the week and take Allan William's tour. After luckily finding a taxi we headed back to the train station.
My first trip to Liverpool was a real bummer! Not only were there no 'tours' at Cavern Mecca, but also we were driven around in circles by the cab driver. I did buy a Cavern Mecca shirt and a thin, black 'Beatles' tie (thin ties were all the rage at this time!). And for some reason I recall hearing "Here, There, and Everywhere" at the Cavern Mecca - so every time I hear that song now, I think of CM.
Non-Beatles events that evening included:
Seeing the play "Amadeus" about Mozart.
TRAVELS AROUND ENGLAND
Sunday July 19:
Monday July 20th:
Canterbury and the Canterbury Cathedral.
Tues July 21st:
We started out intending to see Stonehenge, but ended up seeing Avebury. Back in London in the evening, I went to the Laserium Laser concert again (they had many different shows).
Wednesday July 22nd:
Windsor Castle today.
Back in London in the evening we saw the play "Educating Rita".
Thurs July 23rd:
Visited York, York Minster, and the York Castle Museum. Back in London in the evening we went to the laser concert again.
I decided to try and make another trip to Liverpool on Friday. This time I would call Allan Williams and get his tour. Artie declined this time - he probably thought it was a waste of time after our last trip to Liverpool.
Friday July 24th
Boy what a fantastic day in Liverpool. But before I left I called Allan Williams to see if I could arrange a tour. Every few seconds I would have to drop money in the meter. He said he would meet me at Line Street Station at 12:30.
I remember being surprised by Allan's voice, it was rather high pitched. My trip almost didn't happen as Allan said he didn't know if he could do it today, could I come instead on Saturday? I told him that this was the last day of my BritRail pass. He must have taken pity on me, and he agreed to give me a tour.
Right: Liverpool Art Institute & Liverpool Institute - Hope Street/Mount Street
The train arrived in Liverpool at 12:35. I waited, but no sign of Allan (even though I didn't know what he looked like). At 12:45 a lady came up and said, "Are you supposed to meet Allan Williams?" When I said yes, she introduced herself as Allan's wife Beryl. We went and sat in their car to wait for Allan. In the car I signed the "guest" list and she asked me all kinds of questions.
Then Allan showed up. He was kind of short with wavy grey hair. The introductions began and we headed for our first destination, the Jac and the Blue Angel clubs where the Beatles had played. Both clubs now have different names. Both seemed small. Allan said the Rolling Stones had also been there. Next we saw John's art school and Paul & George's school which were surprisingly connected. He said Paul & George used to wear long coats to hide their uniform and sneak into John's art school where they practiced. Next we saw John and Cynthia's first apartment, the one Brian lent them. We also saw another one of John's hangouts near the Cathedral.
Then we headed for the pub on Ringo's "Sentimental Journey" album. After a picture we went inside to have a beer. Allan's wife and young daughter Leia came in too. Leia was about 9 or 10. I asked him when was the last time he had talked to one of the Beatles. He said after the McCartney drug bust in Japan. I had on a Liverpool Beatle shirt & Allan asked me where I got it. I told him about my last trip to Liverpool. Next to the pub was an alley where Ringo's childhood home was. Down the street some ways was the home in which he was born. Allan said the first house had no hot water & no bathtub. The toilet was also outside. When we were at the house where Ringo was born Allan was talking to a milkman who had just pulled up. The milkman happened to be an old friend of Ringo's and he owned a rare film of the Beatles that Ringo had given him. Allan offered to buy it but he said he wanted to hang onto it.
Above left: The cover of Ringo's "Sentimental Journey" album - Empress Pub - High Park Street (you can see Allan and his daughter in front of the pub).
Above center: Ringo's childhood home - 10 Admiral Grove.
Above right: Ringo's birthplace - 9 Madryn Street
The next stop was George's home, where he was born. At Paul's house, Allan told me how the girls camped out there to see Paul & how he avoided them. He would call the house next door, they would let them in his home through the back way. Then Jim would let one of the girls into the McCartney home to see that he wasn't there. Once gone, he would enter. Around the corner from Paul's home was John's childhood home, the nicest of them all. We also saw a house where John lived for a short time with Julia. The owners are now trying to sell the house saying its where John stayed until he was famous, which was untrue. Outside John's childhood home was a lady from New Jersey and a local giving directions.
I remember her asking Allan, "oh, you're the man who gave the Beatles away, how sad. How does it feel to have passed up all those millions?" Allan replied, "Well, I glad to have my health."
Allan showed me where John's mom was killed just shortly down the street. The road is divided by a green bank. Allan said she had already crossed the street and was hit on the grass bank by a drunk,
Above left: George's birthplace - 12 Arnold Grove
Above center: Paul's childhood home - 20 Forthlin
Above right: John's childhood home - 251 Menlove
Next stop was Penny Lane, which is really an intersection and a bus stop. I saw the barber shop (not the original, but it had a Penny Lane sign). Allan said the Station was where the Beatles used to make out. He also told me the dirty lyrics hidden in the song.
Allan went into detail about the true meaning of "fish and finger pie"…
We also saw the bank. Down the street was where some of the filming was done for the Beatle movie.
The Dick Clark "Birth of the Beatles" TV film which used Pete Best as ‘technical advisor’.
But Allan said it wasn't realistic filming it there because the club was much smaller. Farther down the street, not even on Penny Lane is the fire station mentioned in the song.
Above left: Penny Lane - barber shop.
Above right: Penny Lane - bank
Strawberry Fields was the next stop. There is a red gate with a sign on both sides. Allan said the Strawberry Fields John knew no longer existed because buildings were put up there. He explained they used to have sort of a carnival - special day there, which John loved. Next we visited the church where John & Paul first met. There is an ironic statue there, which says PEACE. Allan says that is a fitting memorial. We got to go inside & see the stage where they once played. There were school children there at the time because someone had thrown a petrol bomb in their school. Allan asked what time I left & I said it really didn't matter. He said he was going to London that night & if I didn't mind waiting would ride back with me. He is in the antique business (owns a shop in London) and goes there every Friday. He also had a party to go to which had £300 worth of champagne. He explained he was trying to cut down on drinking lately.
Above left: Quarry Bank Grammar - Harthill Road.
Above center: Me at Strawberry Fields
Above right: Statue at St. Peter's Church - Church Road, Woolton. John & Paul met at this church.
[There is a quickly done sketch of the painting in my journal.]
We drove through the tunnel under the Mersey to a shop where he had to pick up a mirror. He also got change for me so I could pay him. The tour was £16. We dropped by the Cavern quickly so I could get a picture. He said the original Cavern is probably still underground because the air shaft missed it by 20 feet. He said they only filled up the entrance. He said nothing of the Cavern Mecca although he did ask what price I paid for the things I had bought there.
We then went to Allan's home so he could pack. In the living room I just noticed a silver record in a frame with a purple background. It was for the Hamburg Tapes. He said it was a rip-off. He was to get one third of the profits but some guy left England with all the money. He said it sold quite well in England. Allan also pointed out a painting by Stu Sutcliffe the 5th Beatle. It was of a nude girl with short blond hair.
She was sitting down looking out a window. She had her back to you.
Allan's wife fixed me a bacon sandwich and coffee, which was real nice of her. Allan gave me a copy of the programme of a John Lennon tribute he did. Oh yeah, in the tunnel he said he got a phone call at 4 in the morning saying that John had been shot. First he thought it was a sick joke until the caller identified himself. Allan spent the rest of the day at the radio station answering international calls and Liverpool's reactions.
I waited in the living room reading books & magazines until about 5:45. Allan was preparing some antiques for transport to London. Oh yeah, on the Hamburg Tapes he said the Beatles were drunk because it was Christmas eve of '61. We rushed to the train station and barely made the train. We talked more on the train. Allan said he was coming to New York in early October to do TV shows & radio & a Beatlefest. The first two days he will sight see (with his daughter). It will be the first time since '75 when he promoted his book. He asked if I enjoyed the tour & England. We also talked about the rare '58 Beatle record that was found.
[On the trainride] I heard him humming "If I Fell". He autographed my programme. He told me about the people from Virginia he had given a tour to in the morning. Once in London I helped him load his things on a trolley & get to the taxi. He said, "well, you'll be back home in a week won't you? You'll be boring your friends to death. They'll say, 'fucking Beatle freak always talking about Liverpool'". We were both laughing. He mentioned about drinking at the party & the cockney's in Liverpool. I told him I'll bring my brother up in a year or two. We said our goodbyes. I told him I'll be looking for him on TV. I got back 8:50, back at the Nutford about 9:15.
[During the tour I also remember Allan saying to his daughter, “one day, all this will be yours”. I’m curious if she continued Allan’s ‘personal Beatles tours’ in Liverpool as she got older?]
Saturday July 25th:
Went shopping on Oxford Street & Leicester Square. In the evening went to the Def Leppard concert at the Hammersmith Odeon.
Sunday July 26th:
Slept in late following the concert. Started to pack.
Right: McCartney's London home - 7 Cavendish
One of the girls with our group really wanted to see Paul McCartney's house. So I went yet again (my third time) to St. John's Wood. With the tall, brick privacy fence you can't really see the house. That is, unless you shimmy up the wall, which I did to get a picture. We hung around for a little while, but since there was no sign of anybody, we ventured back to the Nutford.
Sunday July 26th
In the afternoon I went to McCartney's house again.
Later we went to Hyde Park. We then walked to the lake where we rented rowboats. In the evening I packed more.
Monday July 27th:
We left the Nutford on schedule in taxis, made the train trip ok & arrived at Gatwick. Had an uneventful flight back to Texas.
All in all, I had a blast in England in 1981! And it gave me the bragging rights as a Beatles fan that I had "been there". So much has happened in the Beatles-world since I visited in 1981. EMI now has tours of Abbey Road Studios -- you can even sing in the studio and get a souvenir recording (all at a premium price I am sure!). There are several professional "Beatles" tours to choose from in Liverpool and London.
Although my 1981 trip to England predated the "professional" tours, I did get one thing that these don't offer. How many can say they got a private tour by the Beatles first manager and a chance to 'hang out' with Allan Williams at his home and on a train ride? Fond memories indeed…