Tuesday, June 11, 2013

London log (1): Tottenham Court Road and The Beatles

We arrived in London yesterday afternoon. After a very talkative Kuwaiti taxi driver took us from City of London Airport to West Hampstead, I went to sort out mobile phones for our stay. I brought with me an old fashioned mobile which my father had bought several years ago - the phone has a valid SIM and I had charged it a few days before leaving home - along with the mobile phone that we had bought in Dubrovnik last year. To cut a long story short, eventually I ended up with two phones and two SIMs, but not necessarily exactly how I wanted them. If anyone is interested, I have a spare SIM with 10GBP credit going spare....

Our first port of call this morning was Tottenham Court Road: I knew from reading the Inspector Banks novel 'Strange Affair' that the electronics shops are situated on this street. We had a shopping list which unfortunately grew a bit longer that I had originally intended: a bigger battery for the new camcorder, a bag for the camcorder, a new digital camera for my wife (the one that we bought on the way back from Santorini several years ago has starting playing up), a memory card and a bag for that camera, and headphones. Fortunately, we should be able to claim the VAT back when we leave Britain. I also bought a good European to British adapter, which allows me to charge all my equipment.

From there, we traveled to Marylebone station, where we joined the 'In my life' Beatles walking tour. There are many walking tours held around London during the day and I thought that it would be interesting to take this one. Several gentlemen (and their wives) of 'a certain age' joined us for this privilege. Unfortunately, we were accompanied by that special variety of British rain: a very thin rain which doesn't really get one wet but gets in the eyes.

The tour starts in Marylebone station which is where the opening scenes for the "A hard day's night" film were shot. Of course, the station has changed more than a little in the 49 years since the film was made so one had to use one's imagination to picture what happened then. From the station we walked to the building where Paul married Linda in 1969 (and Ringo married Barbara Bach in 1982), thence to Montagu Square, where Ringo had a flat which he originally occupied, then Paul turned it into a demo studio, then John and Yoko lived there. Onwards, we went to the Asher's family home (Paul McCartney lived in the same house as Jane Asher for several years), to what was the Apple boutique on Baker Street and to the restaurant where a scene for 'Help' was filmed. Eventually we ended up at Abbey Road studios (we took the train from Baker Street to St John's Wood) and walked the most famous zebra crossing in the world.

The guide apparently is known as the 'Beatle Brain of Britain', having won a competition about Beatle trivia. He definitely knows his stuff, although I don't think that he mentioned anything that I didn't previously know. On the other hand, I had never visited any of the places.

I doubt that I would recommend this walking trip to any except the hard core Beatles fans. Walking the streets of London is not the most exciting thing in the world, and the buildings themselves have little intrinsic value. There is also a 'Magical Mystery Tour' trip which includes the Apple building in Savile Row, possibly Trident studios in Soho, the Indica bookshop in Fitzrovia and maybe a few other places. This trip might be better, but then again, apart from Apple, none of the original buildings exist.

In terms of musical history, we are staying close to a few other landmarks from the sixties. Next to West Hampstead underground station is where the Klooks Kleek club used to be (a hot venue of the time) and a bit further on is a road called  Broadhurst Gardens. This is where the Beatles had their unsuccessful demo session for Decca records in 1962 (and also where, amongst others, Giles, Giles and Fripp recorded their only record). I'll probably pop down there later although I doubt that there will be anything to see. There are no studios there now: presumably the building which was a studio now belongs to the English National Opera. Also around here is Fawley Road (Jude the Obscure?), which is where Peter Hammill lived for a while in 1969.

The establishment in which we are staying has a split personality: the main building is in one road, but we are staying in an annexe on a different road about 400 metres away. We go to the main building for breakfast. When I asked about wifi, I was told that there is only in the main building, so I thought that I would have to write these blog entries offline, then take the computer to the main building then upload them. But when I turned the computer on, I discovered that there is an unsecured wifi network with a decent bandwidth available, so I am typing this online (and exceedingly quickly, lest the connection fail suddenly).

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