Travel Report: Abbey Road, London.
Abbey Road, London.
It’s strange to think that I was forty one years old by the time I finally got round to visiting Abbey Road. As a lifelong Beatles fan, it really shouldn’t have taken me so long. Especially when one considers that for decades the place was right on my doorstep.
Nevertheless, it was definitely a case of better late than never as I exited St. John’s Wood Tube Station one fresh May morning. I’d come from Tooting Bec, naturally, while from St. John’s Wood it it took me a brisk twelve minutes on foot to arrive at one of the world’s most hallowed Beatles sights.
I admit to feeling more than a few goosebumps as I approached what is arguably Earth’s most famous zebra crossing. Because it was right here, on the 8th of August 1969, that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr posed for photos that would grace the artwork of their 11th album, Abbey Road.
Beatles fans from all over the world come to visit Abbey Road. On some days the crossing gets really hectic, but there were certainly no crowds on the afternoon I visited. Just pockets of curious, whispering tourists and unimpressed locals going about their daily business.
Up close it is an entirely ordinary zebra crossing that would surely fail to impress anyone uninvested in the band. However, for me it was so exciting I literally had to sit down on a nearby ledge. Take a deep breath, pull myself together and soak up the atmosphere. Before long, I was smiling at the antics of an Asian man trying to grab a photo of his wife posing on the crossing between passing traffic.
Abbey Road, London.
In August 1969 The Beatles were hard at work recording at London’s prestigious Abbey Road Studios. Nearly all the songs were still in various stages of completion when they took a break one morning to stroll outside and shoot some photographs.
The photographer, Iain Macmillan, was a friend of John and Yoko’s. With the band on such a tight recording schedule, Macmillan had just ten minutes to take the shots that would serve as Abbey Road’s front cover, back sleeve and interior artwork.
As the story goes, Macmillan brought a stepladder, which he climbed in order to obtain his preferred angle. Moreover, the band employed the services of a local police officer to hold up traffic. I love how one of Linda McCartney’s private photographs of the shoot captures a nosy old lady approaching the band. “Eh, what’s going on here, then?”
Macmillan took just six photographs during his allotted time, which McCartney later examined with a magnifying glass. The winning image shows the band walking across the road in single file. John leads the way, followed by Ringo, then a shoeless McCartney and finally George.
Paul’s lack of shoes sparked a flurry of crazy theories. The most famous of these was the idea that McCartney had in fact died some years earlier. The band’s marching pose, some believed, symbolised a funeral procession.
Thousands of nut jobs also insisted that the Paul on the cover was actually a McCartney lookalike. And that his going barefoot was a secret nod to Paul’s supposed death. “Ah, it was a hot day and I didn’t feel like wearing my shoes” Paul later explained. Hm, so he took off his sandals to walk on hot stone? The entire thing sounds a bit strange to me.
The Beatles in London.
Crossing the road myself took a matter of seconds, but was still a thrill. On the other side, one immediately comes face to face with the wall that separates the public pavement from the small parking lot of Abbey Road Studios.
This is where Fab Four fans come to scribble down greetings, sketches, Beatles lyrics and RIP tributes for John and George. It’s all rather moving. No matter what time of day you’ll always find someone here contributing to the wall. In 2006 an Abbey Road engineer by the name of Zoran Veselinovic started taking photographs of the wall. Eventually, he collected these shots on what is now the Abbey Road Wall Instagram Feed.
His project of documenting the state of the wall feels particularly worthwhile when one realises that the council paints over all the graffiti every month! Hence the Instagram feed keeps alive all the messages that would otherwise be lost. As I added my own greeting that day, I could only hope that it would find its way onto the feed before disappearing forever.
Abbey Road is still a working studio and does not provide tours to the public. As a result, I had to make do with peering through the railings for a glimpse of its famous steps and doorway. It’s amazing to think that John, Paul, George and Ringo would have trotted up and down these steps hundreds if not thousands of times during their many recording sessions between 1962 and 1970.
To the side of the studios a narrow alleyway leads to The Abbey Road Shop. The walls of the alley serve as a timeline of the studios’ history, including details on the vast array of iconic artists who’ve worked at Abbey Road.
Abbey Road, London.
In fact, take The Beatles out of the narrative altogether and Abbey Road still stands as one of the world’s most historic recording venues. A place where Sir Edward Elgar conducted an historic performance of Pomp and Circumstance March no.1 in 1931. Where Pink Floyd laid down their debut album Piper at The Gates of Dawn in 1967 and where Radiohead recorded The Bends in the summer of 1994.
In contrast to the guarded interior of the studios, everyone and their wallets are welcome inside The Abbey Road Shop. Here you’ll find all kinds of exceptionally cool souvenirs celebrating the history of Abbey Road and British music. Most of which, it has to be said, comes with an exceptionally uncool price tag. Check out my video tour of The Abbey Road Shop here.
Back outside by the zebra crossing I got chatting to Erik from L.A., an American musician and all-round Beatles nut. Totally in awe of his surroundings, he told me how it had been a lifelong dream to come here. The Beatles, he exclaimed, had been a huge influence on his musical tastes and indeed the music he produced with his band in Los Angeles.
Apparently, I’d just missed him and a few random tourists performing a group pose on the crossing. “Let’s grab a selfie!” he laughed. “I’m doing this with every Beatles fan I talk to, will be cool to show the folks back home”.
The Beatles in London.
It had been a great day, and yet I knew that something was missing. Naturally, I wanted to get a group pose of my own on the crossing. It took a bit of plotting, but a few days later I returned to Abbey Road with Baddi, an old friend from my Beijing days.
Baddi was game for posing on the crossing, so all we needed were two more participants to complete the lineup. As luck would have it, a pair of South American guys heard us discussing how we would pose for the shot. “Hey, we will totally join you!” cried Maximilian from Argentina, while his Brazilian pal Marlon nodded enthusiastically.
Abbey Road, London.
Happily, the whole thing quickly fell into place. First, a lady from Yorkshire agreed to take the shot for us. Soon after we caught a break in traffic and hopped onto the crossing before holding several clumsy poses. It was all a bit nervy, our posing being watched by dozens of onlookers and two lanes of surprisingly patient motorists.
Sure, we could’ve gone to greater lengths to recreate a more faithful reproduction of the album cover. But really, I was just pleased to get the job done. Indeed this capped off an unforgettable experience at Abbey Road! And the perfect warmup for my forensic adventures touring the Beatles sights of Liverpool.
Love The Beatles? Have a read through my review of The White Album.
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It’s quite amazing how this, at first glance seemingly ordinary black-and-white-striped crosswalk in north London attracts pop pilgrims from all around the world. I’d say it must be amusing for passers-by to bear witness how day in, day out, Beatles fans can be seen trying to recreate the iconic 1969 Abbey Road album cover at this pedestrian crossing.
Hey Aiva, I think the flow of foot traffic and posing quite literally never ends on Abby Road. I was expecting motorists to be impatient with it all, but I guess at this point they’re just resigned to it. Thanks for reading!
How amazing that you managed to recreate a similar pose on the zebra crossing to the iconic Beatles shot. I’ve never been round there so it was great to read about your visit Leighton. Marion
Thanks Marion, I shall have to swing by with Sladja next year in between sights. Have a great week!
We walked across Abby Road a few years ago. It was a fun site to see, the sketches on the wall were in tribute to the Beatles. You have some great photos of the area. Thanks, Anita
Glad you also enjoyed the Abbey Road vibe Anita. Thanks for reading!
One of the most iconic bands and album covers ever. Great story Leighton and a worthy endeavour to create your own Abbey Road memory. The Lads from Liverpool’s music resonates through my early years and the opening chords of some of their songs still send chills down my spine. Thanks for sharing. Allan
Happy to hear you get the excitement of Abbey Road. I think for some the appeal is a bit bemusing. Cheers Allan!
Love the recreation, glad you finally made it there!
Thanks for checking this piece out Lyssy! Hope all is well with you guys and that married life is awesome!
Thank you, you too!!
Loved reading this one great pix. See the Abbey Road Tea Lady overseeing precedings while the 4 line up at the crossing…. What did you write on the wall ?
I think on this occasion I wrote something standard like name and date, nothing too clever. I was too keen to get into the shop for a look!
Fantastic visit to such a famous place! I can’t believe they paint over all those messages every month- that just seems so wrong to cover up all those messages and tributes. But I am really glad that someone is trying to preserve them so they are not lost forever. And of all the conspiracy theories I’ve heard, not wearing shoes for a picture is definitely a new one. 🙂
Hey Meg, thanks for touring Abbey Road with me! The shoeless conspiracy theory is a really weird one that, the more you look into it, doesn’t even make a whole lot of sense. Still, it’s all good, harmless fun.
Abbey Road is one of my favorite albums. I would love to visit one day and get my own photo on the famous zebra crossing. In 10 minutes the Beatles and the photographer came up with a lot of material to spark speculation. Paul was the only one who was barefoot, beardless, smoking, and out of step. Thanks for the look at the history of Abbey Road and Studios.
It’s a masterpiece eh? And yet not even my favourite Beatles album when push comes to shove.
I listened to Abbey Road over and over. That’s probably a bad sign as to quality because my taste in music is usually not shared by true music aficionados.😄
After reading so much about the Beatles on your blog, I thought I would know everything by now … but alas, I did not know the history behind Abbey Road (although I did recognise the photo). Oh, that was a great imitation! You had to remind Maximilian that he should not wear shoes 😁!
Tut tut… Maximilian really let the side down eh? You just can’t get good help these days ha ha. Thanks for letting me bore you with yet more Beatles stuff. That really is the last Fab Four related article. For now… 😉
Abbey Road is also a place I always think about going to when I’m in London, and I haven’t done it yet. I imagine the street will eventually be pedestrianised with a Beetle permanently parked in the strategic location. And then you’ll have to book your slot online and present an e-ticket to cross the street.
And put your vaccine certificate through the scanner….
I missed that one 🙂
It’s incredible just how a little crosswalk would have such a huge significance on the pop culture world! Love your homage to the Fab Four in your own photo: I hope you still keep in touch with those participants to this day!
I do! I took their email addresses and sent them a link of the article after publication.
As I read and enjoyed this post, I was so hoping that it didn’t end with a cheesy pose for the obvious photo, and then what do you go and do….!!!? Great fun, shame on you for the pose (only joking, of course…..)
It had to be done! Thanks for reading Phil.
I’ve never been to Abbey Road but I felt your excitement as if I were visiting it with you. Love all the history and stories about the famous shot. Maggie.
Thanks for reading Maggie! It’s good to have you guys back.
Lol I must imagine that the locals do get pretty tired of tourists always jamming up their zebra crossing, but it’s so cool that you are in a historical place, and shared the exact spot where the Beatles used to be, separated only by decades of time. Thanks for the pics and taking me along on your journey!
I think if I was a local motorist who had to pass through Abbey Road every day, I’d probably get hacked off with it all. Thanks for reading Stuart and for contributing to the thread.
A friend and I visited Abbey Road crossing one very cold Sunday morning in January a couple of years back. I was surprised at the amount of people wanting their photos taken on that crossing on a very cold morning and felt quite sorry for the drivers trying to go about their day but being held up by people constantly going back and forth across the crossing just for a photo.
The things we do in life because of our passion for stuff eh? Music… cinema… travel… football… you name it. Thanks for reading and contributing to the thread.
What a delight to read the story of the actual photo shoot! The fans, including you, posing looks like great fun to watch and participate in. And who is Lucy?
Hey Ruth, Lucy is a reference to the mysterious character in John Lennon’s Beatles track ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’. There’s been much conjecture over the years regarding Lucy’s identity. Here’s an overview: https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSL5N0Y52Y220150514
Oh, that didn’t occur to me! I’ll check out the article.