London - It was 50 years ago today that Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. Well, sort of. Last week marked exactly half a century since the release of Love Me Do, the debut single by The Beatles. A deceptively simple but timelessly catchy track – defined as much by John Lennon’s bluesy harmonica riff as Paul McCartney’s sweetly hopeful lyrics – it peaked at just 17 in the UK charts.
But it would prove the launchpad for the soaring career of a rock band that – many would say – is still the greatest to have existed. Five decades on, traces of The Beatles linger all over the planet, and their often turbulent story can be re-enjoyed via trips to places as varied as Liverpool, Amsterdam, India and San Francisco. So may we introduce to you, the act you’ve known for all these years…
Everything Beatles begins, of course, in Liverpool. The group’s native city is festooned with significant sites – not least the Cavern Club (cavernclub.org), the venue where they learned their trade, performing 292 times between February 1961 and August 1963. Rebuilt since the band played, the Cavern offers guided Beatles excursions, including the “Magical Mystery Tour” – daily for £15.95 (about R210). Based at Albert Dock, The Beatles Story (beatlesstory.com) brings the band’s tale to life with multimedia zeal – open daily 9am-7pm, entry £15.95 (R207.35). But the holy grails are Lennon and McCartney’s childhood homes. A tour that visits the two houses is offered by the National Trust (nationaltrust.org.uk/beatles) Wednesday to Sunday (£20 – R260).
If you decide that your nostalgic burst of Liverpool Beatlemania warrants an overnight stay, you can easily find accommodation options that trade on memories of the band. Moored at Albert Dock, the Yellow Submarine (twitter.com/fab4yellowsub) celebrates what is surely the jauntiest of the group’s tunes. Technically a refitted narrow-boat, the “submarine” is decked in Beatles paraphernalia, and sleeps eight. Complete rental of the sub starts at £165 (R2 145) a night, room only, via Late Rooms (laterooms.com). Elsewhere, the Hard Day’s Night Hotel (harddaysnighthotel.com) offers 110 Beatles-themed rooms – the Lennon Suite, for example (from £950 (R12 350), with breakfast), comes with a white grand piano. Basic double rooms cost from £90 (R1 170) per night, room only.
Although Liverpool played a crucial role in the band’s gestation, Hamburg was their proving ground. The band developed via five stints in the German port (between August 1960 and December 1962), playing rock clubs around the notorious Reeperbahn, in the St Pauli district – with its seamy red-light glow. Some of the old venues – Star-Club, Top Ten – have closed, but two big Beatles landmarks remain in action: the Kaiserkeller (grossefreiheit36.de) and Indra (indramusikclub.com). Beatles Tour Hamburg (beatles-tour.com) does walking tours (Thursday to Sunday, 4pm; E19.50 – about R200). A three-night stay in Hamburg at the four-star Hamburg-Altona (two sharing), costs £285 (R3 857) per person through Dertour (dertour.co.uk).
The Beatles’ live career was short. Frustrated with the treadmill of touring, the quartet struck up their final full public concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 29, 1966. Oddly, the best way to “revisit” that night is to see stadium residents the San Francisco 49ers (49ers.com/stadium) play an (American) football game (tickets at nfl.com/ticketexchange, from $30/R253). But be quick – Candlestick Park will be demolished after the 2012-13 season.
Retirement from the stage gave The Beatles the chance to expand their music and their influences. Notably, February 1968 saw them decamp to India to study meditation with their new guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, at his compound in Rishikesh, in the foothills of the Himalayas. The adventure ended acrimoniously, but the fertile atmosphere produced much of the music for the self-titled wonder The Beatles, known as “The White Album”. And Rishikesh remains a magnet for tourists who want to try yoga in a remote setting. Exodus (exodus.co.uk) offers a 15-day “Ganges Explorer” trip that meanders from Delhi to Calcutta via two days in Rishikesh. Prices from £1 879 per person with flights.
London is awash with Beatles echoes. Abbey Road Studios (abbeyroad.com), where the group grimaced through their last recording sessions, is closed to visitors. However, The Savoy offers a group recording session at the studios, plus a two-night stay at the hotel, for £936 per person from October 12 to 14) or November 16 to 18 (bit.ly/abbeybeatles). The pedestrian crossing that adorned the cover of the resulting Abbey Road is still outside. The iconic stairwell photos used for the cover of Please Please Me, plus the 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 “best ofs”, were shot in the north-west corner of Manchester Square. London Walks (walks.com) offers a Beatles-themed tour of the capital for £9 (R122).
Lennon made use of the attention that followed his marriage to Yoko Ono (on March 20, 1969) – staging a “bed-in” peace protest with his new wife at the Amsterdam Hilton. The hotel has not forgotten its week in the spotlight. Guests can sleep in the very same room – now the “John & Yoko Suite” – from E1 799 (R19 800) a night, room only. A three-night stay in a deluxe room, flying from Gatwick on October 25 with BA, costs £336 per person, room only, with Expedia (expedia.co.uk). – The Independent