A Group photo at Abbey Road Studios | Credit: Anita Offerman

“There are places I’ll remember, all my life, though some have changed” 
— from “In My Life” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney

What brings 40 people from a dozen states who have only met online during the COVID lock down to join together at the Newark, NJ airport and then hop on a plane and fly to England?

The Beatles!

I just returned from a once in a lifetime immersive “deep dive” into the Beatles and their music on a tour to Liverpool, London, and New York with 40 of my new best musical friends: “The Fab Forty.”

My friends all know me as a Beatles fanatic. In fact, the Santa Barbara News-Press once ran an article on me as a Beatles super fan. I was entering high school when Beatlemania erupted in America in 1964. I followed in the slipstream of the Beatles music and their cultural revolution. The Beatles were my musical life jacket during my turbulent teens.

The author, Andrew Teton, at Strawberry Field | Credit: Russ Salton

During introductions at our welcome dinner in Liverpool, I was surprised to find the majority were 10 – 30 years younger than myself. They discovered the Beatles long after the group broke up, drawn into the music by the almost magnetic force of their amazing body of work. While a highly diverse group in terms of age, profession, and geography, there was always an instant bond as people shared their “Beatles fan” origin story and engaged in in-depth (OK, nerdy!) discussions “about all things Fab Four.” In our group of 40, only three of us had seen the Beatles perform live, and I was the only one to have seen them perform twice.

We all initially connected as the gloominess of lockdown set in in the spring of 2020.  I was thrilled to find two national Beatles experts, Scott Freiman and Ken Womack, were offering a monthly Fab Four Master Class via Zoom. As the lockdown extended — so did the classes! We examined all the Beatles albums and then began an examination of members’ solo albums.

Ken and Scott and their affiliate organization, Cultural Sonar, began to “dream big” and decided to put together a Beatles tour once COVID concerns were lessened.  Through their carefully garnered connections, they were able arrange a Beatles tour that was a notch above a typical fan’s tour. Most fans go to Liverpool and visit the Beatles’ childhood homes, walk through Penny Lane, and visit Strawberry Field. They may even go to London and take a photo at the iconic Abbey Road pedestrian crossing.

But those delights are pedestrian compared to the special treats we had. One of the Beatles’ original recording engineers gave us a tour inside Abbey Road Studio #2, where the Beatles recorded 200+ songs. We had lunch with John Lennon’s half-sister, Julia Baird, at the Strawberry Field, now a specialized work training hub for disadvantaged youth. We had an evening discussion with John’s lover and muse for 18 months, May Pang. We had a question and answer evening with Mark Lewisohn, the number one Beatles expert in the world. (See a list of links below for further information and ways to explore.) 

Our first day we flew to London and bussed four hours to Liverpool. After a lovely welcoming dinner, I walked around the corner to the (rebuilt) Cavern Club which was a crucial residency for the Beatles. The Cavern was packed that night with 300 people who were being blasted by the sound waves of a popular local band, their bodies dancing and undulating to the music. When the band played “Let It Be,” the crowd ecstatically sang along and I felt I channeled through time to when the Beatles themselves played there.

Other highlights were visiting the Beatles’ modest boyhood homes where they would often hang out and write many early hits; exploring Liverpool, meeting childhood friends of the Beatles; and meeting Colin Hanton, who was the drummer in John Lennon’s band the Quarrymen the day John met Paul McCartney.

Our Liverpool guide, David Bedford, wrote a book, The Fab 104, which focuses on dozens of key people who played a role in helping the Beatles become the phenomena they were. For example, Mona Best, who gave the Beatles their first residency in Liverpool in her Casbah Coffee Club which we visited. Mona had seen a BBC news feature about a London coffee club which featured live bands for teenagers and was extremely popular. She immediately decided to convert the basement of her large house for that purpose. When the band who was supposed to open, The Casbah, disbanded just before opening night, guitarist George Harrison convinced his former band mates from the Quarryman to re-group and perform again. That was August 29, 1959. A few months later Mona’s son, Pete, joined the band as their drummer.

How Mona was able to buy a large house with a big basement and large coal cellar is a great story, too. She pawned all her beautiful East Indian family jewelry and bet all that money on a horse which was a 33-to-1 longshot named Never Say Die!” and that horse won! Mona used that money to buy a 15 bedroom house on an acre of land.

You may know that Pete Best was asked to leave the Beatles as they were on the cusp of their first recording sessions and Ringo Starr joined as their new drummer. Our guest speaker one evening was Debbie Greenberg, a Liverpool friend of the Beatles who saw them perform 290 times at The Cavern Club (their second and best known residency in Liverpool). She said, “We all liked Pete. Many people were angry about the change. But it was like when you have a picture puzzle with three corners in place and suddenly slip in the piece that adds the fourth corner — when Ringo joined everything just fell into place and felt right.”

Interestingly, Mona Best and the Best family still had a major connection to the Beatles as Mona had a son with the Beatles road manager, Neil Aspinall.

I also learned the quality of the Beatles music reflects a gestalt quality, that the sum is greater than the total of the individual parts.

Each member of the Beatles was a great talent, an excellent musician, and highly creative. Over time, three of them became outstanding songwriters. When they worked together there was a powerful synergy, their talents and quest to keep exploring helped them push each other to a level they were never able to achieve in their notable solo careers. As Pang shared what she said to John Lennon, “You have made really good solo albums. Paul has made really good solo albums. But as Beatles you made really great albums.”

Producer George Martin and several talented and creative engineers helped the Beatles use their studio and equipment in many ingenious and unique ways to expand their sonic palette as well as occasionally employing other great musicians such as Eric Clapton.

Listening to experts on this tour I learned that the right people, events, and timing all need to line up for a phenomena like Beatlemania to happen. Most casual American Beatles fans mark their legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in front of 73,000 viewers on February 9, 1964, as the fireworks that demonstrated that America had been overcome with Beatlemania.

The truth is, one year earlier while Beatlemania was consuming Europe, the Beatles’ “Please, Please Me” was released in the U.S. and only made it to #35 on the Billboard record chart.  They had other records released in the U.S. in 1963 which also flopped. Yet by April 1964 they held all top five slots on the Billboard chart.

The difference was timing and finally receiving committed promotion by Capitol Records.

I had always wondered what it was like to hear the Beatles in a small club at the start of Beatlemania. When we spoke with Freda Kelly, who was their fan club president, and others who saw them at the Casbah and the Cavern, they described the Beatles live show as being “intoxicating and magnetic … their energy was palpable and their music was incredible.”

In addition to their massive talent, they seemed to manifest a persona bigger — and more fun! — than any of them individually. Martin, their producer and one of the linchpins in their success said, “… they had tremendous charisma, those guys. I fell in love with them really. They were cheeky and they had this sparkle. When you’re with them, you feel enriched in their presence. And when they go away, you feel a bit diminished.”

My tour group connected through a Facebook page before we started our adventure and we are still all connecting through it afterwards, not only as Beatles’ fans but now as friends as well. I love that I have now visited so many sites of personal meaning to the Beatles, and I will never forget this experience.

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For more information

Scott Freiman
Scott is a talented musician, composer and Beatles expert. Pick a favorite Beatles album and stream one of his fascinating 90-minute “deconstructing” videos, which offers educational analysis and deeper appreciation of the Beatles music. Scott was our tour co-leader.

Ken Womack
Ken is a world renowned authority on the Beatles and their enduring cultural influence and “everything Fab Four” and has published numerous books.

The Casbah Club, Liverpool

The Beatles Story, Liverpool
A 90-minute immersive journey through the life and times of the Beatles

Liverpool Beatles Museum
Operated by Pete Best’s brother and the home of the extraordinary collection of Beatles memorabilia from Neil Aspinall, road manager and confidante to The Beatles

David Bedford: Liverpool Beatles Expert

Strawberry Field
A former orphanage near John Lennon’s childhood home, it had a wonderful garden area that provided a break for young John and inspired the song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which producer George Martin said he felt was John’s greatest song. The site is now a training hub for young adults with disabilities. They have a Beatles visitor center and café.

Richard Porter London Beatles Walks and Tours

Susan Ryan New York City Beatles Walking Tours

Abbey Road Studio, Gift Shop & Web Cam  
Souvenirs and a webcam so you see if there is a break in traffic when you can run out and get your picture taken like on the album cover!

Magical Mystery Girls
Members of this band were on our tour and the whole ensemble played a great show for us on the last night after our farewell dinner.

There are dozens of documentaries on The Beatles. These are among my favorites:

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week
The touring years and how touring built to an impossible to bear slog, streaming on Hulu

Good Ol’ Freda 
Documentary on the Beatles fan club president who worked for them for 11 years.

What’s Happening! The Beatles in the U.S.A.
This Maysles Brothers’ documentary captures the magic and the madness of the Beatles’ first American visit. This film is considered the inspiration for the screenplay for A Hard Day’s Night.


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