Penny Lane – there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello…
I was having a trim today in the Penny Lane barber shop and I thought my hair would have grown another inch before the cut was finished. Not a complaint: the reason was that the place was invaded by tourists, including a Japanese couple, keen to step inside the famous barber’s, take photos and buy memorabilia. So the hairdresser had to keep breaking off from my trim. When the rush had subsided we got to chatting about the sorry state of the old bus shelter in the middle of the roundabout and the strange failure of the authorities to capitalise on tourists’ interest in the Penny Lane area. Amazingly, she said that when she had phoned the City Council to raise these issues, the newly-appointed tourism officer had asked where Penny Lane was!
We both agreed that signs and plaques could be placed in the vicinity to identify the main points of interest from the Beatles’ song for tourists. But the main problem is the sorry state of the former bus shelter which presents a very poor impression to visitors.
Penny Lane – the barber shaves another customer
We see the banker sitting waiting for a trim
Then the fireman rushes in
From the pouring rain…
When Lennon and McCartney lived locally, Penny Lane was the terminus for trams and buses from the city. In the video for the ‘Penny Lane’ single, released in 1967, there are shots of the old green rear platform number 46 bus with its destination sign that reads ‘Penny Lane’ (although, in reality, the destination is Smithdown Place – but no-one ever calls it that). Originally the building was used as a tram stop and inspectors’ office, with public toilets added to the rear of the building. When the building closed as a transport facility in 1990, it was redeveloped as Sgt Peppers cafe, decorated with Beatles photographs, artwork, posters and memorabilia. In 2006 owner Ray Maatook closed it, saying the limited size of the premises made it uneconomic to operate as a going concern; in addition, the Beatles tours that passed by didn’t stop there because there was nowhere for coaches to park.
A year later Maatook put in a planning application to extend the cafe by adding an upper floor to the former tram stop, and increase the floor space to attract more diners and visitors on the Beatles trail. The Council rejected the proposal, arguing that an upper extension on what was built as a single storey structure could create a feature out of keeping with the street-scene around Penny Lane.
Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout
A pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray
And though she feels as if she’s in a play
She is anyway…
So the building has been standing empty and increasingly forlon-looking for four years now. There were hopeful signs last June when the Daily Post reported on Council plans to create a Penny Lane Beatles quarter to revitalise the area the area. Specially-made signs would be put up along the two-mile route giving information about the quarter, and there was talk of a more cafe-orientated district, with widened walkways and a major facelift to an area of derelict land on Penny Lane itself.
The Post reported that the Penny Lane Development Trust had secured £760,000 of Big Lottery funding to refurbish a run-down and disused building on the site,which would feature local art and provide access for coaches visiting Penny Lane. There were plans for a gift shop and a Beatles museum to bring more music tourists to the area. Meanwhile, Ray Maatook had submitted revised plans for the extension to the building which would be less obtrusive. I wonder whether any of these ideas will come to fruition?
On the corner is a banker with a motorcar
The little children laugh at him behind his back
And the banker never wears a mac
In the pouring rain…
Ray Johnson, a manager for Magical Mystery Tour, said last year: ‘Penny Lane is a very ordinary part of Liverpool, but also very important, as it was part of the Beatles’ early career. This is where they got their inspiration to write songs. It’s changed now, of course – the barber’s is now a modern salon and Martin’s bank became TSB. It’s one of the most iconic streets in the whole world and every year tourists see a sign, and that’s it.’
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
I sit, and meanwhile back
In Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass
And in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen.
He likes to keep his fire engine clean
It’s a clean machine
The fire station isn’t actually on Penny Lane – or Smithdown Place – but over a mile away at the junction of Mather Avenue and Rose Lane. A little bit of artistic licence there by Paul McCartney. More artistic licence was shown by the Beatles when they filmed the promo video for ‘Penny Lane’: although there are some shots of the green 46 bus and a brief overhead view of the ‘shelter in the middle of the roundabout’, the street scenes with the Beatles were filmed in London’s East End and the sequence of John walking alone was filmed on the King’s Road. The other outdoor scenes were filmed at Knole Park in Sevenoaks.
Bioletti’s barber shop as it was in 1971 – see the comment from Dave Robertson below. In The Beatles Anthology, Paul says:
‘The lyrics were all based on real things. There was a barber called something like Biletti (I think he’s actually still therein Penny Lane) who, like all barbers, had pictures of the haircuts you could choose. But instead of saying ‘The barber with pictures of haircuts in his windows’ it was changed to: ‘Every head he’s had the pleasure to have known’. A barber showing photographs – like an exhibition. It was twisting it to a slightly more artsy angle, more like a play. Like the nurse who’s selling poppies from a tray for Remembrannce Day. Then ‘she feels as if she’s in a play’ – which ‘she is anyway’. These were all trippy little ideas we were trying to get in.
A lot of our formative years were spent walking around those places. Penny Lane was the depot I had to change buses at to get from my house to John’s and to a lot of my friends. It was a big bus terminal which we all knew very well. I sang in the choir at St. Barnabas Church opposite. It’s part fact, part nostalgia for a great place – blue suburban skies, as we remember it, and it’s still there. ‘