The Beatles and Scotland

The time is January 1963, the thumb (and one of the grinning faces) belongs to John Lennon, and the three other faces belong to Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The Beatles at the Scottish Border, returning from playing four Scottish dates in glamorous venues like the Museum Hall in Bridge of Allan and Dingwall Town Hall. Within a year they would be a phenomenon in Britain and playing at the London Palladium, within two years they would conquer America. But for now, frozen in time in candid black and white, they were just four lads, barely out of their teens and happy to be travelling the country playing music.

Not that 1963 was the Beatles first visit to Scotland. As any real Beatleologist will tell you the band's first concerts outside of England even before they went to Hamburg happened in the spring of 1960 when The Silver Beetles (as they were still called) came to tour north east Scotland as the backing band for a singer called Johnny Gentle.

The trip was not without incident. Indeed the whole of musical history if not popular culture was nearly changed forever one night in May 1960, when the Silver Beetles' heavily laden tour bus was involved in a collision near Fraserbugh. Luckily or unfortunately, depending on which seat you were sitting in! the only member of the band to be seriously injured was temporary drummer Tommy Moore (Ringo was still two years away from joining the band) who lost a few teeth and had to be taken to hospital for stitches. It would not be a Beatles' last brush with Scotland's roads and hospitals. . . .

But the Fab Four's connection with Scotland goes back much further than the 1960's. The group's original bass player Stuart Sutcliffe the member generally credited with having much to do with the Beatles' early imaging was born in Edinburgh. Perhaps even more significantly from a creative perspective was John Lennon's connection with Scotland. . . .

Back in the late 1940's and early 1950's, between the ages of nine and fourteen, Lennon would regularly spend his summer holidays at Durness in Sutherland, the most north-westerly village on mainland Britain, staying at a croft in Sango Bay that belonged to relatives. He would be packed off on the bus from Liverpool to Edinburgh, where he would be collected by his cousin Stanley Parkes before the family travelled north together.

Back in the early fifties Durness was one of the most remote, inaccessible parts of the country and Lennon, Parkes says, "Loved the complete wildness of the place. We went hunting and fishing and John loved going up into the hills to draw or write poetry. He loved hillwalking, shooting and fishing and would have been quite a laird!"

It is fascinating to think of the teenage John Lennon just a few years away from meeting Paul McCartney and changing history writing poetry in the Scottish hills, developing the lyrical talent that would in time make him one of the most important songwriters the world has ever known. Lennon's youthful connection to Scotland was highlighted in 2007 when North Highland Tourism Operators headed by Prince Charles launched a website to help celebrate Lennon's links to Durness.

Mr Parkes says "John never forgot those times at Durness. They were among his happiest memories and I hope many tourists will visit the area that meant so much to him and enjoy its beauty and charms as he once did."

Lennon was to return to Scotland many years later bringing his wife Yoko Ono and his young children, six-year-old Julian and five-year-old Kyoko, back to Durness for a holiday in the summer of 1969. By this time, of course, Lennon was one of the wealthiest and most famous men in the world and yet he took his Scottish break with very little ceremony. . . .

Just as he had done years before Lennon and family stayed with the Parkes' in Edinburgh before heading north in an Austin Maxi, a far cry from the psychedelic Rolls Royce more commonly associated with rock stars in the late 1960's!

However, the trip was to culminate in Lennon's second cataclysmic experience on the roads of Scotland. Just as the Beatles' 1960's had begun with a Scottish car crash, so they were to end when Lennon, who had notoriously poor eyesight and who rarely drove himself, crashed the Austin Maxi on a tight Highland road.

It was a serious smash, writing off the car and leaving Lennon requiring 17 stitches for facial injuries and Yoko needing 14 in her forehead. Lennon was rushed to Lawson Memorial Hospital in Golspie, Sutherland where he was to spend five days convalescing. Ironically the peace and tranquillity of the hospital provided Lennon with a welcome break from the hectic life he was leading in 1969 the height of his celebrity and notoriety when he and Yoko were regularly front-page news with their famous 'bed-in' peace protests.

While a media frenzy was being whipped up in London around the release of Lennon's new single , the singer himself was enjoying fresh fruit scones, home-made marmalade and line-caught salmon while reading the newspapers quietly in the secluded grounds of a Scottish hospital! On returning to London Lennon told reporters, "If you're going to have a car crash, try and arrange for it to happen in the Highlands. The hospital there was just great!"

Around the same time as Lennon's accident, over on the other side of Scotland, on the west coast, his former songwriting partner was also beginning to fall for the charms of life north of the border.

Sir Paul McCartney originally bought High Park Farm near Campbeltown in 1968 as a tax break, but he soon grew to love the atmosphere of the property with its westerly views over the Kintyre peninsula and has credited the place with helping him recover from the depression he suffered in the wake of the Beatles split. "It's like a little hideaway," McCartney said. "I love it. I love the people there. I can sort of breathe when I get up there. Breathe pure air."

By the mid 1970's the McCartney's were regularly enjoying long summer holidays at their Scottish farmhouse and it was there, while watching the spring lambs gambolling in the fields, that the family made the decision to become vegetarians, a decision that would have an enormous impact years later when McCartney's wife Linda launched her best-selling range of vegetarian food. Fittingly she was photographed in the farmhouse kitchen in Kintyre to promote the dishes.

The area was to repay McCartney's love for it handsomely in 1977, when it inspired him to write . The song went on to stay at number one for over two months, selling upwards of two million copies (far more than even the Beatles biggest hits) and becoming the biggest selling British single of all time in the process; a record it held until Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? in 1984.

One can only wonder how it might have sounded had John Lennon penned his own musical tribute to the charms of Scotland's East Coast. . . .

The Beatles

Mull of Kintyre

Stuart Sutcliffe

The Beatles Story

Last updated 29 Oct 2012