Richard Purden

Shortly before his death in December 1980, John Lennon expressed in a postcard to his cousin Stan, “you know I miss Scotland more than England”. The Beatle also considered buying his cousin’s former home in Murrayfield, Edinburgh, which he associated with idyllic summers in the capital and at his aunt and uncle’s croft in Sutherland.

In the summer of 1969 Lennon, by then the biggest rock star on the planet, decided to drive with his new wife Yoko, his son Julian and her daughter Kyoko to Scotland. When a German tourist approached his Austin Maxi with speed in the opposite direction of a single track road Lennon, in a panic, drove the car into a ditch. The four passengers were taken to hospital in Golspie for treatment where Lennon received 17 stitches for facial injuries and spent five days recuperating. It’s one of many episodes that Mark Lewisohn, author of the acclaimed Tune In (the first in a trio of books on the Liverpool quartet), will be discussing during a celebratory two-hour show in Edinburgh next month. Entitled Hornsey Road, it draws from the historian’s 40-year archive collected from a variety of public and private sources. It also promises to take an in-depth look at Lennon’s notable drive north. Everyone will hear about John and Yoko’s trip to Scotland, how they got there and how it ended. It’s a great story.

“He had enormous affection for the north of Scotland and Edinburgh; that’s why he went back in 1969. Lennon had a woman in his life who he loved very much. It’s like when you have a new partner, you want to show them all the people and places that are important to you. They had only been together for a year and he takes Yoko up to Sutherland to show her the croft where he spent so many summers.”

The timing of the accident meant Lennon missed some recording sessions for what would become Abbey Road. The anniversary mix of the album was reissued last month reaching No1 once again on the album’s golden anniversary. When first released in 1969 Lewisohn suggests rock music had become a “crowded field” but that The Beatles continued to dominate. “Socially there is a lot to explore and there always is with The Beatles because they had an impact on so many lives. They have propelled rock music to the forefront as the medium of choice, not only for musicians and composers but for the audience. There is now a generation growing up looking to this music for their entertainment in a way that before The Beatles simply didn’t exist.”

As Lewisohn suggests competition had become fierce. “The [Rolling] Stones have Beggars Banquet and are recording Let It Bleed, The Who have just put out Tommy and you have the first Led Zeppelin album. There are albums released or being recorded by Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young but Abbey Road sits at No1 for 18 weeks. There’ s a lot happening and suddenly this is a crowded field but The Beatles are very much top of the heap as ever.”

Public perception of the band, particularly in Britain, had shifted beyond recognition since the peak of Beatlemania to Abbey Road. The band also received constant negative press attention concerning their lifestyle and image. “In Britain, although not among record buyers, the adult population and Fleet Street press had turned against The Beatles which is a little-remembered aspect. In their homeland, The Beatles had lost their appeal among a significant number of people. It’s recognised that they take drugs, then they become involved with the Maharishi, John and Yoko take their clothes off for an album cover, they do the bed-ins and by 1969 there is a lot of dissatisfaction and a string of opinions that suggest they have gone too far.

"Every time they changed their image, such as when John and George grew the long hair and beards, it antagonised a lot of people and they didn’t care about that at all.”

Despite Lennon’s accident and rumours of enmity, The Beatles were enjoying a creative zenith. In Lewisohn’s possession is an audiotape made by John Lennon of a meeting recorded after the Abbey Road sessions which suggests the four-piece were very much a going concern. Ringo Starr subsequently acknowledged that the band had no intention to split during the recording of Abbey Road, dismantling the famous myth that The Beatles had planned the album as a farewell.

“John’s creativity wasn’t blunted [by the accident] but it did cause him to miss several sessions for Abbey Road. When he returned it seemed there was some anxiety among the other Beatles as to how it would be when he came into the studio but, in fact, they just got back down to work and everything was good. There were one or two stories of tension in the last few weeks, but they could always create and leave their problems at the studio door.

"Abbey Road is an incredibly melodic album, which is hard to achieve if you are at loggerheads with one another.”

At present, the most downloaded/streamed Beatles song remains the George Harrison-penned Here Comes The Sun. It was one of two written by the guitarist, along with Something, that appeared on the album. From the sessions Harrison’s Old Brown Shoe had been a non-album single released earlier in the year and previous sessions for Let It Be had produced Isn’t It A Pity and All Things Must Pass, the title track of Harrison’s lauded triple solo album released the following year which remains for many the finest solo long-player by any Beatle. The son of Beatles producer George Martin, Giles got behind the desk for the new Abbey Road mixes and deluxe edition which includes demos and outtakes from the sessions. He suggests that Harrison, then only 26 years old, was “contained in the walls The Beatles were living in, songwriting was his way out to a certain degree”.

He adds that, “Lennon and McCartney were like magnets repelled and attracted to each other in equal measure. Harrison was writing beautiful and fantastic songs like All Things Must Pass and Isn’t It A Pity, it’s also easy to forget about songs like Old Brown Shoe. This was his time and he was inspired, at that point he had that magic thread.”

Harrison wasn’t the only one discouraged that his songs were not making the album. Lennon had Cold Turkey rejected by his bandmates as Lewisohn explains: “After recording Abbey Road Lennon was talking about the next Beatles album. He didn’t get the answers he was seeking, Cold Turkey didn’t get done so he didn’t offer them Instant Karma. With the live album [Live Peace in Toronto 1969] he had a good time playing with other musicians.” Subsequently Lennon articulated to his bandmates a desire leave the group. Ringo had previously walked out in 1968, but was persuaded to come back and Harrison also temporarily left in early 1969. Lewisohn suggests “nothing was irrevocable” with The Beatles. When McCartney, seven months later, announced his exit from the band Lewisohn adds that, “John wanted to be the one that broke them up, not Paul. He wanted to own that moment, he had started it and he wanted to finish it. It looked like Paul had broke them up and he regretted that.”

Giles Martin remains astonished at the band’s unlimited productivity. “The most amazing thing is how much they are writing during this time, especially Paul. Earlier in 1969, he had written Let It Be and had finished writing songs for Badfinger (Come And Get It) and Mary Hopkins (Goodbye), versions of both appear on the new deluxe edition of the album.

Abbey Road also featured the 16-minute medley of unfinished songs that tapped into the untouchable live energy and chemistry of the band. “It’s them playing live, there is no click track, the reference they played to was each other. The thing about the songs in the medley, you think it’s edited but they are playing live: Sun King goes into Mean Mr Mustard then Polythene Pam into She Came In Through The Bathroom Window all those songs are played back to back.

"One thing about The Beatles was how much they enjoyed each other’s playing as a band, each member made the other a bit better. That’s not something that can be put together and you can’t teach it as shows like The X-Factor prove; it’s one of those magical things. I spoke to Paul and Ringo about the recording and they both said separately that they remembered this session, that "we were really good that day" and side B of Abbey Road shows that off, how good they were as a band. It’s a mini-concert in a way.”

As for the iconic cover art, it’s been suggested The Beatles were going to call the album Everest after a brand of cigarettes smoked by engineer Geoff Emerick. Once that title and a planned photo of the band at the foot of the world’s highest mountain were scrapped, the simpler idea of the quartet walking behind each other on the zebra crossing outside their studio would become the most iconic cover art of all time.

Lewisohn adds: “With the album being so incredibly successful, selling in its millions, people came to know quickly that’s where they recorded and it became the tourist attraction that it has for half a century.”

The Beatles: Hornsey Road with Mark Lewisohn, The Queens Hall Edinburgh, November 27, 7.30 pm. Tickets are priced £27 and available from

The Beatles Abbey Road 50th anniversary editions are out now on various formats and streaming platforms