Sixties City presents a wide-ranging series of articles on all aspects of the Sixties, penned by the creator of the iconic 60s music paper  Mersey Beat

Penny Lane



Penny Lane Parlophone R5570, Produced by George Martin, features the song penned by Paul in the autumn of 1966 when The Beatles had decided to make a concept album inspired by their childhood in Liverpool. Digging into their memories, Paul produced ‘Penny Lane’ and John composed ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. When the time came for the song to be recorded, Paul had the number completely finished and had drafted out a rough arrangement for the brass section.
Paul commented: “Penny Lane is a bus roundabout in Liverpool, and there is a barber’s shop showing photographs of every head he’s had the pleasure to know – no, that’s not true, they’re just photos of hairstyles, but all the people who come and go stop and say hello.
There’s a bank on the corner, so we made up the bit about the banker in his motor car. It’s part fact, part nostalgia for a place, which is a great place, blue suburban skies as we remember it, and it’s still there. And we put in a joke or two: ‘Four of fish and finger pie.’ The women would never dare say that, except to themselves. Most people wouldn’t hear it, but ‘finger pie’ is just a nice little joke about the Liverpool lads who like a bit of smut.”

Incidentally, the barber’s shop was called Bioletti’s. In his biography, ‘Many Years From Now', Paul recalled,
“It was all based on real things; there was a bank on the corner so I imagined the banker, it was not a real person, and his slightly dubious habits and the little children laughing at him, and the pouring rain. The fire station was a bit of poetic licence; there’s a fire station about half a mile down the road, not actually in Penny Lane, but we needed a third verse so we took that and I was very pleased with the line ‘It’s a clean machine".
Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields

The track was recorded in January 1967 and among the musicians who were to perform on overdubs were flautists Ray Swinfield, P.Goody, Manny Winters and Dennis Walton; trumpeters Leon Calvert, Freddy Clayton, Bert Courtley and Duncan Campbell; oboists Dick Morgan and Mike Winfield – and bassist Frank Clarke. Clarke was later to say, “I’ve spent a lifetime playing with top orchestras, yet I’m most famous for playing on 'Penny Lane”.


Paul was still not satisfied with the track and he was sitting at home watching the BBC2 TV show ‘Masterworks’ with David Mason performing Bach’s Brandenberg Concerto No.2 in F Major. He arranged for Mason to be hired to play trumpet on the ‘Penny Lane’ track and was satisfied with the finished result. Recording manager George Martin commented, “We had no music prepared. We just knew that we wanted little piping interjections. As we came to each little section where we wanted the sound, Paul would think up the notes he wanted and I would write them down for David. The result was unique, something that had never been done in rock music before, and it gave ‘Penny Lane’ a very distinct character”.

The number is one of the most uplifting and cheery of the Beatles' songs and caused problems in Liverpool with fans stealing the actual Penny Lane street signs. It was an act later to be repeated at Abbey Road and resulted in Liverpool Corporation ceasing to make street signs for Penny Lane, settling for painting the street name on buildings instead. It was suggested that Paul might have been inspired by Dylan Thomas’s poem ‘Fern Hill’, a nostalgic look at childhood, which Paul had been reading at the time. He composed the number on his piano at his Cavendish Avenue, St John’s Wood house.
The piano had a psychedelic rainbow painted on it by David Vaughan of BEV. John Lennon helped him on the third verse.
Filming the promo for Penny Lane

‘Penny Lane’ was issued as a double ‘A’ side with ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ on Parlophone R5570 on Friday 17th February 1967 when it became the first Beatles single since ‘Love Me Do’ not to hit the No.1 spot, being held at No.2 by the Engelbert Humperdinck hit ‘Release Me’. The British release received its world premier broadcast via the pirate radio station Radio London and Parlophone issued the first 250,000 in special bags with a full colour sleeve. It was released in America on Capitol 5810 on Monday 13th February 1967 with advance orders of over a million copies.
This was a record in itself for Capitol, with the highest quantity of a single ever pressed and shipped out in a three-day period. The number topped the charts in the U.S. A different version of the number was included on the ‘Anthology 2’ CD.

Sixties City note:
Stan Williams, a former schoolfriend of John Lennon, identifies the nurse as Beth Davidson in a book about growing up in Liverpool. Williams said Lennon would have known Davidson from his childhood. The lyrics to the song are: "Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout, the pretty nurse is selling poppies from the tray, and though she feels she's in a play, she is anyway."
According to Williams, a group of boys, including Lennon, saw Davidson selling poppies on the street dressed in a cadet nurse's uniform. "In my mind's eye, I still like to visit that special October day in 1954 when Beth had her image trapped within the lens of Lennon's creative imagination," Williams told the Daily Telegraph. Davidson died of cancer in the 1970s.





Mersey Beat Magazine Bill Harry attended the Liverpool College of Art with Stuart Sutcliffe and John Lennon and made the arrangements for Brian Epstein to visit The Cavern, where he saw The Beatles for the first time. Bill was a member of 'The Dissenters' and the founder and editor of 'Mersey Beat', the iconic weekly music newspaper that documented the early Sixties music scene in the Liverpool area and is possibly best known for being the first periodical to feature a local band called 'The Beatles'. He has worked as a high powered publicist, doing PR for acts such as Suzi Quatro, Free, The Arrows and Hot Chocolate and has managed press campaigns for record labels such as CBS, EMI, Polydor. Bill is the critically acclaimed author of a large number of books about The Beatles and the 60s era including 'The Beatles Who's Who', 'The Best Years of the Beatles' and the Fab Four's 'Encyclopedia' series. He has appeared on 'Good Morning America' and has received a Gold Award from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.


Article Bill Harry 2017               Original Graphics SixtiesCity 2017

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