Lost Edinburgh: John Lennon’s link to the capital

John Lennon, far left, with David Birch and family. Picture: Contributed
John Lennon, far left, with David Birch and family. Picture: Contributed
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LONG before thoughts turned to Shea Stadium, the Cavern, Kaiserkeller, or Woolton village fete, John Lennon was just another schoolboy, impatiently yearning for his summer holidays.

Visits to Edinburgh

John Lennon with Paul McCartney. Picture: PA

John Lennon with Paul McCartney. Picture: PA

Much has been recorded of the late ‘Fifth Beatle’, Stuart Sutcliffe’s Edinburgh roots. Lesser known, perhaps, is the intriguing capital connection of John Lennon, who as a youngster, made frequent visits each summer to see his family. John was particularly close to two of his cousins, Liela Birch, and the Edinburgh-based Stan Parkes.

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Ormidale Terrace. Picture: Creative Commons

Ormidale Terrace. Picture: Creative Commons

Parkes was a good seven years older than Lennon and more of a big brother than a cousin to the future Beatle. They made a point of visiting each other as often as possible.

Stan had swapped Liverpool for Edinburgh in 1949, when his mother (John’s Aunt Mater) married local dentist, Burt Sutherland. The family lived at 15 Ormidale Terrace - a fairly typical-looking two-storey Edwardian house which still stands today in the affluent Murrayfield area. John visited Ormidale Terrace regularly until the age of 17 in 1957.

Stan Parkes would travel down to Liverpool to accompany John until he was deemed old enough by his Aunt Mimi to take the bus up on his own. John’s raw musical talent was evident even then, and he would often perform for the family on his Aunt Mater’s piano.

Stan would later recall: “One time he got off at St Andrew Square, he had been playing a harmonica and driving everyone mad, but the bus driver had enjoyed it and told him to come back the next day as he had a top-of-the-range mouth organ which had been left on the bus. John couldn’t believe it; he played it all the time.”

Legend has it that this very same mouth organ was played by Lennon to sound out the famous bluesy riff which practically defines the Beatles’ first hit, Love Me Do.

Happy childhood memories

The two cousins could often be seen cutting about town together, visiting the castle, or wandering the slopes of Arthur’s Seat. Other days would be spent at Poole’s Roxy cinema on Gorgie Road, or at Murrayfield for the rugby. John would spend roughly a week in the Scottish capital before heading up north with the family to their croft in Durness, Sutherland. The activities there included fishing, hunting, beachcombing, and exploring the rugged landscape, which John also loved to sketch. It must have felt like a different universe compared with the industrial smog and red brick urban sprawl he hailed from.

In later years, Lennon would consider his long summers spent in Scotland among his happiest childhood memories, describing Edinburgh as one of his favourite cities.

Beatlemania

Visits up to Scotland became rather restricted when John hit the big-time, but he still made the odd fleeting appearance to see his family at Ormidale Terrace if the Beatles were playing north of the border.

On 29 April 1964, Edinburgh was gripped by Beatlemania when the Fab Four arrived to perform at the ABC Lothian Road. Despite his celebrity status, John opted to crash at his cousin Stan Parkes’ house on Bryce Crescent, Currie after the show. The following morning, Lennon made a quick trip to the nearby R S McColl to buy a packet of Rothmans. The girl behind the counter “nearly fainted” when she clocked who it was.

Introducing Yoko

In 1969, John is also said to have taken his new wife Yoko to Ormidale Terrace, in an attempt to ingratiate her with his family. It didn’t quite work – least of all, it is said, with his Uncle Burt. However, the pair did end up enjoying a memorable visit to the Scottish capital, and were snapped several times on a stroll through the city centre with their children, John famously purchasing a pair of binoculars from Lizars on Shandwick Place.

Buying Ormidale Terrace

In the late 1970s, Lennon, now living in New York, wrote to his cousin Stan to express his desire to one day purchase 15 Ormidale Terrace – the place which spurred so many fond memories for him from almost a quarter of a century before. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, as 34 years ago this week John Lennon’s life came to an abrupt and tragic end.

It’s fascinating to think that one of the 20th century’s greatest popular composers could have spent his twilight years kicking back beneath Auld Reekie’s blue suburban skies.

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SEE ALSO:

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Lost Edinburgh: the Queen and the exploding post box

Lost Edinburgh: Scotland’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hero

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