The Beatles Dropped 'Abbey Road' 50 Years Ago — but This London Music Tour Will Make You Feel Like It Was Just 'Yesterday'
Stephen Channell knows how to take a good photo.
The 25-year veteran of the music industry-turned cabbie and tour guide (and now shutterbug) stood in the middle of the street, lining four of us up. “Wait, which leg are we starting with?” I quickly asked. This photo, after all, takes some coordination.
On the count of three and with cars waiting we took off on the right foot, swinging our arms in time like countless tourists have done before us, recreating the "Abbey Road" album cover, nearly as infamous as the Beatles themselves.
Fifty years later, that iconic album — the last the Beatles made as a group and released in the UK on Sept. 26, 1969 — still resonates. And tracing the city’s music history remains a favorite pastime for many visitors.
“I kept getting asked, especially by American tourists, about Abbey Road and on the way to Abbey Road I would say ‘do you know Paul McCartney lives around the corner? Do you know where Jimmy Page lives? Do you know where Freddie Mercury’s house is?’” Channell, who runs Rock Cab Tours, told Travel + Leisure. “And of course I had this wonderful light bulb moment, I said, ‘You know what, there’s a bit of a business in this.’”
For decades, Channell worked for record labels selling to major shops like Tower Records, but eventually gave it up to become a cab driver, taking what is known as “The Knowledge” in 2011 to get his license. Last year, he started Rock Cab Tours and led 26 tours. So far this year, he’s done more than 60.
“I became a cab driver and thought I was going to sail off into the sunset and leave the music industry behind and then I kind of missed it,” he said, demonstrating his impressive playlist with classics like Elton John’s “Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting” playing as we rounded London’s tight corners, weaving our way from one rock legend’s house to another.
Pulling up to Freddie Mercury’s former home with “Don’t Stop Me Now” gleefully playing in my head, I noticed we weren’t alone in paying our respects in front of the large complex. Nor were we alone the next day in appreciating the intricacy and genius of Jimi Hendrix’s guitar playing as we walked through his flat at Handel & Hendrix in London, a guitar placed on the bed as if the rockstar himself had just set it down in a room draped with tapestries and rugs so saturated with color it felt like he must still be there.
London’s musical history is visible around nearly every corner: From the rich burgundy velvet chairs and rock-mural-covered loading dock at the Royal Albert Hall to the life-size statue of Amy Winehouse in Camden Market, her slight figure a nonetheless imposing presence among the food stalls and foot traffic. It’s even in the small jazz clubs like The Jazz Cafe in Camden where experimental and new music is allowed to thrive, a hazy sound enveloping you as you sit above it, sipping a sour cocktail.
A couple of days later and many miles covered, I met up with Antony Robbins, a tour guide who seemed to float through the city with a dazzling and contagious energy as if the music of the streets itself was pulling him along. Zooming through busy and bustling roads, Robbins told the story of how the hand jive was invented in a crowded coffee bar and how John Lennon once guarded a public toilet.
It was with that characteristic passion that Robbins guided me through Soho, and with that same characteristic fervor that London as a whole seems to protect its musical culture.
When I finally got home the next day, pulling out a small wind-up music toy that played an almost unrecognizable version of “Here Comes the Sun” — a tune that will forever remind me of the joy of watching my sister walk down the aisle at her wedding — I thought what better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road than with the understanding that though something may be over, it never really goes away.