Penny Lane: Then & Now

The monumental Beatles fan I am, the moment I got to Liverpool, England, was the moment I made sure I got myself to all IMG_0716the Beatles’ landmarks: Paul McCartney’s childhood home, John Lennon‘s childhood home, Strawberry Fields, St. Peter’s Church, and, of course, Penny Lane. I, of course, know all the lyrics to Penny Lane (as any halfway-decent Beatles fan should), and all the while I roamed the Lane, the lyrics were bopping through my head. How does the Penny Lane of today hold up to the Penny Lane McCartney immortalized in song? Well, let’s have a look at the lyrics.**

Verse #1:
In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello

Now, in my travels on Penny Lane, I found 2 barbershops, neither of which were manned by men and in neither of which did I see the stylists making any significant efforts at conversation or photographic evidence of past clients.

Barber Shop #1

Barber Shop #1

Barbershop #2

Barbershop #2

Inside barbershop #2, it can be clearly seen that the client is engrossed in her iPhone and therefore not making conversation with the barber who seems equally disinterested in making conversation about past clients.

Inside barbershop #2, it can be clearly seen that the client is engrossed in her iPhone and therefore not making conversation with the barber who seems equally disinterested in making conversation about past clients.

Verse #2
On the corner is a banker with a motorcar
The little children laugh at him behind his back
And the banker never wears a mack
In the pouring rain, very strange

In my travels on Penny Lane, I saw no bankers or banks, children or laughter, however, I did see this establishment:

As close as I got to a "bank" or "banker".

As close as I got to a “bank” or “banker”.

Chorus
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
I sit, and meanwhile back

During my reconnaissance mission to Penny Lane, I was able to both qualify and disqualify certain aspects of this chorus. When McCartney refers to “blue suburban skies,” I was able to confirm, through my research that, yes, the skies are, indeed, suburban, but blue? Not so much. They appeared, at least while I roamed the street, to be more on the grayscale of the color palette. Photographic documentation:

Suburban? Indeed. Blue? Come on, McCartney...

Suburban? Indeed. Blue? Come on, McCartney…

Verse #3
In Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass
And in his pocket is a portrait of the queen
He likes to keep his fire engine clean
It’s a clean machine

No firemen or fire stations seem to be in operation on Penny Lane in 2013. More research will be done as to the existence/operation of a fire station ca. 1967 (the song’s release).

Chorus #2
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
A four of fish and finger pies
In summer, meanwhile back

I was able to find several cafés on Penny Lane during my travels, however, none sold either fish or finger pies, which I found curious because, in my opinion, wouldn’t at least having those items on the menu entice Beatles’ fans to fulfill the song’s lyric? Very questionable.

Cafe #1: a wasted opportunity.

Cafe #1: a wasted opportunity.

Café #1: Proof of its fishlessness and finger pielessness.

Café #1: Proof of its fishlessness and finger pielessness.

Café #2: Proof of its fishlessness and finger pielessness

Café #2: Proof of its fishlessness and finger pielessness

Café #2

Café #2

Café #1: The Menu: Fishless and Finger Pieless.

Café #1: The Menu: Fishless and Finger Pieless.

Now, here is where  McCartney and the song descend entirely into what I imagine to be hearsay or blatant conjecture:

Verses #4-5 & Chorus #3-4
Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout
The pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray
And though she feels as if she’s in a play
She is anyway
In Penny Lane the barber shaves another customer
We see the banker sitting waiting for a trim
And then the fireman rushes in
From the pouring rain, very strange
Penny lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
I sit, and meanwhile back
Penny lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
Penny Lane

Below is, essentially, what Penny Lane looks like now. Can you tell me, honestly, that you can surmise all of that from this?

IMG_0717

These are the kinds of observations and details that could only be made by a local, and it is only because of McCartney’s Liverpuddlian roots that I don’t immediately dismiss this entire song as fiction or flawed, lazy reporting.

**All my musings must be read with the knowledge that I only spent one afternoon on Penny Lane, and therefore did not see everything that may or may not potentially exist on the street in its current state.**

5 thoughts on “Penny Lane: Then & Now

  1. Fun, thanks for this. Just saw Paul McCartney’s concert two days ago (superb show), and so I have been doing some beatles-related web surfing and found this. A few random bits picked up in my surfing:
    –“Finger pies” is sexual slang for what used to be called “getting to third base.” The (bus) shelter on the roundabout (I think I red somewhere it is no longer there) was sometimes used by couples getting friskly, late at night, “in summer.” Perhaps after a “four of fish” (fish and chips) dinner date….(and love how there is a fish/chips place in your photograph..)
    –McCartney himself is pretty open about the creative effects of his drug use, and this song was written around the time of his LSD period. That’s a possibility that the surreal details owe something to this: both sunny (blue suburban skies) and raining (in the pouring rain). The nurse “feels as though she’s in a play/she is anyway” – that’s a great description of the double reality feeling if tripping.
    –Of course, the song may have nothing to do with McCartney’s LSD usage. I love the lyrics; they seem like a wonderful combination of everyday suburban details, but with a surreal edge (the barber’s head photos, the fireman with an hourglass). McCartney also says he was a huge fan of the surrealist painters (he owns some classic Magritte paintings, as well as his spectacles), and it seems to show in these details.
    Thanks for the fun reporting and photos

  2. I was there yesterday and saw a TSB Bank to the right of the shelter. The old Bioletti’s barbershop is still a barbers called Slavin. It’s full of Beatles memorabilia and I had a hair -cut by Lisa whose worked there 30 years and is very friendly. The fire station is still where it was in McCartney’s day (not on Penny Lane but close by on Mather Street and is called to any emergencies on Penny Lane). Fish and finger pie is an obscene Liverpudlian sexual reference. You wouldn’t get that at a cafe… unless you paid an awful lot!

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