The Edinburgh roots of late ‘Fifth Beatle’ Stuart Sutcliffe have been well documented over the years, but what’s lesser known is Lennon’s Capital connections.
As a youngster, the Liverpudlian made frequent trips to the city to stay with his aunt and uncle in their terraced house in Murrayfield before heading up north to the family croft in Durness.
Even at the height of his fame, when Beatlemania was in full bloom, he continued to visit, and after a famous Beatles show at Edinburgh’s ABC cinema in 1964 he spent some time at his cousin Stan Parke’s house.
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Parkes was a good seven years older than Lennon and more of a big brother than a cousin to the future Beatle.
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 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.
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.
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.
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