How John Lennon dreamt of buying a home in Murrayfield

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with their children Julian and Kyoko during a holiday in Durness. Picture: PA
John Lennon and Yoko Ono with their children Julian and Kyoko during a holiday in Durness. Picture: PA
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John Lennon’s personal links to Edinburgh ran deep.

Many fans of the legendary singer have heard the story of how, during a visit to the Capital as a young boy, he caught a bus to the city’s St Andrew Square bus station.

Pooles Roxy Cinema in Gorgie Road, which was a favourite haunt of the young John Lennon. Picture: TSPL

Pooles Roxy Cinema in Gorgie Road, which was a favourite haunt of the young John Lennon. Picture: TSPL

He was, by all accounts, making a lot of noise. But it seems the bus conductor was impressed by the lad’s spirit.

And when they got to St Andrew Square bus station he offered to give the teenager a top-of-the-range mouth organ that was left on the bus the week before.

It was the first quality instrument owned by an individual who would go on to become one of the greatest ever musical icons.

And ten years later, when John Lennon returned to Edinburgh as one of the Fab Four at the height of worldwide Beatlemania, he played the same harmonica in the opening bars of the band’s first hit, Love Me Do.

Of course, the musical megastar’s connections to the Capital extended well beyond the gift of a harmonica. Lennon’s aunt and cousin moved to the city from Liverpool in 1949, when the future Beatles co-founder was only nine.

And for the next five years he spent every summer exploring Edinburgh with his older cousin, Stan Parkes, who in 1949 was 16 years old.

At first, Parkes was the object of Lennon’s adulation. But neither of them could have known that, in a few years, it would be his younger cousin who would be worshipped by millions.

And had the singer not been shot dead, he might have lived to fulfil his dream of buying his late aunt’s home at 15 Ormidale Terrace in Murrayfield and bringing up his own family there.

Parkes says: “In the last letter I got from John in New York, he said he wanted to buy 15 Ormidale Terrace because he had such good memories of his time there. But he left it too late.”

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In the early 1950s, Parkes would travel to Liverpool to bring John back to Edinburgh on the bus to stay for the summer holidays. He says his younger cousin always loved spending time in the city.

“John came up to Edinburgh every year to spend the summer holidays here,” he remembers. “He loved the Castle, especially the Military Tattoo. He never forgot seeing that.

“We both loved films, too. I took him to see all the early films. We used to go to the old Roxy in Gorgie Road, which was his favourite cinema in Edinburgh.”

Parkes and his mother Elizabeth had moved to the Capital when she married Edinburgh dentist Bertie Sutherland. This was after the death of Parkes’ father. Their home was opposite Murrayfield Stadium, where Lennon and his cousin enjoyed watching the games.

Parkes says his younger cousin’s love of music and performance was evident from an early age.

“My mother had a baby grand and I had been taught to read sheet music, but John couldn’t,” he remembers.

“I remember he would sit there and tinkle away on the piano until one day I said, ‘How on earth can you sit and write songs like that when you can’t read music?’

“He just said, ‘Well, you’ll notice that I can only play with eight fingers and not the two thumbs’.

“He was just a natural musician.”

It was a talent that Lennon worked relentlessly to develop. And, in 1962, he returned with the soon-to-be famous Beatles to the Capital for a TV interview. The interview was aimed at plugging the band’s first major hit, Love Me Do.

Parkes recalls: “He had not really talked much about The Beatles until then.

“But he arrived at Ormidale Terrace one day saying that they’d made a record. John was so excited. He told me they were doing this TV interview.”

In 1964 John returned to the Capital for The Beatles’ first gig in Edinburgh, at the ABC cinema in Lothian Road. The cinema found itself at the centre of a massive and, by then, familiar entourage of screaming girls.

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In Stenhouse, another schoolboy was desperate to be at the gig.

But at 11, Doug Healy had to stay at home while the city went crazy over his boyhood hero. It was 30 years before Doug, by then a successful comedian and comedy writer, interviewed Stan for a book he was writing about Lennon’s Edinburgh connections and discovered that he had been just a few miles from his idol that night.

In the book, which is called John Lennon in Edinburgh, he says: “I was considered too young by my parents to join the hundreds of others sleeping in bags on the pavement around Semple Street and Lothian Road to get a ticket to see my heroes.

“The feeling that I had missed out on something special stayed with me.

“The night The Beatles performed I retired to my bed in the front room in Stenhouse, wishing I was a few years older. Thirty years later I was to discover that John Lennon had retired that same night to a front room in a house less than two miles away in Currie.

“The following morning John went into an RS McColl shop to purchase a pack of cigarettes. The wee lassie behind the counter fainted when she realised he was in the shop.”

Shopkeeper Bob Webb still has the photograph he took when John, Yoko and their two children from previous marriages, Julian and Kyoko, turned up at Lizars’ camera shop in Shandwick Place, where he was manager.

Recalling the details of the visit, he says: “He came in with his beard, wearing the trousers from his honeymoon suit, and he bought a pair of binoculars for his aunt.

“He was very chatty and friendly.”

John, Yoko and the children paid their visit to the shop during a trip around the singer’s favourite haunts in Liverpool, Edinburgh and the Highlands.

At the time, John drove a modest Maxi in the hope they would not be recognised.

But the trip came to an abrupt end when they crashed on a remote single track road and had to be taken to hospital.

Webb says: “I was not a particular fan of John Lennon or The Beatles.

“I’ve made a bit of money from that picture, although I’ve not made my fortune.”

Older cousin Parkes, who went on to become a retired engineer and moved to Largs in Ayrshire, is keen for a new memorial to be erected to mark Lennon’s Edinburgh ties.

He says: “All you hear about now is New York and Yoko but John loved Edinburgh. I would quite like to see a memorial to keep that connection alive.”