From Jimi Hendrix’s flat to the Hard Rock Cafe’s vaults, Musical Heritage London’s 1960s-themed bus tours aim to preserve the capital’s musical legacy. Andrew Doherty reports
Roll up, roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour,” yells Paul McCartney over the speakers on the top deck of the 1965 Routemaster bus.
The opening bars of the Beatles’ hit lull me into trance-like state as we set off from the Hard Rock Cafe in Mayfair.
Meanwhile, ex-Radio Caroline DJ Tony Prince has grabbed the microphone off my tour guide Adam to serenade fellow radio personality Mike Read with a rendition of Donovan’s Mellow Yellow.
In stitches of laugher, I just manage to peel myself away from this bizarre scene to catch a glimpse of the former site of London’s first psychedelic boutique, Granny Takes A Trip, on the Kings Road in Chelsea – one of the epicentres of 1960s London.
I’m taking part in Music Heritage London’s (MHL) Swinging 60s London bus tour, an hour-long journey to the capital’s most famous music venues and locations.
Once the playground of socialites, actors and rock stars, London was the hip hub of the Swinging 60s musical and cultural revolution.
Decked out in a vintage boating blazer, Adam points to the Sloane Square Hotel, adding: “The Beatles stayed here during the recording of their debut album Please Please Me, which only took one day to make.”
During the tour we pass the former homes of Jimi Hendrix, Ringo Starr and members of the Rolling Stones, as well as clubs and fashion stores frequented by idols of the era, singing along to classic hits on the way.
Paul Endacott, MHL’s managing director, tells me he started the bus tours in 2015 to keep the legacy of London’s 1960s music scene alive.
“I experienced the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour bus attraction in Liverpool and thought, ‘Why don’t we do something similar in London?’” he says.
Now, having secured partnerships with the Hard Rock Cafe, the Troubadour music venue, the Hendrix Flat museum and Radio Caroline, Endacott insists he wants to sell the experiences through more trade-friendly operators – it is currently commissionable through Viator.
“Today is all about understanding what we do and encouraging people to promote the experience to the younger generations,” he says.
The Swinging 60s tour is one of four bus outings offered by MHL. Other options include: The Rolling Stones and the Beatles in West London; Hard Rock Museum tour; and the Hendrix Experience, where passengers can visit the star’s former Mayfair home, which is now a museum.
I meet Sarah Handy, senior sales and marketing manager at Hard Rock Cafe London, for a history lesson.
She tells me that the Hard Rock Cafe was set up by two friends to combat the lack of “casual dining experiences” in London.
“The first musician to donate an instrument was Eric Clapton. The next day [The Who’s] Pete Townshend arrived with his guitar and a note that said his instrument was just as good as Clapton’s. Now we have 250,000 pieces of authentic memorabilia all worn or played by famous musicians. That’s how the collection started.”
My bus tour ends at the Hard Rock Cafe’s vaults, which MHL clients can visit as part of the experience.
Once the location of the bank Coutts, where the Queen kept her most treasured possessions, the Hard Rock organisation bought the building in 1971.
Now the vaults are home to another kind of treasure – musical memorabilia belonging to some of the world’s greatest rock stars.
The music fan and guitar enthusiast in me suddenly ignites and I can’t resist the urge to strum a few chords on Bob Dylan’s old axe before marvelling at a chair owned by Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
Seeing the joy on the faces of my fellow bus passengers reliving the glory days of their youth is heartwarming.
And although I never experienced the 1960s myself, the tour made me want to build a time machine. It may only be rock and roll, but as the Rolling Stones so eloquently put it – “I like it!”
Book it: Viator has the Hard Rock Museum tour from £30, the Swinging 60s London tour from £20, and The Rolling Stones and the Beatles in West London from £35. viator.com