All photos courtesy of Bryan Eccleshall
Music fans have been known to do some pretty strange things over the years. For some people, the traditional acts of appreciation—buying records, going to gigs, sending the occasional item of underwear in the mail—simply aren’t enough. For some, devotion means more.
Consider the California woman who had a tattoo of Drake’s name branded onto her forehead; or the German dude who spent $60,000 on plastic surgery to look like Justin Bieber; or the man who regrettably covered his body in 29 Miley Cyrus tattoos. These are the fans whose rock ‘n’ roll reverence knows no sensible bounds.
Bryan Eccleshall might not quite be at the top of this list. But, undoubtedly, he’s somewhere on it.
Over eight years, this Beatles-lover has travelled the length and breadth of his home country of England in an attempt to visit and take a photo of every single Abbey Road—the title of the Fab Four’s 11th album. He did it, too. Some 132 of them in total. Thousands of miles travelled, and many more dollars spent.
“It wasn’t purely a fan-boy thing, though,” the 50-year-old tells Noisey when we meet for a pint in his home city of Sheffield, UK. “It was a conceptual art project too…”
Noisey: So, I guess you like The Beatles, Bryan?
Bryan Eccleshall: Of course. I love them. Who doesn’t? Although, ironically enough, my favorite album is actually Revolver.
Let me ask the big question: why do this?
Well, like I say, it was an art project as much as anything. When I started I was living in East London, there was an Abbey Road at the end of our street, two minutes away. And, obviously, I knew that wasn’t the one which the album is named after—that’s the other side of town—but it just got me wondering how many Abbey Roads there were in England. This was 2003, before Google Earth, but I got on the computer and managed to find a pretty comprehensive list of them all. I’m an artist—I have a degree in fine art—and at the time I was kind of looking for a conceptual project based around collecting, and lists, and that idea of ticking things off. And the idea of going to them all and taking a picture and then compiling those into a book or on a poster just struck me as pretty cool.
Abbey Road, Torquay
It must have been serious work, though? How many miles did you cover?
Hundreds, thousands maybe. I’m not totally sure because it’s not like I did them all in one trip. I was working and had other responsibilities so it was spread out. Like, if I got free days I’d go on a road trip to try and take in half a dozen or so. Or if we were visiting friends somewhere, I’d try and take in one or two on route. Part of the way through, my wife, Megan, and I moved to another part of the country and that meant a lot of north-south journeys, and I’d take detours from those to mop up more. And then, towards the end, when I just wanted it finished, there were still a whole bunch in different towns on the south coast which I’d not been to so I kind of insisted we go camping down there on holiday and spend a few days visiting them. I suppose that could be grounds for divorce with a lot of couples but I think Megan had accepted it was something I had to get done.
Did you listen to The Beatles while you were driving?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Obviously there were a lot of hours in the car so I kept the music pretty varied. I wasn’t just listening to Abbey Road on loop if that’s what you’re thinking.
Abbey Road, Flitcham
When you say it was an art project, how do you mean? Because I think a lot of people’s first thoughts might just be that this is music fan mania taken to extremes…
Maybe it is that, as well. But it was definitely conceived as an artwork. Like, I could have done it by taking pictures of all the ten Downing Streets in Britain, you know? Abbey Road was because I was a Beatles fan but other ideas could have worked too. It’s like Edward Ruscha did a beautiful book called “Every Building On The Sunset Strip”, which was pictures of… well, every building on the Sunset Strip. Or there was the J Street Project where Susan Hiller photographed every German street which still had the word Jude—Jew—in its name. And that is obviously making a very pointed, poignant point—that you cannot extinguish life or culture—but I felt in some smaller way, mine had a valid point to make too.
Which was what?
Well, there are 132 of these roads but, if you live on one and you tell someone, a lot of the time I’m sure people will say, “Oh, like The Beatles record?” And you must hear that all the time. So, these streets all share a name, but there’s a kind of first among equals there. One has made all the others famous. And I liked the idea that in these photos, they’re all equal again. But also—and this might be more important—I felt that by taking a picture of all these roads that share this famous name, but really have nothing else in common, you could almost create a portrait of England using this famous street has your parameter.
Abbey Road, Chilcompton
I get that. In fact, what struck me is that there are 132 pictures of 132 road signs and I assumed they would be pretty similar. But they’re actually not, are they? There are huge contrasts there…
Exactly. Not just in the sign—where the typography and material alters—but in the whole background and setting and context. Some are clearly rural, some urban. Some are very obviously in affluent areas and some less so. There’s dry stone walls, flower beds, phone boxes, post boxes, cars, homes, houses, everything that makes English towns English towns. I think it does somehow capture a certain quintessential feeling.
With those contrasts in mind, what were the greatest differences you saw?
The Beatles one in St John’s Wood is about the nicest. It’s a beautiful street—although the sign is constantly covered in graffiti done by fans who make the pilgrimage there. And then you have a lot where there is an actual abbey on the street itself. Like in Leeds, Abbey Road has this historic ruined monastery on it. But then you get lots on housing estates that have been named with an ecclesiastical theme. There’s one in Nottinghamshire in an old mining village where the street runs down to a double pithead that’s long been closed. It’s very sad. About half the houses are occupied but the other half are boarded up. It feels a very hopeless place. You see that and then you think about the one in London, and these extremes shouldn’t exist, you know?
Abbey Road, St. John's Woods, London
Are you saying it made you more politically aware in that sense?
I think you’d need to be dumb not to know these vast differences existed but something like this definitely drives it home. It takes you to places you wouldn’t necessarily go otherwise, outside your geographical and social circle so it does open the world to you a little.
And are you sure you did them all?
Well, there’s no definitive list anywhere I can find, but I’m happy that I did. I think maybe one or two have been built since I finished. But I’m not going to start chasing new ones. You’d go mad that way. I’m happy with the 132.
Abbey Road, Gornalwood
You talked before about putting the finished photos in a book or poster. Did you do that?
In a poster, yes. And I’ve done a few exhibitions at different galleries. But the poster hasn’t sold that well to be honest. A few in the UK, a handful to the US. I don’t know why more haven’t been bought. This is pretty unique. People are weird.
Still, it must feel pretty cool knowing you’re almost certainly the only person to have ever visited every one of these roads?
Yeah, it does, actually. I mean, it’s not quite like being the only person in the world to have climbed a certain route up Everest or something. I’m the only person who’s done it because I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who wanted to. There wasn’t any competition. It wasn’t a desperate race to the finish. But it’s nice. When I got to the last one in Stoke, I remember thinking that exact thing actually: You’ve just done something no-one ever has before. I took a moment. It had become an obsession.
See more about Bryan's Abbey Road project on his blog.
Colin Drury is on Twitter - @colin__drury