EFEAlmeria

A city in southern Spain gathered over the weekend to commemorate two musical milestones: John Lennon's birthday and the 50th anniversary of one of his finest compositions, the Beatles' 1966 hit single "Strawberry Fields Forever."

Almeria, located 550 kilometers (342 miles) to the south of Madrid, is the capital of the homonymous province that has seen countless film shootings in its arid Tabernas Desert, the location for classics such as David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and a veritable Mecca for spaghetti western productions such as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" and "A Fistful of Dollars."

It is also the place where a 26-year-old Lennon finished writing one of the Beatles' most acclaimed and influential songs, "Strawberry Fields Forever," which for the past 50 years has remained a steady fan favorite and is considered by many to be an era-defining landmark in pop music history.

The day Lennon turned 26 was the day he decided to temporarily move into the Santa Isabel villa, a lavish mansion built in 1866 that hosted many prominent film stars in the 1960s, such as Peter O'Toole or Yul Brynner.

Lennon was in Almeria for the shooting of Richard Lester's action-comedy "How I Won The War" _ in which he played bespectacled supporting character Musketeer Gripweed _ and was taking a break from the dizzying day-to-day madness unleashed by the planet's ever-growing 'Beatlemania.'

The villa, with its wrought-iron gates and exuberant gardens, reminded Lennon of the days when he would play in Strawberry Field, a garden owned by the Salvation Army that was near his childhood home.

Inspired by the setting, he rushed to complete a nostalgia-infused tune he had begun to shape in an earlier tour of the United States and mused over on the clear-skyed beaches of Almeria while plucking the strings of his inseparable acoustic guitar.

The end result, a psychedelic rock masterpiece originally written in C major, was recorded for the first time in one of the villa's bathrooms.

The "Santa Isabel demos" were thus born, and, half a century later, their legend lives on now that the mansion has become a memorabilia-packed film history museum known as the "Casa del Cine de Almeria."

The bathroom has been transformed into a sort of modern shrine and its bathtub is emblazoned with the lyrics of "Strawberry Fields Forever."

Spanish journalist Javier Adolfo Iglesias, who has for years tirelessly conducted extensive research into Lennon's one-month stay in Almeria, was one of the organizers of Sunday's event at the Casa del Cine celebrating the song's 50th anniversary.

A founder of the "LennonForeverAlmeria" association, he told EFE that from now on Almeria would "forever" be tied to Liverpool and the Fab Four.

Iglesias is best known for his seminal book on Lennon's trip to Spain, titled "Juan and John: The Teacher and Lennon in Almeria Forever."

The book recounts the heartwarming story of an English teacher who personally paid Lennon a visit at Santa Isabel with a very special request.

Juan Carrion, now aged 92, set off from his home in Cartagena (southeastern Spain) in his trusty SEAT 600 car to see Lennon and ask for assistance in his English lessons.

Carrion frequently used Beatles' songs in the English classes he taught, as he considered them "a very important source of vocabulary" and full of "beautiful words."

He suggested to Lennon that the band release their lyrics on their albums' sleeves, a proposition that the Liverpudlian artist apparently welcomed.

Immediately upon his return to London, Lennon instructed the Beatles' label, EMI-owned Parlophone, to print the lyrics to their songs on every record jacket.

The veteran Carrion, whose story was made into the 2013 Spanish comedy film directed by David Trueba, "Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed," was also present at the Santa Isabel celebrations on Sunday.

The Salvation Army was represented at the event by Jules Sherwood, who announced that the London-based charity is set to renovate the actual Strawberry Field in Liverpool and open it to the public.

Sherwood promised that the city of Almeria would play a role in the project.

He said that the abandoned lot was currently being visited by around 100,000 fans from around the world every year; following the renovation, it would showcase Lennon's life from childhood to the moment he finished composing "Strawberry Fields Forever" in Almeria.

Iglesias said that in the event of Strawberry Field's future opening to the public, Almeria should have a presence, since the Spanish city and the Merseyside garden were always inextricably linked in Lennon's mind and music.

"Almeria has to be present in Liverpool forever, as the song goes," he added.

Iglesias' words were partly drowned out by the sound of children singing the chorus of "Strawberry Fields Forever" at the historic venue, which also hosted a puppet show based on "How I Won the War."

The three-day celebrations in honor of Lennon and his creation included numerous performances by Spanish Beatles tribute bands such as The Flaming Shakers, Beaters, The Flaming Pie, Magical Mystery and Beatles Connection.

Sunday also saw the unveiling of Spain's largest Beatles-themed mural in the coastal town of Carboneras, located 60 kilometers to the east of Almeria.

This outpour of affection seems to indicate that the memory of the Misunderstood Beatle's stay in Almeria runs no risk of being lost.

For when it comes to John Lennon and his connection to the cinematic Mediterranean city, there is certainly nothing to get hung about.

(photo) (video)