And so my pilgrimage to Liverpool and all things Beatles come to a close. But not before taking a look at The Beatles Story, a 2-part museum experience, ferrying across the Mersey and a closer look at some of the fine old and new buildings featured in this great port city. If you are a Beatles fan, you must make a pilgrimage. If not, Liverpool still has so much to offer in every respect, from theatre to night clubs, restaurants to live music venues and a shopping district that will take your breath away. Imagine, I don’t even get a penny for selling the place.
There is a museum here that is actually called The International Slavery Museum. This was the port where slaves came to be processed before going to the Americas. A stain on the city’s illustrious seafaring history, but of interest historically. And it was brought about because of the Beatles song Penny Lane. You see, the lane was named after James Penny, a 19th century slave trader who also lived in the area. A few years ago, there was one of those lobby groups, who take it upon themselves to eradicate from memory anything deemed politically incorrect. In this case, they wanted to change Penny Lane to another more acceptable name, not wanting it to seem to be endorsing the memory of a slave trader.
You can imagine the backlash to that proposal. First of all, no one knew who James Penny was and second, it was the title of an iconic Beatles tune. The second reason was the bigger issue for most. Scousers to a man quashed the idea of a change. Instead, the city council said rather than burying the past by ignoring it, why not talk about it. Thus the slave museum. Penny Lane was saved.
I didn’t visit that museum. Instead, I went to the Beatles Story Museum at Albert Dock and the second at Pier Head (where you also catch the ferry to cross the Mersey). Quite an adventure through the Beatles’ decade and even beyond to their solo careers. Each visitor was issued a listening device with Beatles info fed to us at each station by John’s sister Julia. The displays were set up like a fun house. You move from room to room. There were moments I thought a robotised Beatle might jump out of the shadows and say ‘Boo’. But none did. You begin in a room that features all the early guitars, even the one John played at home in Mendips. The Quarrymen instruments were there too.
You walk into a re-creation of the Casbah, West Derby, Liverpool and the club where the Beatles honed their skills in Hamburg, Germany, the office of The Mersey Beat newspaper, The Cavern Club as it was originally, even the street outside, minus the rat (not real) that used to be there but scared too many people and had to be removed, Brian Epstein’s NEMS record shop, Abbey Road studios complete with the Beatles instruments from some of their recording sessions there, a room with the Sgt. Pepper’s cover….full size….with Ringo’s costume, The Magical Mystery Tour Bus side panel and two of the original seats (one on which I sat), the inside of The Yellow Submarine and then a room dedicated to the solo careers of the Beatles after the split. In John’s room was a pair of his round lens glasses and copies of the two books he wrote. So much information to take in with one visit.
The museum at Pier Head had a 4D animated film….complete with water spray, smells and moving seats. The displays were as much about the music and culture of the Beatles era as about the Fab4. Costumes worn by The Supremes, James Brown and guitars and other instruments from many of the musicians of the day, including BB King, Keith Moon’s (The Who) drums and all the Mersey bands. John Lennon’s piano from the Imagine recording is there. A Smorgasbord of Beatles paraphernalia, including lunch boxes, dolls, posters and wigs.
What to do when you come out of all that? Get on a ferry across the Mersey, that’s what. And not just any old ferry either. This was the Royal Iris, otherwise known as the Fish and Chips boat back in the Beatles’ days. The Fab4 played a number of times on this very boat as did all the local bands of The Mersey Beat. The Royal Iris also ferries regular folk across the Mersey to Woodside in Birkenhead and Seacombe (not Harry….for all those old enough to remember the British Goons). It has been the same trip for years.
And that, dear reader, nearly ends this pilgrimage to a city that surprised me beyond the Beatles’ presence. The architecture is old and new. The streets are clean and the place seems alive and vibrant. But the thing that impressed me most was the friendliness of the Scousers we met. Funny, quick-witted and helpful. I would not turn down another visit. Maybe on my 70th.
When we got back, the Beatles played on our stereo for days. My best friend says her dreams were filled with everything Beatles. I watched ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ on Netflix. I wore my John Lennon sunglasses and Beatles (Abbey Road print) hoodie until I was forced to put it in the wash. I imagined myself playing my guitar alongside Lennon and Harrison while I ran through my well worn Complete Beatles song book. ‘And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you give….’