Tag Archives: Liverpool

The Pilgrimage: Part 3

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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.

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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.

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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….’

The Pilgrimage: Part 1

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You turn 65. A pilgrimage is required. Forget retirement. These days especially. But a pilgrimage must be undertaken…while there is life in the old carcass.

Some people go to Mecca. The poor ones go to Kairouan in Tunisia. I went there, but not as a pilgrim. Christians and Jews prefer Jerusalem or somewhere in Israel. Many Christians go to Lourdes or Lindisfarne. Other pilgrims go to one or another ashrams in India, or Machu Picchu in Peru. Actually, ashrams can be found anywhere these days….Glastonbury in England or somewhere in Wales for example. Pick your own Mecca and that’s where you’ll go to find meaning, connect the dots, be inspired. Maybe just to be. One person I met says he goes on a pilgrimage to Las Vegas once a year. Another goes golfing at one of the world’s golf meccas. He has 5 under his belt so far.

For me, it was Liverpool….up the canal from where I live. A long way up, but doable. It would take about a month by boat, so my best friend and I boarded one of Richard Branson’s Virgin trains to the Mecca of the north. It isn’t the city of Liverpool so much but the music group that has had such an influence on my life. I was there at the beginning of Beatlemania. I had to go to see the birthplace of the best group of the last century. After all, I had just turned 65.

My best friend arranged the whole thing. She asked what I’d like for this momentous birthday and Liverpool and the Beatles trek was the first thing to mind. I have been a lifelong fan, ever since hearing ‘She Loves You’ on my little salmon and white transistor radio under my pillow in 1964. I was hooked. The first song I learned on the guitar was The Beatles’ ‘The Night Before’. I wrote about this in an earlier Blog about the 5th Beatle, George Martin. I was gutted when the Beatles broke up, but followed their solo careers….except Ringo until recently.

So we arrived in Liverpool at Lime Street station, walked to our hotel and got ready for part one of the pilgrimage, The Cavern Club where the Beatles played nearly 300 gigs. Problem is, the original club was closed in 1973. British Rail thought they needed a ventilation shaft for a new underground (subway) line and tore down that whole side of Mathew Street, burying the club under tons of rubble. It became a car park. And it was never used by British Rail after all that. Attempts were made to recreate the Cavern Club in the area, even across the street, but it just wasn’t the same.

In the 1980’s, following John Lennon’s untimely death in November 1980, people gathered at the old site until it was decided to dig out the rubble and recreate the original club as close as possible. They did just that, even using 15,000 of the old bricks dug from the old club to reconstruct the Cavern Club as it was when the Beatles played there. The main difference is the bar has been relocated and is much larger than the original where the likes of Cilla Black worked. The venue has live music all day from noon to midnight featuring everything from Beatles tribute bands to the latest Indie groups. But it’s still mostly Beatles. It certainly was when we visited. Even across the street from the Cavern Club, beside the Cavern Pub.

We arrived in Liverpool on a Sunday afternoon. The weather was sunny and mild. A short walk later, we arrived at our hotel in the centre of the city. We had no idea just how close we were to the famed club. We had tickets for that night to see a group who played only Beatles music. How appropriate. After wandering down to Albert Dock alongside the Mersey, getting our bearings, we headed to The Cavern Club. I felt like that little boy with his trasistor radio.

The entrance has changed since the days of the Fab4. You wind your way down the stairs and enter the holy of holies. It’s everything you imagined it would be….crowded, very hot and noisy. A warm-up trio called The Shakers played 60’s tunes, some Stones, Gerry and the Pacemakers, all that. They were Scousers all. Scousers you say? A term given to Liverpudlians, especially those from Merseyside, the docks area. It comes from a Scandinavian and German term (lobscouse….Norwegian) meaning a meat/fish stew eaten by sailors. It was introduced to Liverpool by Swedish and German sailors. The name was shortened and is now more a term referring to the local accent than any food.

Then the featured act came on. By this time, we had miraculously found a seat, in one of the wings off the main aisle leading to the stage and opposite a young Scouse couple. Turns out it was the young lady’s 24th birthday. We introduced ourselves and discovered that the birthday girl’s grandfather was Paul McCartney’s first cousin. She knew very little about the Beatles. Her boyfriend (30) was the real fan. He loved her grandad’s stories about growing up with a legend. The grandad hated Heather, Paul’s third wife. She told him not to smoke in his own house during a visit. He told her, “Fuck off and get out of my house!” in his strongest Scouse. Paul came back. She never did.

The grandad loved Linda. Paul and she used to babysit Paul’s cousin’s daughter (our young lady’s mum) when in Liverpool. Paul sang her ‘Blackbird’ to put her to sleep. Happier days. The stories kept coming about the Beatles visits to her grandad’s place. Apparently, Paul’s cousin wasn’t impressed. He preferred Freddy and the Dreamers and Frankie Vaughan. We were in the middle of another story about one of Paul’s visits when that famous G7sus4 chord began the Faux Beatles’ set. ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. I almost cried.

These guys were the real deal. They played the songs straight, dressed in Beatles attire and grew their hair like the early Beatles had it. You understand, of course, that the suits were their manager Brian Epstein’s idea. When the Fab4 played The Cavern Club, they wore leather jackets and bluejeans. They preferred that look but deferred to Epstein’s wishes that the lads appear cleancut and wholesome. But they were fun-loving, quick-witted, cheaky Scousers and that would eventually win the day.

Even the Faux Beatles’ musical instruments were authentic reproductions of the real Beatles’, even the mics, amps and Ludwig drums. Tune after tune poured out. Their rendition of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was spell binding. They asked for requests. I kept yelling ‘She Loves You’, but I was further back and in one of the wings, so my voice was drowned out. The one song I wanted to hear. Not to be. They ended with ‘I Should Have Known Better’. An admirable substitute. I left the Cavern Club a happy pilgrim.

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