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.