OK, so I’ve come down off the high from Yesterday.
This morning I “woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head”. I left for the train station and got a Ticket to Ride into Liverpool to do some serious Beatle touring.
I’m sorry, I just can’t help with the cheesy song inserts. I’ll stop now.
I thought I had overslept when I looked at the time on my laptop. Turned out that my alarm had worked as I wanted, although it blasted out AC/DC’s “Back in Black” instead of the warm notes of Leon Russell’s “Lady Blue”. That won’t happen again. Don’t want to wake up the other Airbnb guests in this little English home.
When I arrived at Mathew Street, site of the seminal Cavern Club, I immediately pulled out my camera and started taking photos. Yesterday I rather rushed through this area. I had been awake for nearly twenty-four hours as I traveled from Lugano, Switzerland to Munich, Germany to Manchester and, finally, Liverpool. My Airbnb host was not yet ready for me, so I had opted to charge around town to get my bearings.
My first destination was the Cavern Club, world-famous for featuring the Beatles over the space of two years. The Fab Four have become the Club’s most famous act, performing there 292 times, more than any other group.
There’s interesting information about the Club, too. The original club was to be torn down in 1973 to make way for a nine story office building. Public outcry led to the saving of everything from the original club. A few feet down the street, the Club was resurrected, a replica depicting the actual stage using original bricks from the original club. The “new” Cavern Club occupies about 75% of the old club; the stage and seating area just had to be rebuilt.
After paying the five pound admission fee, I began the descent into the Cavern Club. Down, down I went. First one floor and then two floors. The brick walls were painted black and at each landing was a sign that said “Cavern Club”. Posters plastered the walls showcasing other famous acts that had performed at this iconic nightspot.
As I descended, the atmosphere became thicker and more humid. It gave me an idea of what the original club was like nearly sixty years ago when it was packed with teenagers, eager to see the Beatles (with original drummer, Pete Best and then, finally Ringo Starr).
Jammed together like sardines, the humidity would create condensation on the walls that would drip from the ceiling of the club. According to the Beatles Museum, the boys’ equipment would fuse and they’d have to stop during performances to get it working again.
Today’s club definitely is crowded and compact. Instead of being packed with teenagers, it was full of aging Baby-boomers, knocking pack a pint and photographing every square inch of the stage, the seating area, the poster-covered walls and the bar area. Nowadays there is also a separate area dedicated to memorabilia.
When I reached the main performance area, I was transported back. I had seen numerous photos of the Beatles performing in an unbelievably crowded room. To be in that room now (or a reasonable facsimile, including the real bricks) was surreal.
As I walked around, I marveled at the other acts who had performed at the Cavern Club–Queen, Eric Clapton, the Who, Rod Stewart (with the Faces), Elton John (as a member of Bluesology before he hit big). I had never known the Cavern Club cut out such a huge slice of pop music’s pie.
At the back of the club was another stage where a group from the Philippines performed Beatles classics. I was surprised to find out later that bands still play on the original stage that had been re-created.
Of course, Beatles music was being played over the loud speaker on a loop–“Sexy Sadie”, “The Fool on the Hill”, “Mean Mr. Mustard”–it was all there. Not just the hits and most popular album tracks, but more obscure cuts, too.
I would have stayed in the Cavern Club longer but, being alone with no one to enjoy this experience, and feeling claustrophobic and over-heated, I opted to leave after getting my photos.
From the Cavern Club I went into the John Lennon Bar–basically a bar dedicated to John Lennon. Located on Mathew Street a few feet down from the Cavern Club, the entry featured famous utterings by its namesake as well as the lyrics to “Imagine”. After that, I walked into the Beatles Shop which had everything imaginable about the Beatles–guitars, dolls, t-shirts, mugs, just everything. Both of these businesses had Beatles music pouring out the doors onto the street.
In addition, there was a guy who had commandeered the corner of Mathew Street and Temple Court for himself. He was there every day, playing guitar and warbling Beatles tunes. He wasn’t half bad and I stopped to listen for a bit.
I was impressed that he wasn’t singing “Can’t Buy Me Love” or “Yesterday” but instead had chosen “Dear Prudence” from the White Album–a song Lennon wrote for Mia Farrow’s sister, Prudence, during their stay with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India.
I forgot to give the guy a few coins. I figure that, if I stop to be entertained, then the performer deserves to be paid, right? Next time.
Down the street were two young men, both about twenty, setting up their little outdoor venue. I never got their names, but the talkative one pointed out to me the original entrance to the Cavern Club and explained the history of how it had been destroyed for a new building in 1973. As he stated, “We’re not as good at saving our famous places as America is”. He gave me the history of the Club and I dropped five pounds into their guitar case just as a thanks.
Hey, you give me Beatles tidbits and I’ll love you forever.
The street also featured a pub called “Grapes” which is where the Beatles would oftentimes go for a pint before or after a gig since the Cavern Club didn’t serve alcohol. There is a location in Grapes where John Lennon signed his name.
Other businesses utilized the Beatles fame in their restaurant or bar offerings with “All You Need is Love” cocktails, etc. Windows were painted over with Beatles faces from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. There was an Eleanor Rigby Hotel.
Businesses that weren’t located on Mathew Street got into the Beatles vibe with names like “Imagine” or “Revolution”. I have to admit that there weren’t as many establishments as I expected to be capitalizing on the Beatles’ moniker. If it had been America, there would have been blocks dedicated to the Fab Four.
After Mathew Street, I set out for the Docks. Part of the Dock area is a recognized UNESCO site. Liverpool was a major port for England and was instrumental in the slave trade. It was also the port of registry for the Lusitania, the Titanic and the Queen Mary. The dock area today, formerly run down and abandoned, has been rejuvenated and boasts upscale restaurants, high-rise condos, museums, shops and even a Ferris wheel. And a Beatles Museum.
I went first to the Mersey Museum. Yes, that Mersey, made famous by Gerry and the Pacemakers–“Ferry Cross the Mersey” released in 1965. Inside the building there was also a Fab Four Cafe and a Beatles memorabilia store that had everything. Low-class tourist I am, I had to buy my requisite Beatles t-shirt–merely for lounging around the house on Saturdays while listening to Abbey Road, you see.
From there I walked along the Mersey River, flowing brown and rough. There was a slight wind, but the sun continued to break through the clouds. And, even though the wind was blowing, it was relatively warm and I was able to stay comfortable despite wearing only shorts and my Italia t-shirt.
I continued along the dock area, marveling at the atmosphere. For years I’ve read about what a run-down, low-class city Liverpool is. Indeed, even Beatles biographers refer to Liverpool as a down-and-out city, bypassed by the rest of the world.
What I saw was a city that enticed me and made me want to come back–and to see more than Beatles history. The Dock area offers maritime museums and a Titanic museum as well as a museum on the slave trade. There’s an exhibit featuring a typical English home during WWII. Liverpool was in Hitler’s sites due to the shipbuilding industry and the area was relentlessly bombed. What one sees today is 180 degrees away from the image portrayed for decades.
As I walked through the dock area, I stopped for fish and chips. For dessert I treated myself to a bag of jelly bellies. I passed jewelry shops, high-end restaurants, sailboats and refurbished maritime buildings, meticulously appointed.
Finally, I reached the Beatles Museum. It was 14.95 pounds to get in, roughly $23. Even though I’ve read and re-read the Beatles’ history a million times, I nevertheless, was enthralled with the museum.
The exhibits start out with the birth of rock ‘n roll and how the early pioneers like Elvis, Little Richard and Roy Orbison influenced the Beatles. Then it takes a Magical Mystery Tour (sorry, couldn’t resist) through the Beatles history. There are videos, original documents, re-creations of offices and even an exhibit of the set for John Lennon’s Imagine video. Some people had donated the use of original Beatle memorabilia such as a one-time printing of a blue copy of the White Album LP, a collector’s item to be sure.
There were interesting tidbits of minutiae, too. Like finding out that a young George Harrison broke his first guitar that was given to him by his folks which he then hid for months, terrified of their wrath.
At the end of the tour were exhibits featuring post-Beatles careers. I was flabbergasted to find out that Paul McCartney has about twenty-seven Grammy awards. All the Beatles have at least a dozen. Some of them are for induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame as members of the Beatles and separately as solo artists. But I had forgotten that they had won for Best New Artist in 1964 as well as Best Album for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1968 and Best Original Score for Let it Be in 1971. And I thought the Academy was stuffy back then…
After leaving the exhibits, Pattie Boyd was there, signing copies of her best-selling book, Wonderful Tonight, which chronicled her life as a pop mistress, married to two of the most famous guitarists in the world (George Harrison and later, Eric Clapton) and for whom three of the most famous love songs in pop history were written (“Something”, “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight”). Yes, I bought a book. Yes, I got it signed. Yes, I got a photo with her.
Did I mention I’m a tourist?
I left the Dock area and made my way back to Mathew Street–Beatles Central. From there I went to Woolton where John Lennon and Paul McCartney grew up. The bus let me off at Penny Lane and I began snapping photos furiously. I walked up and down the street and, of course, the tune played over and over in my head.
I was surprised that this area, immortalized in one of the greatest songs by the Beatles featuring such magnificent imagery, was generally bereft of any type of commercialism or recognition. There were no billboards, no plaques, no statues even mentioning the Beatles or the song. I got the impression people didn’t want to showcase the area. Perhaps to prevent hordes of tourists?
Yet, it was so easy to find and I was even more surprised when I saw virtually no other tourists around. Of course, by this time it was 5:30 p.m. and most people were probably lubricating themselves in the pubs on Mathew Street. Nevertheless, I walked around.
I had wanted to find more than just Penny Lane. Walking along, eventually a taxi driver dropped off a young couple in front of me. I poked my head in the door and asked him if he knew the locations of famous Beatles sites. He scratched his head (!) and told me to hop in.
“Gary” was an upbeat, friendly guy. He drove me to the homes where John Lennon and Paul McCartney grew up as well as Strawberry Fields. The one place he could not remember was the location of Eleanor Rigby’s tombstone.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney actually lived quite near each other. The area today is relatively affluent, although Lennon’s home is in a much nicer neighborhood than McCartney’s. Both homes are vacant and the properties can be accessed through a tour agency although it is not possible to go inside. And, apparently, neighbors get a bit peeved at all the traffic generated by zealous Beatles fans seeking out their hero’s homes.
Gary then took me to Strawberry Fields which was nothing like I imagined it. Indeed, Strawberry Fields in New York is more memorable. The original Strawberry Fields is behind an iron gate, surrounded by a stone wall. Fans over the decades have covered the stones with their names and offerings of devotion to Lennon and/or the Beatles. Beyond the gate is really nothing more than a natural area. It didn’t look like anything terribly inviting or accessible.
The taxi driver and I chatted for a long time and discussed the impact of the Beatles and he offered up something to me that I had been considering right before he picked me up–with all their accumulated wealth, why have none of the Beatles invested or shown any thanks to the city of Liverpool?
Indeed, McCartney is estimated to be a billionaire from his publishing rights and music holdings. The rest of the group are all centimillionaires. Yet one finds no libraries, schools, parks or any other civic offerings from the Fab Four.
According to Gary, he thinks Liverpudlians believe the Beatles abandoned Liverpool after fame hit. He claims that McCartney and Starr have made disparaging remarks about Liverpool and that the general feeling of the citizens is that they don’t want to come back because they look down on their hometown. Considering the dearth of offerings made to the city on behalf of the group, he might be right.
The driver then took me to the John Lennon Airport nearby where I could catch a train back into town which would be faster than the bus. I gave him a generous tip.
Arriving back in the city center, I gravitated back to Mathew Street once again. Dusk was setting in and the neighborhood was becoming more rambunctious. Restaurants had turned into noisy pubs blasting Duran Duran and Tom Petty. People were becoming louder and livelier. I had wanted to experience Liverpool at night. But, wearing shorts with white socks while carrying a “Beatles Museum” bag full of memorabilia I felt made me a target…
Instead, I walked into Flanagan’s, a supposedly famous Irish pub down the street from the Cavern Club. I ordered a chicken salad and was accosted at the bar by a very friendly young man who chatted me up when he heard I was American.
He got excited and started telling me how he was going to America to play some serious tennis. We only talked a couple of minutes before he excused himself to be with his friends. I placed my order and returned to my table.
A few minutes later, this young man was at my table urging me to join him, his mom and his friends. I did and found myself in the middle of a group of six Manchesterites(?) all asking questions. I gave them the crib note version of why I was living in Europe as I ate my salad.
While I ate I became acutely aware of my American table manners. I was harpooning my chicken, lettuce and tomatoes and stuffing the whole thing into my mouth because I was so ravenous.
I then realized that these six proper English people were surrounding me and that I probably looked like some Neanderthal who’d just learned how to use eating utensils. So, I picked up my knife and began to gingerly cut my food. My attempts at manners lasted all of three minutes before I was back shoveling the food in my mouth like a bulldozer.
I have to admit that the young men gave me tremendous hope for America–in a perverse way. When I told them I was researching my second book, one of them said, “Bob, I’ve never read a book in my life.” The tennis player admitted that the only book he had read was in high school.
Whew! It’s not just Americans. The youth of the world are going to hell in a hand basket! Even Britain has succumbed!
I have two more days in Liverpool and I’m going to fill them up. It’s 1:18 a.m. and I need some shut-eye. But what a day. Now it’s time for some Golden Slumbers.
(You know I had to do it.)