PART 3 - Liverpool
The following morning, we left by luxury coach at 10:30 a.m., heading towards the seaport city where it all began, Liverpool. We entered Beatle Mecca via the Royal Daffodil Ferry, boarding in Birkenhead, on the Wirral side of the River Mersey. By dinnertime, we had checked into our rooms at the posh Britannia Adelphi on Ranelagh Place. This 'Grande Duchess' of hotels has housed royalty and the likes of Bob Dylan and Gregory Peck, and The Beatles themselves, since the Cunard Lines started carrying transatlantic passengers. On its steps on 3 December 1938, Freddie Lennon and Julia Stanley met before heading off to the Bolton Street Registry Office, where John and Cynthia would repeat the trek 23 years later. Nowadays, the Adelphi is best known as the headquarters of Beatle Week and the home of the International Beatles Convention every August. And here we were, in the heart of it all.
Our six-day stay in Liverpool was filled with non-stop activities that were too much to fully take in. Here was something to please every taste, from concerts to street festivals to site seeing trips. Yet, there was time, if one chose to do so, to wander independently through the shops on Mathew Street and the Albert Dock, to admire John and Klaus Voormann's artwork in the Mathew Street Gallery or Cynthia's in the Beatles' Story gift shop, to down a pint of Foster's at the Cavern, the Grapes or the White Star, to hunt for the Eleanor Rigby statue on Stanley Street. We could pick and choose whatever interested us, leave the rest behind and still feel that, at the end of the day we had missed nothing except sleep. And we'd catch up on sleep when we returned home.
Case in point: Convention Sunday. The International Beatles Convention did not begin until 12:00 noon, but many of us were wandering through the Marketplace well before then. Some of us had spent the morning visiting the Liverpool Cathedral on Hope
Street, where a memorial service for John had been held in 1981 and Paul's Oratorio had premiered a decade later. Others had toured the Beatles Story Museum at Britannia Vaults, or explored the Wirral looking for evidence of Julian Lennon's presence, or attended mass at St. Peter's Church in Woolton. Once the Convention was underway, we could shop in the Marketplace, stand and admire Shannon's latest painting of George, hear all thirteen Beatle albums come alive over a twelve-hour period in the Banqueting Hall, take in some of the videos in Keith Badman's Video Show, listen in on interviews with guests Klaus Voormann, Hunter Davies, Bob Wooler, Ray McFall, Julia Baird, Bill Heckle and Chris Hall... or collapse in a corner and watch it all enfold in front of you.
There were concerts galore running daily from our first evening in Liverpool to our final night in Merseyside. The Cavern Pub alone featured over 30 bands daily from 2:00 p.m. until midnight, and the Adelphi itself wrapped up each Beatle Week evening with several bands. The first performers that we heard took place in a setting that all of us were anxious to see: the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, or LIPA for short. The'Innie” was the high school that Paul and George attended in the 50's, and was closed for a number of years before reopening as a Fame school in January 1996. Paul was a major benefactor and the renovated auditorium now bears his name. Students from all over the world can major here in any field of the arts and entertainment industry.
It was to The Paul McCartney
Auditorium that we headed on our first night in Liverpool, to hear The Remnants from New York City, followed by the incomparable Ron Nasty and his alter-ego, Neil Innes. A real live Rutle in the Sir Dirk McQuickley Auditorium, presenting his one-man show, 'Innes Own Words', what a treat! And what a start to this six-day musical adventure of a lifetime!
Performers from all over the world gathered in Liverpool to pay homage to the greatest rock band in history. Among them were Hocus Pocus, Abbey Road, Machine Guns, Tunel do Tempo and Clube Big Beatles, all hailing from Brazil, Ringer and Tripper from Scotland, Argentina's The Beats, Tokyo's Bad Boys and Parrots, Britain's Bob Bartley, The Beatalls and Hare Georgeson, Two of Us from Sweden, Det Betales from Norway, Canada's Hal Bruce, Chattanooga from Italy, Germany's Johnny Silver and Darmstadt Beatles, Beetles and Meatles from Japan, Mexico's Aleph, Rio de Janeiro's Graphite, Venezuela's Los Beat 3, Liverpool from Sweden (of course!)... well, you get the picture. We heard classical Beatles, Beatles sound-alike, rap Beatles and country-and-western Beatles. We saw artists who tried to sing, act and dress like The Beatles, and some who knew better than to try.
Despite all the quality acts that we saw, some outstanding ones are worth singling out. London's Overtures performed at the Royal Court on the 25th, and again at Chevasse Park on the 26th. Surely they are one of the best 60's cover band ever. They repeated their retrospective of 60's music that was so popular during earlier Beatle Weeks, plus covered the Revolver and Let It Be albums at the Convention. The incomparable and incredibly energetic Fab Faux from New York City, boasted such musicians as Will Lee from 'The Late Show with David Letterman' and Jimmy Vivino from 'Late Night with Conan O'Brien'. Their musical rendition of songs like Strawberry Fields, Helter Skelter and Hey Bulldog was perfect; their five-part harmonies to pieces like Because and Paperback Writer during their show at the Royal Court on Saturday and the Mathew Street Festival on Monday were melodic. They wrapped up 'The Album Years' at the Convention with Abbey Road, receiving a standing ovation and a perpetual place at Beatle Week.
What more can I say about Gary Gibson that has not been said on numerous occasions? It's eerie watching him perform; he's likely the closest to John that we will ever get. His mannerisms, cheeky grin, stance and features all trap us into thinking that he's the real thing. I always leave his performances feeling grateful to Gary for keeping John's music alive and giving us a glimpse into what it felt like to see him on stage.
Another musical treat this year centered on 'Quarry Bank Day', featuring none other
than John's original band mates, the Quarrymen. What a perfect place to celebrate the birthplace of The Beatles, Quarry Bank High School, where it all began 43 years ago. The original Quarrymen reunited in 1997 for The Cavern's 40th Anniversary Party, and since then have released a CD and toured internationally. On hand to celebrate John's 60th birthday were Pete Shotton on washboard and tea chest bass, drummer Colin Hanton, guitarists Eric Griffiths and Rod Davies, and Len Garry on guitar and vocals. Also on hand were eleven other bands performing inside the school hall and on the main outdoor stage, including John Keats and Instant Karma performing 'the gig that John never gave'.
Between gigs at the Cavern Pub and Club, Royal Court, Barcelona Bar, Adelphi, LIPA, Quarry Bank School, and even on the Mersey Ferry, over 200 bands performed during the three-day Mathew Street Let It Be Liverpool Festival from Saturday to Monday, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the album. The Festival ran non-stop on numerous outdoor stages and bars from 11:00 a.m. until the wee hours of the morning. If music was your reason for visiting to Liverpool, how could you possibly go away disappointed with all of these choices, and they were all free!
The final musical tribute of Beatle Week was at the other end of the chronological spectrum of Beatle music: a tribute to Paul's Run Devil Run album and its launch at the Cavern on 14 December 1999. On hand were Chris Hall, who accompanied Paul on the album and at the Cavern gig, Steve McDonald from the band Shoes, Bob Bartey from Banned on the Run, Mick Neary from Dark Horses, Willie and Ian from Ringer, and Ric Alan from the Cavern. Opening for the Run Devil Run super-group were country rocker Hal Bruce from Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, and The Eleanor Rigby Experience, whose bluesy rendition of Beatle songs gave yet another dimension to the Beatle Week experience.
There are places I remember all my life...
No visit to Liverpool would be complete without seeing some of the sites frequented by The Beatles in their early years, and the places that influenced some of their most popular songs. Our Magical History Tour of Liverpool took up over seven hours on Friday the 25th, and we didn't come close to seeing all the places that interested us. What better reason to return another year! Master tour guide Eddie 'The Walrus' Porter and his sidekick bus driver Les mixed some of the more traditional places that are a must for first-timers, like Strawberry Field and St. Peter's Church, with some of the
more unusual ones that might peak the interest of recurring visitors, such as Stu Sutcliffe's grave and the Aintree Institute. And knowing that we were on the same Magical Mystery Tour bus that was featured in the Free as a Bird video was a bonus that added to this thrilling day.
McCartney Research Center is scheduled to open in September, and the second being the Woolton Hospital on Rice Lane, where Paul was born on 18 June 1942 and brother Mike two years later. Mother Mary had been a nursing sister in the maternity ward there.
Schools included the Liverpool College of Art where John, Stu and Bill Harry studied from 1957 to 1960, and LIPA from the outside. We had been in the Paul McCartney Auditorium on our first night in Liverpool to see Neil Innes, and some of us would return the following day to attend the 10th Anniversary Liverpool Beatles Auction. The 'Innie' had once been one of the city's finest high schools; both Paul and George studied there until 1958. Built in 1825, it had been forced to close down in 1985 because it was falling down. It reopened in 1996 as a performing arts school, and the monument of cemented suitcases adorning Mount Street are a tribute to its international student body. Paul himself contributed a suitcase and a guitar case to this monument. Surrounding the students' entrance at the back of the building is a garden in which Paul donated two benches last summer in memory of his and Linda's parents.
Our lunch stop in Penny Lane gave us amply time to explore the shelter in the of the roundabout... the barber showing photographs of every head he's had the pleasure to know... and the banker with a motorcar. We climbed the steps of Saint Barnabas Church where Paul had sung as a choirboy and served as best man for brother Mike's wedding in 1982.
Seeing Stu's final resting
-place in the cemetery at St. Michael's Church, Huyton, was befitting a Beatle tour that incorporated Hamburg, because we felt his presence there so powerfully. The cemetery was much smaller and in greater need of upkeep than the other cemetery that we visited, the one where Eleanor Rigby, John's Uncle George Smith (Aunt Mimi's husband) and his common-law stepfather John 'Twitchy' Dykin are buried. It's almost like, even in death Stu is being overshadowed by The Beatles' legend. This latter cemetery is part of St. Peter's Church in Woolton, where John sang in the choir and belonged to a youth group, and where he was introduced to Paul at a Garden Fête on 6 July 1957.
Strawberry Field and its red cast-iron gates were closed tightly this year, but two years ago they had stood wide open for the first annual Beatle Week 'great days out': a garden fête on the grounds of the orphanage that John used to visit as a boy. Nevertheless, after the cameras finished clicking, we gazed through the sculpted gates for a glimpse of the landmark that influenced John to write one of his most memorable songs. A few blocks behind Strawberry Field, we drove by the bus shelter close to where Julia Lennon was killed by an off-duty drunken police officer on 15 July 1958. We came across Mendips, the home on Menlove Avenue that John shared with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George from the age of 5 until he moved to London. From his bedroom above the front porch, he learned to play his acoustic guitar and composed some of his earlier tunes. We respected the current owner's privacy and did not venture beyond the driveway gates.
Another site that we scrutinized from the street was Pete Best's 15-room Victorian home and Casbah Coffee Club, in West Derby. The Casbah hosted the second annual Beatle Week 'great days out' last year and is still owned by the Best family. On its opening night on 29 August 1959, The Quarrymen became the house band after John, George, Paul and Ken Brown helped Pete and his brother Rory convert the basement into a club. Pete was invited to join the band in August 1960, when they needed a drummer to accompany them on their first tour of Hamburg. The Beatles were to perform there occasionally until June 1962, two months before they directed Brian to sack Pete. The Casbah closed a few days later following a death in the Best family, but occasionally reopens for special events.
We checked out George's first home at 12 Arnold Grove, and Ringo's first residence at 9 Madryn Street. Not all
sites were scrutinized from the street, however. When Eddie was introducing us to Ringo's boyhood home at 10 Admiral Grove in the Dingle, the door opened and owner Margaret Grosse invited us in, all 60 of us! To show us she was serious, she opened the door wider. We all trooped in one-by-one, trailing through one of the tiniest houses we had ever seen, and then we learned that the space in which Ringo resided with his family from the age of 6 until he moved to London was much smaller since the kitchen had been added later! As a tribute to Ringo and the honor he has brought to the city, Margaret keeps her home immaculate and decorates parts of it with photographs and small mementos of The Beatles. She also adorns her narrow yard with countless plastic flowers and lawn figurines, making it all very quaint and homey. We were so thankful for the invitation that we all dropped some coins on her coffee table on the way out, much to her embarrassment. She could not possibly know how much her kind gesture had meant to us.
The scenario was to repeat itself later that day when we arrived at 3 Gambier Terrace, the apartment building where John shared a flat with Stu during their days at the Art College. Again the tenants invited us in, but this time the results were very different. First they charged us a fee of £5 each which we quickly negotiated down to £2. We never knew for certain that apartment #6 was actually the one where John and Stu lived, but we went along for the ride ... and found ourselves in the filthiest, most dilapidated room imaginable. We were told that nothing had been changed since the boys had lived there in 1960. Well, the layers of dirt testified to the fact that the flat had possibly not been cleaned in the past 40 years but the garbage, dirty dishes, leftover food and filthy mattress were an insult to their memory. As we left the building, the tenants followed us out and proceeded down the street towards the local pub, no doubt laughing all the way at us gullible tourists.
Gullible or not, every aspect of the Magical History Tour of Hamburg, London and Liverpool has brought us closer to the living legend of The Beatles. We only experienced part of the phenomenaon this trip, and that's why so many of us keep returning. For one person, this was the ninth consecutive tour to Beatleland. There's so much more to see and experience, and so many reasons to Come Together. People bond on these trips, and this year several parent/child teams shared the experience. Some were here to celebrate a 1st, 8th, 15th or 25th anniversary, and some were honeymooners. Several first-timers who were originally here on a once-in-
a-lifetime trip vowed to reserve a spot on next year's venture. Even the weather cooperated this year and seemed to be in the hands of the gods and The Beatles. Liverpool gets in your blood; the people here have opened their hearts, even their homes and schools to us strangers and made us feel like family, certainly part of the growing family of Beatle fans from all over the world. And all because of four lads who changed the world.
Eddie Porter and Dave Jones came to bid us adieu and safe journey the morning we returned to London to catch our flight home. As they stood in front of the Adelphi waving goodbye, I realized that I shall miss my family when I'm gone, but with a little luck, I'll be back.
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