“Let’s see a show of hands,” the tour guide said. “Put your hand up if Ringo is your favourite Beatle.”
No hands. He nodded, both sagely and sympathetically.
“George?” There was one hand. “You know what? It’s always the George fans that come up with really deepsnippets of information that nobody else knows.”
“Paul?” Five hands went up which, as there were only thirteen people on this midday tour, meant that for “John?” seven hands went up.
So Lennon nicked it, but, as Millie voted for him and is only just on the start of her journey, things can change. You don’t have to have favourites (though of course everybody does) as the group truly was the sum of its parts.
I watched an interview last night from 1988 when George and Ringo were on a chat show together. The drummer explained their following (when the group was still active) as thus: “I got all the mums. And the kids. George got the mystics, John got the intellectuals and Paul got the teens.”
Our tour finished and Millie and I headed for the place that this selective following first started.
Matthew Street, dark and grainy in the old sixties film footage, was now neon bright but empty as the pre-Christmas afternoon crowds sought the bars and restaurants as refuge from the cold.
Our tour gave us free entry to the legendary Cavern. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s mostly the same. John’s murder marked the beginning of Beatles-based tourism, but the original Matthew Street buildings above ground had been demolished. But of course below ground buildings aren’t demolished but filled in.
In 1982 it was excavated and the above ground section rebuilt using the original bricks. I once wrote a Jackdaw post called If Walls Could Talk, Concrete Confess, about a pub that used to be run by ancestors of mine, a pub long gone but holding ‘that which is valued inmeaning’.
I like to think that those Cavern bricks have somehow soaked up to hold every note that has ever been played there. Not just by the Fab Four but also all of the other legendary performers that have graced the place too.
Imagine one day having the ability, along the lines of our DNA technology, to extract that trapped sound and being able to replay it again. Wouldn’t that be cool? Doing it in this same place – The Beatles playing the Cavern all over again.
Today the Cavern occupies 70% of its original space, and as far as I was concerned, when my daughter and I descended those steps, we were following in the footsteps of The Beatles and all.
There was the enclosed space; there was live music; there was a performer recounting his time when he once met Paul McCartney; there were other artists waiting in a line that stretched back decades.
And there were us – an eager audience sat drinking, singing along to Beatles covers and generally soaking up the atmosphere.
Just like those bricks.
I had a beer and my daughter a coke, before having to set off to catch our train back to Manchester. We gave our seats to a couple of women who’d just arrived from Sheffield and seemed to know every song word for word. Words that had returned to source.
I fancy coming back again one weekend to spend a bit longer here. Have a few more drinks and maybe stay over. I might even do the tour again.
Well, we almost never made it. Not to fifty, I mean, for you just can’t pause time, but to the tour itself.
I’d booked my fourteen-year-old daughter, Millie, and myself onto the Cavern Club’s Magical Mystery Tour, as part of my rearranged plans (rearranged because of Covid, surprise surprise), to mark my fiftieth birthday. A Beatles tour for us both in Liverpool followed by a few nights in Edinburgh on my lonesome.
I’m notoriously hopeless at finding my way around (not a good asset for a one-time postman) and I thought I’d given us enough time to allow for the odd wrong turning. The tour was set to start at 1.00pm, with no option to roll over onto a later tour, and so it was a now-or-never situation we’d stumbled into.
After a train journey from Manchester and then walking for a while in the general direction, we had ten minutes to find the office where we were to pick up our tickets. I’d already stopped for two sets of directions from locals, and a puffing Millie was asking me to slow down as I kept glancing at the time. I knew we were near, being close to the docks, but it didn’t help that my Google Maps was insisting that we were currently in the middle of the Mersey! Yellow Submarine, anyone? Talk about your magical mystery tours
Technology was proving no help at all and I was just beginning to accept the fact that we weren’t going to make it when we turned the next, oblique corner and a wave of relief set in.
Our chariot was awaiting in all its gaudy colour.
We boarded the coach bang on 1.00pm, playing it casual while Millie wiped her brow. Only a little familiar with Beatles music (yes, I feel have been failing as a father), she was worried that she might be asked questions along the way that would expose her. I told her that she might just be asked what her favourite song was.
“What will you say?” I asked.
With no sense of irony: “Help!”
And so we were off into Beatleland. Or rather Ringoland, to begin with, for we were first to encounter a few places within a stone’s throw of each other that are related to the Beatles drummer. There was his primary school, his first home and, within sight of this, his second home, and also a pub that was to feature on the cover of his first solo album, Sentimental Journey. This was to be the first indication of a Beatle member’s Sense of Nostalgia.
As you look at the cream painted window sills on this photograph, count down five houses. You’ll see that that particular house has no window sill because this was the house where Ringo was born and fans have chipped it away to take as souvenirs!
Next up was another birthplace, this one belonging to one George Harrison. Situated on a small cul-de-sac, he was born in this house in 1943, living there until 1950. His early years passed behind that upstairs window which was his bedroom.
You could picture him as a young lad, coming and going through that doorway, little knowing what lay in store for him.
A man named Ernie has lived next door to this house since right back in the sixties, and can remember fans gathering outside. He would often go out talking to them. One evening, long after The Beatles had split, he looked out and who should he see through his net curtains but George Harrison himself, stood in the road, looking up at his former home. (Sense of Nostalgia #2.) And so he went outside and spoke with him too, over a cigarette.
The place must have retained a place in George’s heart, for in years to come whenever he checked into a hotel he did so under the pseudonym of Mr Arnold Grove.
By this point Millie had been drawn in and was thoroughly enjoying the tour, having her photograph taken in front of these landmarks. Me? I may have had a few taken . . .
The young tour guide made things entertaining, and asked if it was anyone’s birthday as, if so, that person would hold the honour of choosing their favourite song to be played to everybody on the coach. Mine was in four days time but I kept quiet, deferring to a lad in his twenties whose birthday was on that very day. He picked A Day In The Life. I would have gone with Hey Bulldog.
I’m not sure now if I’ve got our order of stops in the correct order, but anyway I’m sure most people will recognise these iconic gates, festooned with a Christmas touch.
These gates held no significance for the young John Lennon because he was a trespasser. He’d climb over the walls to gain access to the grounds, most probably to the rear of here as that was closer to his home. He’d go in and climb trees, and when writing the song that immortalised this place he would refer to his long-held idea that he was somehow different to other people, although he didn’t know if he was a genius or insane:
No-one I think is in my tree/ I mean, it must be high or low
As a Beatles nut I thought I knew the stories behind most of the Beatles song lyrics, but I learned something new here. When John’s Aunt Mimi used to chide him for going into Strawberry Field, saying he’d get into trouble if he was caught, he’d reply that they wouldn’t hang him for it. Hence the line:
And nothing to get hung about
I missed out on a couple of photographs of places when we didn’t disembark the coach, due to my technical incompetence. One, alas, was a place of great significance, considered as the birthplace of the Beatles: St.Peter’s Church hall, in Woolton where, on the 6th of July, 1957, following a performance by Lennon’s skiffle group The Quarrymen, mutual friend Ivan Vaughan introduced John Lennon to Paul McCartney. This is where it all began.
But now, more graffiti!
We travelled along Penny Lane, and as we did so we listened to the song. We saw the barber’s shop:
We also saw the bank (and cocked up the photograph 🙈)
On the corner is a banker with a motorcar . . .
I knew that Paul had been writing about this place that he knew well, but I thought that he’d taken a little creative license as I didn’t think that there was actually a
. . . shelter in the middle of a roundabout
(Yes, I lost that photograph too!)
But it’s still there. Paul used to wait for his next bus behind that shelter, watching the pretty nurse
. . . selling poppies from a tray
He was just writing about the things that he saw on his journey along the way. Ordinary, everyday things that he would make special. I don’t think I’ll ever listen to the song in the same way again.
The graffiti bit I mentioned?
As we travelled along, our guide gave an almost casual “See thatwhite house on your left ?”
And then another:
This last stop was my favourite.
This was the home where he lost his mother. This was the home where John used to call around to write songs with his mate, sitting toe-to-toe, encouraged by Paul’s music loving father. Behind that window above the door, magic was created. One After 909; She Loves You; When I’m 64; She Was Just Seventeen. The list goes on.
Sense Of Nostalgia #3:
You may have seen that aforementioned Carpool Karaoke episode where Paul and Corden returned to Forthlin Road, but I preferred this story that we were told: One day Paul had returned with his son, James, showing him the places where he’d grown up as a child. Sat in the back of a car at the end of the street, windows blacked out to preserve the musician’s anonymity, they were disturbed by a knock on the window. Seeing it was just a young boy on his own, Paul wound down the window.
“If you give me a pound I’ll show you the house where Paul McCartney used to live.”
A laughing Paul handed all the coins that he had on him over to the bemused young entrepreneur.
From this house we can follow Paul’s journey, as explained in A Day In The Life:
He would come out of this house, out of this gate, to turn left and head down the street to the bus stop at the end.
This is where he’d get the number 86 bus to Penny Lane. That place with the shelter on the roundabout.
I wonder who that person who spoke was, but we do know that one day, on one of those countless bus journeys, he saw another lad in school uniform, carrying a guitar: George Harrison.
I will leave this post here, as it’s longer than the usual posts that I write in Jackdaw, but I wanted to share some of this journey with you guys while also preserving it for myself. I’ll speak of our visit to The Cavern in my next post.
If I took one thing away from this day it was this: these were just four ordinary working class kids, writing about their average daily lives.
They each created songs and images about their day-to-day life, places of trespass where they spent their childhood; things that they saw from the upper deck of a bus. Local scenes that one day would be experienced by the rest of the world.
I think Millie took something from that, too. She wants to go again.
It’s happened – after looming large on the horizon for so long I have finally reached the milestone of fifty years on this planet. Millstone, milestone, I guess it’s all about perspective. Half a century and I’m still here.
My original plan to mark it was to take a trip over to Paris to visit the grave of one Jim Morrison (for what’s a Happy Birthday without a cemetery?) 😂
But, with all of the shifting sands of Covid requirements, I decided to postpone that for now to remain on this side of the Channel. And so my next couple of posts will be about what I did instead, including a few nights spent in the breezy Scottish capital of Edinburgh.
The first, though, will be about a tour I took my fourteen-year-old daughter on. A hopefully inspirational tour of a certain neighbouring northern city, centred upon a certain neighbouring northern pop group . . .