Celebrating The Big Five-O #2: The Cavern

“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 deep snippets 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.

You can see from this photo that the place is a bit more swish now.

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 in meaning’.

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.

It’s The Cavern, guys!

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.

I think someone else is tempted, too.

Celebrating The Big Five-O #1: Beatles Tour

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.

“No!”

“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!

Madryn Street, site of window sill theft

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.

12 Arnold Grove

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.

Let me take you down, ‘cause I’m going to . . .
Walls and gate posts daubed in fans’ graffiti

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:

In Penny Lane, there is a barber showing photographs . . .

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?

If you look closely in the bottom right hand corner,
you will see McCartney’s signature, added in 2018 during an episode of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke

As we travelled along, our guide gave an almost casual “See that white house on your left ?”

“That’s where Beatles manager Brian Epstein lived.”

And then another:

“That was John Lennon’s home.” It was bought by Yoko and donated to the National Trust for the fans.
Mendips, where John lived with his Aunt Mimi. The window on the far left was his room where he wrote some of his songs. This was the house where Mimi famously told him “The guitar’s alright, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.”

This last stop was my favourite.

Paul’s childhood home of 20 Forthlin Road

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:

Woke up, got out of bed / dragged the comb across my head

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.

Found my coat and grabbed my hat / Made the bus in seconds in flat

This is where he’d get the number 86 bus to Penny Lane. That place with the shelter on the roundabout.

Found my way upstairs and had a smoke / And somebody spoke and I went into a dream

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.

Milestone Mystery Tours

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 . . .

#80 Dream

John Lennon would have been eighty today. Can you imagine that? The founder of The Beatles being an octogenarian. He’s now been dead for the same number of years that he lived, and there’s always a sadness in that. It’s hard to consider the life without the tragic end. But we must try.

The other morning I downloaded this and listened to it over a coffee in McDonald’s.

A two-parter, it features both Sean and Julian Lennon for the first time speaking publicly about their father. Sean also interviews his Godfather, Elton John, and also Lennon’s songwriting partner Paul McCartney.

Speaking to the latter, Sean mentioned how Love Me Do was written before The Beatles existed as the group we all know, and asked if there were other such early songs? Paul confirmed that there were, for example One After 909 and I Saw Her Standing There. Commenting that they were such strong songs that still stand today, Sean asked did they ever write any bad songs or did they always strike gold straight away?

When Paul replied that there were bad ones, the reaction was along the lines of Oh, thank Christ for that!

I guess that gives hope to we mere mortals, scribbling along in the sand.

Sean also asked about Paul’s first meeting with his father, which I guess every fan knows took place on the 6th July 1957, when John’s skiffle band The Quarry Men were performing at a church fete.

What I didn’t know was that Paul had seen John around a few times before this, but that he didn’t know him. A couple of times he’d caught Paul’s eye when on the same bus, when John would have been travelling to see his mother. Paul had thought that Lennon had looked cool, sporting the rebellious, Teddy Boy look of the time. Then another time he saw him in the queue at a chippy, thinking hey, that’s the guy from the bus. But at this point they’d still never spoke to each other.

That all changed when mutual friend Ivan Vaughan took Paul so see John playing at the fete, and the penny dropped that his friend’s friend was the same guy he’d been noticing around the neighbourhood.

This is artist Eric Cash’s conception of John and Paul’s introductory meeting in the church hall after the performance.

Sometimes in life it seems like the paths of certain individuals keep crossing. The universe has a way of bringing together people who are meant to meet.

Just this morning I saw this image posted, announcing the birth of a young son to Julia and Alfred Lennon.

Who could have had any idea at the time, when skimming the announcements in the local newspaper, the impact that that boy would have on the world?

I wonder about those other babies, too, for example the Looney daughter stated immediately below the Lennon son. What life did she go on to lead? Did she ever know the brief illustrious company that she once shared in her origin? Did she go on to impact the world in some other, less celebrated way?

Eighty years on, I was draining the last of my coffee as Sean finished the show with:

Here’s wishing a Happy Birthday to my Dad. People may grow old, but great music never does.

And that’s true. All art is nailed at the time in a form that lasts forever, untouched by shifting context and the changing mores.

R.I.P Astrid Kirchherr

I’ve just heard of the death, at 81, of Astrid Kirchherr, the woman who helped define the early Beatles look when the then unknown Liverpool group were in Hamburg in the early sixties.

She took some of their early photographs, iconic photographs in a style that were ahead of everyone else at the time.

After these she also gave the (then) Fab Five their distinctive Beatle haircuts, the fifth being the talented but doomed artist Stuart Sutcliffe who she fell in love with. Later, reduced to four, and with Best replaced by Starr, they went on to conquer the world, as she proudly and sadly looked on.

Fifty eight years apart, I’d like to think that they’ve found each other again. R.I.P

Long Time Ago And We’re Still Fab

I apologise for paraphrasing the George Harrison song in the title of this post, but fifty years after it first topped the charts, The Beatles’ Abbey Road has returned to number one. In doing so, it set a record – the gap of 49 years and 252 days since its initial chart-topping run ended in early 1970 is the longest gap before returning to number one. It was the last album the group ever recorded.

As McCartney put: “It’s hard to believe that Abbey Road still holds up after all these years. But then again it’s a bloody cool album.”

Can’t argue with that.

Entrances And Exits/Morrison And Lennon

The 8th of December is a date that links together my two favourite musical artists, two artists that I have been listening to for what seems most of my life.

On the 8th of December, 1943, James Douglas Morrison, son of a Navy Officer, was born. He would go on to become the focal point and frontman of The Doors, known by self-given and tongue in cheek epithets such as the Lizard King, Shaman, and Erotic Politician.

He is one of the few rock or pop stars whose poetry is read seriously, as poetry. As a poet he tends to polarise opinion, but I like his writing, and his song lyrics helped to set the group apart from the usual music crowd. In the days when The Mama’s And The Papa’s were dreaming of California and over the pond The Beatles were telling the world that all you need is love, Morrison was channeling Oedipus, saying he wanted to kill his father and fuck his mother. They were a darker group, harder to pigeonhole, with elements of rock, jazz, blues, and yes, poetry.

Morrison’s was an intellect and creativity that was drowned in excess, a pursuit of a muse that would not be tempered or compromised. The recording life of The Doors, when Morrison was with them, lasted for just four, short, years. But what an outpouring it was.

image Also on the 8th of December, in 1980, John Lennon was shot dead in New York. I was a Lennon fan before I even knew who Lennon was. As a kid, almost all of my favourite Beatles songs were his. On his true collaborations with McCartney, for example We Can Work It Out, I always preferred the parts that he sang, the parts that he wrote, without at the time being able to discern who did what.

My favourite Christmas song, right from my childhood, and still, is Happy Xmas (War Is Over), but it was a few years before I discovered that the song was by Lennon. I was a fan of the music before I knew whose music it was.

Today Lennon is regarded almost as a saint, but the truth seems to be that he could be a real shit to the people who were closest to him. He would sing about peace and love yet at times be unable to demonstrate such sentiments. The figure of Lennon is a conundrum. He appeared to be a man of contradictions, which I think has its roots in his troubled childhood. His anger drove him and so made him a Beatle. Always transparent, the lyrics

I heard something ’bout my Ma and my Pa /They didn’t want me so they made me a star 

stand out.

Tomorrow, the 9th of December, is my birthday. I can remember opening my birthday presents on my ninth birthday, back in 1980, and the news was all over the television and the newspapers. All that I was aware of at the time, in my young ignorance, was that some guy who was in a group called The Beatles had died.

Little would I know that, for years, for decades later, I would always be struck by a terrible sense of waste when reflecting on his untimely, senseless death.

Fans are selfish. We barely see beyond our own wants and fixations.

There is a woman who lost a husband, and two boys who lost a father, yet all I think of is the music that we could have had, the wit that the world has lost, and the extra pages that could have been in the biography.

And that’s got to be wrong. image

Two men, linked by one date, whose words and music provided a soundtrack to my life. R.I.P Mr Mojo Risin’ and Dr Winston O’ Boogie. Thanks for the inspiration.