My Liverpool Pilgrimage
I’ve been a huge Beatles fan since I was at least five years old. My first records were The Beatles Second Album, Beatles IV, Rubber Soul, and Help. My first favorite songs were “Ticket to Ride” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” As I got to my tweens and teens, I was attracted more to the later years. “Dear Prudence” and “A Day in the Life” became my new favorites. John was always my favorite – his raw emotions connecting to me in a visceral yet comforting way. Someone else understood.
When John Lennon was shot and killed in 1980 I mourned. Every year on the anniversary of his death, I would mourn. And as I grew into an adult, the Beatles stayed with me and I dug deeper into their catalogue, gained new understandings of their music and lyrics, and began collecting bootlegs of studio out-takes to dig even deeper. When I began playing guitar, I spent the first 2-3 years playing nothing but Beatles, which gave me even more appreciation for their song craft. My children also grew up fans, each having favorite Beatles and songs and laughing through films like Help, Hard Days Night, and Yellow Submarine. I’ve taken them twice to see Paul McCartney live (his concerts these days are spectacular and filled with Beatles songs).
So when I was invited to attend a conference in Blackpool, England and realized it was only about 50 miles from Liverpool, I realized I had to make time to visit the homeland of my favorite band. It was all I hoped for. I contacted Ian Crabtree of Liverpool Beatles Tours to schedule a full day Beatles tour of Liverpool, booked a hotel room at Hard Day’s Night Hotel downtown, and read Mark Lewinsohn’s thorough Tune In: A history of the early Beatles and their lives.
My first night in Liverpool could not have gone better. The hotel was fittingly next to The Cavern Club, where the Beatles were the house band between 1960 and 1962. The Mersey Beatles, an amazing cover band, rocked the club with many of my favorite songs and it was fun dancing all night like it was 50 years ago. I even face-timed my daughters during some of their favorite songs.
My tour took me to John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s childhood homes; to their schools; Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields; the studio they recorded their first record in; the homes of their manager Brian Epstein and John’s mother Julia, and the Casbah Coffee House they hung out in and played at. I completed the day at The Beatles Experience Museum before picking up souvenirs and running to the Liverpool FC shop to get a jersey for my son.
Ian was great and I loved it all but the three that mattered the most were:
1. Pete’s church where on July 6, 1957 a 15 year old Paul McCartney saw a 17 year old john Lennon sing with his skiffle group, The Quarrymen. Paul was impressed by John and afterward tried to impress him by playing Eddie Cochran’s Twenty Flight Rock, among other songs. John realized Paul was better than any guitarist he knew, and history was made. While standing at the spot they met, I played Twenty Flight Rock on my iphone. It was awesome.
2. Paul McCartney’s childhood home on Forthlin Road and John Lennon’s childhood home on Menlove Avenue are now national historic sites. As part of my tour I joined a group of 12 or so who first toured John’s home and then took a shuttle to Paul’s home. Our tour guides were great with the man at John’s home channeling John’s Aunt Mimi.
John’s home, specifically his bedroom, was the most moving part of the tour. John had quite a tragic childhood, abandoned by his mother and father after his father tried kidnapping him, raised by a snobby, serious aunt and a nurturing uncle who died when he was 13. He found out his mother lived near him in his teens and began spending time with her until she was hit by a car and killed leaving Aunt Mimi’s home. There was a letter from Yoko on his bed about how he described his childhood in this home as good despite the tragedies. There were issues of The Daily Howl, the cartoon newspaper he produced at school on his desk. The weight of John’s emotions and dreams were felt.
Paul’s home had its own share of sadness. His mother died of breast cancer when he was 14. Paul’s younger brother Mike is an amazing photographer and photos from their childhood and early Beatles are in the house. One photo shows Paul and John sitting together with their guitars and a pad of paper on the floor between them with scribbles and cross outs of the song they are writing: I Saw Her Standing There. In 1960, John, Paul, and George recorded some songs in the living room and I have a copy of them. I asked if I could play them in the room. It was great to connect the music to the space.
3. The Casbah Coffee Club. I never realized it was actually the cellar of the Best family home. The family bought this big home and the mother, Mona, needed more money, so she turned the large basement into a coffee house and music club. Her son Pete was the Beatles’ drummer from 1960 to 1962. Her son Rory gave me the one-on-one tour in his original Beatles t-shirt with photos of John, Paul, George, and Pete. This was an experience as he showed me where the Quarrymen – pre-Beatles – played with a giant photo of the teenage John, Paul, and George with their guitars. Then he showed me the stage where the Beatles would play to hundreds of youth who’d fill every nook and cranny of the club. Rory was in his teens then and would serve coffee and showed me where John’s wife painted a silhouette of him and where John and original member Stu Sutcliffe used to hang out. I bought a drumstick signed by Pete as a souvenir. It was awesome to imagine this dank, dark basement filled with smoke, coffee, and sodas back in the day. The other highlight here are handwritten bios written probably in 1961 by John, Paul, George, and Pete.
Walking along the Mersey River after the Beatles Experience museum, I pinched myself a little. Seeing all of these places and knowing the stories of the people and the songs made this a truly magical tour.