Last week, as a graduation gift (Texas A&M) and my continuing effort to enrich his musical taste at the risk of nerding him out, I took my son to Liverpool, England. It was his first trip to The Beatles’ birthplace and my too many visits.
We took the 10 am train from London’s Euston train station, which got us to Liverpool’s Lime Street station in time to rush to Albert Dock and catch the 1 pm Magical Mystery Tour bus of Beatle fable and lore, sights, and sounds. The bus is filled with Beatles fans from around the world, including last week, a family from The Woodlands sitting two rows behind us.
The greatest tour of the greatest sounds
The tour is a living history of Beatles music — the greatest sounds ever created. The onboard guide points to St. Peter’s churchyard where John Lennon and Paul McCartney met in July, 1957, past the Anglican cathedral where 11-year-old McCartney auditioned for the boys choir and was told sorry kid, try again next year.
We stopped in front of McCartney’s childhood home on Forthlin Road, where McCartney and Lennon wrote more than 100 songs. Then past Lennon’s childhood home, where he lived with his Aunt Mimi, who once warned him, “The guitar’s all right, John, but you’ll never make a living out of it.”
Both McCartney and Lennon’s homes are now part of the National Trust, but only Lennon’s home has an English Heritage blue plaque in front. In order to qualify for the plaque, the historic figure must be dead at least 20 years.
George Harrison and Ringo Starr’s childhood homes aren’t designated by the National Trust, and families live there now. You can take photos outside the homes, but please, no photos of children.
A trip to Penny Lane
Beatles songs come alive on the tour: there’s the barbershop, two banks, and roundabout on Penny Lane. You see the street marker that McCartney autographed during his Carpool Karaoke return to Liverpool with James Corden.
Everybody gets off the bus to take photos at the gate to Strawberry Field, the former Salvation Army children’s home that Lennon sang about in 1967. Lennon took some poetic license and called his song “Strawberry Fields.”
The tour ends on Mathew Street, home to the Cavern Club, where the Beatles played 292 times between 1961 and 1963. It’s not the original club, though, which was torn down 1973 for a subway construction project. Some 5,000 of the club’s bricks were sold for $10 each, with the money going to the Salvation Army. (My friend Reg “Third Degree” Burns owns one.) Fifteen thousand more bricks from the demolition were used to build an almost exact replica a few steps down Mathew Street.
Admission to the Cavern Club is free, and fans are struck by how impossibly small the stage was/is. It would have been difficult for Lennon, McCartney, and Harrison to stand side by side without clanking their guitars together.
The Cavern walls are covered with photos of famous acts that played there: the Rolling Stones, Kinks, Elton John, Queen, Hollies, Yardbirds, The Who, and Black Sabbath. And then they ruin everything with a photo of Paris Hilton onstage … singing — of all things.
By this time, the steady English downpour and whipping wind got the best of our umbrellas, turning them inside out, eventually tossed into a trash can outside the train station on our way back to London. There were no blue suburban skies over Penny Lane the day we visited.
The Liverpool Wall of Fame
At one end of Mathew Street is the Liverpool Wall of Fame, listing 54 songs by local acts that reached No. 1 on the British Hot 100 singles chart. Seventeen of the songs are by The Beatles. The first Liverpool artist to top the charts was Lita Roza in 1953 with “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” It’s the first song by a female artist to hit No. 1 in Britain, and the first chart-topper with a question mark in the title.
For my son, The Beatles tour was a blast from his own past. I used to sing him Beatles songs at baby bedtime. I know all the words, although I did not lull him to sleep with “Helter Skelter” or “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.”
“Going to Liverpool was cool because I’ve heard Beatles music my whole life, and I saw the places and heard the stories how four guys got together and became the Beatles,” my son said. “It was pretty amazing to see how small the Cavern Club is, and photos of fans lining up down the block to see the Beatles during their lunch break. It was fun just watching my dad’s face when he heard the same stories that he’s heard so many times, and told me a thousand times.”