Worship the Beatles? Then here's a must-do pilgrimage for you.
When the Beatles first sang "When I'm 64", Sylvia McMurtry was a
typical Beatles-crazed fan living in Liverpool, excitedly discussing
the audacious psychedelic look of the Beatles with her friends.
Sitting next to me now, tour-guiding us through Liverpool, Sylvia is
close to being 64 herself. Though listening to her giggle over an
anecdote about her brother and his close pal John (Yes. We're
speaking of John Lennon here!) you'd think Sylvia is 18 still, with a
massive crush for her brother's phenomenally talented friend.
We were in luck. Not only were we right here in this Mecca of music,
we had the best tour guide in town: an authentic Beatles fan from the
1960s. The type that cops would carry away as they screamed and
fainted hearing "Love Me Do" for the first time at a concert. We felt
we were devotees on a pilgrimage being certified Beatle-worshippers
in the 1960s and 70s (who'd spend all pocket money buying 45 rpm
records of Beatles hits, in Brigade Road in Bangalore). And to think
we would soon stand on the same street corners where the Fab Four met
up after school, visit each pub they played their first songs in, and
even walk through the houses they grew up in…
But even before our tryst with our charming guide Sylvia, the goose
bumps had set in. Within minutes of checking into our Thistle Hotel
overlooking the great Mersy Riverside, we had raced to board the
Magical Mystery Tour coach, singing "She's Got A Ticket To Ride"
along with a busload of Beatle-struck tourists that included
Japanese, Bolivians, Croatians, and even a girl from Brunei. "You
also like so much the Beatles, ya?"she asked me in some surprise.
(She is, in all likelihood, telling her pals back home "Even Indians
sing Beatles songs!").
Busing along the incredibly beautiful Liverpool, we were thrilled
that so many people smiled and waved to us from the roads. "It's not
you, it's your bus!" laughed Neil, our bus operator. Obviously this
psychedelic painted bus and what it stood for was the pride of every
Liverpudlian and certainly their most popular tourist attraction
(though a football fan would definitely have first headed out to see
their famous club on arrival).
Suddenly the signage "Penny Lane" came up on us probably
Liverpool's most photographed street corner ever since Paul McCartney
immortalised it in a song. Driving towards a busy market place ahead,
we eagerly looked for phrases from that picturesque song. Where was
the "shelter in the middle of the roundabout"? Or "pretty Ness
selling poppies from a tray"? So also at the next stopover. Taking
pictures of the old iron gate near a thickly wooded area, and its
"Strawberry Fields" signage, we wondered: did John stand right here
when he thought of the line "Living is easy with eyes closed…?"
Well, for real answers, we had our Sylvia, waiting to take us out
again in her Ford Focus for a more personalised discovery of
Liverpool. Every stopover had an anecdote amazing everyday accounts
that delighted our touristy curiosity as much as our craze for the
Beatles. We stopped outside the house of Brian Epstein, their
maverick manager. This is where John and Cynthia briefly lived before
getting married, when Cynthia found herself pregnant. And only Brian
knew their secret. Guess which song John wrote then? quizzed our
guide. "Listen, do you wanna know a secret?" I sang. Right!
Sylvia's interesting insights also made us think about the lyrics of
the Beatles and their incredible transition over the years. "Look
at the naïve simplicity of their first big chart-buster 'Love Me Do'.
Or the almost school boy rhyme of 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand'. That's
because they really had had no life experiences to write about at
all… Just a couple of fun-loving 'Quarrymen' who met at a school fete
(John and Paul), looked around for second-hand guitars and started
scribbling words sitting at coffee shops!" Later George and Ringo
completed their quartet; and then came the charisma of Brian Epstein,
older and more worldly-wise. That began to shape their transition to
grown-up lyric writing.
We walked through John's childhood home, "Mendips", thrilled to see
where the young musical genius slept, ate and played; raised from the
age of five by his Aunt. Sylvia told us about Aunt Mimi's famous
quote: "The guitar's all very well John, but you'll never make a
living out of it." Years later, John had these very words framed as a
present for his beloved aunt!
Sylvia had lost count of the number of times she'd personally
encountered John, but blushed prettily when we teased her for more
information about her teenage crush, as we sat at John Lennon's
favourite Casbah Coffee Club the place where it all began. It's the
only Beatles venue that's totally unchanged, with the original mike
and amps still preserved. The ceiling, personally painted with stars
by the Beatles themselves, is exactly the same today. Here, we heard
of John's incredible aura and sex appeal, his "bad boy" language that
curiously made him more attractive, his rebellious streak and roguish
sense of humour. "Well, I had a crush on Paul!" I told Sylvia and
so it was certainly worth the £12 entrance fee to visit Paul
McCartney's childhood home on Forthlin Road.
It was here that the foursome met most often to write their songs and
hold practice sessions. We saw the house restored to its original
look the exact wall paper, sofa sets, the very window they must
have looked out of as Paul and John sat writing "I Saw Her Standing There".
Soon we too headed off to the ultimate sacred Beatles spot in
Liverpool: The Cavern. Right here, at a basement in Mathew Street,
was where The Beatles had performed the most; to an ecstatic home
audience. Though once closed down to make way for a train route, a
huge public outcry from Beatles fans had the entire pub
reconstructed, to exactly the way it was when the Beatles performed
almost 300 times here, between 1961 and 1963.
After seeing a gallery of pictures of other famous names who have
played at The Cavern (Elton John, Eric Clapton, and even our
Woodstock-generation favourite The Who) we found a place to
inscribe our names on the walls, alongside the names of about a
million fans who must have visited The Cavern before us.
And then it was time to 'summarise' our entire visit: at the Beatles
Story Museum back at Liverpools' historic Albert Dock. Put together
with the Brits' amazing ability to recreate authenticity, this museum
is the ultimate shrine for the Beatles-obsessed.
Walking through with our headsets, a lucid audio narration by John
Lennon's sister Julia began our journey at the Woolton Village Fair,
where Paul's voice told us how he first met John Lennon. Then we were
listening to actual wild screams at the Cavern Club playing through
the speakers…Then the famous Royal Command Performance in 1963 which
included Royals like the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret in the
audience. We heard John's impudent wit, and working-class sauciness:
"Will the people in the cheaper seats, please clap your hands. All
the rest of you, if you'll just rattle your jewellery"!
Moving on, the colourful madness of the psychedelic era and Sgt.
Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. The recorded voice of Brian Epstein
on his first impressions of the Beatles. The break-up of the Beatles.
The Yoko Ono era. And an emotional look through John Lennon's iconic
Walking back to our hotel, we caught a snatch of "Yesterday" being
played at a bar. Automatically, we sang along, with words learnt by
heart so many years ago in our teenage Beatles-dominated times.
A wave of indescribable nostalgia washed over me. Liverpool, like the
words of Paul McCartney's best known song has a way of making you
wish "…how I long for yes-ter-day…yesterday."