England: Longing for the Liver bird

By Paul Rush

Paul Rush takes a Magical Mystery Tour down memory lane.
The spirit and an effigy of John Lennon will always reside at The Cavern Club. Photo / Paul Rush
The spirit and an effigy of John Lennon will always reside at The Cavern Club. Photo / Paul Rush

The city of Liverpool is charmingly lyrical. Wherever I walk through the city, musical themes and Beatles lyrics spontaneously erupt in my head.

I don't know whether this is due to nostalgia, telepathy or deluge of memories. Just being in this 800-year-old World Heritage City, symbolic home of the liver bird, brings a flood of memories of those halcyon days of fun and fashion inspired by the Fab Four.

I've got a ticket to ride on the ferry across the Mersey. It's rush hour and commuters crowd the decks. Others are day trippers like myself saying hello, goodbye to Liverpool on a short visit. I examine the earnest faces, some with faraway looks and wonder if Beatles lyrics are on their minds too.

The river does not look inviting with its swirling currents of khaki-brown. I have a weird notion in my head that a yellow submarine is cruising under the ferry but soon dismiss the thought as nonsense as you would never see it in the murky waters.

Later in the morning I join Frank, a Trafalgar Tour guide, on his Magical Mystery Tour of Liverpool.

Frank is a dedicated Beatles follower and he begins the tour by cruising down the fabled Penny Lane identifying landmarks familiar to the four lads.

We drive past No.20 Forthlin Road, Paul McCartney's original home, then travel on to Mathew Street in downtown Liverpool to see The Grapes pub, which is largely unchanged since the days when John Lennon and Paul went there to find inspiration.

In the atmospheric depths of The Grapes, I sit in the Beatles favourite corner, sample the local beers and soak up the nostalgia. Photos of the four famous Liverpudlians with goofy smiles adorn the walls.

Nearby is a replica of the original Cavern Club, where the Beatles played 292 times. It entices a steady stream of ageing fans like myself, who are reliving the dream. It's easy to visualise the scene during the club's heyday and feel the raw youthful energy as the music is cranked up in the small atmospheric club.

The Fab Four take pride of place on the Mathew Street's Wall of Fame that features the names of everyone who performed on that dingy cellar stage. John's statue stands leaning against a brick wall and a bronze likeness of the four mop-haired musicians surmounts The Beatles Shop.

My trip down memory lane continues on to a fine mock Tudor house called 'Mendips', at 159 Menlove Ave, South Liverpool, where John grew up in the care of his Aunt Mimi. This is where the Beatle's story began.

John's merchant seaman father left the family when the lad was four and he became Mimi's boy because his mum was not coping well. As a young teenager he re-established a relationship with his mum who taught him music; first the banjo and then the electric guitar. Sadly she was killed by a drunk driver. The loss made the young musician very bitter but music was soon to change his life in a remarkable way.

Aunt Mimi was a strict disciplinarian and cautioned John to stay out of the nearby Strawberry Fields, a reserve near the house where young people gathered. His response was to write the lyrics Strawberry Fields Forever. It is rumoured that he smoked his first cigarette and lost his virginity in the fields.

Young John spent many hours in his tiny bedroom imagining a host of images in the world around him, like the fields, Penny Lane and Eleanor Rigby. The images and dreams became song lyrics that were to take him far.

He formed a group called the Quarrymen when he was just 16 years old. They were playing a church fair gig when Paul McCartney showed up. Later Paul met George Harrison on the bus coming home from school. In March 1958, Paul arranged for John, George and drummer Pete Best to form a new band called The Beatles.

In August 1962 Ringo Starr was drummer for a group called the Hurricanes at a holiday camp when John and Paul knocked on his caravan door and invited him to join them.

John, Paul, George and Ringo were now a team. Four teenagers with no more than eight O levels between them, determined to succeed. Within two years they were caught up in the eye of a hurricane on their tour of America.

I remember the day in 1964 when the four lads hit Wellington on their New Zealand tour. It was nothing short of a revolution. Kiwis were instantly plugged into the international youth culture. A new generation and a new set of values had arrived.

The four were very different personalities yet they were strangely alike. They adopted the mop-haired look that gave them the appearance of identical quads. But how effective it was when they shook their heads in unison as a signal for the audience to scream.

And did the girls scream! It was an ear-shattering, piercing shriek of a thousand banshees in agony. The lads were constantly out of breath and run off their feet escaping the throng. Ringo once said that the only place he felt safe was in the loo.

Above all the Fab Four represented fun with a capital 'F' and they were inveterate teasers, poking fun at reporters, interviewers and fans alike. The cheeky mop-tops were enacting their own style of Goon Show humour on their rollercoaster ride to fame.

The 80-year-old Abbey Road Recording Studios in London, the oldest in the world, was where the Beatles launched their first record Love Me Do in 1962. Please Please Me followed within two months and the whole world knew about the new Mersey Beat. The album featured the four baby-faced lads bristling with energy and good humour and wearing faux-Edwardian suits with crimson linings and black velvet collars and cuffs.

The Beatle's Story, a dramatic exhibition of the fab foursome's achievements at the Albert Docks is the last stop on our tour. Audio visual displays show significant events in the Beatle's history, including the Cavern Club beginnings, Abbey Road, Sergeant Pepper, psychedelic Strawberry Fields and a Yellow Submarine with real fish swimming past.

I'm moved by the sight of George's first guitar, John's orange-tinted 'Imagine' glasses and the living history audio tour narrated by John's sister Julia. After viewing the excellent displays I'm even more emotionally involved in the wonderful story of the Beatles. It is portrayed with subtle Liverpudlian blend of humour, sentimentality and cynicism.

I come away thinking that it would be beyond human imagination to create a story like the Beatles - but it really did happen! It's incredibly sad that John, the master of the peacenik anthem exhorting all of us to live in harmony and give peace a chance, died so horribly at the hand of a celebrity freak.

John was a dreamer who asked us to imagine a world without possessions where love transcends all. His dreams of peace and love expressed in his music continue to influence the whole world.

IF YOU GO

The Beatles Story Experience at Albert Dock is 30 minutes by car or taxi from Liverpool's John Lennon Airport. In the nearby Mersey Ferries Terminal there's another Beatles Story exhibition with the Fab 4D that enables visitors to experience a magical journey through their music.

Every August the International Beatles Convention draws admirers from all over the world to Liverpool as part of the Mathew Street Music Festival. The bouncing cropped haircuts, collarless Hard Day's Night suits and mini skirted hips from another era are always in evidence, re-enacting the wonderful swinging sixties.

Beatles-themed accommodation is now available for fans. It's called the Hard Day's Night Hotel. Trafalgar Tours run conducted coach tours of England with optional extras like the Liverpool Beatles Tour.

Further information: See visitbritain.com.

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