Liverpool: The magical history tour

By Graham Reid

Picture at the entrance of The Beatles Story museum in Liverpool. Photo / Graham Reid.
Picture at the entrance of The Beatles Story museum in Liverpool. Photo / Graham Reid.

The divorce was as messy as most when, 40 years ago next month, the Beatles broke up. As John Lennon put it later that year on his Plastic Ono Band album, "The dream is over".

But it was Paul McCartney who first made it public and official. In April 1970 when he released his first solo album, McCartney included in it a press release in which he asked, "Will the Beatles ever work together again?"

His answer: "I do not foresee a time when the Lennon and McCartney partnership will be active again in song writing."

In the years which followed there was constant sniping and endless litigation. The memory of the band which had defined and in many ways shaped the 60s, became increasingly tarnished.

And if there seemed no real closure - even after Lennon's murder in 1980 the other three never got together - at least their origins were there, written in almost magical memories by those who knew them in Liverpool when they were a young pop group.

Liverpool today - progressive and architecturally innovative - is a different city to the one which nurtured the Beatles.

But numerous tours, the excellent Beatles Story museum and of course the resurrected Cavern Club where they famously played 292 shows between July 1961 and August 63, draw an estimated 600,000 visitors annually because of the Beatles connection, earning the city more than $45 million.

Money can't buy love, but it is giving many a very good living in Liverpool - and with the new film Nowhere Boy about the life of the young Lennon, there seems no end of interest in the Beatles story.

Nowhere Boy - starring Kristin Scott Thomas as Lennon's Aunt Mimi who raised him, Anne-Maria Duff as his mother Julia, newcomer Aaron Johnson as Lennon and Thomas Sangster as McCartney - won four-star reviews in Britain and was nominated for four Baftas for its account of the teenage Lennon (it opens locally tomorrow).

In fact there are two Caverns in Mathew St today, or more correctly two-thirds of one.

The Cavern Pub with its rock'n'roll memorabilia pulls regulars but wasn't there in the Beatles' day; the Cavern where the Beatles, Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Searchers and hundreds of other bands played was demolished in March 1973.

In the early 80s, after Lennon's death, a replica Cavern was built a few metres up the road from the original site using original bricks. And while it isn't entirely authentic there is still an air of excitement.

On a night when I went there were the 50-something males supping beer and trying to conjure up the atmosphere of the early 60s, but also a group of liquored-up women in appallingly loud clothes out for a hen's party. They laughed and danced, and seemed to enjoy the Cavern's spirit more than the wall-huggers nursing pints.

The Beatles Story in Albert Dock - which doubled in size last year - recounts the pop history of Merseyside and the rise of the Beatles through memorabilia, posters, hand-written lyrics, photos and film footage.

It includes reconstructions of Hamburg clubs they played in, the music store run by Brian Epstein (later the Beatles' manager), the untidy office of Bill Harry who edited Mersey Beat magazine, Hessy's Music Centre where young Liverpudlians (Beatles included) bought their instruments, and Abbey Road studios in London where the Beatles recorded.

Then there is the Magical Mystery Tour which takes the curious on a bus tour to the member's former homes, to the church in Woolton where Lennon and McCartney first met, past Strawberry Field and Penny Lane, and many other Beatles-related sites. The irony in all this Beatles-related tourism in Liverpool is once the group became famous they moved to London and rarely returned other than to see family.

The dream may be long over, but in Liverpool the sound of the Beatles legacy - the gentle swipe of a credit card - plays on.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Cathay Pacific offers daily flights from Auckland to London via Hong Kong.

Further information:

* For general Liverpool tourism: visitliverpool.com.

* The Beatles Story: beatlesstory.com.

* The Hard Days Night Hotel, North John St: harddaysnighthotel.com.

* The Cavern Club, Mathew St: cavern-liverpool.co.uk.

* For a ferry across the Mersey: merseyferries.co.uk.

* The Magical Mystery Tour by bus: cavernclub.org.

* The Yellow Duckmarine tour: theyellowduckmarine.co.uk/.

Graham Reid travelled to Britain with assistance from Cathay Pacific and visitbritain.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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