Graham Reid takes a music-lovers trip to the birthplace of Beatlemania.
If you want a photo of just them, or just you with them, get there early. Because by mid-morning there will be dozens of people with their phones out around the bronze statues of the Beatles at Pier Head in Liverpool.
These impressive, larger-than-life and realistic figures of the Beatles in their early years – suits, boots, narrow ties and that hair – appear to be ambling casually towards the Mersey Ferries office to buy tickets for its informative boat trip down and up the river.
Or maybe to shop for Beatle memorabilia in that strikingly angular building.
Not that anyone needs look too far in Liverpool for Beatle beanies, mugs, fridge magnets, calendars, key rings, photos, books, CDs . . .
Parts of this vibrant city – notably around Mathew St and the Cavern Quarter – are awash with Beatle product.
Here's a city the Beatles sometimes referenced in song – Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, the Cast Iron Shore – and made the grimy place of their childhood seem exciting and even romantic "beneath blue suburban skies".
For many, even now, Liverpool appears in monochrome with post-war ruins familiar from photos that appeared when the young Beatles broke through all those decades ago.
Yet today, commanding contemporary architecture makes Liverpool one of the great cities of Britain, a place with an extraordinary present but often wedded to the past with a soundtrack by the Beatles.
As British cultural critic Peter Doggett wrote, "these four men created music of such joy and inventiveness it captured the imagination of the world and has never lost its grip".
But he also noted the nostalgia many feel isn't for the Beatles, it's for their own past "stripped of pain and ambiguity".
In 2023 it will be 60 years since the Beatles had their first number one hit in Britain - Please Please Me - and 1963 became their year. Other hits and a massive selling debut album followed, "John, Paul, George and Ringo" became megastars, and with the excitement travelling to far-flung New Zealand, (America got it in 1964), there was a name for the phenomenon and noise: Beatlemania.
Liverpool doesn't need to commemorate the anniversary of Beatlemania next year, it celebrates the group and its music constantly, sometimes in rather tacky and exploitative ways.
Mathew St, the site of the original Cavern where the Beatles played, is very different today than it was even a decade ago.
The original Cavern closed in 1965 when the owner was declared bankrupt but a replica opened up the road in the mid-80s.
Today the area around the replica – worth visiting to get something of the flavour of that cramped place – has restaurants and bars with names like Sgt. Peppers, the Cavern Pub, the Rubber Soul Beatles Bar, Kaiserkeller (the name of a Hamburg club they played before they became famous) and so on.
It's all pretty garish, there's a statue of a painfully thin but joyous Cilla Black and around the corner on Stanley St, a life-size Eleanor Rigby in bronze.
The shop in The Hard Day's Night Hotel has everything and anything with their faces, caricatures and logos on them.
However, anyone looking for a more informative Beatle experience can find it at the excellent and thorough Beatles Story in the Albert Dock precinct to the east of those photogenic statues and past another of this city's first rock 'n' roll star, Billy Fury.
The Beatles Story walks visitors through the history of the band (with an excellent audioguide) that starts in the skiffle era, recounts their earliest days before Ringo Starr joined them, evokes the clubs they played at in Hamburg and then Beatlemania, global fame and all rest into their solo careers.
With original and duplicate posters, impressive reconstructions of Hessy's music store where they bought their equipment and their manager Brian Epstein's shop, another Cavern replica, the Sgt. Pepper cover, handwritten lyrics, video and film footage, memorabilia and donated artefacts, The Beatles Story is a must-do in Liverpool.
Set aside 90 minutes. Actually more, because you'll exit through yet another gift shop.
There are also informative Beatle-related bus tours of Liverpool – a Magical Mystery Tour inevitably one of them – which take in the homes and streets on which the Beatles grew up, Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, the schools they attended, St Peter's Church, where McCartney met Lennon and so on.
The advantage of a tour is it gets you out of the city centre and gives an appreciation of greater Liverpool where there are many manicured and charming suburban streets, John Lennon's childhood area among them.
Visitors to Liverpool should also make time for a trip to Port Sunlight across the River Mersey. There's an interesting Beatles connection – Ringo Starr played his first show as an official Beatle with them here, acknowledged in the generous Beatle display in the museum – but Port Sunlight is a beautiful model village founded in the 1880s by William Hesketh Lever, the soap entrepreneur and genius at advertising.
He located his soap factory here but had the vision of superior housing for his employees and, indulging in his love of architecture, ensured the homes were well designed with indoor plumbing, large windows and well-tended gardens.
Today there nearly 200 listed buildings around the wide streets where there are semi-detached homes with unique and distinctive features, leisure facilities and commercial buildings.
Port Sunlight is proof that model housing need not be generic and cheap but can be elegant, solid and enduring. Well worth a visit.
The Beatles have fallen in and out of favour over the decades, but today their music is embraced by many who know nothing of Beatlemania or the cultural context but listen to songs which stand on their own merits.
At its most crass, Liverpool cashes in on the Beatles. But why not?
This is the city which gave life to "four lads who shook the world" and 60 years on those statues on Pier Head seem as timeless as their music.
But go there early to get your photos.
For more, see visitliverpool.com