The Magic and Mystery of Liverpool
As a twelve-year old kid, The Beatles had a huge impact on me and Liverpool was always tied up with that. I remember seeing on TV, the black and white images of this hard, British seaport and thinking how exotic and far away it was and how different it was from Roanoke and everything I'd ever known and how it was something I'd never see or really understand. So after my life took the direction it did regarding music and writing, the prospect of seeing Liverpool became something that was really important to me. It did not disappoint.
I really expected to enjoy the experience. I really thought I'd like the "Magical Mystery Tour" (the bus tour that Carol booked for us that would to take us to various points of interest) and just being in and around Liverpool. I thought I'd like taking a "Ferry 'cross the Mersey". But it was so much better than I could have hoped for.
On a Friday morning in March 2002, we took the train to Liverpool Lime Street Station. It took three hours and forty minutes from Stamford and I don't remember how many stops to get there, but everything was on time. We arrived late morning and pretty much immediately walked out of the station, hailed a cab and were at the Crown Plaza hotel on the River Mersey before noon.
After checking in, we walked towards Albert Dock, past the Liver Building (pronounced lie-ver), an impressive building, and to the Pump House, a pub that we'd heard about and where we hoped to have lunch. We were able to accomplish that and we enjoyed looking out the windows from the third floor at the ships and other sights along the riverfront.
After lunch, we booked a ride on the ferry cruise, which took us along both banks of the Mersey and allowed us to get off at Birkenhead, a great city in its own right across the river. We spent an hour or so exploring several of the unique buildings we had seen from the ferry and sampling Cain's, a Liverpool beer at The Dispensary, a local pub. It wasn't the best beer I'd had since I'd been in England but it was a very memorable experience. We caught the next ferry back across and as we got off, the loud speakers were playing the Gerry and the Pacemakers classic.
That was all we had planned for Friday so we spent the rest of the afternoon just walking around, getting familiar with the riverfront and city centre. At one point, we were walking along and looked down a small side street and noticed a sign that said, "The Cavern Club". We walked down the three flights of stairs (fully three flights, six legs in all) in time to see a young man on stage with acoustic guitar playing, of all things, Beatle songs (this was 3:30 on a Friday afternoon, mind you). We had a pint of Guinness and watched this guy do several songs. I could have stayed there the rest of the weekend but we headed back about 4:30 to get ready for dinner and the rest of the evening. We ate at the restaurant at the hotel and it was great. Afterwards, we went for a walk along the Mersey. It was a perfect night, weather wise and otherwise and we ended up sitting on a bench near the Pump House pub, looking at the reflection in the water of the Albert Dock, of the clock on the Liver building. It was so still that night that you could read the time in the reflection. This will be one of my great memories of all time.
The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and walked to the Liverpool Cathedral (probably over a mile away). Again, a very impressive building. Timing it just right, we made it to the Albert Dock where the Magical Mystery Tour began at 11:30am. We got on the bus (it was completely full so I'm glad we had booked ahead of time) and though I knew I'd enjoy this tour, I had no idea that it would be as cool as it was. First off, there was a driver and a tour guide (Les and Eddie, respectively). As we began the drive away from the riverside, it became clear that Eddie was going to be entertaining. We had no way of knowing how much. As it turned out, Eddie has been doing this for over 22 years and has known John since Eddie's mom and John's mom Julia worked together when they were both four-year old boys. Some of the anecdotes that Eddie shared with us were priceless. One of particular note was the story he told us about Ringo's school. In Ringo's class were Gerry Marsden (Gerry and the Pacemakers) and a girl named Grace. Now it seems that Grace could have married Ringo or Gerry but she didn't. Instead, she chose to marry Les, our bus driver.
I stood outside the door of George Harrison's boyhood home. We rode the entire one mile length of Penny Lane. We saw the shelter in the middle of the roundabout where the pretty nurse was selling poppies from a tray. We saw the barbershop where the banker was sitting, waiting for a trim. We visited Strawberry Field, the Liverpool boy's home that was behind the hedge of John's back yard where, at age four, he heard music wafting over the hedge and asked his Aunt Mimi what it was. When she said that it was a band playing at the boy's home, John thought a moment and said, "That's what I want to do." And the rest, as Eddie said, is history. In 1984 when Yoko brought eight-year old Sean to Liverpool for the first time, she took him immediately from the airport, directly to John's boyhood home because she wanted his first memory of Liverpool to be the same as John's, Strawberry Field. On that same visit, Yoko bought the house and it's now a part of the National Trust. There's a blue plaque on the front facade indicating that this was John's boyhood home. Aside from that, it's exactly as it was when John was four.
Later, we took the long and winding road to the house where Paul grew up. I have a picture of me standing in front of the house. Above the front door is the window of Paul's bedroom. He and John wrote over 200 songs in that room including "She Loves You" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand."
We saw the Dingle, the part of Liverpool where Ringo grew up. We saw all three of the houses his family lived in. We saw the pub where his mother worked. We saw the family estate of Brian Epstein. We saw the pub where Brian offered to become their manager. We saw the park where Fred Lennon proposed to John's mother, Julia…and more. It was quite an amazing experience.
The tour, which started at Albert Dock, ended at the Cavern Club so along with all our "bus mates," we again walked down into this historic club. Carol wanted to do some shopping at one of the Beatle stores nearby so I just sat there, by myself, listening to the taped Beatle music that was playing (it was only 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon). But being by myself, I had time to ponder where I was and when it occurred to me that I was sitting within a few feet of where Brian Epstein first saw this scruffy, incredibly talented band some 40 years earlier, I have to admit, I had a tear in my eye.
It was without a doubt, one of the most memorable weekends in my life. I would tell any Beatles fan that if they get the chance, they should find a way to visit Liverpool.
For more information about visiting Liverpool, check out www.visitliverpool.com
You can check out the Cavern Club and the Magical Mystery Tour at these links:
This story first appeared in "... we're not in Kansas anymore", my account of our time in England.