Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Magical Mystery Tour

When heading to Liverpool I could not get past the thought that it was a hard and sketchy port town. If this was 1968 then sure that would be the case. Happily this is 2018 and Liverpool is amazing in every sense of the word.  

With a history that is long and diverse there is one thing that comes to mind when you approach Liverpool, The Cavern Club and The Beatles. Well that's two things but who cares. Let's roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour that is Liverpool
Liverpool was the most heavily bombed area of the country, outside London during WWII. The Liverpool Blitz completely destroyed the city. There are many monuments and memorials but one stands out, the Church of St Luke. The church was bombed out and was never repaired. Much like many of the buildings at Hiroshima ground zero, St. Lukes stands as a reminder of a darker time. An important statue on the grounds commemorates the Christmas Peace of WWI when German and English soldiers left their trenches to play football and exchange gifts of chocolates and cigarettes.

I wandered through the World Museum, The Merseyside Maritime Museum, The International Slave Museum and The British Music Experience all in one day. There were incredible exhibits in each including a very detailed account of Liverpool in WWII. However my mind expanded when I discovered that England and particularly Liverpool played a huge part in the African Slave Trade with the Americas.

When slaves were transported from Africa the ships did not cross to the Americas immediately. They sailed up to England to rest and regroup before setting sail to the ports of the USA, the Caribbean and Brazil with their human cargo. Incredible stories and the International Slave Museum must not be missed. To learn, absolutely, but to keep a bit of perspective while happily wandering the pubs and galleries of Liverpool.

I stepped into the Cavern Club expecting a "Cheers type of experience". I am happy to report I could not have been more wrong. As I walked down the winding stairs with the camera clicking masses I stepped into the long cavern club/bar that is how you would expect to find it. In color of course because all the other videos were black and white. If I stepped into the club and everything was in black and white well whatever I had for breakfast I was going to have it every day from now until, well forever.

At the end of the long brick main bar was "the stage". On the stage was a very good acoustic musician cranking out classic Beatles songs and everyone was sipping beer and singing along. It was 11:30 in the morning. So I said to myself, "Self, what should I do? Here I was in the Cavern Club, I had a pint of cold Guinness in my happy hands at 11:30 in the morning and I was listening to Beatles songs from the stage that they are famous for. What else was I going to do?

The place is larger than you would think. As you walk through the main stage area you wind your way back to a secondary stage. This is the stage thaat Paul McCartney played exactly a week ago, so I was told by anyone and everyone and this seemed to make everyone even happier. The entire place is underground and made of solid brick so the soundproofing was exceptional. You could not hear anything from the other room. The same situation as the main stage. A great musician playing Beatles tunes and he had a large video screen behind him showing various clips of the members of the band. Each guy performed for 2 hours straight on each stage, there was a 15 minute break and the next guy got up and did it all again. I ping ponged back and forth all afternoon, but my heart was in the main room.

Conversation was easy as the beer flowed with the music. There were loads of tourists as to be expected but there were quite a few locals and Brits who came in just to spend the day here. I had tremendous conversations with men and woman of that generation. They were teens in 1961 to 1964 when the band played over 275 times here and most had been there many times during those years. I kept prodding with questions and anyone I spoke with were happy to tell their tale.

The Cavern Club, Beatles tunes,happy singing revelers (myself included) and stories from people who were there at the beginning of it all, is one of the best travel experiences I have ever had. Then I stepped into the sunlight after spending my allotted time underground, realized it was past 6:00 and all I had to eat all day was, well Guinness. It was the best meal I could have possibly had given the circumstance. I was hungry so I turned around and went back below ground to have one more for dinner.

I did get on board the Magic Bus, oops, wrong band sorry. I did get on a Magical Mystery Tour which is a 2 hour bus trip through the city showing us all things Beatles. We toured the neighborhoods of where each band member grew up and saw their childhood homes. We were shown the locations of the churches and parking lots of their first shows. The guide gave us insight and had great stories about each member of the band while growing up in Liverpool. Our guide and driver were at McCartney's house when Paul showed up the James Cordon a few weeks ago. He proudly showed us his pictures on his phone.

Around the corner where we were getting back on the bus I notice all the various drivers and guides going up to a home to chat with an old woman who seemed to be enjoying all the attention. It turns out that she helped raise Paul as a mother figure after his mother died when he was 14. Living history right in front of me. One of the unsung hero's of the life of Paul McCartney

Penny Lane is a real street that Paul McCartney wrote about. I saw all the places mentioned in the song that include:

The Barbers Shop (there is a barber showing photographs, of every head he's had the pleasure to know)
The Shelter on the Roundabout (Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout)
The Firehouse (there is a fireman with an hourglass, and in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen)
The Bank (On the corner is a banker with a motorcar)
The Fish Shop (A four of fish and finger pies)
The Chemist (The pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray)

Strawberry Fields is a real place. It was a Salvation Army home for wayward woman and children and John lived behind it. He would scale the walls and watch garden parties or jump the wall and play with some of the children that lived there. Both songs were released at the same time as a Double A single.

During our tour after a story and insight, the song of the moment would be played as we drove off to experience more Beatles history. Naturally everyone in the bus started singing, quietly and to ourselves at first. It did not take much coaxing until we were all anxiously waiting for the next song to be played, looking around at each other eagerly. On the first note we would not hold back,  belting out the lyrics, laughing, smiling and having a great time. Fifty would-be vocalists of all ages, on a multicolored tourist bus singing songs, while driving around the area where the "Four Young Lads From Liverpool" became the Beatles. My heart was full.

Liverpool/Merseyside have had more musicians witha #1 single than any other city in the world, 71. Many of them were the Beatles but the list of groups and singers that have come from here is impressive. Click here to see the list. With Manchester only an hour away the list of musical talent rivals that of Merseyside. Click here to see that list. So much incredible talent from such a specific area of England.

Liverpool and Manchester have an insane rivalry about everything. Much like Toronto/Montreal, Sydney/Melbourne, NY/LA and so on. Football is the biggest driver along with so much more, including music. I can not say much about football, but musically Liverpool rises to the challenge. Sure there is London, but as the good people of Liverpool say,  Foook London.

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