We spent Tuesday and Wednesday of this week going to Liverpool (one of the perks of giving up my 9-to-5 job!). Tourist-wise, it was a great time to go and see everything Beatles-y that the city has to offer, because it wasn’t too busy! That might have something to do with the weather in Liverpool in February – Tuesday greeted us with 55-mph wind gusts and a 26-degree wind chill.
Let me step back for a moment and try to explain how special this journey was for me (Albert):
The Beatles form the soundtrack to nearly all of my best childhood memories. They were playing (usually on a battery-powered tape player) during bath-times, Saturday mornings, birthday parties, barbecues, road trips, and countless other times in my life. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the first CD I ever owned. Elvis piqued my interest into music, but the Beatles broadened and deepened it significantly.
I remember hearing Sgt. Pepper for the first time and being amazed by how different it was from their early albums, and in awe of the creativity and poetry of it. I still get passionately excited while explaining to anyone who will listen how significant their contributions to music and art are. Katy and I walked out of our wedding chapel to “Love Me Do” and had a Beatles tribute band play at our wedding reception. We even got to see Sir Paul McCartney perform live in Dallas a few months ago, which was an incredible concert and a really fun evening. Visiting the city where John, Paul, George, and Ringo were born was deeply meaningful to me.
Fab Four Taxi Tour
We asked our good pal TripAdvisor what the best thing to do in Liverpool was, and he mentioned the Fab Four Taxi Tour. He was right, and I’m so glad we listened. The company has about 10 drivers who take people around Liverpool all day and show them significant places in each of the four Beatles’ lives. The museum (which we’ll get to in a moment) was full of memorabilia, photos, and stories about the recording process and their legacy, but this tour was more of a behind-the-scenes look at their early lives.
Our driver, Peter, was an excellent tour guide and started off by telling us that his dad was a musician in Liverpool during the 1950s and 60s and knew John Lennon personally! We started off by going to the hospital where John was born in 1940, which is now part of the University of Liverpool.
We then saw the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts (LIPA), which is where John, Paul and George all went for secondary school. Our tour guide also attended the school, and one time got to give Paul McCartney a tour when he dropped in, unannounced, for a visit while touring with Wings!
We saw each of John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s childhood homes, in various places across town. John’s and Paul’s homes are now national historical sites, but they’re really just normal middle-class houses that look like any other English homes from the time. Incredible to think that some of the greatest music in the world was written in those little bedrooms!
The tour took us to a few significant Liverpool locations as well – starting with Penny Lane. Paul spent a lot of time here as a boy and our tour guide explained a lot of the references within the song Penny Lane (we saw the barber shop, the fire station, etc. – no blue suburban skies that day though!). We also saw Strawberry Field, which was (and is still) owned by the Salvation Army and used to be the site of an orphanage. We didn’t see any strawberries but the gates made for a nice photo. We even stopped by the churchyard which is home to Eleanor Rigby’s headstone, and across the street from the place where John first met Paul!
We got to see a lot of central and southern Liverpool during the tour as well, which was nice. The city was a major port city for England for a very long time, and we got to learn a little about its history. We got to see the Anglican and Catholic cathedrals (the Anglican one is massive and traditional-looking; the Catholic one is much smaller and looks like a spaceship. Literally, just like the re-entry capsule from the Apollo lunar missions. Not sure what the symbolism is there vis-à-vis Catholicism, but that’s okay!). There are a ton of parks and gardens in Liverpool, including one after which Central Park in NYC is modeled. Pretty neat!
The Cavern Club
That evening we made it to the Cavern Club, which is where the Beatles often played before they made it big. Technically, this isn’t the original club, but is right next door. The original was closed in the 1970s in order to build a railroad that was never actually built. BUT the new Cavern Club is supposed to be very similar and you get the feel for the tiny, seedy club they used to play in. We saw a great little Beatles tribute duo play (called the Nowhere Boys) and had a great time.
The Beatles Story (Museum)
On our second day in Liverpool, we went to the Albert Dock, where the Beatles museum (aka The Beatles Story) is located. It was wonderfully un-crowded, and we got to enjoy the music, commentary, memorabilia, and photographs at our own pace. The museum does a good job of telling (you guessed it) their story – how the band was formed, and their early years in Liverpool and Hamburg; their first few years with manager Brian Epstein and their initial success in the UK and the US; their more experimental middle period; their later years together and the band’s breakup. It also briefly touched on their respective solo careers. The museum does a good job of putting the Beatles into a historical context and emphasizing what an impact they had on the UK and the music industry.
I am so glad we got to see the city and the museum. The experience felt at the same time magical and very ordinary. The magic, of course, comes from the fact that the greatest band of all time (I say this without hesitation!) came from and played hundreds of gigs here, and this is the place that gave them the life experiences that they put into their songs. The ordinary part comes from Liverpool feeling a lot like any other city in England – John, Paul, George and Ringo grew up in houses that look like any other houses, went to schools just like everyone else, and lived very normal lives until the band became famous.
It is always encouraging to me (and a critical part of their story) that the Beatles came from such ordinary backgrounds. They made a name for themselves based on their talent, hard work, and a passion for their art. They weren’t just another band that the Music Industry decided should suddenly get a lot of airtime and advertising money thrown their way, and forget about in a few years. Their legacy is a testament to how much they cared about their art and the kind of effort they put into it.
I could go on about the Beatles for pages and pages, but I’ll leave it at this: I’m so glad we went!