The Beatles first rocked the walls at Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club
Story and photos by Dana Huntley
It’s hard to believe that 50 years have gone by since the Beatles first rocked the walls as a regular act at Liverpool’s famous Cavern Club. The club itself is still rocking, nowadays most often with artists performing Beatles’ covers for the legions of visitors drawn to the old maritime city just because it is the birthplace and hometown of Britain’s most celebrated musicians ever. In fact, the Beatles are the biggest single motivation for visitors to come to Liverpool.
Liverpool is England’s own “City of the Big Shoulders”: brawling, industrial, maritime Merseyside, hub of Irish Sea transport, home of great football and scouse. And more than any other, the city of Liverpool’s are the shoulders from which generations of English, Welsh, Irish and Scots made their way to the New World of North America or to Australia—more than 9 million of them between 1830 and 1930.
Those millions of immigrants are remembered at the Liverpool Maritime Museum on the waterfront at the Albert Dock. Liverpool’s Merseyside riverfront is a bright, affluent, bustling place strung with attractions, a basket of eateries, shopping and river traffic. Once the largest commercial docking facility in the world, Albert Dock is a natural starting place for visitors to Liverpool—whether you’re coming on a Beatles pilgrimage or drawn to the city’s other attractions. Among Albert Dock’s miraculously converted warehouses is the tourist information center, where affable folk are happy to supply maps, bookings and brochures on everything on Merseyside. I was on a Beatles pilgrimage.
My first stop at the Albert Dock was The Beatles Story, Liverpool’s permanent exhibition of the Fab Four, and one of the city’s most popular attractions. It is a walk through Beatles history: from their births in wartime Liverpool to their coming together, then the phenomenal career of the group in the 60s and their individual careers after the Beatles separated. Beatles’ history comes to life, and even the most ardent fan will discover fascinating new pieces of the story. Personally, I liked the Yellow Submarine.
The Beatles Story continues at a second site in the Pier Head Building just a few blocks down the waterfront. The Pier Head is the travelers’ center and quay for the Mersey Ferries that continue to ply the River Mersey routes across to Birkenhead and the Wirral Peninsula as they have since Benedictine monks began the service in the 12th century. It’s impossible to hang around here for long before hearing that ’60s Liverpool anthem by Gary and the Pacemakers, “Ferry ’Cross the Mersey.”
The Beatles Story at Pier Head features changing exhibitions as well as a special effects theater experience called Fab4D. I saw the collection of gold and platinum records awarded to the Beatles for hit after top-of-the-charts hit that chronicled my own teenage years. Both Albert Dock and Pier Head locations have extensive Fab4Stores, proffering one the largest collections of “official” Beatles clothing, posters, music, dust collectors and such in the world.
The obvious next station on my Beatles pilgrimage was the Magical Mystery Tour of the Beatles’ own bits of Liverpool. It couldn’t have been easier. Tickets for the two-hour guided coach tour were available right at the Albert Dock tourist office, and the bus departed from just outside. Veteran city and Beatles guide Paul Beesley easily marshaled the small group aboard, and we were off to see the Fab Four story.
It is several miles from Liverpool’s attractive waterfront and city center to the working and lower middle class neighborhoods where John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were born and grew up. It’s a modest residential sprawl, not an urban ghetto. The block of council flats where Ringo was born is in the midst of demolition. We saw all the birthplaces, as Beesley delivered the tale as enthusiastically as he has done so many times. A musical tape on the coach was ordered to break into the appropriate Beatles songs as the story unfolded.
Our next destination was Penny Lane and a photo op to prove we were there. The song came on. A Lloyd’s bank on the corner, with the “banker in a motor car,” is one of several recognizable scenes from the song’s lyrics still standing. On to the gates of Strawberry Fields, which we discovered was actually a Salvation Army children’s home. On to the church hall where John and Paul met, and to the McCartney home on 20 Forthlin Road, where they hung out as teens and began writing songs together. The two hours passed quickly enough, with a lot of information and a visual whirl of residential Liverpool. The difference was palpable as the bus returned to the congested city center and dropped us off near the bustling Cavern Quarter.
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