By Tess Bridgwater
I’m standing on Penny Lane, yes the Penny Lane of Beatles fame, and I just missed Paul McCartney!
It’s one of the stops on a shore excursion from a cruise ship and I’m taking my own Magical Mystery tour “In the steps of the Beatles” in Liverpool, their birthplace, on the northwest coast of England.
Although I visit England frequently, last summer I did it differently, opting for a cruise around the British Isles on the Nautica, one of the small luxury ships of the Oceania line, visiting ports I hadn’t seen for years and others I had never seen.
The Liverpool stop began at “The Beatles Story”, a museum featuring artifacts from the Fab Four’s early lives, their early gigs in Hamburg, Germany and replicas of their Magical Mystery tour costumes. Audio by John Lennon’s half sister Julia, with her personal recollections make it all the more authentic.
A brief tour passes Liverpool Art College, attended by McCartney and Lennon and other city landmarks including the Cavern Club, where the Beatles first performed. It’s an exact replica across the street from the original that was replaced by a parking lot in the ‘80s. Beatles music blared out, fans of all ages mobbed the narrow alley and we had time for a photo alongside the Cavern’s neon lights.
There are no crowds in the suburbs where the tour explores places associated with the Beatles early life. Chroniclers of the Beatles story like to stress their humble beginnings, as part of their success story, but this is not strictly true. Their first performances took place at local church events, near their homes in the leafy middle class neighbourhoods. While their families didn’t have much money, Lennon, McCartney and George Harrison all had parents who were musically inclined and encouraged their early efforts. At age 11, Paul even auditioned for the prestigious boys choir of Liverpool Cathedral, largely to please his Father, but he failed the audition, due to the fact he could not sightread music and in fact, still cannot.
St. Peter’s Anglican Church in the suburb of Woolton is where McCartney and Lennon first played together in Lennon’s group The Quarrymen. The tour also takes in Beatle related landmarks like the Cathedral high on a hill, the large home of Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, where he grew up, and legendary Strawberry Fields Children’s Home, once an orphanage, but now a green field marked with a plaque. A narrow rural lane lined with shady trees overhanging the sidewalk reveals itself as Penny Lane. As we scramble to be photographed at the iconic location we are told that McCartney himself was photographed at the same spot days before. Next day I see the photo in the local paper. While he is often in the city unofficially to visit his brother Mike who still lives here, he rarely visits his old haunts, but this week he was here for a documentary.
Our final stop is at Forthlin Road, where we stand outside McCartney’s unobtrusive former home. There is no special plaque or mention of the famous former occupant, it is just one in a row of small but trim terrace homes on the short street. Nobody appears to pay attention to the tourists who file past, and we learn that only a few days earlier, as another tour group stood outside, the door opened and out stepped McCartney himself, making a rare visit to his old home. We just missed him again but the day I almost met Paul McCartney will remain a highlight of my trip.
In fact, it’s not my first interaction with the Fab Four legend. A few years ago I was lucky to meet Ringo Starr at Rama, where he was working up his All Starr Band, at this quiet location just north of Toronto.
As this energetic sprite of a man, then approaching his 70th year, sprang onto the stage, his vitality, down to earth manner and obvious sincerity, and yes talent, impressed me more than I can say. Visiting Liverpool where Beatlemania all began, was the icing on the cake,
Lets face it – I’m an ageing Beatle Groupie!
You don’t have to be on a cruise ship to take a Beatles Tour. The ancient Port of Liverpool is easily reached by fast trains from London or Manchester or inter city Motorways. There are several Beatles tours operating in the city. Our guide was particularly good. He was of Beatles vintage, a lifelong fan and had done much of his own research with some amusing stories. Allow three to four hours to enjoy. Cost is about $30 per person.
Consult websites to select the tour that best serves your needs.