Lost in Liverpool, Part II

By Kevin Gibson

Some of you may have read my first installment of Lost in Liverpool in spring 2006. Well, in early September of this year I went back to check out the things I failed to visit on my first trip. Liverpool remains a Mecca of sorts for Beatles freaks, so I have a tough time staying away.

Liverpool\'s Lime Street Station, referenced in the Beatles song \'One After 909.\'

For the uninitiated, there's more to Liverpool than the Cavern Club, where the Beatles played 292 shows (give or take); while the Cavern is a cool reproduction of the original and still a great place for live music, there's a lot more to see on Mathew Street and around Liverpool's City Centre that have Beatles ramifications.

One such thing is the very first sight you see when you arrive in the train station - in fact, it is the train station. If you know the song "One After 909," well, Liverpool's Lime Street Station is the one they were singing about.

And just across the street is the not-so-famous famous Punch & Judy, a pub where Brian Epstein often met the band after his train rides into London to try and secure auditions with recording companies. Over pints, he quite often had to tell his boys that he didn't get it done for them. You won't see any Beatles in the pub these days, but it still bustles - and they still serve pints. (Interestingly, "Punch & Judy" was actually a traveling puppet show that was a fixture in Liverpool - and around England - in the early 1900s. Likely, the pub's name came from that, buy my research on the subject proved inconclusive.)

The writer, standing outside Mendips, the house where John Lennon grew up.

But along with old favorites from the last trip, we incorporated some new and exciting ones on this visit - namely, Mendips (John Lennon's childhood home) and 20 Forthlin Road (Paul McCartney's). England's National Trust has restored these homes to approximately how they looked when the Beatles lived there and opened them for tours. The tours weren't open during out last visit to the 'Pool, so how could we say no this time?

Our tour first stopped at Mendips, 251 Menlove Avenue, in the south part of Liverpool. It's really quite a nice house - John was by far the most well-off financially of all the Beatles in the early days. Poor Ringo basically grew up in a slum, while John had the comforts of Mendips, thanks to his Aunt Mimi taking him in when he was very young.

We entered from the back door, which is where John and his friends would come and go during the late 1950s and early 1960s, according to our guide. We entered through the kitchen, where Mimi used to make John his favorite breakfast of egg and chip. There's also a lovely sitting room, where the Beatles would sometimes rehearse. When they would get too loud, Mimi would banish them to the tiny enclosed front porch. Paul told the curators, who live in the home and care for it, that the porch had a tremendous echo and the vocal sound they got during those early rehearsals in the porch actually influenced how they wanted their later recordings to sound. (Yes, we tried out the echo.)

Ye Cracke, a favorite haunt of John Lennon and Stu Sutcliffe during their teen years.

We also got to go inside John's bedroom, which is restored to what it looked like when he lived there as a teen-ager, with posters of rock 'n' roll stars and lots of 45s. The bed is not original, but the dresser at the foot of the bed is where John kept his toys as a lad. It had been storing tools at his cousin's house prior to the house being purchased by Yoko and donated to the national trust.

One of the most fascinating items in the room is a guitar owned by John's friend Bill Smith. It is almost identical to John's first guitar and they were bought at the exact same time from an ad in the newspaper. The guitar boasts, as McCartney famously noted in the Beatles Anthology, that it is "guaranteed not to split."

We saw a number of interesting items inside Mendips and learned a lot. One item on display was a handmade plectrum (guitar pick) found in Mimi's sofa after she moved out in the mid-1960s when the Beatles stalkers became unbearable. One can only assume it belonged to John or one of his friends, since Mimi wasn't a big guitar player.

The \'shelter in the middle of the roundabout,\' as mentioned in the song \'Penny Lane.\'

Also, the curators told us John had a treehouse from which he could see Strawberry Field, which was just on the other side of the trees that lined the back garden. He and his friend Ivan Vaughn would sneak onto the grounds, which held a Salvation Army orphanage and often would get kicked out, which would prompt Mimi to scold him.

His response? "Oh Mimi, they can't hang me for it!" Which could be a clue to the meaning of the line "Nothing to get hung about" in his immortal song "Strawberry Fields."

From there it was onward to 20 Forthlin Road. At one point we were standing in the front room of the house, where John and Paul wrote so many of the early Beatles hits and our tour guide (who actually looks quite a bit like Paul) pointed to a photo on the wall of John and Paul writing "I Saw Her Standing There." He said, "They would have been right about there" ... and pointed to my feet, which were situated very near the fireplace in the front room. I nearly wet myself.

20 Forthlin Road, the house where Paul McCartney spent his youth.

McCartney's house was oft-photographed by Paul's brother Michael and his photos hang all over the house in the rooms where they were taken, which adds a wonderful mystique to the tour. One photo in the main bedroom upstairs shows Paul climbing up the back drainpipe (which is still there, by the way) - something he often did when he'd come home late and his father would lock him out.

We also did a walking tour one afternoon of the area of City Centre where they went to school and hung out in pubs, seeing the Art College, Paul's first school, the Philharmonic Pub and Ye Cracke, a tiny pub that appears as if it hasn't changed since the late 1950s when John, Stuart and others would drink pints and solve the world's problems. We sat in one of the booths where the boys allegedly sat often during their hours spent there while avoiding classes.

We also returned this year to the Casbah Coffee Club in West Derby and were given a tour by Roag Best, half-brother of the Beatles' original full-time drummer Pete Best. This time, unlike last, we were allowed to take photos. There was also a bit more info to be had from our knowledgeable tour guide.

The original \'stage\' in the Casbah Coffee Shop, including some of the original equipment the Beatles and other bands used there in the late 1950s and early 1960s

The Casbah was set in the basement of a house owned by Mona Best, mother of Pete and Roag. It was an incredibly popular place with teen-agers who wanted to hear live music; rock 'n' roll was picking up steam in England and most of the clubs would allow only skiffle and jazz and other "acceptable" forms of music.

Roag said that at the height of the Casbah's popularity, Mona was charging people to just get into the grounds and stand outside. Hundreds of kids were coming out every night and the place is nothing but a tiny cellar. The Beatles famously helped decorate the club, as George and his friend Ken Brown had invited John and Paul to play opening night with them and Mona insisted that the band help her get the club ready. Those paintings are still there.

The writer, on a sunny day in Penny Lane.

When they decorated the ceiling and walls, John also carved his name into the wall - also still there. Mona was not pleased, so she whacked John on the back of his head - and knocked his glasses off his head, breaking them. Roag said John had to wear Pete's grandmother's glasses for a few days until he could get them replaced.

Other items of incredible interest to be seen in the Casbah are the Vox amp and bass cabinet Mona bought for the band. They were among the first amps the Beatles ever used, if not the first. There's even a microphone there used by the Beatles and other bands that played there.

Also, there's the hi-fi on which the Beatles heard themselves on the radio for the first time ever. They had done a show on the BBC that was broadcast the next day. Roag said they were hopping about, cheering and acting like little kids when they heard themselves. Then when they went to the Cavern for a show later that night, they acted cool and composed around their congratulatory fans. They wanted to give the air that they were unimpressed with being sudden "radio stars."

Also, the back room where coffee and sodas were served is where John and Paul famously convinced Stuart Sutcliffe to spend the money he had won in an art contest on a bass guitar and not on paints and canvas. That's how Stu came to join the Beatles.

One of the highlights of the trip, however, was taking a taxi out to the area at Allerton and Smithdown roads in South Liverpool known as "Penny Lane." Typically, a Liverpool tourist will only see this part of town as part of a drive-by bus tour. We had done that already - we wanted to soak up the neighborhood where the Beatles used to spend time.

Of course, the barber shop is still there ("In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs / Of every head he's had the pleasure to know ..."), as is the bank ("On the corner is a banker with a motorcar / The little children laugh at him behind his back ...")

But my favorite part of Penny Lane (except for the Penny Lane Wine Bar, where we had a couple of pints) is the abandoned building in the middle of the road: "Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout / The pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray / And though she feels as if she's in a play / She is anyway ..."

John Lennon's name, carved into the wall of the Casbah in the late 1950s

The shelter in the roundabout was where Paul and John used to meet to take the bus into City Centre for shows. One day while waiting for John in the early 1960s, Paul observed what was going on and scribbled down some lyrics. The song itself was never developed until the concept of an album about Liverpool came about shortly after Revolver was released, which prompted him to finish the song (with John's help) and also prompted John to write "Strawberry Fields."

The Liverpool album never happened, partly because EMI pressured the Beatles to use the songs as a double-sided single. The concept of a Liverpool album became Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band instead.

Not far away from Penny Lane is the gate at Strawberry Field, so we stopped there for the mandatory photos of all of us standing next to it. Trite, but it's easy to get caught up in the moment when you're in Mecca.

The downstairs bar at the Jacaranda, where the Beatles played in the early days and where they officially auditioned drummer Pete Best before leaving for Hamburg.

All in all, including stops at the Grapes and the White Star pubs (where the Beatles liked to drink and hang out before and after shows at the Cavern) and the Jacaranda and Blue Angel, clubs owned by the band's first manager Allan Williams with strong historical ties to the group, it was the ultimate Beatles trip.

Unfortunately, however, we did somehow run out of time to visit St. Peters Parish Church in Woolton, where John and Paul famously met on July 6, 1957. Looks like we'll be going back to Liverpool again someday soon.