Everyone around the world has an all time favourite Beatles moment. A special snapshot in time when the strumming cords of one of the Fab Four’s songs made the world seem like a perfect place, where all you need[ed] was love and a little help from your friends. Since I can remember my world has been filled with the Beatles. With former hippies for parents, I’ve grown up against a backing track of 60s music dominated by the inventions of John, Ringo, Paul and George. As with many things as a young child I was influenced without even realising it. I had no idea as a toddler we were listening to Sgt Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band on loop in my dad’s Skoda on our many trips to the seaside and forest camping holidays. My childhood is filled with brief memories of me happily bawling along to Yellow Submarine and Oh-La-Di, Oh-La-Da, shrieking along totally out-of-tune but with a massive smile on my face during our car singsongs – no wonder my parents once bought me and my sister massive gob-stoppers in a bid to shut us up.
The nations’ fascination with The Beatles, and my growing relationship with their music, was echoed in all parts of my life. At Guide Band Camp (what a geek!) I proudly tootled along on my cornet (and in later days my euphonium) blasting through When I’m Sixty Four in honour of our ageing guiding conductor. And in case I hadn’t had my life saturated by the Fab Four’s music at home to an adequate standard, the Beatles music seemed to have been written into the national curriculum (no doubt something Gove has stamped out in favour of children learning to speak like Bill and Ben in fear of breeding a generation of hippies). During my very early primary school years I have a vague memory of sitting on the classroom carpet surrounded by dozens of other little mites, no doubt sharing our nits, bogeys and god knows what else with hundreds of children from generations gone by, and being shown an animation where pop stars meet a very friendly octopus (well that’s how I remember it). I was captivated, and I think it was as the Beatles told me about being let in by an octopus into his garden in the shade, that I fell in love with the band. I remember coming home clutching a drawing of a big blue octopus and singing bits of the song over and over – I guess this was the start of my 60s education, that and listening to Lilly the Pink in the car with no idea I was being educated about the dangers of drinking in preparation for my life as a journalist!
Anyway where am I going with this? On bank holiday Monday me and Andy (my partner in crime and love) headed to one of my favourite cities in the world, Liverpool to complete one of my challenges. The challenge is part of the now unrealistic (unaffordable) sounding Visit England list of places to visit before you die – which wouldn’t be so unreasonable if I didn’t have until I’m 30 (that’s not when I plan to die btw) to visit my chosen 30 places, they weren’t all extortionate money traps and they weren’t sporadically scattered all over the UK. Anyway I tried to complete this Visit England challenge before, while visiting Anthony Gormley’s 100 nude statues on Crosby Beach, but fallen down when the Magical Mystery Tour was fully booked. This time we booked in advance just to be on the safe side, but be warned the cost, for what it actually is, which is essentially a tour of some very run down parts of Liverpool and a lot of empty and often derelict childhood homes belonging to people related to Beatles band members, is staggering – while it was interesting I wouldn’t pay to go on it again!
While the rest of the world seems to love The Beatles, I’m not sure that Liverpool City Council does. I love Liverpool; it’s a city buzzing with art, music and alive with culture, and often a breath of fresh air just a short ride away from Chester, which at times can be something of a cultural desert (boo hiss – I will probably get chased with pitchforks out of the city now). But the Magical Mystery Tour is like a back door tour of the city, where visitors from all over the world are shown a city filled with row upon row of boarded up council houses, derelict pubs, and graffiti strewn areas. It really was eye-opening and a massive shame for such a vibrant city.
The tour guide proudly showed us the boarded up childhood home of Ringo Star, one of around 400 homes which had been due for demolition (for a regeneration project) before it was finally realised demolishing the birthplace of one of the worlds most well-known music legends could possibly be a mistake! I was tickled but shocked by this part of the tour, but even more so as the trend continued as we were shown Penny Lane’s famous landmark, the ‘shelter in the middle of the roundabout’. I don’t know what I was expecting from this iconic area, where, according to the Beatles a pretty nurse sold poppies from a tray, but I was not expecting a run down, derelict mess. I just couldn’t understand it. Frankly I was appalled. Why hadn’t this been turned into a tourist trap, why was this being allowed to happen. I mean surely some Beatles fanatic would pay good money to do this up into a bar, record shop, live music venue, or even just have it as a bus shelter again? Even just a lick of paint would help…anything but this mess. I think if the Beatles saw this today Penny Lane would be in their ears and eyes for a whole different reason.
Things went from bad to worse as we visited Strawberry Fields. I was devastated. Something about the song had always made me picture luscious grass, children playing, families picnicking and the sounds of laughter and youngsters gathered under trees with guitars. Ok, I hadn’t been so silly to think there would actually be strawberries growing in patches, but I didn’t expect an overgrown field, with weeds, litter and two massive iron gates covered with graffiti where visitors had etched their names. It might have been iconic and very cultural in a strange way, but it was a shame. Despite this I still had my picture taken outside these landmarks and tried to picture how they would have been back in the day, how the musicians had seen these sites and influenced them into some of my favourite songs – it was hard to overlook the weeds though!
As a strange contrast the bus stopped outside the adolescent home of the McCartney’s, which has been well maintained and adopted by the National Trust. But shock horror was not open for us to look around, instead we just had to hear about it. Another missed opportunity. In fact the only place we went in was the Cavern Club – nothing to complain about there, I enjoyed it as much as any other underground drinking hole, but couldn’t help giggle at the story about the Council closing it down for a project that never went ahead – typical!
I just don’t get it. Perhaps it’s because I’m not an obsessive Beatles fan, but just someone who loves the story of their rise to fame, their songs and the cultural revolution. I mean I even did a 60s module at uni studying some Beatles songs, alongside fiction including Clockwork Orange. The tour was interesting but weird, and I was frankly flabbergasted that Liverpool City Council allowed millions of tourists to see such run down places every single day. Sure, there are always regeneration projects going on, but the shelter on Penny Lane could be a real tourist trap, just sprucing it up or making it into something to raise money etc would just improve the whole experience. I’m sure they have their reasons (planning restrictions etc) but I’m just surprised someone hasn’t snapped it up. No doubt about it The Beatles as a brand are a massive money-maker for Liverpool – and why shouldn’t they be – and Liverpudlians appear to be very proud of their lads! But apart from overpriced tourist traps and the Cavern Club I really don’t get it; I think the council should spend a little money on these famous landmarks and make a bit more of them even if its just to improve the appearance of the city and the impression people get.
Perhaps they could do some more of those Super Lamb Bananas with Beatles clothing on at each of the street names. Either way I don’t regret experiencing it, I’ve done it now – would I pay £16.95 to sit on a packed coach with some hyperactive scottish women singing along to Help! for two hours again? No but I’m glad my ostomy bag allowed me to get through the epic coach journey – nothing like a little help from your friends, eh?