Liverpool and all the world: A special place where it comes alive
Having family scattered all over England, across the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have made the trip across the pond many times. I’ve seen a great deal of the country, and had the opportunity to take-in its lush rolling countryside, and walk through the pages of its history. However, as a lifelong avid Beatles fan, the one place that I had never made it to was, Liverpool.
That changed for me just a couple of weeks ago. For after so many years of having an endless string of foggy and faraway images of the rough and tumble British seaport city, and the fabled Penny Lane playout in my mind, I finally got to actually walk down the fabled Penny Lane; the street where, with such stunning visual imagery, Paul McCartney immortalized, in song, all of the long ago memories of the indelible sights and sounds of his boyhood.
Like millions of other Americans who grew up loving the timeless music of the Beatles, suddenly, those images that had tumbled around in McCartney’s mind came to life for me. All of what he sang about was right there in front of me. The barbershop where “the barber shaves another customer,” the bank where there was a “banker with a motor car,” and the roundabout where “the pretty is selling poppies from a tray.” All of those things remain untouched by time, as they are still there today, just as they were so many years ago. Penny Lane is a stone’s throw away from Strawberry Fields where John Lennon, like Paul McCartney, used to play as a boy, and where, in his way, he also captured some splintered fragments of his own memories of Liverpool.
For millions of Beatles fans the world over, the storied Cavern Club, will forever remain the cradle of British pop music. Located in what was once a warehouse on Liverpool’s Mathew Street, the romantic sounding, but dank appearing, cellar club first opened its doors in the winter of 1957. The Beatles made their first appearance at the Cavern Club in February of 1961. Back then, in the pre-Ringo days, they were little more than a local rock band whose native Liverpool members included John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and drummer, Pete Best.
This venue, a damp, steamy, hot underground cellar club where the walls ran with sweat, and the air was thick with cigarette smoke and the smell of stale beer, was where the most famous and enduring rock band the world has ever known forged their musical identity. It was the venue where wealthy Liverpool businessman, Brian Epstein, whose family owned a local record shop, visited the Cavern Club, for a lunchtime show to see the local band that everyone in the city was talking about. Epstein was so impressed that he offered to become their manager on the spot. Luckily for them, the Beatles were quick to accept his offer. The rest, as we know, is history. From 1961 to 1963, The Beatles played 292 shows at the Cavern, and last year, Sir Paul McCartney returned to play a 2 hour show for 270 very lucky patrons of the club, and a crush of thousands of others, outside, who brought Mathew Street to a clogged standstill.
So a couple of weeks ago, late on a crisp and idyllic October night in Liverpool, I, along with hordes of tourists from all over the world, made the musical pilgrimage to the Cavern; the Mecca of the music world. In the interest of full disclosure, it is not the original club, but a perfect replica of it in every way. The restores even used bricks from the original, and for the throngs of fans who make their way to Mathew Street to walk in the footsteps of the Beatles, and who, like this writer, have, seemingly forever, had so any faraway images of the Beatles tumbling around in his head, it still is THE Cavern; a place that has become an icon of pop music history.
For me, there was a powerful allure in just gazing at the timeless marquee over the entrance as I drew closer to the door. Walking down the spiral staircase that leads to this den of rock and roll history was like my own magical mystery tour. Inside me, it was like some giant and unseen presence was sprinkling shimmering fairy dust over the narrow and crowded Mathew Street. Honestly, there was a tingling that flowed like a mild electric current through me as I reached the bottom of the staircase, as there in front of me, was that famous and tiny stage at the back of the club under the arched brick ceiling.
The misty image of it that had only lived inside my head for so many years came alive in an instant; like traveling back in time. It was a place that I’d never stepped foot in, and yet it was all so familiar to me; like I’d been there before. The timeless memorabilia is a mindboggling rollercoaster ride through the decades. The stage has a Ludwig drum kit like the one Ringo played, A McCartney-style Hofner violin bass, and Rickenbacker guitars which, in the early days, were favored by George and John. As I say, there was musical magic to be found when I stepped into a space of a subterranean club below a Liverpool street that was, in a time that now lives only in the pages of history books, was used as an air raid shelter during World War II.
Taking it all in was simply amazing. That being said, there’s no such thing as having a quiet drink in the Cavern, but that’s really not why millions of Beatles fans make that musical pilgrimage to Liverpool. It’s a special place where all those secret musical fantasies, and far away dreams, that have only lived in one’s head, suddenly come alive and play out for real right before your eyes. Those who are, like me, rabid Beatles fans know exactly what I’m talking about. Again, it’s like embarking on that personal magical mystery tour.
Paul Collins is a freelance writer from Southborough, Massachusetts.