The Beatles grew up when their hometown experienced its “darkest hour”. Their unparalleled career would prove to be the harbinger of the city’s development, which even without its most famous sons this city is now nothing less than a Northern Powerhouse.
Eleanor Rigby only reached the age of 44. She died in 1939 and rests with her parents and grandparents in a family grave in the cemetery of St Peter’s Church in Liverpool. No one would ever have heard of her if not, one day in 1966, Paul McCartney was looking for a girl’s name of five syllables. First, he invented “Miss Daisy Hawkins”, but later “Eleanor Rigby” came to mind. Paul had no idea where the name came from. Only in the 1980s it was “discovered” that the name can be found in St Peter’s cemetery. The very place where Paul McCartney and John Lennon had met in 1957, at a garden party organised by the church. Whoever goes to Liverpool cannot, will not and shall not ignore them: The Fab Four. But then, why would you want to? Forty-nine years after the breakup of the group, half of whom (John 1980, George 2001) have not since long been among us, The Beatles are still legendary. Maybe even more than ever. And who would blame Liverpool for still celebrating its illustrious sons?
Famous faces at the Cavern Club
For a long time, The Beatles, along with the local football institutions Everton and Liverpool FC were the primary sources of pride in the city. Of course, once upon a time, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Liverpool was the second city of the British Empire. Gold was earned with the slave trade (until 1807), as well as the trade in sugar, rum, tobacco and cotton. But by the mid-20th century, Liverpool was a war-shattered, shabby ex-industrial city.
Freddy Mercury even came to live in Liverpool in the 1960s to be near the Beatles
Exactly when their hometown reached its absolute low, four boys were looking to develop their musical style in a stuffy cellar, called the Cavern Club. They would perform there 292 times, after which… Indeed.
In 1973, ten years after the last Beatles performance, the Cavern Club closed, and the cellar was filled with debris. In about the same place, a new Cavern Club opened in 1984, built from the stones of the original. There are daily music performances by young and less young hopefuls. Almost all of the big names in pop and rock music have performed at the Cavern Club: Rolling Stones, Who, Kinks, Elton John, Chuck Berry, Status Quo, Queen. Freddy Mercury even came to live in Liverpool in the 1960s to be near the Beatles and rented a room in Penny Lane. Little did he know that his four idols had moved to London shortly before.
Royal Albert Dock: slaves and music
The best place to start an introduction to Liverpool is probably the Royal Albert Dock. Here five massive, renovated warehouses recall the golden days of yesteryear. It accounts for a significant part of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status. But now they house shops, boutiques, restaurants, cafés and some of the most interesting museums in the city. The Merseyside Maritime Museum sings the glory of Liverpool as a port city. Some nine million emigrants from across Europe embarked here, in search of a new life in North America or Australia. History is not obscured. For years the museum contained an impressive Transatlantic Slavery exhibition. Nowadays, this era has its own museum, also located in the same building: the International Slavery Museum.
Of course John, Paul, George and Ringo are not far away here either. They have their own statue on the Pier Head, and The Beatles Story is the ultimate Beatles exhibition. Visitors range from school children who, after a tour of the museum, hope to understand their grandfathers a little better, to walking Beatle encyclopaedias.
“So you’ve been to St Peter’s Churchyard?” ”Yes, Eleanor Rigby, right?” ”But have you also seen George Toogood Smith’s grave?” ’Who’s that?’ ”John’s uncle. John spent almost his entire childhood with Uncle George and Aunt Mimi. George taught him to read and gave him his first harmonica. A Hohner Super Chromonica, to be precise.”
It is tempting to visit all the Beatles places in the city, but let’s be fair: this city is more than the most famous music group of all time. To indulge myself in that, I visit the vast Liverpool ONE shopping district, directly behind Albert Dock. More than 170 shops, bars and restaurants here are making eyes to the numerous visitors’ credit cards. Temptations here range from naughty lingerie at Ann Summers to elegant bling at Swarovski, from Ed’s Easy Diner to Japanese sea bass and from the Odeon Kids Club to Indoor Golf. You don’t have to leave Liverpool ONE to have a good time in the city on the Mersey.
Liverpool is more than just The Beatles, but who wants to escape it, doesn’t stand a chance
But of course you do, if only because of that very Mersey. So half an hour after my Portuguese lunch sandwich from Nando’s Liverpool ONE, I am on the ferry from Pier Head to Seacombe. The song by that other Liverpool band, Gerry and the Pacemakers, echoes in my head. “Ferry cross the Mersey”– Merzey with a characteristic “z”.
The crossing takes only ten minutes, but that is long enough to take a comprehensive look at the Liverpool skyline and the so-called Three Graces: three beautiful historic buildings from the beginning of the twentieth century, when Liverpool was smiling at the future. As it does again these days, full of confidence.
One of them, the former Cunard Cruise Lines First Class Passenger Terminal, now houses the British Music Experience charting 75 years of British pop music. You can play real musical instruments and channel your inner Spice Girl or of course, Beatle.
Towering then and now
Located in the heart of the city centre is St John’s Beacon, a 138m tall building that once housed a revolving restaurant giving diners panoramic views of the city whilst they enjoyed 1970’s cuisine. It was opened by Queen Elizabeth II and has a regal standing in the town. Nowadays it’s a radio station but has a viewing gallery where we looked out not only across the Liverpool Waterfront but also across the river to the Wirral and beyond to North Wales.
Ballustrated serpentine balcony
Towards the end of the day, I walk into The Philharmonic, on the corner of Hope Street and Hardman Street in the Georgian Quarter. Its full name is The Philharmonic Dining Rooms, but locals affectionately call it “The Phil”. The name is a nod to the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall across the street. The Phil is a gem both inside and out. An architecture buff would use terms such as “windows with mullions and elaborate architraves”, “a ballustrated serpentine balcony” and “turrets with ogee domes”. I, for one, am happy there is such a thing as photography and that I can suffice by saying: look how beautiful! And that’s just the outside. The interior, with its wooden panelling, atmospheric lamps and Chesterfield armchairs, is also top of the bill. In addition to the bar area, there are three lounges bearing the names Brahms, Liszt and the Grande Lounge. Even the urinals, constructed in rose-coloured marble, are special here.
Back to the thirties & forties
In the Brahms Lounge I meet up with a group of people who are dressed in the fashion of the thirties. This is not a party, these are professional hobbyists. One lady explains that all clothing is authentic and found in vintage shops. It’s quite difficult to find fitting clothing as people tend to be much larger these days. Also their hair is done in thirties fashion. Members of the club have a strong preference for books films and music of that era too. “In modern films there is a lot of cursing. In the old days one did not curse in the film.” It was a responsible generation that did not throw things away. Our hobby pays homage to this generation and era”
In the Grande Lounge, I find a photo of Paul McCartney, with a QR code. Only when I have scanned it and my phone starts playing a little movie does the penny drop. Of course! This is the final location of the famous Carpool Karaoke clip from 2018. The movie in which Paul McCartney is interviewed by James Corden and which ends with a surprise performance by McCartney in The Philharmonic, giving the elated audience “A Hard Day’s Night” and a whole host of other Beatles songs after the curtain slides away. While I order a pint, the moral of the story sinks in. Certainly, Liverpool is much more than just The Beatles. They are omnipresent, continually contributing to this warm, welcoming but illustrious Northern Powerhouse.
Tate Liverpool: Northern sister of the famous London museum with a wealth of contemporary art
Royal Liver Building 360. Opened in spring 2019 in the Royal Liver Building, housed in one of the Three Graces, and the home of the city’s famous Liver Birds (Bella and Bertie) visit the unique tower tour on the 10th and 15th floors and digital show inside the iconic clock tower.
The Cathedrals of Liverpool: Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (1967) and Liverpool Cathedral (1978) are both relatively new, but differ greatly in architecture
Wining and Dining
60 Hope Street, Sleek and stylishly decorated restaurant, located a stone’s throw from The Phil. Great choice of meat, fish and vegetarian.