Beatles!, Beatles!, Beatles!
Growing up in Western PA, the neighbor girl, Joyce, was about 8 years older than me. She would sit in her bedroom with her record player playing Beatles songs on 45s for hours. But you couldn’t hear the music, just Joyce’s screaming. Apparently, if you were a teenage girl in the 60s, something about the Beatles songs made you scream whether you were at one of their concerts, or if you were just sitting in your room. Fifty years later, it’s nice to see that my 14 year old son Max has an appreciation for the Beatles (despite the Nirvana t-shirt). So on our recent trip to the UK, we were sure to visit Abbey Road in London. And when my work took me to Liverpool to visit my friends at the UK Office of Nuclear Regulation, we had a chance to immerse ourselves into the Fab Four.
Since we enjoy biking, we opted for The Beatles Electric Bike Tour which was run by a great guide named Phil. It turns out that “Electric” didn’t refer to the music, but actually to the bikes. Each was equipped with a helper motor that engaged as you turned the pedals. This came in very handy when going up hill from the Liverpool waterfront, or biking into 40 mph winds off the Mersey River.
1. The Beatles Electric Bike Tour – Jordan St.
With Phil, we braved the 45 deg-F day, and the winds, and the occasional shower to find out a whole lot more about the Beatles. The tour starts out in the warehouse district called the Baltic Triangle.
So after donning our safety vests and helmets and getting a quick lesson on how the bikes work, we were ready for a 3.5 hour tour. Phil added a nice touch by playing Beatles songs on his phone as we were traveling between sights. And when we got there, he always had a story or two to tell.
2. Liverpool Cathedral
Just up the hill from the Mersey is the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral which is the largest church in the UK. Just outside is a sculpture dedicated to the residents of Liverpool. Many were immigrants, so it shows all the suitcases that they brought with them from all over the British empire. Also included are John and Paul’s guitar cases. Next we head over to Ringo’s house.
3. Ringo’s House
Everywhere we went Phil told us all about the philanthropic deeds the Beatles had done for Liverpool. George raised 600,000 pounds for a hospital, Paul gave money to the National Trust to preserve places. Even Yoko gave money to support John’s childhood school. All except Ringo. Apparently Ringo shook the dust of Liverpool from his feet and that was it. So it came as no surprise that Ringo’s house was not a tourist mecca. As a matter of fact, it was in the process of being torn down.
4. Sefton Park
One of the nicer parks in the city is Sefton Park. The best thing about it is that it has this big conservatory in the center that houses tropical trees and even had a string quartet playing. It was great to get out of the wind and cold for a bit. Phil said that George Harrison had given a boatload of money to have this place look so nice.
6 Penny Lane
On leaving the park, we turned onto Penny Lane. It was a serious uphill, so the electric bikes came in handy. Phil dutifully put on the required song. We stopped in the middle where the street sign is so covered in graffiti that they had to cover it with plexiglass. On there somewhere is Paul McCartney’s signature. I know this because I saw it on an episode of Carpool Karaoke. Phil tried hard to show us where the firehouse, the barber shop and the and the roundabout from the song were, but it was a stretch. Penny Lane is just a long uphill road.
6. John’s House
A short ride from the end of Penny Lane took us onto Menlove Ave which is a pretty busy road (a dual carriageway actually). Phil kept us safe and soon we found ourselves before John Lennon’s boyhood home. John actually grew up with his aunt and uncle. His parents split when he was young and his dad tried to take him away. His mom was an alcoholic who couldn’t manage him, so he went to live with his relatives. They run tours through here, but we just took pictures and kept riding. The next stop was my favorite on the tour.
7. St. Peter’s Church – Woolton
To me, this was the most interesting part of the tour. We left John’s house and went down hill to a little embedded village named Woolton. The cities in England have these little enclaves which were probably surrounded by farms before the city swallowed them up. We were basically about half-way between John’s house and Paul’s house, and this was a likely hangout spot for them as teens. The church is old like all English churches with an adjacent graveyard. Across the road is a church hall where John and Paul first met in 1957 when they were 17 and 15 respectively. The church graveyard was surrounded by a wall which would’ve been a natural place to sneak a couple of beers after school as you gazed into the gravestones.
So right in front of the wall is the gravestone shown above for John Rigby, who’s daughter Eleanor died in 1939. So the conversation probably went something like this:
P: Hey John, I got an idea for a new song. About a lonely woman working in that church. I’m thinking violins, cellos, the whole nine yards
J: So what’s her name?
P: Bollocks, I don’t know…..what about…..Eleanor Rigby. Third stone over.
J: That’ll work. Pass me another beer
P: But I’m stuck on the second verse
J: What about a lonely parish priest who buries her when she dies?
P: Ah, forget about it. It’s a morbid song anyway. Let’s go look for birds.
And as an added bonus, three stones down is this one.
8. Strawberry Fields
Between the church and John and Paul’s houses was an orphanage called Strawberry Fields. The quickest way to the church was for John to cut across the grounds which required the scaling of a wall. Phil told us that is grandfather lived next to the wall and would let John use his ladder to get over it.
9. Paul’s House
The weather really started getting rough as we pedaled (and motored) down from Woolton to see Paul’s house. It was on a quiet street, and you can tour it if you make an appointment far in advance. From what Phil said, Paul seemed the most normal of the bunch. Middle class, nice family, nice friends. John’s family actually had more money growing up, but his family life was a mess. If you want to get a lot more information, be sure to watch the Carpool Karaoke episode with Paul on Youtube.
11. West Allerton Railway Station and Back to the City Center
So by now, the wind was at gale force and rain was coming. Phil made the call that we should go to the nearest railway station and take the train back to Liverpool Center. This was the right move, although we missed out on George Harrison’s house. Phil insisted that he buy the tickets for us, but we made sure that the tip compensated for this. After getting off the train, Phil took us to the last attraction, a wall mural of the crosswalk on Abbey Road in London. We did the obligatory crossing with our electric bikes.
***Disclaimer*** Remember, it was a windy cold day so we bundled up with sweatshirts and wind breakers. And Phil insisted that we all squeeze into too small safety vests. So if we all look like stuffed sausages, it’s not (just) because we’re fat Americans.
So. There are lots of Beatles things to do in Liverpool. There’s a great museum at Albert Docks. There are walking tours of the Cavern Quarter where three clubs claim to be the original Cavern where the Beatles played before they made it big. None are, as the original was torn down ages ago. But if you really want to get a flavor of how the Beatles became the Beatles, look up Phil and his Electric Bike Tour. Just dress warmly. And if you’re a big Ringo fan, you might want to skip it.
“Penny Lane was in my ears and in my eyes……..”