We arrived at the Liverpool John Lennon Airport late morning Sunday, February 19th. The John Lennon Airport isn’t the airport that we’ve seen so many times in those old black and white newsreels. That building is now part of a hotel several hundred yards away. Our friendly transfer driver located us in the arrivals area, loaded us in his van and dropped us at The Britannia Adelphi Hotel. The Adelphi is a grand old inn with great historical significance. Its plush banquet room served as a model for the interior design of the ill-fated Titanic as well as a meeting room for Brian Epstein when he needed a large space (his NEMS office was small) to entertain important clients. Since it was too early to check-in, we left our bags in a secure area and walked Merseyside to Albert Dock.
From 1846 through the early 1970’s Albert Dock, which is situated on the west side of Liverpool on the banks of the Mersey River, was a maritime commerce center with countless vessels arriving daily to load and unload commodities. The dock was built to accommodate sailing ships with a cargo capacity of up to 1,000 tons, but by the turn of the twentieth century only 7% of ships using the port were sailing ships. By the end of the Second World War the dock’s days were numbered and it was finally closed in 1972.
Today, Albert Dock is once again thriving. The 1.25 million square foot riverside area contains offices, 115 luxury apartments, two hotels, pleasure boat piers, The Beatles Story Museum, the Museum Of Liverpool, The Liverpool Echo Wheel (a sightseeing ferris wheel), Merseyside Maritime Museum, the International Slavery Museum, Yellow Duckmarine, Yellow Boat Cruise, BugWorld Experience, Shiverpool Ghost Tours, as well as 12 restaurants and 25 retail stores.
After wandering through The Beatles Story Museum we met our London friends Glen and Jo. Glen Portch is a brilliant London Tour Guide. Jo grew up in Liverpool and possesses that wonderfully irreverent Scouse sense of humor. They offered to meet us in Liverpool, hang out, and accompany us to London on Tuesday.
After a late lunch, Glen and Jo brought us to the Museum Of Liverpool for a quick walk-through. By now it was well past 4PM. We made our way back to The Adelphi, checked in, refreshed ourselves, and headed for Chinatown. Yes, Liverpool has a Chinatown. No one has ever needed to twist my arm to get me into any city’s Chinatown because they’re full of, well, Chinese restaurants!
Monday morning we met Jackie Spencer in the Adelphi lobby. Jackie Spencer is simply the finest Liverpool Beatles Tour Guide on the planet. Jackie’s not only a native Liverpudlian, she’s an expert on all things Fab. Ms. Spencer is friendly, smart, efficient, kind and perhaps best of all, she knows EVERYBODY in Liverpool and where everything is hidden. Thanks to Jackie, we were able to visit not only familiar (to me) places like Penny Lane, Strawberry Field, St. Peter’s Church, Quarry Bank School (now called Calderstones), 20 Forthlin Road and 251 Menlove Avenue, but also hard to find locations including the birthplace of John Lennon, George Harrison’s childhood home, John’s Uncle George’s, Eleanor Rigby’s and Stuart Sutcliffe’s (the Beatles’ first bassist) graves and the houses in which Ringo was born (it’s about to be torn down) and grew up, situated in a gritty Liverpool neighborhood called The Dingle.
John Lennon’s birthplace Grave of Eleanor Rigby
John Lennon’s childhood home Grave of Stuart Sutcliffe
Ringo Starr’s home Ringo poster
Not only did we see Ringo’s former Dingle digs, we were allowed inside and given a presentation by the current and long-time occupant of 10 Admiral Grove, Mrs. Margaret Grose. Her sitting room is a museum of sorts and she’s an extremely sweet and affable lady. From there we headed across town to The Casbah Coffee Club in West Derby (pronounced darby) where we were given a tour by Roag Best, who’s a fine drummer, brother of Beatles’ drummer Pete Best and son of Neil Aspinall, former Beatles assistant and head of Apple.
The Casbah Coffee Club, not The Cavern, is where the Beatles really began. The embryonic Beatles (they were still known as The Quarry Men when they played the grand opening and had morphed into The Beatles by the time they played the last ever show there) performed at The Casbah dozens of times. Opened in 1959 in the cellar of the Best home by Pete and Roag’s mother Mona (who managed The Beatles before Brian Epstein), The Casbah is frozen in time. It closed in 1962 and was unused, unseen and basically forgotten by everyone except the Bests until 2006 when the British Culture Minister announced that the Best’s ex-coal cellar was to be given a Grade II listed building status and a prestigious Blue Plaque.
The original bandstands are as they were when groups such as The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, The Searchers and Cilla Black performed there. Also, original paintings and graffiti made by The Beatles and their girlfriends still adorn the walls and ceilings. The Casbah is the place where Lennon and McCartney persuaded Stuart Sutcliffe to buy a Hofner bass guitar and join the band. The ghosts of Lennon, Harrison, Sutcliffe and Mona Best surely visit there as often as fans of The Beatles do. The Casbah stocks Beatles souvenirs you can’t get anywhere else. Before we departed I picked up a classic, autographed (by Pete Best) photo of The Beatles circa 1961; John, Paul, George, Stuart and Pete.
After lunch and then more points of interest including the former location of Brian Epstein’s NEMS (North End Music Stores, the office where The Beatles signed a management contract with Brian Epstein in January, 1962, which is currently being torn down), we concluded our day on Mathew Street, and eventually underground in the recreated Cavern Club (it too was demolished in the 70’s & subsequently rebuilt) for a round of drinks and a heartfelt so-long to Jackie Spencer. That evening we enjoyed some very good southern Italian fare at Casa Italia.
On Tuesday morning we bid farewell to Liverpool and hoofed 2 blocks from The Adelphi to Lime Street Station where we boarded the 8:40AM train to London’s Euston Station. From Euston Station it was a couple of quick tube rides (the London Subway is known as The Underground or The Tube) to the Earl’s Court Station on The Piccadilly Line. The Earl’s Court Best Western Hotel (where we were staying) is just around the corner from the Earl’s Court tube stop. That would come in quite handy throughout our stay in London.
We were able to check directly into our small but immaculate rooms, dump our bags, and get right back on The Tube. Even though Glen was hired to show us around on Wednesday, he generously offered his services all three days that we were in London. Every bit of hyperbole I used to describe Jackie Spencer also applies to Glen. Besides being a superb guide, Glen’s a fantastic person and a pleasure to be with. Tuesday’s highlight was certainly The Tower of London. The Crown Jewels, weaponry, torture rooms and colorful Beefeaters certainly leave an impression. Tonight some of us had dinner at Com Viet, a fabulous Vietnamese restaurant on Garrick Street in Covent Garden.
Glen picked us up Wednesday morning in his brand new, jet black Mercedes van. What a great ride. Here’s a partial list of where we went: The Royal Albert Hall, Eric Clapton’s current home, the townhouse where Brian Epstein died, The Beatles’ first London flat, Jimi Hendrix’s death site, Abbey Road Studio (I’m standing next to the exact spot where I took my popular “Abbey Road Graffiti” photo in 2007), the house where (purely coincidentally) Mama Cass and Keith Moon passed, Turks Head Pub (Ringo tries to eat a sandwich there in “A Hard Days Night”), Indica Gallery (where John met Yoko) and the former Apple Headquarters where The Beatles played on the roof in the film “Let It Be”. That evening a few of us saw “Billy Elliot” at the West End Victoria Palace theater. It was in a word, amazing. Watching a West End musical sure works up an appetite. London also has an extensive Chinatown. Having not eaten Chinese food in more than 72 hours, well…….
Since Thursday was our final day, we wanted to see as much of the rest of London as possible. Thanks to Glen we got a taste of Soho, Portobello Road, St. John’s Wood, Covent Gardens, Leicester (pronounced Lester) Square, Notting Hill, Piccadilly Circus, Chelsea, Kensington, Knightsbridge, St. James, Hyde Park, Mayfair and The South Bank where we rode the spectacular London Eye at sunset.
Other highlights included an extensive tour of Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard, The Hard Rock Cafe Vault (Duane Allman’s 1954 Stratocaster lives there), The British Museum, The British Library and a farewell dinner at Souk, a dynamite Moroccan restaurant that features a roving belly dancer.
Our ride with Glen to Heathrow Airport on Friday morning was bittersweet. With so many museums, theaters, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, pubs, clothing and antique shops, an efficient transportation system and an abundance of friendly residents, not to mention Paris being only a 135 minute train ride via the Eurostar, I’m predicting many future trips to London and a lot more hanging out with Glen Portch and Jo. It’s a bit sad to see how many places of Beatle significance are gone, in disrepair, or are in the process of being bulldozed. Luckily some still remain but it won’t be long until many more of them have disappeared forever.
Thinking about it logically, it’s been fifty years, that’s half a century, since John, Paul, George and Pete Best signed what’s been described as the most important music contract of all time in the NEMS building. The Liverpool and London that The Beatles existed in all those years ago is slowly fading away. But there are better hotels, shops, restaurants, attractions and public buildings in the Liverpool and London of 2012. That’s progress babe. Many thanks to Hammond Tours, Jackie, Glen and Jo who was able to snag us some actual pieces of the NEMS building. By the time you’re reading this, it too will be gone.