The Beatles’ Liverpool
Liverpool has transformed itself into a giant emporium of Beatles-related sights. (Warwick Kent/Getty)
With the 50th anniversary of The Beatles debut single Love Me Do on 5 October promising celebrations, concerts and an attempt at the world’s largest mass sing-along, there has never been a better time to visit the band’s hometown, Liverpool.
Half a century after Beatlemania rocked the world, the once gritty English port has transformed itself into a giant emporium of Beatles-related sights, a dramatic turnaround from the 1980s when the only object memorialising the band was a modest statue in the city centre.
In fact, like many cities in England’s north, Britain’s fourth-largest metropolis has done a complete volte-face in the last two decades, swapping post-industrial dereliction for slick urban renewal. Central to the city’s regeneration is Albert Dock, a line of handsome red-bricked warehouses on the Mersey Estuary that once handled a significant portion of the world’s trade and reopened in 1988 after more than two decades of disuse. Since 1990, it has been home to The Beatles Story, an expansive, chronologically laid out museum that tracks the band from their church fete-jamming days in Liverpool to New York’s Carnegie Hall and beyond, complete with audio commentary by John Lennon’s half-sister, Julia. Recently expanded to incorporate a second site at Liverpool Pierhead, the museum is chock-a-block with Beatles paraphernalia. Highlights include George Harrison’s battered boyhood guitar, John Lennon’s iconic specs and the drums of the band’s original stick man Colin Hanton. There is even a mock-up of a yellow submarine and – at the new Pierhead site – an extravagant 4D film showcasing Beatles music.
The Beatles Story anchors a web of band-related sites that lie scattered around Liverpool and most can be seen via the two-hour Magical Mystery coach tour, which departs three times daily from the Albert Dock. Hosted by knowledgeable guides who colour their commentaries with sharp Scouse wit, the tour breezes past myriad sites now etched in popular folklore. It is not every day you get to fact-check The Beatles’ song lyrics, but after coasting down Penny Lane, you will quickly discover that there really is a shelter in the middle of a roundabout, a barber shop and – if you are lucky with the weather – “blue suburban skies” too.
The guide’s anecdotes are pithy and amusing. One story claims that John and Paul would likely never have met had it not been for mutual friend and unsung history-maker, Ivan Vaughan, who introduced them in 1957 at St Peter’s Church Hall in the suburb of Woolton (a landmark on the tour). Another recounts that on hearing an early acoustic jam of She Loves You at the McCartney family home at 20 Forthlin Road (another tour stop), Paul’s father thought the “yeah, yeah, yeah” refrain sounded too American and suggested they sing “yes, yes, yes” instead.
The tour also allows a revealing peek into the Fab Four’s cultural backgrounds. Ringo was clearly the group’s working class hero. His terraced childhood home in the rough-and-ready Dingle area -- a neighbourhood later used as the setting for Alan Bleasdale’s bleak 1980s BBC drama, Boys from the Blackstuff -- was recently saved from demolition by a vociferous local community campaign. John, meanwhile, came from plush middle-class Woolton. His semi-detached house still stands in leafy Menlove Avenue with a blue plaque advertising its famous former occupant. You can visit the interior of the house as part of a separate tour, bookable through the National Trust (the tour also includes a visit to Paul’s childhood home nearby). Around the corner in the shadowy walled domain of Strawberry Field, a former Salvation Army children’s home, the young John once acted out his Lewis Carroll fantasies climbing trees. He later eulogised the place in the song Strawberry Fields Forever. The imposing gateway, now covered in graffiti, is invaded daily by photo-hungry fans.