Liverpool’s refurbished Albert Docks can easily be reached by foot from the city core.
Liverpool, 2007 – The moment we jump off the train at Lime Street Station, like in the opening of A Hard Day’s Night, Luisa and I know Liverpool offers more than just tacky Beatles museums.
Outside, a forest of cranes hovers above as Liverpool gears up to play its role as 2008 European Capital of Culture and celebrates its 800th birthday this year.
With loads of festivals slated for the coming months, more Georgian buildings than Bath, and the most contemporary art exhibits in the UK outside of London, Liverpool is definitely worth the three-hour ride from London’s Euston Station.
A compact city centre makes it easy to explore on foot. You can walk from the Hope Street theatre district to the refurbished Albert Docks to the Tate Liverpool. The Fab Four emerged from an already vibrant cultural context whose healthy artistic population continues to generate acclaimed work today.
New media films shown at the Foundation for ART & Creative Technology (FACT) and photography exhibits at Open Eye Gallery are additional testaments to the city’s artistic vitality. Liverpool’s evening entertainment options are wide-ranging, from modern theatre to underground heavy metal.
We start at the Philharmonic, kitty-corner from Philharmonic Hall. This Victorian pub is reputed to be the most ornate in Britain, right down to the carved marble urinals in the male toilet that female patrons may visit upon request.
Sipping a local Cains while sitting on a leather-studded ottoman in the gilded-mirrored great room, I understand Liverpool a little better. This northern town has been freed from its gritty reputation and is now justifiably excited to share its grandeur with the world.
Later, along narrow cobblestoned Slater Street, a rambunctious crowd checks out the live music pumping from various venues. At the Jacaranda, where the Beatles played in the late 50s and pints of stout cost £1.50 , worn wood floors and tables of chatty locals welcome us.
The place is packed for a popular Thursday open mike. As a bonus treat, we press past the college students blocking the view of a (restored) mural painted by John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe when they were students at the Liverpool College of Art.
After delicious Chinatown dinners, high street shopping along pedestrian-friendly Whitechapel and a stroll through the cemetery park at the base of sandstone Anglican Liverpool Cathedral on St. James Mount, the largest cathedral in the UK, a Beatle tour beckoned.
At 9:30 Friday morning, we arrive early for our pre-booked Lennon-McCartney childhood home tour with the National Trust.
Colin, our bus driver, a Liverpudlian, retired teacher and freelance music writer, provides excellent in-the-know commentary, chauffeuring the minivan around Penny Lane and past Strawberry Fields to John Lennon’s childhood Mendips home. Because only one family has lived there since John left, it retains the same landscaping and many original fixtures, including furniture and mementos donated by the Lennon family.
At the McCartney’s, 20 Forthlin Road seems justification enough for the state to invest in council housing, given the return on investment Sir Paul has generated for the UK. The narrow row house is decorated with photos of the family and the Beatles taken by brother Michael McCartney in the very rooms walked through on the tour.
Standing in the tiny bedrooms where John and Paul composed Love Me Do and Please Please Me, it’s clear that this music was forged in the context of a special childhood friendship, fuelled by the backdrop of Liverpool – a tenacious northern town.