Liverpool 2010: Forty years after the divorce

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The Beatles 1958: In Spite of all the Danger
Liverpool 2010: Forty years after the divorce

The divorce was as messy as most when, 40 years ago in April 1970, the Beatles broke up. As John Lennon put it later that year on his Plastic Ono Band album, “the dream is over”.

But it was Paul McCartney who first made it public and official.

In April 1970 McCartney released his first solo album -- Lennon and George Harrison had already been involved in individual projects outside the Beatles -- but included with it a press release in which he asked and answered his own question, “Will the Beatles ever work together again?”

His answer: “I do not foresee a time when the Lennon & McCartney partnership will be active again in song writing.”

In the years which followed there was constant sniping between the former members, and endless litigation.

The memory of the band which had defined and in many ways shaped the 60s, which had delivered some of the most memorable and innovative music in pop, became increasingly tarnished.

And if there seemed no real closure -- even after Lennon’s murder in 1980 the other three were asked if the Beatles would ever re-form -- at least their origins were there, written in almost magical memories by those who knew them in Liverpool when they were a young pop group carrying the hopes and pride of their city with them.

Liverpool today -- progressive and architecturally innovative -- is a very different city to the one which nurtured the Beatles.

But numerous tours, the excellent Beatles Story museum and of course the resurrected Cavern Club where they famously played 292 shows between July 1961 and August 63, draw an estimated 600,000 visitors annually because of the Beatles connection -- and they spend more than $45 million.

Money can’t buy love, but it is giving many a very good living in Liverpool -- and with the film Nowhere Boy about the life of the young Lennon, there seems no end of interest in the Beatles story.

Nowhere Boy -- starring Kristin Scott Thomas as Lennon’s Aunt Mimi who raised him, Anne-Maria Duff as his mother Julia, newcomer Aaron Johnson as Lennon and Thomas Sangster (the boy from Love Actually and more recently in Jane Campion’s Bright Star) as McCartney -- consistently won four star reviews in Britain and was nominated for four Baftas for its account of the teenage Lennon on his way to his first rock’n’roll band and those legendary shows in the Cavern.

There are two Caverns in Mathew St today, or more correctly two-thirds of one.

The Cavern Pub with its rock’n’roll memorabilia pulls regulars but wasn‘t there in the Beatles day; the actual Cavern where the Beatles, Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Searchers and hundreds of other bands played was demolished in March 73.

In the early 80s after John Lennon’s murder a replica Cavern was built a few metres up the road from the original site using many of the original bricks. And while it isn’t entirely authentic -- it is however the same size, layout and scale -- it still holds an excitement for the many who go there.

On a night when I went there were the fiftysomething males supping beer and trying to conjure up the atmosphere of the early 60s, but also a group of liquored-up women in appallingly loud clothes out for a hen’s party. They laughed and danced, and seemed to enjoy the Cavern’s spirit more than the earnest wall-huggers nursing pints.

The Cavern was a place where people had a good time. These lasses certainly were.

The Beatles Story in Albert Dock -- which doubled in size last year -- recounts the pop history of Merseyside and the rise of the Beatles through a superb collection of memorabilia, posters, hand-written lyrics, photos, and film footage. It includes reconstructions of Hamburg clubs they played in, the music store run by Brian Epstein (later the Beatles’ manager), the untidy office of Bill Harry who edited Mersey Beat magazine, Hessy’s Music Centre where young Liverpudlians (Beatles included) bought their instruments, and Abbey Road studios in London where the Beatles recorded.

An award-winning tourist attraction, it is a must-see in the city.IMG_0519

Then there is the Magical Mystery Tour which takes the curious on a bus tour to the member’s former homes, to the church in suburban Woolton where Lennon and McCartney first met, past Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, and many other Beatles-related sites.

The commentary is informative (and punctuated by Liverpudlian wit) and offers visitors to the city a fascinating trip through the ordinary suburbs, past palatial homes and through spruce middle-class districts and villages, and notes the two cathedrals (the Catholic one designed by an Anglican, the Anglican designed by a Catholic) linked by the appropriately named Hope Street.

The childhood homes of Ringo Starr and George Harrison are modest, those of McCartney and Lennon more middle-class.

Even if the Beatles’ story isn’t of much interest, the tours -- there are two hour and full day options -- give an insight into the diversity of life in Liverpool and take you places a tourist stuck in the city centre might never see.

You could stay in the Hard Days Night Hotel, four star boutique accommodation which opened in early 2008. Located around the corner from the Cavern, the hotel is Beatle-themed with their music playing, photographs everywhere and each room has an image of a Beatle which dominates.IMG_0572

The hotel also has a store selling officially licensed merchandise from cheap lapel pins to expensive photographs. And of course you can take a ferry across the Mersey to the sound of Gerry and the Pacemakers.

The irony in all this Beatles-related tourism in Liverpool is that once the group became famous they moved to London and rarely returned other than to see family.

Yet here is where the second greatest story ever told -- and arguably the greatest story ever sold -- began, and the innocence of their music from that period still excites.

Here are the streets, pubs and places where they lived, met and played.

Liverpool was the start of an exciting story with a great soundtrack, which ended in bitterness and scrapping over management, money and musical direction.

The dream may be long over, but in Liverpool the sound of the Beatles legacy -- the gentle swipe of a credit card -- plays on.

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