In the previous post, I illustrated some of the normal parts of the impressive British City of Liverpool, and tried to set a historical context. While it was for a time, historically, considered the “New York” of Europe, Liverpool’s size is really more like Minneapolis, MN, or Kansas City, MO. It had – to me – a U.S. mid-western city “feel.” And I could envision the 4 young men who would turn the music world on end, as having grown up in Minneapolis, Kansas City, or even Detroit: small enough to know each other, but large enough to give it a city feel. Our visit to Liverpool began – fittingly enough – with a “Beatles Tour.” Since each of “The Fab 4” grew up in Liverpool, there is a lot of their history there. I have learned over the years that most songwriters get a wealth of material from their own natural surroundings and as we learned, The Beatles were no exception. So much of what influenced their music – and particularly Paul McCartney, the Beatles most prolific songwriter – was what happened around them on a daily basis, right where they grew up.
The band that was to turn popular music on end, “The Beatles,” was set and its members: “The Fab 4,” were John, Paul, George, and Ringo
John, Paul, George and Ringo were all heavily influenced by “Skiffle” music, a style of music comprised of jazz, blues and folk music, which had become wildly popular in Europe in the 1950s. Each were in some type of “Skiffle Band,” early on. Influenced by his
Our guide Eddie, met us just inside the port, in one of the little black “taxis” that seem to be the norm in Britain. Laying out this blog logically has been a bit of a challenge for me, as we did not necessarily visit each site in any logical order (I expect some of it was geographical and some of it was our guide’s local knowledge of when the best time to hit a spot was).
John Lennon; Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison all grew up in Liverpool, we saw the boyhood homes of each of them. And while each had their own unique contribution to The Beatles, John and Paul had perhaps the most significant influence. The Beatles would likely never have been, had the two of them not met first, and begun making music. We began our day with a stop at what is now Liverpool University student housing, but was historically the maternity hospital where John Lennon was born.
John’s parent’s split when he was a relatively young boy, and there was, it seems, some question by many, whether his mother, Julia, was capable of raising him. There was a fair amount of instability in John’s early upbringing, and he eventually went to stay – more or less permanently – with his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George Smith. They were stable, if not practical folk. Mimi had a considerable say and influence in John’s upbringing, but Julia maintained and influence, visiting John frequently at Mimi’s home, and John frequently visiting her. It was Julia who purchased John’s first guitar, knowing that Mimi would not approve of such foolishness and would urge John to do something more practical that would allow him to earn a living. Julia taught him about art and music, and encouraged that side of him. Tragically, Julia was killed by a car while walking home from the Smith home one evening following a visit with John in 1958. John was 16 at the time.
By late 1956, John had formed his first band, The Quarrymen (named after his High School: Quarry Bank High School). They played skiffle and rock and roll, and were comprised, loosely of other boys who attended St. Peter Church and/or Quarry Bank High).
John’s first wife, Cynthia, was an art student at Liverpool College of Art. The two of them met there in the late 1960, and sometime in 1969, she moved in with him at his Aunt Mimi’s home. In 1962, she became pregnant with Julian and they were married shortly after the discovery. When they were married, the band was just getting some notoriety, and their agent did not want the world to know of the marriage, so he let John and Cynthia use the apartment shown here to live when they were in Liverpool.
We also visited the Liverpool Institute High School For Boys, where Paul McCartney and George Harrison attended for short periods and became friends. Not necessarily connected to The Beatles, the suitcase sculptures are unique and are a tourist attraction in this part of the city.
During a performance, affiliated with John’s church, St. Peter’s Church, John was introduced by a mutual friend, to Paul, who was invited to play along with the band. Shortly afterward, he asked Paul to join the Quarrymen. The band took a turn in direction away from skiffle and country influence and more hard toward rock and roll, obtaining a manager (Brian Epstein) and a few of the old Quarrymen fell away from the band, preferring the prior music to the new direction. McCartney recommended his friend George Harrison to be the lead guitarist. Lennon thought that Harrison, only 14, was too young, but McCartney persuaded John to give him a chance. Sometime in 1959 – 1960, Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Stuart Sutcliffe became “The Beatles”. In 1960, Pete Best joined them as their drummer. In the beginning, the band changed the name from the Quarrymen to “Johny and the Moondogs.” But the group was heavily influenced by Buddy Holly. At least one source suggests that they took on the name “The Beetles” (originally, the “Silver Beetles”) because of Buddy Holly’s band: “The Crickets.” Somewhere along the line, it is said that Lennon changed the spelling to incorporate the word “beat” into the name. At any rate, by the early 1960, the name of the band was “The Beatles” and its history was set.
The original Beatles group, a fivesome made up of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Sutcliffe and Best, went to Hamburg to play some gigs there. A couple times, another Liverpool native, Richard Starkey (Ringo Starr), filled in for Best because he was unavailable. The reason permanent changeover from Best to Starr is unclear, but during that period in Hamburg, and at the time they went to record their first album, Best was no longer with the band and Ringo was. Also during that time, Sutcliffe decided to leave the band and return to Liverpool School of Art, to finish his art education and pursue art as a career. Tragically, in 1962, Sutcliffe developed a brain tumor and died.
The band that was to turn popular music on end, “The Beatles,” was set and its members: “The Fab 4,” were John Paul, George and Ringo. While already wildly popular in Europe, their seminal moment, and one of, if not the most important moment in the history or rock and roll music, was on February 9, 1964, when they made their first appearance on American Television on the extremely popular Ed Sullivan Show. They played 5 songs that night before a television audience estimated at 73 million and the rest is, as they say: “history.”
In keeping with my comment that surroundings influenced their work, here is a musical “earwig” that is bound to stay with you for a while after reading this. We visited the namesake for one of the most famous McCartney written songs: Penny Lane. As you can see, it is a rather unassuming, quiet suburban street.
But some of you might remember watching a James Corden “Carpool Karaoke” special a year or so back, where James and Paul take one of James’ semi-famous rides around Liverpool together, and stop at some of the same stops our tour did, including Paul’s boyhood home, and of course the street sign for Penny Lane. We watched it, not knowing at the time that we would be at that very place one day in the very near future. We watched Paul sign it, and I was able to capture that signature shortly after he did that. One funny passage from that was when Paul mentioned that he and John wrote “She Loves You Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. They tried it out on Paul’s father, and his comment was couldn’t you say “She Loves You Yes, Yes, Yes.”? They said no. It makes you think about what one word can mean in a song. I commend you to see the movie, “Yesterday.” Not only was the music (and story) wonderful, but there is another similar “word” moment, involving the song “Hey Jude” ( I won’t give it away – but its awesome).
So. That Earwig? There was a commercial intersection near where Paul McCartney lived, that he frequented in his travels about the city. It isn’t Penny Lane, but its a much more interesting name. The rest is pretty real, though. “On Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs ……
The barbershop is right across from the “shelter on the roundabout” on the same street . . . . . . . (now a restaurant called St. Pepper Bistro,”). I looked but did not see the pretty nurse selling flowers. 🙂
I am sure there was a busy banker or two there somewhere, as this was in a little corner off a very busy couple of city streets. The firehouse was a ways down the street, and though it was still there, it is closed and is no longer a firehouse so, alas, no clean fire engine to be seen! But after seeing these, you can’t help but have that song in your ear, and a context for the lyrics.
Paul was born a couple years after John Lennon, in Walton Hospital in Liverpool. One of three children, Paul was influenced by his father, Jim, who was a professional musician who played the trumpet and piano. He had his own jazz band (Jim Mac’s Jazz Band). What you hear about most journeymen musicians has some truth to it. They are not generally wealthy, and Paul’s nurse mother was said to be the family’s primary bread winner. Nonetheless, Jim encouraged all his children to play music and kept an upright piano in the living room of their family home. While it is difficult to get to see the inside of the home(s) (we were told that showings can be done through the Liverpool Trust), I once again, remembered, rather vividly, the James Corden show in which he and Paul went into the home and Paul sat at the piano and played. We got to see the outside.
Another place Paul remembered rather vividly as a child was a youth home named Strawberry Field. His memories of the children and his longing to play with him partly inspired his “Strawberry Fields for Ever.” The red gate and fence is historically authentic. Currently, the Salvation Army has put many dollars into restoration and maintenance, but it is said that it is possible to buy bricks from the gate. Note the many signatures of Beatles fans.
George Harrison may have been the most private of the Beatles. It was a surprise to me to learn through my research that George was responsible for getting the band many of its performances and contracts and may have been the most businesslike of the 4 of them also. Born in Liverpool, George attended the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys for 4 years. He was always interested in guitars, and his father – though skeptical of its utility for George’s future – bought George his first guitar. George attributed his beginning interest in rock and roll to Elvis Presley. We saw his boyhood home, but it was neither remarkable, nor particularly well kept up by its current owners. For some reason, it does not seem to be the tourist attraction that the other 3 homes are. Not as prolific a writer as Paul, John or even Ringo, he was the author of their hit, “Here Comes The Sun.” Not much else was devoted to George during the tour.
Richard Starkey was the oldest of the group, born in Liverpool in 1940. Apparently, the Starkeys were avid dancers and spent a lot of time in ballrooms, prior to Richard’s birth. After his birth, his mother stopped dancing and spent her time raising Richard, who was afflicted with an illness. His father, however, apparently couldn’t get it out of his system and his many after hours of dancing and drinking probably were the prime contributor to the Starkey’s splitting in 1944. No longer able to afford the rent in their current home on Madryn Street, Elsie and Richard moved into what was Richard’s home for his remaining boyhood in a neighborhood known as Admiral Grove. Richard’s mom, Elsie lived there until the Beatles moved to London in 1963. The home was public housing owned by Liverpool. After Elsie and Richard moved out, another Admiral Grove Resident was moved into the house during a period of rehabilitation of the Admiral Groves Homes. Margaret Grose became a lifetime Beatles fan and instead of growing weary of the visitors daily outside the home, she invited them in – for a small fee – which she gave to charity. She also maintained the home as it was when the Starkeys lived there. Margaret died in 2016, and another fan purchased the home, which still stands, intact, today.
In 1954, when Richard was 13, Elsie married Harry Graves, who was a big fan of big band music, and introduced Richard to it. In 1957, Harry gave Richard a second-hand drum set for Christmas. I was intrigued to learn that, left-handed, Ringo had to learn a number of things “backward” including rolloff progressions, which later became notable as a unique style and added to Starr’s fame. He played in several bands, eventually finding his way to a Liverpool group called Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes eventually accepted a “residency” in Hamburg and it was on the Hamburg music scene that Ringo met and eventually became the drummer for The Beatles.
Ringo was know for his quirky turn of a phrase, like: “It was a hard day’s night.”
Ringo, in addition to drumming, was lead singer in several Beatles Hits, including “With a little help from my Friends,” and “Yellow Submarine.” His own more prolific songwriting came perhaps later, after the band split up, in his own solo career, including hits such as “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Your 16,” and “Back Off Booglaloo.” But he was surely a contributor to some of the Beatles most memorable songs, particularly in names and lyrics. Ringo had a unique and often off-kilter turn of the phrase and is credited for the phrase “hard day’s night” which prompted Lennon to write the song, as well as becoming the Title of their 3rd record. He was also credited with helping fill in the lines in the famed “Eleanor Rigby” with Father McKenzie “darning his socks in the night.” And there is that “surroundings” thing again. We visited St. Peter’s Church, including the small graveyard inside the walls. Guess who we found?
As our tour came to an end, I found myself much more a fan of the Beatles music than I have been previously. My generation, of course, grew up with this music, but it was pretty interesting to put the development of the music and the early lives of the band members into a perspective. Like almost every successful band, they eventually came to an end. The stories are similar. The personalities – probably more John and Paul had differences in direction and leadership thoughts. They all had at least some aspirations for solo careers. McCartney and Starr especially, went on to have very successful secondary careers. Lennon and Harrison perhaps less so, but still very successful. Lennon and Harrison also unfortunately met with tragic endings. But I, for one, am glad to have had Wings and Ringo’s All Starr Bands, to entertain us into the foreseeable future. Obviously whole books have been written on this subject. My “musings” are just that. Probably mostly historically accurate – but not guaranteed to be so. I encourage you to do some digging on your own, if you are interested.
Meanwhile back on Penny Lane ……….. (I didn’t want you to lose the earwig) 🙂
Whew. Long post – sorry. I know that the original idea of a Blog was short, punchy, regularly added material. Mine has never been that way. They are all long. This one may have been the longest ever. And I couldn’t even scratch the surface. I wanted it to reflect my own personal visit to Liverpool, illustrated by photos I felt motivated to make. I hope it succeeded.
There is so much that could have been touched on: the friendship and eventual friction between John and Paul; the reputed awful way John treated Cynthia and Julian, the dispute over who really wrote the songs – especially the early “Lennon/McCartney” signed ones; the drugs; Ringo’s real last name; George’s cancer; John’s activism and tragic death; but I wanted to leave that to the more serious writers and chroniclers.
I just watched the U-Tube James Corden piece again, and it was even better because I was there at those places. I encourage you to take a few minutes and watch it and it may even bring a tear or two (you can skip through the ads).