Saturday 10 October 2015
A Full Day in the Life of Lennon-ness
This is Part 2 of The John Lennon 75th Birthday Tour. You can read Part 1
Our coach took us down Beaconsfield Road, passing the gates of Strawberry Field and Palmerston School again before turning onto Menlove Avenue. Our guide Jackie Spencer pointed out the bus stop on the other side of the dual carriageway where Julia Lennon had been trying to get to on that fateful evening when she was knocked down and killed. A tragedy for any family.
We paused for a minute outside 251, “Mendips” the home John shared with his Aunt Mimi for 18 years. The house is now owned by the National Trust and special arrangements are needed to visit. The majority of our party had already done so and thus the coach continued, past the former site of the “Tip” where John and his band of outlaws played as children, and past Allerton Golf Course, a short cut both John and Paul used when visiting each others houses and the location for a couple of Beatles photo sessions with Mike McCartney (1962) and Dezo Hoffmann (1963).
At 120a Allerton Road (Woolton) is the Dairy Cottage, owned by the family of George Toogood Smith and where Alf, Julia and young John lived for a time. Following Julia’s tragic demise, John Dykins was not considered able to bring up their two daughters by himself and the girls were placed in the care of their Aunt Harriet, Julia/Mimi’s sister and her husband (Norman Birch) who were living at the cottage and paying Mimi rent. Across the road from the Dairy Cottage is the entrance to Woolton Convalescent home. Mimi was working here when she took a shine to the local dairyman, George Smith.
We stayed in Woolton for our next official stop. Facing the entrance to Camp Hill (spectacular views from here over Speke and the Mersey to the Wirral and Wales) is 97 School Lane. This was home for John Dykins after Julia’s death. He had been forced to leave his Blomfield Road council house after the authorities discovered that he had been living with Julia “in sin”. He was re-homed here, arguably in a better house and certainly in a better location.
After Julia died Dykins seems to have tried to maintain some sort of contact with John who would occasionally call round to the house in School Lane to visit him. However, more often than not John would use the property as a bolt hole when Dykins was at work.
Unfortunately they don’t appear to have treated the house with much respect. John, Paul and occasionally George would “break in”. The larder window at the back of the property was usually left open and little George, if he was with them, would squeeze through and unlock the kitchen or front door to let the rest of them in. They would play records they had brought with them, that one or the other had pinched from a party and occasionally they'd listen to some of Dykins own collection. Paul McCartney remembers breaking the record player and scratching one of Dykin’s records and subsequently getting a proper telling off from him. George, never without his guitar, would recall waiting for Dykins to leave the house to go to work or the pub and then sneaking in. To replicate the sound of an amplified guitar George would plug his into the radiogram, only to blow the speaker. Cynthia would also visit the house with John, perhaps for some “alone-time”.
Jackie invited the current owner on to the coach to talk a little bit about the house and the lady was kind enough to allow us to take photographs, to the bemusement of some of her neighbours. This house is certainly not on the usual tourist route.
Some of our party decided to take in the views of Camp Hill. A Norwegian fan, clearly a veteran of Jackie’s tours and well known to her introduced himself to me whilst we were out of the coach photographing number 97.
“Tor Olav” he said, “two first names”…
I didn’t like to say but until the introduction I thought Jackie was referring to him by a nickname – “Tour” Olav, because he’d been on so many of them!
School Lane runs into Hillfoot Road and facing us was Allerton Cemetery where Julia was laid to rest. It is also where Cilla Black, a long-time friend of the fabs was recently buried.
Another close friend of Cilla's was the Birkenhead born comedian and TV presenter Paul O'Grady, who had given a stunning eulogy at her funeral. Paul is best known for his comedic drag-queen creation Lily Savage and "she" was brought to mind when Jackie played us another Lennon track, a 1979 home demo of his song "Serve Yourself". Several versions of this song have been heard over the years but this particular take is notorious for the copious amounts of swearing, all delivered in a thick Scouse accent put on to amuse Yoko. Unfortunately Jackie then decided to share with us that somebody had once pointed out the resemblance between John's fake accent on the song and the voice of Lily Savage. Warning: If you have never heard Lily Savage, do NOT look her up on Youtube. You will never hear "Serve Yourself" the same way again. (It's like when I found out where the edit was on Strawberry Fields Forever - I ALWAYS hear it now).
Anyway, passing close to Tony Bramwell’s old house on Hillfoot we headed out to Speke for our next stop, Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
Now not having been been on one of these tours before the thought did cross my mind that we were about to fly to Amsterdam which considering what I paid for the day would have been incredible value for money!
Yellow Submarine at the entrance to Liverpool John Lennon Airport
Now the check in and departure lounge of Liverpool John Lennon Airport is not somewhere you would normally visit unless you were er... departing - the cost of the short stay car park would put most people off for a start.
However, due to the special nature of our tour Jackie had arranged for a bus load of people to wander into the airport with no intentions of getting on a plane because here, on the main passenger walkway overlooking the check-in hall is a 7ft bronze statue of John by local sculptor Tom Murphy.
Liverpool has a number of Beatles' statues with likenesses of varying quality. I think this sculpture of John is one of the better ones. It was unveiled by Yoko Ono and the then Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Booth QC in a ceremony on 15 March 2002 to mark the completion of the check in hall at the airport and re-naming and re-branding to Liverpool John Lennon.
Leaving a rose for John, we took the opportunity to study the wall panels over the check-in area, each with a different verse from one of his songs. before we were told it was time to head back to the bus. Next stop: Lunch
Possibly the most shambolic recreation of the 'Abbey Road' cover ever staged
With us all back onboard our John jaunt proceeded through Speke, passing the original Liverpool airport, where George and Paul would come to spot planes, where John Lennon would work for a time during summer 1958 and most famously where the Beatles made a triumphant return to the city in July 1964 for their film premiere. Admiring the Speke Matchworks, a fine art-deco building much loved by George Harrison we headed for Allerton and I caught Woolton Carpets, formerly the infamous Wilson Hall, out the corner of my eye.
The traffic island that the buses turn around outside Liverpool South Parkway station has a topiary of the four Beatles.
In 2008 somebody chopped off the head of "Ringo" after the real one made what some considered to be anti-Liverpool remarks. I’m not sure when John offended somebody (well, not recently anyway) but his leafy representation looks to be in a bit of a bad way too.
The coach pulled in on Mather Avenue, at the junction with Mostyn Avenue. From here it was short walk through the Springwood Estate to our next destination and another major highlight of the tour, No. 1 Blomfield Road.The house is privately owned and not normally accessible to the general public but thanks to the generosity of the present owner, Jackie Holmes, who just so happened to be on our tour, we were all invited to have lunch in the former home of Julia Lennon and John Dykins.
Julia called Dykins "Bobby", reasoning that there was already one John in her life, and they lived here with their two daughters Julia and Jackie from Spring 1949 until 1958. John Lennon visited his mother's house frequently and would often stay over when he needed some time away from his Aunt Mimi. When he later formed the Quarry Men Julia was happy to let them rehearse in the house and would sometimes sit in with them and offer encouragement.
Already thrilled to be allowed access to the house our tour party had perhaps the biggest and nicest surprise of the whole day when we entered the living room to find two original members of the Quarry Men - Rod Davis and Colin Hanton - waiting for us!
Rod Davis (second left) and Colin Hanton (fourth from left) back in Blomfield Road
This was the first time I'd met them and I can't stress how great they were.
Original members of the group that went on to change the world yet seemingly oblivious of their own place in musical history, Colin and Rod were happy to chat and pose for photographs and tried to accommodate any other requests made of them.
Although Rod no longer lives here both he and Colin still reminded me of typical Liverpudlian Dads, and that's one of the highest compliments I can give.
After a lovely buffet served in the kitchen (thanks to Mike and Louise) our guide appeared with a chocolate birthday cake and we joined the Quarrymen in a rousing "Happy Birthday" for John. A tray of brandy Alexanders (brandy and chocolate milkshake, a favourite of John's) was offered and despite strong protestations that lasted a least a millisecond we were, completely against our will you understand, persuaded (under duress) to raise a glass to him.
Enjoying lunch in the back garden of 1 Blomfield Road (pre- brandy Alexander-gate)
Enjoying lunch in the back garden of 1 Blomfield Road (pre- brandy Alexander-gate)
To get away from this wanton debauchery I decided to explore the house with the owner, Jackie Holmes as my guide.
Some Beatles' books will tell you that given the favourable acoustics they liked to rehearse in the bathroom, standing in the bath and perched on the toilet. Jackie pointed out that this would have been impractical and unlikely because in reality the toilet is in a separate room to the bath! This observation was supported by comments made Rod Davis as he told our tour party that his memory of the house was rehearsing in the living room.
I saw daughter Jackie's bedroom overlooking the back garden which became John's room whenever he stopped over. Jackie would bunk in with her sister Julia. A large faded painting of a Lancaster bomber hung on the wall and although it was probably put there by the last owners I thought it would have been an appropriate choice for a family living there during the post-war 1950s.
I stood in the room where Julia and Bobby slept and tried not to think of some of the confusing teenage memories John would later relate about his mother. I preferred to think of the happy childhood stories as told in the books of Julia Baird about how thrilled she and her sister were whenever their big brother stayed. Sixty four years ago on 9 October 1954 John celebrated his 14th birthday here with a cake made for him by Bobby. John's relationship with him was generally good but he sometimes put it to the test, on one occasion setting fire to his mattress whilst smoking in bed.
Full of sandwiches, chocolate birthday cake and one too many brandy Alexanders our tour resumed in a more, shall we say 'relaxed' way than before lunch.
Passing close to Forthlin Road we reached the junction of Mather and Booker Avenues, and Jackie related a humorous tale about what John thought he saw one dark night on the walk home from Paul's house. When I wrote about the Penny Lane area in a previous blog I noted that the fire station at the end of Mather Avenue was still going strong. Unfortunately it has recently closed, another victim of government cuts.
Just over the road and also under threat is Allerton library where Mike McCartney once loaned books teaching him the art of photography. Opposite, near the corner with Rose Lane was the site of the former Plaza (later Gaumont) Cinema, where Paul and George saw the advert for Link furniture.
Dovedale Road School
Dovedale Road is a street with its share of Beatle memories. It has the school where John and George went, it has Dovedale Towers, formerly St. Barnabas Church Hall where the Quarrymen once performed, and at number 69, formerly the home of Michael Hill, John's Quarry Bank schoolfriend, the scene of a momentous event in John's musical education. It was here that Hill delighted in blowing John's mind by playing him his Belgium bought 78rpm single of Little Richard's Long Tall Sally b/w Slippin' and Slidin' for the first time.
A place heavily associated with the Beatles is Penny Lane which is where we stopped next. Exiting the coach outside the row of shops featured in the 1995 video for the "Free As A Bird" single we trooped over the road and into the Penny Lane Development Trust , a community centre which aims to offer opportunities to the local populace.
When we arrived at the trust there was already quite a crowd gathered including Rod and Colin from the Quarry Men. They'd left Blomfield Road ahead of us. I was delighted to meet a third member of the band, Len Garry who was just as friendly and accommodating with photos and autographs as his two bandmates.
The three had been invited by the centre's manager, Julie Gornell, to officially unveil a Penny Lane street sign as part of the celebrations for John's 75th birthday.
Before the unveiling, a prepared speech was given by Rod because "When it's kissing beauty queens I'm third in the queue, but when it's making speeches they stuff me to the front.. because I can read!" We heard how Penny Lane was a special place in John's life, living close to it with his mother, walking down it with friends, and playing sport on the very field where we were all standing when he attended Dovedale School.
Rod added that, in reality, John "would probably have been playing cards at the back of the field, he didn't really like sport". He then explained that the reason the PLDT now had its own street sign was to enable "all the lovely people, that's you... well there's a few ugly ones" to have their picture taken with it when they visit. After a comedic countdown leading to the unveiling (Len Garry : "One....."!) the street sign was revealed.
Julie Gornell presents the Quarry Men with another birthday cake after unveiling the street sign. You can watch a video of the speech below:
Me with the Quarry Men. Len Garry joked that I had the right jacket to join the group! (photo by Carmen Villoria)
I had a little chat with Rod Davis after the unveiling. Today I live about a mile from his former home on Kings Drive in Woolton and I asked him what number he lived at (129). This was very close to where my Dad lived on Woodvale Road, and he attended St. Peter's Church Sunday School and youth club at the same time as many of the Quarry Men.
Rod told me that in the late 50's Colin was living a 4 Heyscroft Road, the continuation of Woodvale, so he lived even closer to my Dad, and cutting across both was Halewood Drive where another Quarry Man, the late Eric Griffiths had lived. John Lennon was literally walking the streets outside my Dad's house!
Rod couldn't picture my Dad's face but he recalled the name (and Dad's sister) and asked me to pass on his regards when I saw him. I told Rod my Dad had unfortunately passed away in 2013 but thanked him for his kind words. (I only wish I'd met the Quarry Men a few years ago and I could have asked Dad what his memories of them were - I only ever asked him about John). This was a nice personal moment for me.
Unfortunately due to our tight schedule we were unable to stay at the PLDT to watch the musical act perform but I was glad to have had the opportunity to spend a bit of time with the Quarry Men - great fellas all.
The next part of our journey took us up Church Road, past St. Barnabus Church, the "shelter in the middle of the roundabout", Bioletti's barbers and a couple of banks all well visited on the Beatle tourist route. We admired the splendid Blue Coat School, formerly an orphanage where Alf Lennon and his sister Edith were schooled between April 1924 and August 1929, and as our coach manoeuvred around the Picton Clock island, a stones throw from George Harrison's birthplace in Arnold Grove, Jackie drew our attention to the former Abbey Cinema where John and his mates would go on a Saturday morning. Descending Church Road we past Holy Trinity Church where George Harrison's grandparents married in 1902 before pulling up at the end of Newcastle Road.
Jackie tells of her admiration and respect for Yoko Ono outside 9 Newcastle Road
The house where it all began. John Lennon was conceived here, reportedly during January 1940 when Alf was on a week's shore leave from the Duchess of York and following his birth that October this became his first home. John would live at number nine (number nine...) Newcastle Road on and off until 1945.
I had been fortunate to go around the house when it was unoccupied in 2013 just before it went on sale. At the time the estate agents placed a value on the house of between £150k and £250k but on the day of the auction it actually sold for a staggering £480k! Reportedly sold to an anonymous, though clearly wealthy, American "Beatles' fan" the smart money would be on Yoko Ono. Work was going on inside the house. We tried peering through the windows for clues. Was the original interior being preserved or ripped-out? We could see nothing but aware of the new security camera that had been installed over the front door we decided not to press our luck and headed back to the coach, only stopping to snap a picture of the street sign.
It was time for some fun. Our next destination was the "Broad Walk", the long and winding path around the lake at Sefton Park, popular as a romancing spot back in the 1920s. This was the place where 16 year-old Alfred Lennon first met 15 year-old Julia Stanley in 1929. For a larf Jackie Spencer asked one of our party to volunteer to play the part of Alf, preferably somebody wearing a hat, and sharing the same initials it was only right that Jackie play the role of Julia herself. Step forward Mr Kim Mortensen.
Jackie Spencer (Julia Stanley): You look silly.
Kim Mortensen (Alfred Lennon): You look lovely. May I sit with you?
Jackie Spencer (Julia Stanley): Only if you take off that silly hat.
Reportedly Alf then chucked his bowler hat into the lake and a relationship began. Understandably, Kim wanted to keep hold of his.
Someone wondered aloud how much would that bowler hat be worth now, the earliest piece of Beatles' related memorabilia? We returned to the coach and Tor Olav made plans to return with his snorkel mask....
We left the park and made our way along Park Road, the start of Dingle, past the site of the former tram sheds that Richy Starkey would pass on his way to Dingle Vale school every morning , Steble Street, where he'd go to bathe and on towards town. Jackie pointed out the "Dickens" streets, where Alf Lennon's home on Copperfield Street once stood, and Head Street, behind the cast-iron church of St James.
Passing Great George’s Place, the former site of the David Lewis Theatre where the Beatles first ever fan club evening took place we headed for the Dock Road and Jackie began the story of Alf Lennon's life on the ocean waves, accompanied by the record Alf made in 1965 "That's My Life".
Listening to Alf's one and only attempt on the pop charts as we approached the White Star building where he would sign on for work, I couldn't help thinking how much he sounded like Paul O'Grady.
Perhaps subconsciously trying to follow in his father's footsteps John Lennon once tried to sign on at the Shipping Pool but being under-age approval had to be sought from a parent or guardian. They duly contacted Mimi who would entertain no such ideas and told John to come home because his tea was ready.
We were on the Dock Road, a place of Cyclopean walls, huge tobacco warehouses Dublin Street and early Beatles photo sessions. It is also where the first Lennons arrived in Liverpool, refugees from Ireland's Great Famine circa 1845.
It turns out Jackie Spencer does actually love Yoko Ono and as we were here for John's birthday it was only right that we heard Yoko’s happy birthday song for John “Yes I’m Your Angel”. I noted the vocal similarities to the Muppets' Miss Piggy as we drove through Waterloo and listening to Yoko, I felt I was finally facing mine.
With the brandy Alexanders kicking in it was time for some more giggles. Crosby Beach to the north of Liverpool is home to Antony Gormley’s Another Place – a piece of modern art consisting of 100 cast iron sculptures of the artist's own body, facing towards the sea and spread over a two mile stretch of the beach between Waterloo and Blundellsands. After first being exhibited on the beach of Cuxhaven in Germany in 1997 the piece moved to Stavanger in Norway and De Panne in Belgium before moving to Crosby where they have now become a permanent fixture. Originally a further move was planned for November 2007 but lobbying by art lovers and local businesses (the statues bring in tourist revenue) led to an agreement in March 2007 that Another Place would stay put. Co-incidentally given the purpose of our visit, the place it had been intended to move them to next was New York. From the city where it started for John Lennon to the city where it ended.
It has become customary to dress the statues. Over the years the public have added all manner of hats, scarves, coats, Santa Claus outfits and the like, something Gormley himself appears to have no problem with, seeing his piece as an organic evolving work - apparently some of the statues sited further into the sea are now encrusted with a species of barnacles usually only found in the waters around Australia. It appears they arrived on Merseyside attached to a tanker or cruise liner and liking the look of Crosby decided to "jump ship" and attach themselves to the figures!
As a nod to New York, and in acknowledgement of his birthday the idea was to dress one of the Gormley's as an approximation of John. It was easier said than done.
It turns out putting a t-shirt on a 6ft statue whose arms don't bend is harder than you would expect. Do you put it over the arms first and then try and stretch it over the head? Or over one arm and the head and then try for the other arm? Then there's the other thing that kept getting in the way. Just like his big brother Dickie Lewis.
It was suggested that following on from the Sefton Park re-enactment the naked statue might be the perfect companion for anyone brave enough to try and emulate the "Two Virgins" sleeve. Luckily we got the t-shirt on in the nick of time.
(L) "How does this go over his head?"
(R) Covering his modesty
(R) Covering his modesty
(Below) The fine ladies and gentlemen of our tour party
taken by our tour guide
taken by our tour guide
It was mid afternoon and the light was beginning to fade as we left our "John" staring out across the Irish Sea towards the home of his ancestors. Beyond there was New York, the place so many hoped to eventually reach when their famine boats arrived on the Liverpool docks.
Our next port of call was Seaforth. Passing an old Beatles' venue, Lathom Hall, with its garish Blackpool illuminations style "Hippie" outside we pulled in past a big traffic island on the road to Litherland to view some superb Beatles themed artwork. Earlier in the trip we'd seen Dublin Street but this mural was pure Belfast Street art.
The side of an end terrace house on Croxteth Avenue has been transformed into a representation of John Lennon's 1975 "Rock n Roll" album cover. The wall alongside shows all four Beatles' heads in the half-light black and white style of the With The Beatles album and alongside them, smaller portrayals of Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe. This is a fine piece of work created by artists from both sides of Northern Ireland's political divide to celebrate Litherland's links with the Beatles. Belfast Loyalist Mark Ervine and Republican Danny Devenny came together to create the striking mural. With the motives being peace and art I think John would have approved. Jackie Holmes left another rose in recognition.
It was time to head back into town to conclude our mad day out. The coach parked up on Hope Street parallel to the magnificent Anglican Cathedral built in sandstone from the Woolton quarry we'd seen earlier.
Disembarking for the final time we thanked our driver and walked over to Gambier Terrace.
John, Stuart Sutcliffe and others shared a first floor flat at 3 Hilary mansions on Gambier Terrace. Our party stood outside the front door whilst Jackie produced a photo on her tablet of the famous “Beatnik Horror” tabloid picture taken inside the flat and we questioned whether John was in the photo with his back to the camera or not. Personally I think that John was away at the time the photograph was taken (probably when the Beatles were in Scotland in 1960), and somebody only decided John was one of the unknown people in the photograph after he became famous.
And so our tour officially ended on Hope Street at the suitcases installed by John King in 1998 at the junction with Mount Street, by LIPA (Paul and George's old Liverpool Institute) and the Liverpool School of Art (John and Stuart's former college). Although I'd passed this art installation, entitled "A Case History" many times I had not known that each of the sculptured cases supposedly "belonged" to some of the Hope Street Quarter's most illustrious names and organisations including L.I.P.A., Charles Dickens, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and John Lennon.
Performing her final tour guide task of the day Jackie thanked everyone for coming and hoped we'd all enjoyed it. (We had). The significance of one particular case was that it was based upon the container John and Yoko used to send their 1969 "Acorns For Peace" campaign around the world. They posted several heads of state two acorns each, requesting that they plant them for peace. Only two heads of state, Golda Meir of Israel, and Pierre Trudeau of Canada planted the acorns. In a nice co-incidence we had members in our tour party from both countries.
We also had a couple from Texas struggling to understand Jackie's Scouse accent. Now John and Yoko certainly did some crazy things, from naked album covers to erotic lithographs. But they categorically did NOT send "gay porn to world leaders!"
ACORNS!! (photo by Claire Jackson)
Formalities over it was time for a drink and what more appropriate a place to do this than Ye Cracke, a favourite art school watering hole of John and Stuart Sutcliffe in nearby Rice Street. Of course, with it being a Saturday night the pub was rammed, and there was no chance any of us were going to get into the "War Office", the quaint little nook where traditionally the older men had sat and drank. Whenever John had no money, which was most of the time, he would go into the War Office, tell a few jokes and then demand a pint from anyone he'd successfully made laugh.
The only way I could get a shot of the War Office was by aiming my camera through the glass window at the top and hoping for the best. My camera lens did not go unnoticed by today's equivalent of John and Stuart!
After I had said my thanks and made my goodbyes I walked down Hardman Street, passing the bombed out church of St Luke's. I looked across Berry Street to Seel Street and the Blue Angel club, before crossing and heading on down Bold Street, already filling up with early evening drinkers. I passed the former Odd Spot club on my right before making my way into Central station and home.
A big thank you to Jackie Spencer, Jean Catharell and Jackie Holmes.
Dedicated to everyone on the tour that Saturday.
And we brought back lots of lovely souvenirs...
(plus Donovan and Pattie Boyd obtained at the 2015 Beatles Convention)