Congregating outside the Hard Day’s Night Hotel in Liverpool city centre we were each given an envelope when we boarded the bus at 10am. After a headcount and a welcome from Jackie Spencer, our guide for the day, we were asked to open our envelopes.
Inside was a sunflower seed, a ribbon, and a photograph of George or all four Beatles. This was for the photo challenge, a fun part of the tour that was a great success on last year’s Paul tour. The idea being that at some point in the day everyone would have the chance to recreate the pose in the photo contained in their envelope. I got the All Things Must Pass picture (see left)
Jackie also gave the passengers a heads up about this blog which was nice.
The Beatles look to have endured fog and damp weather for their session but, miraculously despite the February chill we were blessed with a bright blue sky all day (It’s snowing as I write this). Clearly we had some divine intervention from someone. Returning to our coach I spotted the dazzle ferry (link) crossing the Mersey. Painted to a design by Peter Blake, creator of the Sgt. Pepper’s LP cover. Sometimes in Liverpool you can make Beatles’ connections even when you aren’t looking for them.
Our driver, nicknamed ‘Ravi' just for today took us across town, towards Liverpool Town Hall, scene of the Beatles’ triumphant return to the city in July 1964 for a civic reception with the Lord Mayor and the Northern premiere of A Hard Day’s Night and we were lucky to hear some lovely first hand memories of the event from one of our tour party, Mave Atherton. Her overwhelming memory of the day is the huge number of lost shoes left behind after the crowds dispersed. I’ve heard a similar story from a friend who was at the Odeon cinema later that same night.
We went along Victoria Street, one of those thoroughfares in Liverpool city centre with more than its fair share of Beatle connections but this day was all about George and so we saved our discussions on those for a future tour.
We passed St. John’s Gardens, the statue park behind St. George’s Hall where two trees have been planted in memory of the two fallen fabs, John and George side by side.
We saw the Empire Theatre, Lime Street station, the buildings that formerly housed Blacklers and Lewis’s – Liverpool’s two best loved department stores, the Adelphi Hotel and the old Mersey Beat office on Renshaw Street. On Hardman Street we passed the Flute, the former site of Blakes Ford Motor dealers where Paul McCartney bought his first car and drove it out of the showroom just as the dreaded ‘Baz’, the former Headmaster of Liverpool Institute and much despised by both Paul and George, was standing outside, looking on in amazement, much to George's everlasting delight.
On the corner of Hope Street stands Liverpool Philharmonic Hall the location of several George related tales. It was the venue for the Liverpool Institute’s annual prize giving which George and Paul would have attended, probably reluctantly. It was also the venue where George found himself on the panel judging a Northern Beat group completion alongside Dick Rowe, the man from Decca records infamous for turning the Beatles down. Holding no grudge George advised Dick to check out the Rolling Stones when he returned to London. Rowe signed them in a matter of days.
And so we found ourselves alongside Blackburn House on Hope Street, just across from the Liverpool Institute, George’s former high school.
The Hope Street suitcases, 'A Case History', installed by John King in 1998, are at the junction with Mount Street, by LIPA (the old 'Liverpool Institute') and Liverpool School of Art, opposite Blackburne House Centre for Women. The labelled suitcases 'belong' to many of Hope Street Quarter's most illustrious names and organisations. Unfortunately it had come to Jackie's attention that the plaque on the guitar case for George Harrison had been stolen, probably by souvenir hunting fans. Just before we got off our coach Jackie revealed that she had arranged for a new plaque to be made as a replacement for the one stolen from George’s case and as a nod to him we would attach the plaque now.
We stood surrounding the cases, and during a brief but moving ceremony Jackie stealthily applied her replacement plaque and in the process invented a whole new genre of street art - guerilla plaquing.
Our next stop was Sefton Park where we had plenty of photo challenges to complete!
2. The Allerton Golf Course Jump
3.The 'Mad Day Out' railings
We were on Wavertree High Street, perhaps the area most closely linked to the Harrison’s Liverpool story. Cutting through the alley by the town hall we were soon in Arnold Grove, George Harrison’s birthplace in 1943.
It was time for lunch. In honour of George our guide Jackie had arranged for a vegetarian buffet to be laid on at Childwall Abbey, a fine public house on the corner of Childwall Abbey Road. This was the location for the wedding reception of George Harrison's brother on 20 December 1958, held in the same room as our buffet lunch, and where George who'd been invited to provide the music for the younger members of the wedding party brought John and Paul, the trio being photographed on the big day in the front bar. Joining us for lunch was Mike and Bernadette ‘Bernie’ Byrne who opened in the original Beatles Story museum in the Albert Dock. Before marrying Mike, Bernie had been George Harrison’s girlfriend in 1962. I enjoyed a nice chat with Bernie over our delicious curry.
From Childwall we were back on the coach to Speke via Mackets Lane where we paused for a minute at 174, George's final Liverpool home from August 1962. Beware of Gargoyles!
Through Hunts Cross past the shop where George worked as a butchers' delivery boy and down Woodend Avenue (where Ringo worked) it wasn't long before we arrived at 25 Upton Green, the Harrison home from 1950, where we were welcomed inside by the owner Jackie Holmes, kindly offering our party a rare opportunity to tour a Beatles' home not owned by the National Trust.
A number of the tour group had photo challenges at Upton Green, unsurprisingly as there are several well known photos of George and his family here. We enjoyed a Cream Tangerine birthday cake, some drink was drunk, and remembering George's own memory of his first day in the house - ‘You could go from the hall to the sitting room then into the kitchen then into the hall again and back into the sitting room. I just ran round and round it all that first day' - it seemed natural to form a conga and do just that.
The Pillar Club, where they all performed in the basement is now a martial arts studio and several walls have been added which weren't there in 1959, as well as a lot of wood panelling but it was still easy to imagine how it might have looked with its mini-bar/ snack area. As can be seen in the photos above the main entrance and upper hallways have been restored to their original splendour and look magnificent. Lowlands is a gem of a place, well worth a visit if you can and especially if you already plan on visiting the much more famous Casbah Club which is a few houses up on the other side of the road.
We left Lowlands and Hayman's Green in the early evening darkness, the official end of our organised tour. We took our seats on the coach and as 'Ravi' steered us back towards town a bottle of bourbon was produced by an un-named gentleman called Kim Mortensen who shall remain nameless. As I say, I think it was Kim but I was definitely enjoying the bourbon and things were definitely getting blurry.
On the corner of Slater Street we said fond goodbyes to some of our party who were going home followed quickly by renewed hellos when we realised that they weren't going home after all and had decided to join us in the Jacaranda instead. More drinks were drunk, and so was I, and at one point I found myself cornered in the Gents. My relief on discovering it was only Kim quickly turned to confusion and then anxiety when he said he had something he wanted to give me in private. Now I don't know if that sort of candour usually works on the Eastern Seaboard but I personally prefer wine and a nice meal first.
Joking aside, Kim had brought me a gift all the way from the States just as a nod of appreciation for the enjoyment he gets from reading this blog. How lovely is that? *
My phone battery had died by the time I got off the train at Hunts Cross station so I was relying on a passing hackney cab to get me home but on a Saturday Night after 10pm in Hunts Cross, at my age, with my lumbago, I had no chance.
I was back at the shops where George had worked for the butcher. Grabbing myself some curry, rice and chips (for warmth, you understand) I began the long walk home down Mackets Lane, past George’s house at 174 for the second time that day.
There’s no escaping the Beatles in Liverpool, even if you wanted to.
A Thanks to everyone on the tour that day - our guide Jackie Spencer, Chris Turton, Lee King, Mr Forrester, Jean Catharell, Jackie Holmes, Mave Atherton, Kim Mortensen, Mel and Michael Holt, Brian and Lorraine Lewis, Tor Olav Andreassen, Valerie McLaughlin, Julie Gornell, Alli Devine, Eddie Miles, Colin Hanton, Christine Keill, Shelley L Germeaux, Eric the Fish, Adrian Porter, Elaine and Reece Bithrey, Kelley Bayless Kupfer, Mike and Bernie Byrne and everyone else whose names I've forgotten (apologies to you).
The photographs used for this particular blog came from a number of people on the tour. They were all saved in the same folder making individual accreditation impossible. Suffice to say, the better photos were probably not taken by me.