Tuesday 10 January 2023

A Sort of Homecoming: Abba's revisited

85 Woolton Road,
L19 6PL.

What’s the first thing you do when you go back to Liverpool? 

Most of the time I fly up. So, I’ll get to Liverpool airport, the John Lennon Airport, and I’ll have a car [waiting for me] and I’ll drive myself from thereon. I’m normally with someone, one of my mates... One time was with Bono, actually, and we drove together because we were both going to the same event at Liverpool Arena. (Paul McCartney talking to Dylan Jones for GQ magazine, 4 August 2020)

It was 6 November 2008, and they were in town to attend the MTV European Music Awards held at the Echo Arena on Liverpool's waterfront.[2]

The U2 frontman Bono was there to present Paul with the Ultimate Legend Award [3].   

Bono told the crowd he was delighted to be in the capital…of east Ireland…We Irish claim the Beatles. 

To audible pantomime boos from the crowd he continued Listen pal, if it wasn’t for the potato famine, John, Paul, George and Ringo would have come from bubblin’ Dublin.  [4] 

Anyway, I’m here tonight to bestow the first, last and only, MTV Ultimate award, or as Macca was saying in the car on the way here, the MTV Supreme Being award.      

Introducing Paul to the stage, Bono said: Liverpool, this is the man who invented my job. 

Bono again referenced their drive to the arena: On the way here Paul McCartney, who was driving the car, was pointing out every place in Liverpool he cycled, he wrote songs, where he bunked school… It was like being in the Pope-mobile with the Pope driving. In the universe of rock and roll bands, the Beatles were the big bang. I saw tonight how much Liverpool means to Paul McCartney and you can feel how much Paul McCartney means to Liverpool." 

Accepting the award, McCartney said: Many years ago, four little boys were born here in Liverpool, and we went on to do quite well. 

So, thanks to all my family, to all of you for coming along to all of you in Liverpool, to everyone in Britain, to everyone in America for voting in Mr. Obama. I love you. Thank you. 

You can watch the whole of Bono’s introduction, and Paul’s acceptance speech here: 


Bono and Paul McCartney, 6 November 2008 at the Echo Arena, Liverpool. Note brother Michael on the left. 

On 1 November 2022 Bono published his memoir, ‘Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story’ and flicking through a copy in my local supermarket I was pleased to discover he’d included further details about the event from 14 years previously.


I’m sitting in the front seat of a red Range Rover. The driver, who has just picked me up from John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, is Paul McCartney. He’s taking me and Jimmy Iovine on a magical mystery tour through his hometown, showing us the neighbourhoods where the Fab Four grew up. He’s pointing here, there, and everywhere. And apologizing. “You sure you’re interested in this?” “Oh yes,” I reply. “I couldn’t be more interested.” “Yeah? Okay, well, that’s where George’s neighbourhood was. It was a rough neighbourhood, George’s. Really Ringo’s was a little tougher. I’ll show you where he was in a minute. John was like a little nobby. Not too nobby, but a little nobby. And mine, my family were okay. We were over there.


As he drives, he points out the window. “There’s the 86 bus. John and I used to ride there, just gone by. You sure you don’t mind me telling you this?” “Oh no, I don’t mind. Please go on.” Do I mind? It’s like Moses giving you a tour of the holy land. It’s like Freud giving you a tour of the brain. It’s like Neil Armstrong giving you a tour of the moon.


It’s like Paul McCartney driving me through the geography of a music that has transformed my life.

The traffic lights at the junction of Long Lane and Horrocks Avenue / Woolton Road (Google maps)

This is the bit that really interests me


We pull up at a light. “See over there? That newsagent? It’s changed a bit, but that’s where I had my first real conversation with John.”


Now I know a bit about The Beatles lore and wonder if his memory is playing tricks. “But I thought your first conversation with John was when he was in the Quarrymen, and they played at that fete in St. Peter’s Church.” Paul looks at me with, I feel, some respect. “Yeah, that’s true,” he says, smiling. “But I’m talking real, insightful stuff, not just ‘What sort of guitar do you use?’ or ‘What sort of tunes are you listening to?’”


“Insightful? How do you mean?”


“Well, John bought a bar of chocolate, Cadbury’s chocolate, and when he came out of the newsagent’s he broke it in half. Gave me one half. I was amazed because, you know, back then, chocolate was really something. Most boys would break off a little square, but John gave me half his bar.” [5]


I was musing on this as Paul put his foot on the accelerator and we moved off. “I don’t know why I’m telling you that.” Perhaps he did know. I knew. In an instant it was clear to me that the greatest collaboration in the history of popular culture started with a fifty-fifty deal on a bar of chocolate. Lennon and McCartney. Born over a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate.” [6]

The significance of the newsagents

A recap. A footnote in Mark Lewisohn's ultimate Beatles' biography ‘Tune In’ questions whether the Woolton Church fete, held on July 6, 1957, was in fact the first time Lennon and McCartney met. Lewisohn revealed that on occasion, in certain (private) company, Paul will admit that the Woolton Church fete was NOT the place of their first meeting. 

During an interview with Esquire magazine in 2015 McCartney confirmed that prior to the fete he’d seen John around the neighbourhood: He was just a ted, on the bus – greasy hair, long sideburns, shuffling around like he was Mr Hard. And I saw him on the top deck of the bus often, before I met him. Saw him in the queue at a chip shop once. And I thought, “He looks cool.”  [7]  

In other variations of that story Paul confirms that not only had he seen John before being formally introduced but had actually spoken to him outside the newsagents during the time he (Paul) was a paperboy.

The war memorial and row of shops on Woolton Road / Long Lane.  W.W. Abba's newsagents shop at 85 Woolton Road is on the extreme right of the photo. 

In a previous blog in 2019, I wrote at length about how I discovered where that newsagent’s shop was, and how that first meeting might have taken place.  

Bono’s book adds some delightful details to the story while simultaneously messing up the chronology of events that I and other historians had pretty much settled on. 

So, taking a pragmatic approach, Paul was a paper boy after he moved to Forthlin Road, circa 1956-57, during which time he met John Lennon at the Woolton fete on 6 July 1957.  The newsagents Paul delivered for was at 85 Woolton Road, owned - from circa 1955 - by a Dennis Dunne, although the locals still referred to the shop as 'Abba’s' after the former owner had long moved on to new premises on Aigburth Road. 

The shop was Julia Lennon’s local newsagents, and likely used by John to buy cigarettes and, perhaps, Cadbury’s chocolate whenever he was staying with her. 

Paul may well have seen him here before the formal introductions but to me, the incident Paul reflects upon seems to have taken place after the Woolton fete introduction, in the very early days of their friendship when they were still getting to know one another. 

Whatever the correct timespan is, what is clear is that this particular row of shops holds a very special place amongst Paul’s memories of his early days with John Lennon in Liverpool.     


So, what’s the route of Paul’s Beatle tour?

My best guess would be that after landing at Liverpool John Lennon,[8] which in itself must trigger some sort of response from Paul, he heads into Speke, up Eastern Avenue and turning left into Central Way until the junction with Oldbridge Road where he turns right and immediately right again into Withington Road. On his left is Ardwick Road and the second of the two houses he lived in during his time in Speke. 

Returning to Central Way he may divert for a moment, to take a look at George’s former home in Upton Green before continuing west to appropriately enough, Western Avenue passing his old house at number 72. 

At the top of Western Avenue is the A561 (Speke Boulevard) where he turns left towards the city centre. He passes the old Liverpool airport, used by the Beatles in 1962-3 when they were making their final trips to Hamburg, and their earliest visits to London, and, most famously, on 10 July 1964 when the group returned to Liverpool for the northern premiere of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and drove into the city centre from the airport along a route lined by so many people that the Beatles  must have felt like the entire city had turned out to welcome them home.

It's the route that I expect Paul still largely follows today. Shortly after passing the former Matchworks building (a favourite of George Harrison) he takes the right turn onto Horrocks Avenue, pointing out the site of Wilson Hall (where he had his first paid gig with the Quarrymen) and drives up the hill to the junction with Long Lane. Here Horrocks Avenue branches to the right, becoming Woolton Road, and there in front of him at the traffic lights is the Garston War Memorial and a row of shops still so vivid in his memory.   

While Paul’s memories of Beatlemania can sometimes appear a bit blurry around the edges, unsurprising when you consider how much they did in such a relatively short period, and the anecdotes can sound tired through the constant retelling, when he's asked about the more carefree, pre-fame days a light switch seems to flick on and he's right back there. 

I've said this before, somebody really needs to sit down with him and get all of the pre-fame stuff written down instead of asking him about the Beatles again. Likewise, Ringo, who has said in interviews that he's occasionally asked to do an autobiography but refuses because the publishers only want to know about those seven years. He's said the really interesting stuff is the pre-fab days. I agree. There's so much fascinating material in 'Tune In' about Ringo's life up to the end of 1962 that it would almost make a stand-alone book. In 2023 he will be 83 years old. I for one would love to read about the first 20 years of Ringo's life growing up in the Dingle.


I like driving and I don’t want to be driven around Liverpool. And I know all the routes, you know? Most of the time I’m driving to LIPA [Liverpool Institute For Performing Arts, co-founded by McCartney in 1996] and on my way I pass all the old haunts and it’s like a guided tour, with me as the tour guide. I’ll say, “And this is where John’s mother, Julia, lived and we used to go round and visit her. And this is the street here where I had my first girlfriend.”


So it’s all that. “This is where I did this; this is where I took this girl out...” I can remember lots of stuff. “This is where we did our first little gig, at a place called The Wilson Hall, and then over here me and John used to walk down this street with our guitars and then I would walk up there, to his house, across the golf course.” (Paul McCartney talking to Dylan Jones for GQ magazine, 4 August 2020)

In my fantasy world I would drive Paul or Ringo around Liverpool, stop at various locations and get them to go into as much detail about the place as they can remember, because, as anyone who has lost a parent or grandparent will know, sadly when they're gone, they're gone. 

It's a pipe dream I know, and I suppose the closest we'll ever get to it is by watching "Carpool Karaoke" but for a moment just imagine driving Paul to Garston bottle works for example, and saying "right, tell me about the night Allan Williams brought you all here to try and persuade Tommy Moore to rejoin the group."  He's probably never been asked about that in over 60 years. 

M.P. Ashworth (2023) unless otherwise stated. 



[1] 'A Sort of Homecoming' is the opening track on U2’s 1984 album, 'The Unforgettable Fire'.

[2] Now known as the M&S Arena.  2008 was Liverpool’s year as the European Capital of Culture.

[3] And where better to receive it than in his home city?

[4] Pre-empting the 'Nothing Is Real' podcast guys by some 14 years  https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/series/m001fcx8

[5] The wartime rationing of confectionary, including chocolate started in the UK in 1942 and ended in 1953. I once sat and talked about John Lennon with Len Garry, a friend of John and Paul’s and a former/current member of the Quarry Men. He too mentioned John’s generosity, whereas another member of their group,  Pete Shotton (who had access to American cigarettes from his older brother, was “as tight as a mouse’s earhole”, or words to that effect).   

[6] Taken from the book ‘Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story’ by Bono (2022)

[7] Ted – Teddy Boy (a greasy rocker) although John wasn’t, really.

[8] the first airport in the UK to be named after a person


  1. Just superb research, Mr Ashworth - - no, strike that: DR Ashworth, because this site is PhD-worthy. I've known folks get PhDs for less than this, including me.

    1. I don't know who you are, but thank you very much for your kind comments. They're much appreciated.

  2. Great research as ever, Mark. Pete Shotton mentioned John's generosity several times, not least in the Hunter Davies book. Didn't realise he was so mean, however!
    Bono was wrong about Richie: he had no discernible Irish ancestry, and while J, P & G obviously did (including me - Mary O'Neal from Liverpool via Dublin), like a certain American President, there is a tendency to promote Irish ancestry over English or Welsh. Because another way of looking at JL is that he was also substantially Welsh via the Stanleys. So why is this?