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.