Tuesday, 2 March 2021

George Harrison 75th Birthday Celebration Tour 2018

In 2015 I experienced an organised Beatles’ themed tour for the first time. The occasion was to mark John Lennon’s 75th Birthday (see link). It was Paul McCartney’s turn in 2017 and in 2018 it was time for George. 

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)



Our first destination was the Pier Head, and a long wait at the traffic lights at the bottom of James Street gave Jackie the opportunity to talk about the Harrison family connection to the famous White Star building

George’s dad Harold joined the merchant navy at the age of 17. It was a job he loved but was forced to give up, apparently under pressure from John French, his father-in-law who did not want him spending long periods away from home while his daughter Louise was left to bring up four children on her own. 

Jackie also gave the passengers a heads up about this blog which was nice.


Alighting at the Pier Head we made our way over to the new(ish) Beatles statues in front of Liverpool’s Three Graces – the iconic Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the magnificent Port of Liverpool Building which together make up one of the most recognisable and impressive waterfronts in the world.  After attaching a birthday ribbon and flower to ‘George’ and posing for the obligatory photos alongside it was time for the first photo challenge of the day, four passengers charged with re-creating the photo of the Beatles in front of the Royal Liver Building as photographed by Peter Kaye in September 1962. (It’s the photo I use for this blog).

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. 


After a short diversion to the steps of Liverpool Institute where we were rewarded with tales of how much George hated it we were back on the coach and heading south out of town, through Toxteth along Princes Drive, past some of the old houses built by George Harrison’s grandfather in the 1800's.

Our next stop was Sefton Park where we had plenty of photo challenges to complete!

1. "The Fairy Glen" . The waterfall was off and we couldn't find the switch. Don't go chasing waterfalls someone else said, probably.

2. The Allerton Golf Course Jump

3.The 'Mad Day Out' railings

4. Tulips



5. The All Things Must Pass cover

6. Feeding the ducks.

After our Fab-Four photo fun we sought calm in the tranquility of the beautiful Palm House. George was fond of this as a child and would develop a passion for gardening in later life. After the Palm House fell into disrepair his Material World Charitable Foundation contributed a sizeable donation to help restore it to its former glory. Today it's one of Harrison's most well known and visible charitable gifts to the city.


As an aside, this part of the tour nearly didn't happen. As you might expect planning an all day tour involves a lot of hard work and invariably there are difficulties along the way that must be overcome to execute the tour as planned. Despite Jackie informing the powers-that-be in advance of the tour that we were only intending to spend 5 to 10 minutes inside we had been refused entry to the Palm House on the grounds that there was a wedding reception scheduled to take place later that afternoon. It did not seem to matter that we were only planning on making a flying visit (even after Jackie explained to them the reason why we were hoping to visit).

We were therefore pleasantly surprised when our party arrived outside the Palm House and met a security guard who gave his blessing and then, after he'd checked with a couple of people inside, allowed us to enter without further obstruction.  


No sooner were we back on the coach than we were getting off again for a visit to the Penny Lane Development Trust where Jackie had arranged for a special visitor to meet us. It's always a pleasure to spend time with any of the Quarry Men and we were lucky enough to be joined by their drummer Colin Hanton.  Colin was there to tell us about how and where George came to join the group, and the circumstances behind why he had decided to leave and hang up his drumsticks. Told with great humour he admitted that he didn't want to reveal too much as he had a book coming out and wanted us all to still buy it!  Lovely man.




Before we left we posed for a group photo with Colin in front of the PLDT mural.

We were now deep on the tourist trail as we went up Penny Lane, passing the shelter in the middle of the roundabout and the former barbers' and banks, past John Lennon's first home in Newcastle Road, the Blue Coat School and Holy Trinity Church, where George Harrison’s paternal grandparents married in 1902.

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.

Jackie then moved the group one street along to Albert Grove, another row of terraced houses identical to Arnold Grove. Over the years George Harrison's maternal grandparents lived at both 9 and 11.  Jackie introduced us to  Ann, her school friend who'd joined us for the tour. Ann is an actual relation of George – a distant cousin through the French side of the family. Jackie showed her where her relatives had lived. 


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. 



Guitars and ukuleles were produced, and on the assumption that George must have practised in every bedroom at some point it was fitting that Michael Holt played a Harrisong in all of them (when he wasn't making rude gestures behind the outside bog).




If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there, but I'm a curious sort so in the weeks leading up to the tour I had a couple of conversations with Jackie about where she was planning on taking us (and where she was experiencing difficulties behind the scenes trying to pull it off - see the Palm House above). We had a bit of a brainstorm, trying to think of places connected to George that even the regular diehard fans on her tours had never visited.  Almost as a joke I suggested Lowlands, the huge house in Hayman's Green where George had performed with the Les Stewart Quartet, never imagining we'd have any chance of actually getting in there. 

Well, I shouldn't have doubted the tenacity and negotiating skills of Jackie Spencer because that was precisely where we headed next! 






On hand to welcome us was Stephen Guy, chairman of the West Derby Society. Stephen gave us a brief talk on the history of the house, the families who lived there and the people who had played a key part in its history from the Victorian railway architect Thomas Haigh to George Harrison. Most of the famous bands in the early 60s performed here including Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Searchers (but not the Beatles).  Guy told us that the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein turned up to watch one of his acts one night, the person on the door didn't recognise him and he was refused entry until he paid the five shilling (25p) entrance fee. Enraged, Epstein stormed off and vowed never to allow his acts perform at Lowlands again. Sure enough they didn't.  In their place came Manchester and London groups including The Hollies, Herman's Hermits, the Mindbenders and the Barron Knights but inevitably once they had a hit record they usually didn't play there again.   

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.      



Thanks for the T-shirt Kim :)

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.

1 comment:

  1. Geez, that's a great one, Mark... I forget one detail a day, it seems, and having this to read has completely rebooted and recovered the files in my "hard drive"... (getting harder by the day! :-) )
    Hope the "lumbago analgesic" at least was effective through the night! Cheers, Mate!

    ReplyDelete