Monday, November 07, 2005

Liverpool, The Beatles, and Spargo at The Cavern Club

With James in town, it seemed like an opportune time to head to the North and finally visit the City of Liverpool, and the home of The Beatles.

Carly had been flat out with work during the past few weeks, so organising this weekend trip hadn't exactly gone to plan.. even on the day we were meant to pick up the hire car, we were still trying to secure somewhere to stay for the Saturday night we would spend there. But, apparently because it is renowned as a bit of a weekend party town in the North, this was proving more difficult than we ever expected. But at the last minute very late on the Friday night we decided to give it a shot regardless, and we went out to Heathrow and collected the hire car, ready to leave early the next morning.

We hit the road at 8:30am on Saturday with a 4 hour drive ahead of me. This would be the first James would see of England outside of London, and with the miles of M1 motorway to cover he would be seeing a lot of it! Carly was on the mobile for the first half-hour of the journey trying to get some accommodation from a list of possible phone numbers - and in usual Smithy fashion she got very lucky and scored a cheap 3-bed room at the YHA, following a cancellation just minutes earlier!! So we were on our way, and we wouldn't have to sleep in the car!!

After a few stops at Services for coffee etc, and some very fast driving along the M6 toll road which bypasses Birmingham (yes Jen, I drove as fast as I could while near Birmingham for fear of having the hubcaps stolen if I stopped!!), we made Liverpool just after lunch and found the YHA.

We checked in and then walked straight into town, as we had booked ourselves on The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour, which would take us around all of the major Beatles sights in the City and suburbs. We got on the fantastic and very authentic MMT bus, and headed off with our excellent tour guide mad Eddie and the driver (can't remember his name!!), who we soon found out both actually went to school with some of the Beatles lads, and knew absolutely everything there was to know about their lives and music.

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James and Carly on-board and outside The Magical Mystery Tour bus

As the bus toured many of the sites immortalised in some of the most famous songs the world has ever heard, the tour guide would put the relevant cassette into the bus tape player, and the songs would blast out of the dodgy speakers and we'd sing along. As we went, many of the song lyrics were explained to us as we saw the various sights, and when he then played the song you could actually sit there on the bus, looking out the window at the exact scene or building that Lennon/McCartney had written about.

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Carly, me, and James at the Penny Lane street sign

An excellent example of this was the drive along Penny Lane, where we were able to get out and get some photos with the street sign. We then drove along the street and had the lyrics explained to us, and as we neared the end of the 'Lane' we could see buildings such as the hairdresser/barber shop:

In Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he's had the pleasure to know.
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello.



Next to that was the now renovated bus shelter, and before that we saw the hospital where the 'pretty nurse' would have worked:

Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout
The pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray
And tho' she feels as if she's in a play
She is anyway.



And there was also the bank still there on the corner:

On the corner is a banker with a motorcar,
The little children laugh at him behind his back.
And the banker never wears a mack
In the pouring rain, very strange.


This stuff was just brilliant to be seeing in person, and this tour was the best way to have it all explained - after my old QR manager JC recommended it to us, we've already been recommending it to everyone we know!

After Penny Lane we visited the original homes of all of the Beatles, which have since become properties of the National Trust - this mightn't seem that interesting as I write it here, however as an example when we visited the family home of Paul McCartney and were shown the window of the bedroom where he and John Lennon wrote so many of their songs, there was definitely a certain sense of aura when you considered the creative magic that must have happened in that very room! We went past the schools they attended, the various venues where they played in their early days in other bands (such as the Quarrymen), and we also went through the Docks area beside the Mersey River and heard about the music and bands inspired by the Ferry across the Mersey.

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The McCartney house, and the window to that famous song-writing bedroom; me and the bus

We also travelled to the Strawberry Fields childrens home, which was just near John Lennon's old family home. Just before that was the church where some of the inspiration for the song 'Eleanor Rigby' originated - we returned there on Sunday to find what we think was the grave of this lonely lady, although we think that was more coincidence than anything.

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James at the gates of Strawberry Fields

This brilliant tour finished up back in the City, at the world-famous Cavern Club, where The Beatles playes some 292 times, and Paul McCartney and other world-famous names many times since then. Since reading some of Ross Smith's Beatles books about the band, i'd been dying to see this place and catch some live music there, so earlier in the week i'd checked their website and gig listing for that weekend. I couldn't beleive what I found!

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Carly and James at The Cavern Club

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Mathews Street, the scene of much destruction later on that night

Amongst some other bands from Manchester etc. there was an Australian independant band listed to play that Saturday night, called Spargo! I did some research on the web and discovered thay were a 4-peice group from Melbourne, and had released an EP and were currently promoting a second EP on a summer/autumn UK tour. This was definitely the right weekend to be in Liverpool - a Spargo getting to see a band called Spargo in the Cavern Club!!

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The gig list for the week at The Cavern Club, including Spargo from Australia!!

So after visiting a few other bars along the famous Mathews Street were the Cavern is, we headed home to have a quick shower and get back into the City for a night out. Starting at the Weatherspoons for a quick pub meal, I made James have his first British warm ale, which I really don't think he enjoyed (based on the observation that it took him twice as long to get it down that he normally drinks a pint!!).

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James and his first room temerature English ale

After that we went straight around to the Cavern Club to make sure we would get tickets to see the bands that night. We got in and got a spot up the back and then hit the bar for what would become a very messy session indeed!

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The Beatles performing on the old stage at The Cavern Club; and a DJ on that same famous stage on the night we were there!

Coming on 2nd last meant that we'd had an absolute skinful by the time Spargo hit the stage.. I went straight up and said hi to the band when they came on stage, and the lead singer (Lach) told me they had a few of their new EP for sale after the set. They are a bit hard to describe, almost a bit like the Waifs except all blokes and a bit more 'bluesy' rather than 'folky'. Here's a link to a few interviews they've done where they discuss their music, and are also asked to explain where the band name comes from!! You can also here a sample of their songs at this site here..

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a few shots I took of Spargo on-stage at The Cavern Club

We thought they put on a great set, playing the songs from the EP, and also a few others. The intimate crowd in the venue seemed to enjoy it, and it was fantastic to hear their strong Aussie accents as they introduce themselves and talked to the crowd.

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the cover of the Spargo EP - Sunday Morning

After the set I went around and got myself an EP, and had a chat to them and laugh about the name coincidence. Later on with their gear packed up they said hi to Carly and James, and then came up again and said goodbye before they left - absolute top blokes who can be assured they have fans for life, and also a couple of people who've been recommending them everywhere since!!

But the night was far from over. The Mathews Street area is part of the buzzing Liverpool nightlife scene and the 'Scousers' know how to have a big night. So we headed down the street and found ourselves in succession going into a 70's bar, and 80's bar, and a 90's bar! Only in Liverpool I guess! Each of them played music from that decade, and in some of them, you'd swear a few of the patrons had been in there wearing the same clothes since the respective decade!! Some scary sights!

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Doing the YMCA on the way out of the Cavern Club (beleive it or not, the DJ was playing it as we left!!) - very embarrassing

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I have no idea which of the 'decades' we were dancing to, but needless to say the music was terrible, and it was messy - and how about those fluro Pints!!

With the three of us pretty messy by about 2-2:30am, we headed home and to bed, not before a few mid-street YMCA recitals and dance routines.

Thankfully, our accommodation included a greasy breakfast fry-up in the morning, which a couple of us struggled to keep down. After that we went back into the City to see the rest of the town - I was itching to see the famous Lime Street railway station (James and Carly were a little less interested in that), and sporting ugly angovers we also wandered around the interesting backstreets around the newly-regenerated CBD area.

We also went up the hill to see the huge Liverpool Catherdral. But despite its impressive external facade and enourmous scale, it was a bit disapointing inside.

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Liverpool Cathedral - big, but boring

Time was running out and with a long 4 hour drive back down to London we got in the car to leave Liverpool, but not before we took one last drive around some of the route that The Magical Mystery Tour had taken, just so that I could drive along Penny Lane with my new Magical Mystery Tour CD (i'd just brought at Virgin Liverpool) playing out loud.

All of us thought it was a great city, and all three of us were very glad we didn't just take the easy option and spend the weekend in London. There'll be plenty of time for James to see more of the Capital when he's back over here again soon.

-shane

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