A vibrant city by any measure, Liverpool is a place where the phenomenon of The Beatles continues to serve as one of the city’s biggest tourist draws. From the locations that provided inspiration for their most iconic songs, to the basement bars where they first performed, an entire back-catalogue of Beatles’ culture, history and musical references sit in wait in the city of Liverpool.
June. 1962. Four local lads from Liverpool had gathered at the Abbey Road studios for their first recording session. As they strummed on guitars and sang into their mics how could they have possibly known that they were about to change the future of pop music forever?
Within a year of that recording, Beatlemania had not just seized a nation, it had gone global, with fans literally screaming out in hysteria their insatiable appetite for the gripping new sound that the Beatles offered. Although the band split in 1970 after just a decade together, Beatlemania lives on; and nowhere more so than in the place of the boys’ birth.
The Formative Years
John, Paul, George and Ringo came to possess a level of superstardom that broke them into the record books as the best-selling band of all-time. And with over 600 million records sold, it’s a title that remains theirs even today.
But the band’s beginnings were humble and their success didn’t happen overnight. With their home city providing their first audience, the boys slowly played their way to fame in the basement bars and clubs of Liverpool – bars and clubs that can still be visited today.
The Casbah Coffee Club formed an integral role in The Beatle’s formative years, offering a springboard for grander things. The boys were keen to perform but had arrived on the music scene when the rest of the city was consumed by a jazz-only vibe. The Casbah Club was one of the few venues in Liverpool that was amenable to alternative music styles and the band was able to blossom and thrived as they practised a new kind of music.
Over 50 years later the Casbah Club operates in full swing and you can visit the basement space and see it as it was when the band originally played. Pay special attention to the décor, painted by the band themselves, and look even closer to see where John scratched him name into the paintwork all those decades ago.
Just a few miles away from the Casbah Club, in the bass-beating heart of Liverpool, sits Matthew Street; a street most famous as the location of The Cavern. Another basement bar and equally experimental with its music, The Beatles started to play at The Cavern after a stint of 48 gigs in Hamburg. Confident and complete (Ringo Star joined the band in Germany), they booked in for a series of lunchtime performances and were promptly discovered by Brian Epstein, the influential man who went on to became their manager and led the boys to international success.
Taking care not to be drawn into the tourist-focused replica across the street, step into the dark basement of The Cavern and there’s an intangible presence of the musical magic that followed the Fab Four. The Cavern may be able to boast other international stars amongst its performers – Eric Clapton and the Kinks to name a few – but in its heart and in its soul, this bar belongs to the Beatles, who, impressively, performed just shy of 300 times there.
Outside, Matthew Street remains one of the city’s most famous pedestrian areas and continues to represent the ongoing search for fresh musical talent, with bars booming out with the sound of new performers almost daily. And, it’s on Matthew Street that you’ll witness the ultimate local honour – a plaque erected in recognition of “Four Lads Who Shook the World”.
The Spots that Inspired the Songs
It wasn’t just the music and performances that made The Beatles so loved. The lyrics were no doubt one of the most significant contributors to the band’s success and the inspiration behind the words that wear the tunes can be found throughout Liverpool, if only you look.
Penny Lane, which was immortalised by The Beatles in their song of the same name, refers to a street in Liverpool close to where John Lennon was born. Although Penny Lane has less than honourable origins, having been named after an 18th century slave trader, it is most significant as the place where Lennon and McCartney are thought to have regularly met to catch a bus into the city centre to perform. Today, Penny Lane is much the same as it was – a residential street, but that doesn’t mean you should miss a visit, ideally with the song playing in your ears.
Also materialising from the mind of Lennon, Strawberry Fields Forever has its roots in his childhood memories. The hit was one of the band’s great successes yet the real Strawberry Fields, which was a Salvation Army children’s home, contradicted the cheer. John had played in the grounds when he was a child and although the home was closed in 2005, the ornate wrought-iron gates to Strawberry Fields have become a significant point of pilgrimage for Beatles fans from around the world.
However, it is the local legend surrounding the song Eleanor Rigby that is perhaps most haunting. The band released the hit in 1966, telling the tale of death and loneliness. There are many theories behind the song, but the one that chills the most is the idea that the lyrics were inspired by the gravestone of an “Eleanor Rigby” who was laid to rest in St Peter’s Church, Woolton; the same church and social club where John Lennon and Paul McCartney met.
Whether or not the story holds true, the grave still exists and serves as another point of pilgrimage for loyal fan. Also within the city, you will find a stone bench featuring a lone lady cast in brass. Without paying attention you might walk past, but look closer and you will see that the statue is a tribute to Eleanor Rigby and is dedicated to “all the lonely people”.
The Legends Live On
Time has not quashed the phenomenon that was The Beatles and their presence continues to echo throughout the city. Whether you’re a die-hard fan, hungry to consume every last sight and explore every piece of memorabilia on offer or simply a casual fan of the world’s most successful pop band, the city of Liverpool, promises something for you.
In honour and acknowledgment of the band’s success, The Beatles Story, a unique exhibition of the life, times and culture that surrounded The Beatles, was created. Split across two sites in the city near the docks, the exhibition takes visitors on a journey through The Beatles’ lives complete with unseen photos and iconic items such as John Lennon’s glasses. Although you can see both the Casbah Club and The Cavern as they stand today, The Beatles Story contains replicas of both bars as they were in the 60s, an experience that promises to pull you back in time.
If you’re in the city for the most immersive experience, then the Magical Mystery Tour is the one you can’t beat. Organised by the experts who manage The Cavern, the tour will take you to see the homes, schools and colleges of the Fab Four, transporting you in a bus that is a throwback to the 60’s and is highly reminiscent of the decade’s psychedelic phase. Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane feature on the itinerary amongst other sights and the tour naturally culminates at the most significant spot of them all – The legendary Cavern.
If all of that isn’t enough, then complete your experience with a stay at the Beatles themed hotel. However, after a trip down Beatle’s memory lane, you may want to hope it won’t, as the hotel name says, be A Hard Days Night.