Head down the Beatlemania rabbit hole in search of the origin stories and inspiration points that defined the world’s most famous band in this Magical Mystery Tour review.
It’s the middle of a Tuesday afternoon and the cheery yellow and blue Magical Mystery Tour coach we’re on stops outside an unassuming row of terraced houses in southern Liverpool. Everybody piles off and we wander down a cul-de-sac.
It’s eerily quiet, making me increasingly self-conscious that I, and 40 other people, are gathered outside somebody’s home, with its red brickwork and white lace curtains, our camera shutters clicking away. Anywhere else in Britain, the neighbours, or indeed the occupants, would be straight on the phone to the police. But this is Liverpool, and this was the house was where George Harrison was born.
Practically anything touched by a member of the Fab Four is worshipped these days. And while Liverpool contains many cultural riches from various bands that have come from the Merseyside area, only The Beatles can boast their own dedicated daily tour.
George Harrison’s birthplace remains an ordinary, occupied home, but for the regular procession of Beatles fans who come to take photos and pay their respects. But even the faintest whiff of his greatness, knowing he spend time there, transforms an ordinary terrace into something finer than a sultan’s palace. It’s just one of a handful of houses located in suburban, southern neighbourhoods of Liverpool like it.
Back aboard the bus, our tour guide Neil Brannan, a former actor who also works as a DJ at the much vaunted Cavern Club, leads the group on a singalong of Love Me Do as we continue on to the childhood homes of Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Each one ratchets up the degree of fervour, despite the fact that for quite a few people aboard the coach, this is not their first time taking this tour.
We stop near Mendips, the home of John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi where he spent much of his childhood. It’s a larger home, with a front garden. Nobody spoils the integrity of the closed gate separating our pavement viewing platform from the private property of a stranger, where a man who passed away 43 years ago once lived. Yet it’s treated like a holy shrine. After all, his music is alive and vital as ever.
The final home we visit is at 20 Forthlin Road. Again, we merely stand and admire the post-war brickwork, deep in the knowledge that it protected Paul McCartney from the wind and rain. Here, the atmosphere is particularly reverent. A separate National Trust tour is the only way to get inside. Somehow the knowledge that Paul McCartney composed many of the early Beatles hits in the bathroom (for acoustic, rather than digestive complaint reasons) gives it a hallowed quality.
Back on the bus, the playlist has now moved on to the band’s later material. While My Guitar Gently Weeps plays, as the hopeful, love-struck songs of the early Beatles oeuvre are replaced by songs of a deeper lived experience as global superstars. But while The Beatles by this point had left Liverpool, the city never really left them.
This was particularly evident on their double A-side single released in early 1967 that included the songs Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane. Both titles nod towards places in Liverpool where the band members spent time in their youth. Both sites are visited on this tour next, with the graffiti on the closed red entrance gate to Strawberry Field holding a particular sense of pathos.
By the end of the tour, as the coach heads back into central Liverpool, there’s a contemplative quiet aboard. While the whole exercise of visiting places many of The Beatles themselves have not visited for decades felt a little odd at first, by the end it all seems to make an absurd sort of sense.
Sure, a lot has changed here; it’s not the Liverpool where these four boys grew up. But there’s something about how normal all these places are that holds power. They are parks, and church graveyards, schools and simple family homes that are not unlike those in the lived experiences of most people. There’s nothing particularly remarkable or special about any of them that you could point to and say: “this is why they made the music they made”. Then again, the songs written by The Beatles have an uncanny ability to reach out across boundaries and generations and speak to people with a clarity and familiarity that very few have come close to emulating before or since.
Having completed the tour, we disembark outside The Cavern Club, where it all began to take off for The Beatles. When you head downstairs into this hallowed space for live music, fresh from the sightseeing, it’s really only then that you can truly appreciate how remarkable and rare it is that these creative minds were able to come together and make music, for little more than a decade, and still hold so much power over so many people more than half a century later.
Where to Book
The Magical Mystery Tour runs between twice and five times a day depending on the time of year and day of the week. The coach departs from the Albert Dock area and tours last around two hours. You can book tickets through Getyourguide.com at £20 per person.
If you’re thinking of visiting Liverpool from London on a day trip, there are tours that can take care of all the planning for you. The best option is this one with Viator.com, which for £192 per person includes round-trip rail tickets, tickets to the Magical Mystery Tour, access to the Beatles Story Exhibition and entry to the Cavern Club.