Town Hall Balcony
August 18, 2008, JFK Airport
We formed a little knot at Terminal 8 of JFK Airport, a group of strangers with a common connection - love of the Beatles. Some of us already knew each other and were excited about seeing each other again. Those who weren't already acquainted were introduced: "Hi, I'm Connie." "I'm Faith." "My name is Janet." We were destined to become traveling companions and eventually friends. Halfway across the country in Chicago the same scene was being enacted. The Magical History Tour of 2008 began!
Charles came by to bring our Beatle goody gift bags and our coveted airplane tickets. We checked our baggage (except for Jack, who packed everything he needed into a single backpack, earning him the nickname "Backpack Jack") and headed for the gate. Danny joined us on the plane, and we were whisked away into the August night for our adventure. Per Charles's suggestion we tried to sleep on the plane, but most of us were too excited!
August 19, London
The New York and Chicago groups became one at Heathrow Airport on a cool English morning. We were met at the airport by tour guide extraordinaire, Rene van Haarlem, whom some of us knew from previous Amsterdam trips, and who would be with us throughout our trip through England. Rene is a Beatles scholar and knows where things happened that we warrant even our Beatles have forgotten!
Though many of us would have enjoyed a comfy bed after an all-night flight, there was no rest for the weary! We climbed aboard a comfy coach instead for a day of London sightseeing. We visited Royal Albert Hall, site of the "Concert for George" and debut of "Ecce Cor Meum," as well as several Beatles concerts, not to mention thousands of other special events. Our meanderings through this beautiful city took us by the Natural History Museum, Kensington Palace and Gardens, Buckingham Palace (the Queen was in Scotland unfortunately), Harrods's (which was once opened at night for the Beatles only to do some private Christmas shopping!), Big Ben, Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and the Tower of London. We also saw the Bag o' Nails Pub where Paul McCartney met future wife Linda Eastman. It was a whirlwind trip but allowed many to take note of sites they'd like to visit later.
We arrived at the Thistle City Barbican, our home away from home in London, but did we take time to rest? No! It was off with Rene for a walking tour of London Beatles sites. After a quick Underground ride into the heart of the city we took in locations such as the Radha Krishna Temple in Soho. George Harrison was responsible for helping it come about. Next door is Govinda's restaurant which is a vegetarian restaurant in keeping with the practices of the temple. George funded both. We paused at MPL (McCartney Productions Limited), Paul's London office, Trident Studios (where much of the White Album was recorded), the Apollo Theatre where the boys performed, and 3 Saville Row, the former Apple office, where the "Rooftop Concert" was held. Looking up at that famous roof and imagining the music and the crowds that day gave many of us our first shiver of recognition and understanding of what this tour was all about!
We ended up at Piccadilly Circus and finally found our way back to the Thistle for some much-needed sleep! What a first day!
August 20, London
It was a bright and early back on the bus for a full day of Beatles sights in and around London. We started at the Hammersmith Theatre and the fire escape used by the Beatles in the "We're out!" scene in A Hard Day's Night.
Then it was on to beautiful Chiswick House and its surrounding gardens, used as the scenes for the "Paperback Writer" and "Rain" videos and several Beatles photo shoots. Some of the gardens were undergoing maintenance work but the workers generously allowed us behind the barricades for photo opportunities. We took one of our group photos here.
We stopped by the River Thames to view the area used for Ringo's "This Boy" river walk in A Hard Day's Night, and walked to the City Barge pub for lunch. At the pub several of us made friends with some local folks, one of whom bought Mary's hat right off her head for a hundred pounds!
We climbed back on the coach to visit the four attached houses used as the boys' homes in "Help!" We were joined by another tour guide with expertise in London rock 'n' roll related sites, who pointed out the house where Jimi Hendrix passed away, Jimmy Page's current home, the former Chelsea Drugstore, and many other locations of interest. We landed at Abbey Road studios and our chance for photos crossing the famous crosswalk! It was a challenge as it was 5:00pm traffic time and the cars were zipping by, but everyone got a chance to cross at least once (though some of us crossed MANY MORE times!).
Abbey Road crossing
Then we took a short walk to Paul McCartney's home on Cavendish Avenue. Finally we took a quick jaunt to the Beatles Store on Oxford Street (though some were lured into the Sherlock Holmes museum just across the street!).
Back we went to the Thistle with time only to change into our dancing shoes for the "Twist & Shout" dance party evening at London original Hard Rock Café. We were able to tour the Vault under the Hard Rock store, home to amazing rock memorabilia, such as John Lennon's green Army jacket and handwritten song lyrics. We then saw all the great Beatles memorabilia in the Café itself, where we enjoyed some dinner and then our gala dance party! We were joined by the last members of our tour, our Mexican Beatles fan contingent, who turned out to be party animals and dancing machines! With Danny as DJ we partied into the wee hours. To add to the excitement, Charles arrived to make our party complete, and we were also surprised by special guest Gordon Millings, the Beatles tailor. We could've danced and partied all night long!
Tourguides Danny, Charles and Rene
August 21, finally to Liverpool
We said goodbye to the Thistle and boarded the coach for our journey to Liverpool. We stopped for a peaceful and meaningful visit to Friar Park, George Harrison's home in Henley-on-Thames, and the topic of the song "Crackerbox Palace." We took many photos and paid our respects.
Peeking Inside Friar Park
We were able to stop in the village of Henley for lunch and exploration. It was Market Day in Henley so we were able to examine and purchase loads of unique items in a wonderful marketplace. Some of us also walked over to Dusty Springfield gravesight. What a thrill it was to pop into small shops and talk to people who had known George personally!
A Beautiful Summer Henley Afternoon
We continued the long and winding road to Liverpool - and before we knew it we arrived in the Promised Land! Along the way we watched rare Beatles video and had a great sing-along led by Dave Jay (more about him later). We piled out of the coach and checked into the grand Britannia Adelphi Hotel, our headquarters for the next several days. After obtaining our gold wristbands that allowed entry into the dozens of Beatle Week events, many of our group made an immediate beeline for the Cavern Club to experience its heat, beat, and wealth of Beatles history. For Mark, a highlight was "feeling the wall of heat as we descended into the Cavern Club!" The first of a plethora of bands was playing both the Cavern front and back into the night. Others of our group spread into the area's many restaurants and clubs to party, or relax and get ready for the days to come.
August 22, Liverpool
This Friday was our first day in Liverpool and we made the most of it. Some of us headed to the Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts (LIPA) where the preview of items for the Beatles auction was under way. What fun it is to hold and examine memorabilia that would, the next day, be sold for perhaps thousands of dollars! Other members of our group found their way to the Albert Docks and the Beatles Story museum. The museum has been expanded in recent months and now features individual displays dedicated to each of the Beatles. Several tears were wiped away in the final room featuring John Lennon's white piano and round glasses, with "Imagine" playing in the background. We cheered up upon discovering that we could present our stubs at the "From Me to You" shop in Cavern Walks for a free Beatles T-shirt courtesy of our tourguides and the shop's owner, Gary. Thanks mates! Other attractions around Liverpool featured the Liverpool Cathedral (breathtaking views from its tower), a Stu Sutcliffe retrospective at the lovely University of Liverpool Victoria Gallery, and a "Beat Goes On" display at the World Museum. Each tour group member managed to find his or her way to at least one of these attractions during our time in Liverpool. Those who wanted to stay near the Adelphi on this Friday weren't left out; as the "Hall of Fame" concert in the hotel ballroom featured a number of bands and celebrated the 25th anniversary of Cavern City Tours and Liverpool Productions!
Friday evening featured "The Gig the Beatles Never Gave" in the Adelphi Ballroom, headlining Argentina's tribute band 4! American English followed with a rocking show.
August 23, The Wirral
Saturday saw most of us ferrying across the Mersey for "I Am the Wirral," a day of music across the river from Liverpool. Featuring several bands on three stages, the Wirral festival gave us a look at a different side of Liverpool and introduced us to more of the musicians we would hear over the next several days. This was a first for BeatleWeek. Repeat travelers Jan and Ernie especially enjoyed Russian band "Back to the USSR" performing their version of "Something." A few of our group experienced the Beatles auction at LIPA, and some actually scored some fantastic purchases! A few remained on the Liverpool side and took in more of the action at the Cavern and other Liverpool attractions. Saturday evening featured entertainment by "Pepperland" at the Royal Court Theatre, who "peppered" their show with special guests and creative percussions and arrangements. Their boy-band-meets-The-Beatles tribute will be talked about for years to come!
August 24, Liverpool
Sunday is usually a day of rest but not for our crowd! We were up and on a mini-bus fairly early to tour John and Paul's boyhood homes. This tour was a highlight for many of us. At John's home we learned that John and Paul tried out new songs on the small, acoustically-sound sun porch; our mate Dave Jay (a professional actor/musician who has perfected each of the Beatles' accents for his off-Broadway and Fringe festival John/Paul/George/Ringo act) treated us to a humorous and brilliant imagined Lennon/McCartney conversation on that same porch! At Paul's house, tour guide John donned a Beatles wig and kept us laughing with wisecracks. It was amazing to examine the humble beginnings that helped to develop such massive talents and, as Kathy said, "see where they dreamed as kids."
Later, it was back to the true beginnings as we toured the Casbah Coffee Club. Hosted by Rory and Roag Best (brothers to Pete Best, former Beatles drummer), we were able to experience the earliest days of the Beatles. Rory showed us an array of rare and very special memorabilia, and we were able to view the "Aztec ceiling" painted by John Lennon, the "Rainbow ceiling" painted by Paul McCartney, and the stars painted on the ceiling by all of the band members. Rory's stories about the early days in the Casbah brought the site to life for us. We rejoiced in the fact that the Casbah is now a "listed building" meaning that it is protected and cannot be torn down or changed significantly from its historic state. Rory's personal tour made this very special for all of us, and, although it wasn't on our original itinerary (because Pete wasn't in the country and wouldn't be around), we're glad it was added to our schedule.
Outside The Cavern
In between tours we hit the International Beatles Convention at the Adelphi and marveled at the variety of memorabilia on sale. Everything from rare recordings to Beatles sneakers could be had! While the convention was going on, more bands were playing around the Adelphi, in the Cavern, and other locations in the city in preparation for the Mathew Street Music Festival. At the convention, along with live music, fans were treated to a video room, endless displays and some great special guests.
August 25, Mathew Street Music Festival
Imagine taking enough people to populate a fair-sized city, adding six stages featuring not only Beatles music but almost every musical genre you can think of, tossing in 95 bands from all around the world, and you can perhaps begin to imagine the Mathew Street Music Festival. Some of our tour group members roamed from stage to stage and took it all in; others stayed in one place and caught several different bands on the same stage. We all got a chance to see our favorite bands and listen to some new ones as well! After not hosting the Festival in 2007, it was back and bigger than ever. Our host, Charles F. Rosenay!!!, was also one of the hosts of the festival. He served as Master of Ceremonies (called a "compere" in the UK) for the Beatles main stage.
But even before the Festival kicked off, several of us joined Rene for a walking tour of some of the more common and obscure Beatles sites around Liverpool. This was another first. We visited the maternity hospital where John Lennon was born (NOT in the middle of a blitz as myth would have it, says Rene!), the registry office where John and Cynthia were married, and several sites where the boys lived at various times in their careers. We explored the area around LIPA and visited Ye Cracke, the pub where the boys would hoist a pint after their studies. The story is that the men's room in this pub is original to the glory days of the Beatles; unfortunately the pub was closed and we couldn't send the guys in to take pictures! Other locations included the Jacaranda club, the store where John, Cynthia, and Stu bought their art supplies, and several other clubs where the Beatles either played or hung out after playing.
Outside of LIPA
We ventured back to the Royal Court Theatre that evening to enjoy a great performance by American Beatles tribute group, The Fab Four. Bexx and Janine were front row center for this performance! The Fab Four aren't just one of the world's best Beatles tribute bands; they make you forget that you aren't actually seeing the boys live. After the show many of us headed back to the Adelphi to hang out with the members of The Fab Four, or to experience Hal Bruce's "Summer of Love" show which featured several of the performers from different bands performing songs from 1967. This assortment of performers had been "rehearsing via Email" as Hal put it, and the result was an amazing show.
August 26, Liverpool
We boarded the yellow Magical Mystery Tour bus for a full, daylong tour of Beatles sites around Liverpool. Our Liverpool guide Paul told us all the details of the spots we visited, from Strawberry Field to Penny Lane.
Nothing to Get Hung About
THE only Gates more famous than Bill Gates
We visited the birthplace of Ringo Starr (which sadly is about to be torn down), and Ringo's boyhood home, where we were invited inside by its current resident Miss Margaret. We spent a little time at St. Peter's Church, hosted by Graham Paisley and custodian Dave who showed us the very spot where Lennon and McCartney met as teenagers. Dave was there on that day and told great stories. In the churchyard we visited the graves of Eleanor Rigby and of Uncle George Smith, husband of John Lennon's Aunt Mimi. We were welcomed into St. Barnabas's Church in Penny Lane; at this church Paul McCartney was a choirboy. After taking some time in Penny Lane for lunch and photos, it was on to George Harrison's boyhood home, and then across to the Wirral. The Wirral was beautiful. Tree covered roads and lush vegetation…absolutely beautiful. We visited Paul's home in Heswall on the Wirral…we tromped through the bushes to try to get a better shot of the house. It was pretty funny to watch everyone.
We then ventured into the country to the Barnston Women's Institute, where the ladies hosted us. What does the Institute have to do with the Beatles? The Institute's Hall was the site of a Beatles performance in the early days! In fact, it was the first place they wore their proper collarless jackets (as designed by Dougie Millings, Gordon's Dad). The Barnston Women's Institute was warm and welcoming with tea, biscuits and juice waiting for us along with Beatles articles and memorabilia. Our own Jack sat at the piano and played us a rousing rendition of "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Let it Be" then Tom and his granddaughter, Laura (she's 13) played "Imagine"…it was a great time and a beautiful location.
Finally, we were invited to attend a "Civil Reception" at Liverpool Town Hall with the Lord Mayor, Steven Rotherham. He addressed us and shared his love and connection to the Beatles. Carol enjoyed meeting the Lord Mayor and showing him her Liverpool 08 card! Charles and his company Liverpool productions were feted for his 25 years of bringing people to the city to honor the legacy of the Beatles. We were greeted warmly with tea and biscuits, and had a very exclusive group photo taken on the balcony where the lads waved to the crowd below when A Hard Day's Night opened. Until the Beatles, only royalty was allowed on the balcony. We were honored with a tour of the elegant Town Hall (built in 1755); many of us were interested to find that the staircase was replicated in the movie "Titanic."
Charles on Liverpool Town Hall staircase
Charles & the Lord Mayor Flanked by our Tour Group
We ended the day back at the Cavern Pub where our own Dave Jay entertained (he had played the Cavern Club on previous nights). It was great fun to see Dave morph into each of the individual Beatles while handling difficult questions from his audience!
Dave Jay performs as John/Paul/George/Ringo
It was our final night in Liverpool, but it was far from over. We partied in the Cavern well into the night, enjoying music from Badfinger's Joey Molland and from the Overtures. And a couple of us were lucky enough to see our own Rory exhibit some killer dance moves at The Grapes! By the way, during the week, The Grapes was the place to see two of The Beatles' promoters, Sam Leach and Allan Williams.
August 27, back to London
Alas, once again it was time to pack our bags and board our coach back to London. It was difficult to leave Liverpool but we all carried many wonderful memories away with us. A 60's sing-along on the coach, led by Dave on guitar, had us remembering the lyrics to songs by Dylan, the Beach Boys, and others! Once in London several of us headed into the city for shows or restaurants while others elected to stay at our hotel for a late-night talk fest (a great chance to relax after a great trip, and reminisce about all we accomplished and how our dreams came true).
August 28, London and onward
Thursday morning found us with several hours before our flights back home. Several of us took the short taxi ride to Windsor Castle, where we viewed the Changing of the Guard (and Mary and Nanci coaxed a smile from a bobby with an attitude!). The village of Windsor was beautiful with so many shops and restaurants - we agreed that we would all like to return one day. Others shopped, but most slept in late.
Laura at Windsor Castle
And then it was time to say goodbye! We bade farewell to England and then to each other, but we know it's just a matter of time before we will see each other again at one Beatles event or another. As Alexandro and Molly said, it was great to "be in this trip with a bunch of such fine people." Many of us started making plans for our return!
Thanks to Charles, Danny, Rene, and everyone else who made this trip so special. And, to quote Michele: "Liverpool Forever!"