Monday, December 4, 2015
Wiinter being a slow time at our marina in ipswich, we decided to explore more of Great Britain, this time heading NNW towards Liverpool and environs.
But, before we landed on the west coast of England we wanted to catch a glimpse of one of our favorite people, Stephanie Green. We had met Steph in English Harbor along the Turkish coast in the summer of 2003; and, ever since we’d been in touch including several visits, one in the U.S. where her travels drew her from Mexico to Maine with her faithful pup, Muneca, and then, again, in London in 2010.
The reunion occurred just down from her place of employment. Hugs abound and a too-brief reunion, one we hope to expand upon next time we’re together.
After leaving Steph we made it to our destination in spite of several mis-turns during Liverpool’s rush-hour traffic. With backpacks loaded we headed to our hotel and then began our exploration of this city at night. Determined to hear some music while here we decided to check out a Mumford & Sons concert. Unfortunately, the scalped ticket price seemed a bit high so we ended up fortifying ourselves with a picnic dinner of chicken that goes round-and-round and a salad. A bit odiferous of an elevator ride to our room (one my sister knows since we did this in 2000 in a much fancier hotel…). Afterwards back to the streets where it seemed all the bars shilled live music and free shots. We visited the small iconic Cavern Club, site of many of The Beatles early concerts, then called it a night.
Tuesday, December 8
Of course one of the major draws of Liverpool are The Beatles’ roots. Opting for a magical mystery bus tour along with ten others, we were driven to various historical sites:
Penny Lane (Paul’s tribute to his childhood neighborhood)
and its sung landmarks…
“Penny Lane there is a barber showing photographs …”
“In Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass …”
“Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout …”
John lived from age 5 to 22 with his aunt and uncle in the house below (John’s room was in the upper left). Our tour guide, who personally knew the Beatles, offered interesting background such as how John’s mom was killed on the street in front of this home by an off-duty policeman who didn’t yet have his driving license, who John came to believe was drunk. Charges against the officer were subsequently dropped, and our tour guide suggested this was a major factor in John becoming disdainful and distrustful of the Establishment.
Paul and his family lived just around the corner from John. It is estimated that the two of them wrote more than 100 songs here (not all of them published):
We re-boarded our tour bus at the same stop where Paul would actually ‘get up…and catch the bus.’
We also drove to George’s childhood home (the smallest of them all), and, I believe, one of the poorest (no inside plumbing at one of his family homes)
And, the bar on the corner where Ringo and his mom lived, and for which he named his first album: “Sentimental Journey.”
Many of the Beatles’ songs include references to all of these landmarks, such as the orphanage for girls off John’s back yard named Strawberry Fields. Aunt Mimi would tell John “if you get caught sneaking in there to spy on the girls, you’ll be hanged…” John’s reply in verse: “Nothing to get hung about.” This is also where John sang “No one I think, is in my tree …” He sees himself as different, outside the mainstream.
All during our tour guide’s patter and landmark views I couldn’t shake a feeling of melancholy. Our tour coinciding with the anniversary of Lennon’s death in 1980 may have contributed to an underpinning of sadness; yet, the feeling came from more than a single moment in time. In retrospect I believe it’s visiting sites that are part of my time in life. I grew up with The Beatles, watched them on The Ed Sullivan Show, listened to their songs all through high school and college and then some, and still catch sight of Paul and Ringo on TV during nostalgic flashbacks.
So, driving down memory lanes led to reflecting on my own childhood. And, to be looking back versus forward also meant remembering a time filled with people who are no longer with me. I guess the short answer to this source of melancholy was I felt old, something I avoid when possible. Yet, here I sat on a bus reliving a part of my generation. An odd sensation.
Among all of the interesting tidbits shared by our bus host two stood out to me: one, what great musicians these guys were; and, two, just how much they were like ‘boys next door.’ I mean, I could actually visualize how they formed their band. What also helped later with that impression was a documentary Carol E., a friend of ours recommended, called GOOD ‘OLE FRIDA. That movie really drove home the boyhood spirits of The Beatles.
But, enough of that! After hopping off the bus we made a beeline for one of Liverpool’s excellent museums: The Merseyside Maritime Museum.
Located on the River Mersey at the Albert Dock this museum includes other informative displays, including the International Slavery Museum and exhibits on two tragic cruise liners: the Titanic and the Luisitania.
The International Slavery Museum came to be due to Liverpool atoning for its horrific part in the slave trade. As some historians say, the city was built on the backbone of slavery, and Liverpool decided to shine the light on their past as a way to educate, versus whitewash, this heritage.
During the 1700 and 1800’s this port city served as the place for slave ships to offload raw goods produced by slave labor (sugar, tobacco, coffee and cotton) and load up on finished goods (textiles, copper, brass and guns among the bulk of the cargo) before sailing to the west coast of Africa. In the early 1700s a total of 15 ships left Liverpool as part of this trade triangle. By 1750 it had grown to over 100 ships.
Over 1.5 million Africans were transported by Liverpudian ships. This trade created huge wealth for many, including James Penny. Rich merchants populated the city resulting in quite a few streets carrying their names.
In 2006 protests sprung up demanding the street named for James Penny, Penny Lane, be renamed due to its association with slavery; however, for most people the street name was linked to The Beatles, an important tourist draw. So, in lieu of changing the name the city opted to focus on expanding its popular 1994 Transatlantic Slavery Gallery. This world-class museum was opened in 2007 documenting Liverpool’s involvement in the odious slave trade.
The International Slave Museum provides a thorough history of the slave trade beginning with various shipping routes per colonizer: from Europe to West Africa to the New World (the Caribbean and the Americas). From there exhibits depict the agony of human transport and further inhumane treatment on plantations. Along the way one can hear live interviews given by individuals whose ancestors were involved in the slave trade. Lest we think this has all ended, the museum reminds visitors human trafficking continues today.
With those sobering images and voices in our heads, we walked to another part of the Maritime Museum, one covering the 1912 sinking of the TITANIC …
Clothes worn by a survivor during the Titanic sinking:
Titanic artifacts pulled up from the seabed:
…and another part of the museum covering the 1915 torpedoing of the LUISITANIA. Each of these liners represented the height of luxury for two competing companies: the White Star owned by the J.P. Morgan’s conglomerate International Mercantile Marine Co. (IMM), and the Cunard bolstered by loans from the British government to ensure a foothold on the transatlantic cruise line industry. The displays were fairly brief but still interesting. (If anyone would like to read more on LUISITANIA, check out Eric Larson’s DEAD WAKE.)
With minds buzzing from factual overload we decided to return to our rooms, grabbing another picnic dinner. We planned our next day’s activities, then crashed for the night.
Wednesday, December 9
With Max still interested in more Beatles history, he headed off to The Beatles Story, a separate exhibit. He was fascinated by their early history and tried to figure out how they broke out from being a popular local band to becoming a global force. As Max related “they were good, but so were many other bands in Liverpool. Their stint in Hamburg helped them become performers (rather than just musicians) when the audience repeatedly told them to “act, don’t just sing.” They had some lucky breaks: a friend of a friend got them in to meet so and so, who got them in to meet so and so. Eventually, after several rejections, they were introduced to George Martin. Had he known that other producers had already rejected them, George said he would not have bothered to hear them play. And his first observation was that their music was OK, but not exceptional. What he did notice, though, was something very magnetic in their personalities. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
The front page of Liverpool’s music magazine from 1962:
Meanwhile I explored the Tate Liverpool museum, both back on the waterfront where we were the previous day.
To me modern art can engender either a ‘WOW’ factor or an ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ snort, and the exhibits here caused both of the above along with a ‘glad I saw it, no need to do so again’ thought. The WOW response occurred during the viewing of a traveling Matisse exhibit. Four bronzes, the artist’s largest sculptures and cast posthumously in 1955-6, chart Matisse’s migration from more realistic to more abstract versions of a model’s back, “Nu de Dos”. Definitely imposing, informative and beautiful.
From those I wandered up several floors with an interesting concept for displaying art: Constellation Exhibits where the curator selected one artist who then influenced others. I actually recognized some of the artists but must say the more modern, the more I made ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ snorts. By the end of one exhibit showcasing five folded blankets I realized my snorts were becoming audible and definitely not attractive.
Fortunately I arrived in front of a piece by the sculptor Dame Barbara Hepworth and could happily stop snorting and give a grunt of satisfaction. Her ‘Single Form’, a monolithic piece out of brass, showcased the connection between nature and surrealism; and, I especially appreciated her belief that “… every person looking at a sculpture should use his own body. You can’t look at a sculpture if you are going to stand stiff as a ram rod and stare at it, with a sculpture you must walk around it, bend toward it… “.
Frankly, some of the best art were the framed views glimpsed through large windows in each gallery.
The last floor I toured showcased a special exhibit called “An Imagined Museum”. It wasn’t the best use of my British pounds BUT have to say every time I’m in front of such art I have a friend’s admonishment in my head reminding me that, although this may look easy, it’s not. With that I finished my snorting and grunts, left the floors and rewarded myself with a cup of luxurious, non-instant coffee while sitting in the lovely museum cafe and gazing through to Albert Dock’s inner harbor.
Meeting up with Max at the Museum of Liverpool we toured it together, walking through the city’s history.
At one point I stopped at a plaster footprint of one of the area’s earliest inhabitants from 4,000-6,000 years ago only to note it had the second and third toes stuck together. Made me feel at home considering I have the same on both feet as did my father and my mother’s mother and also a first cousin’s son. Reminded me of another excellent book, a historical novel written by Edward Rutherford called SARUM. The tale covers a swath of English history, beginning with inhabitants with web toes. (Note: Unlike fingers, there is no extra skin webbing so I prefer ‘stuck together’ as the correct descriptor for my trait… ).
Then Max decided to see yet more Beatlemania while I preferred to stroll around the city. I must say Liverpool, for both of us, was a surprise. I had expected a much more industrial city, grimy and time-worn. What we found was a beautiful city with striking new architecture amidst lovely renovated buildings.
The docks, of which Albert Dock was only one of many, offered visitors plenty of education thanks to the museums strung along the river bank. Better yet, most of them were free, which always makes a city tour easier.
When walking along the waterfront you can’t help but notice the Royal Liver Building with its two, huge birds on top. These birds, called Liver Birds, have become the city’s symbol. The closest actual representation of a Liver Bird is the Cormorant. (When I asked the Tourist Office about the building, he kindly corrected me using a long “i” for “Liver”. That made more sense to me for I couldn’t understand why someone would want to have a city symbol named after a body organ. ) Also, the city had just unveiled a new Beatles statue, another famous symbol for Liverpool…
My last foray before meeting Max at the hotel was a visit to the Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, the longest one in the world, the fifth-largest, and, just to throw in another superlative (as if you care), one of the world’s tallest, non-spired church building. Had enough? Me, too. This cathedral is also where Paul auditioned but didn’t get a position as a choirboy (his voice wasn’t good enough). One more interesting cathedral fact: it was designed by Giels Scott who won the 1903 competition at age 22.
Right next door was the entrance to Liverpool’s Chinatown, which we didn’t explore but did appreciate the colors.
Discovering that the Annual Carol Concert would be held later that evening, I hurried back to our room where I mentioned it to Max. He also wanted to hear the music; so, we ran back only to find out we were two hours early. Off we went to dinner returning just in time to find seats next to a family with two young children. The boy who must have been around ten had his ears plugged and leaned forward in his seat as protest for most of the night. Obviously not a big fan of church music. Must say I would have joined him during the last reader’s presentation. The guy who was one of the sponsors of the concert probably doesn’t get a chance to talk much. On and on and ON he went. Finally someone must have performed the universal signal of hand slicing the throat for he finally left the podium. You could feel the overwhelming thank-the-lord sighs emanate from the audience, mine being one of the loudest, no doubt.
Still in search of more music Max and I scouted out several haunts for live acoustics. Unfortunately, nothing really panned out; however, our visits to three different bars only reinforced the enchantment of Liverpool with no small thanks to the young folk who appeared happy to sincerely help us in our search.
Thursday, December 10
Our last day in Liverpool found us revisiting the church where John and Paul first met
The day John Lennon met Paul McCartney:
and the graveyard where Max spotted an “Eleanor Rigby” who certainly couldn’t have been that lonely considering how many relatives surrounded her.
Then driving a bit further to the Casbah Coffee Club in the suburb of West Derby.
Unfortunately, the latter required a pre-booked tour, so we were unable to get inside the place which Paul said The Beatles really felt was the site of their roots as a band. Surprisingly, in spite of a tour fee of £15 each the place itself looked scummy, more in tune with how I thought most of The Beatles’ Liverpool would have been. Trust me, the photo below puts a really good face on it:
By now we were Beatled out and ready for the beautiful of Wales and hopefully another reunion with some more cruisers.
Onward and westward we drove our faithful sleigh. (Sorry, had to throw in some holiday musings…)