By Rick Sallinger
LIVERPOOL, England. (CBS) – In the English city where they were born and rose to fame, tourists can take a trip back in time to meet “The Beatles.”
For those who have lived their lives to a soundtrack of The Beatles, a trip to Liverpool is like making a pilgrimage.
My flight from Denver last month took me first to London. When I think of the Beatles, that inevitably leads my mind to an image permanently etched inside my brain. It’s the album cover photo of John, Paul, George and Ringo strolling across Abbey Road. So off I went to that famous crossing in northwest London.
You can tell you are at the right place by all the other Beatles fans getting their photos taken in the street while hoping not to get run over.
That crossing is right by a white building which, not coincidentally, is the Abbey Road recording studios. On this day I had to settle for just watching a few unrecognizable musicians wandering in and out.
There is now a gift shop in an adjacent building conveniently located to help you unload your British pounds.
Being in London also makes me think of 1969, when the Beatles performed their famous concert on a rooftop of a building in the center of town.
Everything was going fine on my timetable for the planned 2 1/2 hour train ride from London to Liverpool. Then someone had the misfortune of crossing the tracks at the exact same time as a train on that line and was struck.
All trains were canceled as Euston station became an elbow-to-elbow sea of passengers with nowhere to go.
The tracks were shut down for three hours. When my train finally was called it was like a stampede of buffaloes to the platform to be able to find a seat on a car.
I passed the time on the ride listening to an audio book about the early years of The Beatles. It detailed how they overcame hardships and poverty to achieve their amazing success.
Due to my late arrival in Liverpool, I quickly checked into a hotel, changed, and got directions for the 10 minute walk down Whitechapel towards the Cavern Club. It’s on Matthew Street, which is a pedestrian mall filled with bars blaring music. Near the end was a yellow sign reading “Cavern Club.”
Reaching my destination I walked down the stairs with anticipation. I asked myself, “Would this be my trip back in time into that black and white film of The Beatles performing here that I have seen so often or a big letdown?”
I paid the £4 ($5.20) entry fee and began to smile. I was walking into where so much history was made in the era where my musical tastes are hopelessly stuck.
On the wall you can’t miss a bright yellow poster dated October 31, 1965 advertising “A great night of musical pop art with The Who.”
The Beatles played this club some 300 times. Now I was finally going to catch their act, kind of. I had carefully planned this trip around this night’s live entertainment because it featured a Beatles tribute band.
At about 10:45 p.m. “The Beatles” strummed their first chords and the party was underway. The band members wore wigs and sounded close enough to the original “Fab Four” for me. Everyone started dancing and singing along. People from different countries gathered together here were suddenly best friends for a night united in Beatles harmony.
Three very friendly “gents” from Liverpool asked me where I was from. I must have provided the right answer because they wouldn’t let me buy a drink for myself the rest of the night.
On the cramped stage the band’s repertoire was strictly early Beatles. “Please Mr. Postman,” “Ticket to Ride” and so many more. They performed into the early morning hours.
This trip into the past came to a close with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” My Liverpool friends kindly asked me if I wanted join them at a casino, but by then I was two ciders over my personal limit and had an important item on my schedule (pronounced there as shed-ule) in the morning.
The “Magical Mystery Tour” came to take me away at 11 a.m. departing from the Albert Dock.
As that song played on the tour bus we headed first to Ringo Starr’s home. He was known as Richard Starkey back then.
The area was extremely poor and referred to as “The Dingle.” The tour guide told how he replaced drummer Pete Best, who had performed hundreds of gigs. Best went on to become a job center manager. Fortunately, he made some good money when his work with the Beatles was placed on an anthology album.
For two hours we also visited John, Paul and George’s onetime homes and listened to their music. The highlight for me was driving up Penny Lane, staring out at the sites mentioned in the lyrics such as “the shelter in the middle of the roundabout” (now a vacant pub and restaurant) and look, there’s shop where the barber shaves another customer.
Penny Lane was now in my heart too at least for a few minutes, then we arrived at Strawberry Field where “nothing is real, nothing to get hung about.”
It’s a graffiti-filled red gate leading to a not-so-large outdoor area at the Salvation Army children’s home.
We stopped briefly at St. Peter’s church where John and Paul met in 1957 when John was playing with the Quarrymen. There’s a cemetery where Eleanor Rigby could have been buried if she had been real.
Making our way back to central Liverpool we drove by the magnificent Liverpool Cathedral where the tour guide told us Paul had failed his audition to get into the choir.
Stories like that of the Beatles’ lives have filled many books. Since a time machine doesn’t yet exist, this, for me, this was the closest I could come to living in an important part of Beatles history.