Wednesday, 6 October 2010

My (truly) magical mystery tour

Roll up, roll up!!!

What is it that makes Britain great?

Our history, our people, our influence on the rest of the world and, of course, our culture all score highly when you ask foreigners what they like about these islands.
Perhaps the best thing of all about that cultural offering is that it covers a huge, diverse, range of talent – from Shakespeare to JK Rowling. Plus, of course, we can also claim to be the rightful heirs to the throne of pop music. And it is one band above all that gave us that (now prized) cultural crown.
Yes, The Beatles. Go anywhere on this planet and people immediately know who you’re referring to when you say ‘John, Paul, George and Ringo’. Start whistling the tune of A Hard Day’s Night and you could find yourself in a duet in the most unlikely of countries because The Beatles are that rare artistic phenomenon – they are bigger than the genre they represent.

As a serious and very enthusiastic music lover, I always wanted to know more about the ‘four boys that shook the world’ and so it is with a little bit of shame that I have to admit that it was only a few weeks ago that I finally became a day tripper and went on a magical mystery tour to the city of Liverpool to have my Beatles day.
And it truly was a day I shall cherish.

Yes, I had to drive my car four hours each way on something of a long and winding road but it was still a day in the life of this music fan that will never be forgotten.

Not only had I never really ‘done’ The Beatles before (see shame above), but this was also my first real encounter with Liverpool. I had been to Aintree to see the Grand National but that didn’t really count. Indeed it gave me a slightly jaundiced view of the city in that every woman I encountered up there seemed to be, err, well, orange.

Liverpool as a city, however, isn’t orange – but it isn’t black and white either. Parts of it does look deprived and lacking in community ‘TLC’ but other areas are genuinely surprising, unusual and intriguing. It’s probably like every other major city in Britain – you shouldn’t take it at face value and it is worth learning more.
And that is why I will certainly be back to do so because I came away fascinated by what I’d seen.

But this wasn’t really a trip to discover Liverpool – this was a trip to ‘do The Beatles in a day’ and to see if I could cover all the best bits in a few hours. Well, I think I did and I would happily urge anybody who wants to follow the greatest story in rock and roll history to follow my lead.
Essentially I concentrated on the two major Beatles-orientated attractions for visitors – The Beatles Story museum and the Magical Mystery Tour bus ride.

The museum is situated in the spectacular Albert Dock area which is full of museums, exhibitions, shops and places to eat and drink. I will definitely visit it again because I’m hugely impressed with what the team have done to the docks to make it a brilliant day trip destination in itself.
As for The Beatles Story it is clearly an integral part of the dock complex and is a truly inspiring place to visit.
Let’s be honest, because this band is so loved by people all around the world, you could open any kind of museum in Liverpool, slap The Beatles’ name on it and it would be a success.
You almost don’t have to try.
For that reason, the fact that the museum not only tries but excels and constantly delights is to the credit of everyone involved.
Millions of pounds have been spent to get this just right and the attention to detail and the general feel and look of the museum is first class.

The idea is that you walk through the band’s history listening to an audio guide narrated by John Lennon’s sister Julia which includes other contributions from the band members themselves.

You see never-before-published photos, original memorabilia and lots of other fascinating displays about people the band knew and places they visited. It really fleshes out what life must have been like as four young working class boys suddenly became the most famous people on the planet.
I particularly liked their recreation of the original Cavern and also a thoughtful area dedicated to each of the four members of the band and their own particular interests but I suspect every single part of the museum will have its own fans. Even children have their own sections and special facilities – including a skilful and playful recreation of the inside of a yellow submarine.
The general impression is that the museum believes – as millions of other people do – that this is the best band in pop history and hence they deserve the best possible tribute. And I think they have achieved that goal.
Two or three hours in the museum and we were then ready for the second major part of the day – the Magical Mystery Tour bus ride. This is on an old, well lived-in coach which would probably have fitted very nicely into the sixties movie it’s named after and it takes you to all the key points and places in the band’s history.
The global nature of the Fab Four’s appeal was perfectly illustrated when our charming host asked people to identify where they came from. There were people from just about every pocket of the world and we soon realised we were sitting by people from Iowa to one side and even more remarkably in my opinion, to a family from Siberia on the other. I’d never met anybody from Siberia before but to hear a man talking about our Beatle songs as if they were his own showed just what an impact this band made. For yes, their tunes even permeated through the Iron Curtain and were deemed so dangerous by the authorities they tried to block them. Unsuccessfully.

The tour took us to the childhood homes of all the band members and there was time to pop off and be photographed at iconic places – in front of Paul McCartney’s old home for example, next to Penny Lane and at Strawberry Fields – and it was a truly fascinating journey which brought the museum story we’d seen a couple of hours earlier even more to life.
The bus ride ends in the place which every Beatles fan wants to visit – Mathew Street, the home of The Cavern. Although it was re-developed some time ago, The Cavern itself is still an amazing place to visit and to walk down into the bowels of the building to discover it and think of the history that was created there is an absolute joy.
So, there you have it. With a little help from my friends in the Liverpool tourist industry I was able to enjoy my ticket to ride on a truly inspiring journey into the city where the Beatles are here, there and everywhere.
It is a long journey but this was one long day trip I didn’t mind because there’s a place which every Beatles fan should visit at least once in their life – and that is this remarkable city which really honours and respects the band that helps keep it on the world map.

All you need is love. And a tankful of petrol.

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