Liverpool: Home of the Beatles

Strawberry Field
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Liverpool is known for many things. A port city with popular docks along the waterfront, the Echo Wheel and the birthplace of the most famous band in the world. The doors leading you into the Cavern Club take you back to where it all started 50 years ago.

"This is where the Beatles were born," said Alison Morison.

The Cavern Club is a recreation of the original venue where the Fab Four played for the first time on February 9, 1961 and would played so many times before hitting it big.

"292 times to be exact," said musician Jimmy Coburn who plays John Lennon in the Beatles tribute band. "I try to embody what John would be like. Get that vibe across. We normally start with I want to hold your hands. So, when we kick off with that, it's a big intro, it gets everyone going," said Coburn.

"To hear the songs will be fantastic. Won't be the Beatles but to hear the songs gets you dancing, gets you singing, puts a smile on your face," said Morison.

"I've come in here tonight and feeling the Beatles around you, looking at that stage, where they actually performed brings back hysteria to me," said Susan Hunt. "I've known the Beatles since I was a baby. I have older sisters and they followed the Beatles, so I've always been a Beatles fan," said Hunt.

A pilgrimage to Liverpool includes stops at the places made famous in Beatles songs. Occasionally, tourists show up at Penny Lane or Strawberry Field where words and tributes are scrawled onto the gate. Even for those who grew up in Liverpool, it is a powerful experience.

"To stand outside Strawberry Field and say, 'my God', that's what John's singing about. You go to Penny Lane, you go to Mendips, and you think John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It still means a lot, even in Liverpool," said Coburn. 

Not far away, taxis filled with Beatles fans pull up in front of a house where a legend lived.

"He came as a child, five years old in 1945 but he lived here until he was 23 in 1963. So, this spans John's childhood, his adolescence, his teenage years, and as a young adult. He lives half his life in this house. This is the formative John Lennon you get here," said Colin Hall who is the custodian of Mendips.

"As a little boy, he loved to play in the garden. He had three friends that lived on Vale Road. Ivan Vaughn, who will one day introduce John to Paul McCartney, Peter Shelton who with John will form his first band, the Quarrymen, the band Paul will join. And Nigel Whalley, who played briefly in the Quarrymen but then became their manager. Ivan's house was just beyond the big poplar tree. They liked to play Cowboys and Indians. John called his friends the outlaws. They didn't want Mimi to know what they were doing. John would climb wall and drop into the grounds of Strawberry Field," said Hall. "There's a sandstone wall even to this day and John and the boys would climb that and when they did, they'd drop down into the grounds of Strawberry Field. So, nothing is real," said Hall.

"We've recreated Mendips. What you see around here is very accurate. We know Mimi had yellow Formica because eyewitnesses have told us. We knew there was a drying rack. (Lennon's cousin) and other members donated family photographs. Mimi take in lodgers who would pay rent for a bed. About 1947 to 1962, nearly all the time John lived here, there were lodgers. Many were students from University of Liverpool. The city was devastated by bombing in World War II. Everyone remembers coming in the back door," said Hall.

Channel 13 cameras were given extraordinary access to Lennon's boyhood home. Our visit was approved by Yoko Ono who bought the home and donated it to the National Trust.

"This is what's called the morning room. Aunt Mimi was keeping the front of the room for special occasions. They'd sit in there in the evening. John loved the radio," said Hall. "And he would sit in here and listen to the radio and sit at the table and draw. John would say don't throw those (drawings) away because one day I'll be famous and they'll be worth a lot of money," said Hall.

"When John was 11, in the UK, they don't have 3 tiered exams. You either go to a grammar school, or secondary modern school. He passed a test and went to Quarry Bank High School for boys. Walton was famous for its quarries and that's why John's band was called the Quarrymen," said Hall.

On the wall on the main floor is believed to be the last photo of Lennon in school in 1957. He is 16. The picture was taken two months before he meets Paul McCartney. Also on the wall is a swimming certificate that Lennon earned after swimming 250 yards and a report card where a teacher has written the following notes.

"His oral work is good. His written work is good. But, he chatters too much."

"In 1952, Mimi had the kitchen extended. Little did she realize she was creating an echo chamber and John when he starts to play the guitar and sing, he realizes in here there's a really good reverb. He and Paul call it their echo chamber. Paul would come here in the summer of 1957, to hear songs that John had written and they would do that in his bedroom. But where they like to rehearse is in here because of the echo, the reverb. Paul said we called it our echo chamber," said Hall.

"He said we particularly liked to sing 'Blue Moon' by Elvis in here and of course, if you listen to 'Blue Moon', Elvis is just experimenting with reverb, with echo. I think John used to stand with his back to this door. Paul would stand here. And they would close the door and they would get this great sound," said Hall.

"If you listen to John as a Beatle or a solo artist, you know he liked the echo on his vocals. Didn't really like the sound of his own voice unless it was treated. And in here you can hear the sound he liked his voice to have - the reverb," said Hall.

"John was a voracious reader, having 3 to 4 books on the go. The book that had the greatest impact on him was "through the Looking Glass" by Lewis Carroll. If you read Lewis Carroll and hear a song like "I am the Walrus", you can hear the influence of Lewis Carroll. He wrote the poem, the "Jabberwocky" which is nonsense. John liked that because of the sound of the words. It might not mean anything, but for John, it was very exciting because they inspired his imagination," said Hall.

This is the home where Lennon practiced with the band that preceded the Beatles.

When John formed the Quarrymen, his auntie allowed John to bring the boys back on Sunday afternoon to rehearse. The drummer would sit in the window, Paul arrived at he house, it's here where John and Paul and the Quarrymen would sing and play for the first time. Paul went to a different school called the institute. He met John through Ivan who lived at the back of the house went to the Institute. He knew both John and Paul. So, Ivan brings the two boys together and through Paul, George will start coming to Mendips. George was at school with Paul. So by March of 1958, we've got John, Paul, George and the other Quarrymen rehearsing in this room. There's kind of history in this room," said Hall.

"Welcome to John's bedroom. This is for me and everybody that comes to this house, is the room because this is John's room for 18 years that he lived here. He loved it. It was his special place. He told his wife, Yoko Ono-Lennon that this was the room, it was this space that he did his dreaming as a youngster growing up," said Hall.

Lennon was influenced by Elvis Presley and played his first songs on a mail-order Gallotone Champion Guitar.

"Very cheap guitars, guaranteed not to split. This is the same, make and model, the same color. An original Gallotone. That's what he'd be playing when Paul McCartney would come to the church in July 1957, to hear the Quarrymen sing 'come go with me,'" said Hall.

"This room is a special place because when he gets his guitar, this is where he's going to start writing songs, like 'Hello Little Girl', 'Please, Please Me', and it was written in here," said Hall.

"I used to come over every weekend. I escaped every weekend from my parents and came here, he was here most of the time," said John Lennon's 65 year-old cousin Mike Cadwallader who still lives in Liverpool. "We rarely saw him once they did go big because it was an amazing worldwide thing. Whenever there was a concert in Liverpool, the family would gather here and John would be here. And we'd all go down to the Empire, which is the place they usually played in those days."

Cadwallader is still amazed by the number of fans who still visit Lennon's home.

"He went on beyond the Beatles. His peace and his campaigns, things in America. That seems to have really stuck in people's memories and they still come here. To pay homage is a funny thing, you do get people who are honestly in tears, but equally, we get people who say 'wow he was a great guy and it's good to see where it all started,'" said Cadwallader.

Fans also visit Paul McCartney's boyhood home at 20 Forthlin Road where the singer lived between 1955-1963. Shortly after moving into the home, his mother died of breast cancer. Paul McCartney was 14 at the time.

"It really is one of the most important of the Beatles connections within the city. Here they wrote about 100 of their early really raunchy rock and roll records. They wrote 'I saw her standing there' which became one of their big hits. It really is quite significant," said Sylvia O'Malley who provided us a tour of McCartney's former residence.

O'Malley says the first meeting between Lennon and McCartney did not go well.

"John had a few beers in the afternoon and when he asked Paul 'what did you think of me group?' Paul told him, 'your guitar was out of tune and you didn't remember the words of the song,'" said O'Malley.

"John Lennon wasn't really the kind of boy who took criticism very easily. Very dodgy start to their first meeting. Paul took the guitar from John, turned it upside down and tuned it and he sang the full 20 verses of the hit song of the moment. Which was Eddie Cochran's "20 Flight Rock". Secretly, John was very impressed by this, and so a couple of weeks later when this mutual friend, Ivan suggested to John that Paul McCartney was going to start his own group, John thought about it. Paul was very good looking. He could remember words. He could tune guitars, and rather than set up in competition, it would be a very good idea if he joined his group and so that's how (the Quarrymen) happened," said O'Malley.

"When John and Paul became friends, they spent many of their early days together here in this house," said O'Malley. "They were from totally different worlds. John had a very privileged childhood whereas Paul grew up without his mum, and that was another thing they had in common, because John lost his mom when he was 17 and Paul has already been through that trauma when he was much younger. Paul came from a close loving family. But John was a child that had been given away, a child that had been rejected. He carried a huge chip on his shoulders all his years growing up, Very tough on the outside, but inside he was marshmallow," said O'Malley.

When the McCartney's moved out of 20 Forthlin Road, another family moved in and lived there 31 years. No one currently lives in the house. McCartney's former home was purchased by the National Trust in 1995. Visitors can book tours and go inside the home but cameras are not allowed. Interestingly enough. McCartney has not been back inside.

"Paul's made a couple of attempts but found that no one was here to open the door," said O'Malley.