There's a major Beatles anniversary in a few weeks' time; 50 years since the release of Love Me Do, the band's first hit. To be fair, most months see a major Beatles anniversary now. And Beatles fans are the sort of people inclined to celebrate them. Beatles worship is a profoundly sentimental activity, bitter-sweet at its soft centre; celebratory but sad. Everyone involved was young during an age that was exceptionally golden, a fact the music celebrated. As the man sang, yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away -
This has always made the prospect of visiting Liverpool rather daunting. It was a one-trick town, and anyone not partial to the Fab Four found little to detain them. It's 15 years since I was last in Liverpool and I remember it as a demoralised and chippy sort of place, where everyone was sick to the back teeth with the city's role in the nativity of the four superstars who went south as soon as they decently could.
A lot has happened in Liverpool since, though; the kind of rethink Glasgow had 25 years back. Investment and regeneration agencies built a shiny new Liverpool on the stumps of the old, featuring an outpost of the Tate, a Museum of Liverpool Life and the mammoth sci-fi Echo Arena centre. Your feelings towards all this depend on your attitude to service industry economies and the influence of design consultancies. As with Glasgow, though, there is something ineradicably impish at Liverpool's core. Bits of the city look like the Luftwaffe left five minutes ago. Other bits out-gleam Las Vegas. But nothing can redevelop its soul; or the chirpy menace and obsessive civic pride in the hearts of all true Liverpudlians.
Of course, The Beatles remain centre stage: bigger, in fact, than they ever were. Liverpool has made its peace with them and takes the tourist shilling with better grace than before. This month it scarcely has a choice. For three decades the city has been swamped by the International Beatle Week, a city-wide mardi gras comprising concerts, exhibitions, Q and A sessions and cruises. Bands from 20 nations perform to visitors from 40 countries. Mentions of Heather Mills seldom receive a warm reception.
Otherwise, the Fab Four-devoted city pivots around the Hard Day's Night hotel, a kind of Beatle-nut headquarters, opened four years ago when the city was European Capital of Culture. The hotel caters to two constituencies principally: the modern business-type seeking a central location and the moneyed disciple. Actually, the hotel was more restrained than anticipated, though I did sleep beneath a huge framed portrait of Ringo, which, I think, was a first for me.
Along the hotel's flank runs Mathew Street, where you'll find the densest concentrations of sighing devotees. This is where The Cavern was, in which the band performed 292 times, in the cellar of a fruit and veg warehouse. It's still there, in fact, if you accept the arguments of the entrepreneurs who in 1991 reinstated it as best they could. Opposite is The Grapes, the bracingly old-fashioned boozer where the band kicked back between shows; to the rear is the bench on which they'd sit, with a photograph hanging above of them sitting there. And along the street for the past 30 years has been The Beatles Shop, a basement of unmatched monomania.
There are some things you can't miss, though, including tours of Lennon and McCartney's childhood homes, both owned now by the National Trust and restored to their full austerity-era, three-bar primness. Another is the Magical Mystery Tour, a two-hour whisk round the hotspots of Beatles lore and legend, conducted in a replica of the psychedelic coach in the film of the same name.
If you look to your left you'll see St Peter's church, where John and Paul met at a fete in 1957; and to the right is Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, the flat where John's son was conceived, the bus depot where George's dad worked.
It is heady, fixated stuff, posited on the (fairly reasonable) supposition that, where the Fab Four are involved, nothing is too trivial, though they did fail to mention my own favourite Beatle tale, that the policeman who knocked down and killed John Lennon's mother later became Paul McCartney's postman. Never mind; there's probably an anniversary coming up -
The Virgin Rail service from Glasgow to Liverpool Lime Street takes an average of three hours, changing at Preston. Visit www.virgintrains.co.uk or call 0844 556 5650.
WHERE TO STAY
The Hard Day's Night hotel is the world's only Beatles-themed hotel, sited yards from Mathew Street, location of The Cavern Club, The Beatles Shop and within walking distance of the Tate Liverpool and the Albert Docks shopping complex. The hotel's Ultimate Beatles Package costs £404 for a two-night stay for two and includes free entry to Beatles activities and a personal taxi tour. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0151 236 1964.
WHAT TO DO
The Magical Mystery Tour runs several times daily from the Albert Dock and costs £15.95 pp – visit www.cavernclub.org or call 0151 236 9091. Liverpool's principal Beatles museum is The Beatles Story at Albert Docks. Admission costs £15.95. Visit www.beatlesstory.com. Tours of the childhood homes of Lennon and McCartney run Wed-Sun, cost £20 and must be booked. Visit www.nationaltrust. org.uk/beatles-childhood-homes or call 0844 800 4791. International Beatle Week runs throughout Liverpool, August 22-28.
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