Beatles Tour with Guide Paul Beesley
If you are a baby boomer like me then you will never forget February 9th, 1964. That is the day The Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and the music world was never the same again. The passion that The Beatles aroused in their fans was unparalleled and the Fab Four went on to become the most important and popular rock group in history. The story of how these four different personalities from the war ravaged, tough city of Liverpool came together (pun intended) is one for the ages. Please join me on a Beatles tour of Liverpool with guide extraordinaire Paul Beesley to learn the story first hand, but first let’s listen to the reason for all the fuss in the first place.
I’ve come to Liverpool along with Alison, my sister Anne and our frequent travelling companions, Rob and Janet Purdy; Alison and I coming from a quick stopover in Iceland where we toured the Golden Circle Route. We’re all here for one reason – we love The Beatles and they have been a major part of our lives since late 1963. Before we get too old we want to visit the homes and neighbourhoods where the four lads grew up and drop into The Cavern Club where in almost 300 sessions they melded into the tightest live band ever. Obviously we are not the only people who want to do the same thing; Beatles’ tourism in Liverpool is massive and seems to only be getting larger. While the fame and popularity of many groups and solo performers often fades as their original target audience also fades away, not so with The Beatles who continue to attract new fans every day. So the issue is – what is the best way to take a Beatles tour?
Options for a Beatles Tour
The options for a Beatles tour in Liverpool are quite diverse with each having its plusses and minuses. The first is not to go on a tour at all, but instead confine yourself to a visit to the Beatles Story This is a very popular and well done attraction on the wonderful Liverpool waterfront. If you are a visitor who is perhaps more interested in seeing a lot of non-Beatle sites in the city, and there are many, or pressed for time, this might be your best option. The downside of course is that you really don’t get to see the real thing.
Option two is to take a bus tour like the Magical Mystery Tour, run by the same people that own The Cavern Club. This will get you to many of the places important to Beatle fanatics and is obviously cheaper than a private guide. The downside is – it’s a bus tour.
Option three is to do a hybrid tour, by which I mean take one of the many private taxi tours like Fab Four Tours where the driver and guide are rolled into one and you do get to visit all the major Beatles tour hi-lights in a small group. We saw many of these on the morning of our tour and they were going to the same places we were. Obviously these are more expensive than a bus tour and the downside, minor as it might be, is that the guide is first and foremost a taxi driver and must concentrate on that aspect of his/her job first and the guiding second. Also, I cannot speak to the quality of the guiding because, believe it not, anyone in Liverpool can call themselves a guide. In fairness, there is an organization called The Association of Liverpool Tour Guides which maintains its own standards and I believe most if not all the taxi drivers offering the Beatles tour, are members.
Option four, and the one I opted for in planning the Liverpool trip, was to hire a professional Beatles guide and by that I mean someone who makes their living doing just that -not driving, not taking tourists to non-Beatle sites, but a true specialist. So how do you go about finding one? My starting point was VisitBritain which is the official tourism promoter for Great Britain. I sent them an enquiry about getting a private Beatles tour guide, they forwarded it to their Liverpool counterparts and within a few hours I had a recommendation – Paul Beesley. They forwarded me Paul’s email and from there it was a snap to set it up directly with Paul who also arranged for a driver.
So without further ado, let’s go on a Beatles tour with expert guide Paul Beesley.
Beatles Tour with Paul Beesley
Although any tour with Paul can be customized, I wanted to start out with the basics – visit all four Beatles’ homes, see where John & Paul first met etc. etc. Paul offers this as a two hour tour (although ours lasted closer to three I think). It starts at the designated pickup point and ends at The Cavern Club. Our designated pickup point was the Hard Day’s Night Hotel, the only Beatles’ themed hotel in the world, where of course we were staying. That was a no brainer in choosing accommodations and it’s literally right around the corner from The Cavern Club. Here’s the fellow who was looking over us as we slept.
I had chosen Sunday morning as the best tour time because it’s before the bus tours get going and really, how many people are out and about early on Sunday? Not many as it turned out. With luck it was also a gorgeous summer day in Liverpool – how many of those can you expect?
Paul arrived well ahead of schedule, introduced himself and immediately ingratiated himself by knowing that Samuel Cunard, owner of the Liverpool based shipping line bearing his name was a fellow Nova Scotian. I like a guide who does his homework on his patrons. Our driver was a polite young man with a spotless Mercedes van and exactly on time we were off.
While I know a lot about The Beatles, my knowledge is infinitesimal compared to that of my sister and Rob. During the course of the morning they asked one question after another of Paul, not trying to trick him up or be smart asses, but because they genuinely wanted to know, and he had all the answers. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything related to The Beatles, including the current day status of many of the people who have figured in their lives, no matter how peripherally.
Other than the ending at The Cavern Club in downtown Liverpool, all the other Beatles tour stops are in what would properly be the suburbs or even villages like Woolton that are actually older than Liverpool and have long since been swallowed up by the city. Liverpool is actually a fairly small city in population, less than 500,000, and on a sleepy Sunday morning it doesn’t take long to get to our first stop – Ringo’s birthplace in an area called the Dingle.
Once considered one of poorest and toughest parts of Liverpool, it’s now undergoing a revitalization, literally street by street. As it turns out, the street where Ringo was born is the one currently being redone. The houses are gutted and the street blocked off. Ringo was born in the house with fence around the entrance and Paul explains that due to that fact, the Liverpool Housing Council hasn’t made up their minds what to do with it.
Not to worry about getting no closer to Ringo’s birthplace because he actually grew up a few blocks away in a house that you can peer into as Alison and Janet did. He lived here for twenty years until getting married at 23.
Believe it or not the house is now owned by a woman who bought it at an auction for £70,000. Jackie Holmes is a Beatles’ nut and this was the third Beatles’ related house she has purchased. Seems like they might be good if somewhat unusual investments.
At the corner of the street, Admiral Grove, you’ll find the Empress Tavern where I’m sure Ringo downed more than a few pints.
He used it on the cover of his first single album, Sentimental Journey
Next up, it was off to George Harrison’s boyhood home at 12 Arnold Grove in the suburb of Wavetree. It’s at the end of a narrow lane that no tour bus could possibly get down. There was nobody around except us.
George was born in this house that at the time had an outdoor toilet and was heated by a coal fire. He lived here for the first five years of his life before the family got upgraded to a council house. I wonder how many other Beatles’ fans have had their pictures taken in front of this modest abode?
Now it was time to visit two places that figure prominently in Beatles’ songs – Penny Lane and Strawberry Field. These were put out as two Double A side 45’s and incredibly, did not reach No. 1 on the charts thanks to Engelbert Humperdinck’s Release Me.
Penny Lane was written by Paul and is a reminiscence of places he travelled by every day on his way to school in downtown Liverpool, although some ascribe darker meanings to some of the lyrics. The fun part is that all the places in the song are real and still exist.
This is the far end of Penny Lane which runs about a mile to the roundabout mentioned in the song which is where you will find the various places. Let’s listen to Penny Lane first and then I’ll show you what Paul was writing about.
This is the barbershop – different ownership, but you can still get a haircut there.
And the bank.
And the bus shelter in the roundabout.
And finally, for good measure in the same location, although not in the song, St. Barnabas Church where Paul was in the choir.
Strawberry Field (not Strawberry Fields as in the song) was a Salvation Army home for Children that sits behind a high brick wall that John would scale to play with the kids at the home. He also attended an annual Summer Garden Party there on many occasions. While the home closed in 2005, it is still owned by the Salvation Army which has plans to open it to the public for the first time at some unknown future date.
Today the best you can do is get your picture at the famous red gate – now a replica which you can actually order for your own garden. How cool would that be?
The song itself, while auto-biographical, does contain a number of lyrics that are still in dispute as to their intended meaning, although the one – ‘nothing to get hung about’, apparently refers to an incident where the proprietors, fed up with John climbing the walls, told him if he did it again, they would hang him. Listen to one of the greatest Beatle songs and decide for yourself what John meant.
Woolton Village is a suburb of Liverpool that is home to the building where John and Paul first met on July 6, 1957. John’s Quarrymen were playing at the annual Woolton Parish Church Summer Fete outside the church and later a second set inside the church hall.
Ivan Vaughan introduced the two, as he knew them both. Paul played a number of songs for John and two weeks later he was asked to join the group and the rest is history.
This plaque commemorates arguably the most important meeting in rock music history.
Our third Beatle home was that of John, or rather his Aunt Mimi’s with whom he lived, at 251 Menlove Avenue, a fairly tony area and a far cry from Ringo and George’s modest abodes. The house even has its own name – Mendips.
Both this house and Paul’s which we will visit next, are owned by the National Trust and can be visited on a pre-arranged tour as these people are doing.
Paul (Beesley that is), reminded us of a famous photo of John in front of Mendips in a dandy pose.
This is my attempt to repeat it.
Paul’s house at 20 Forthlin Road is not that far away and also in a relatively upscale neighbourhood.
Unlike John’s home, where his Aunt Mimi loathed John playing the guitar and having aspirations to be a musician, Paul’s family encouraged the relationship between John and Paul. Behind this window the two of them composed many of The Beatles’ early great hits including their first one, Love Me Do.
Having visited all four of their childhood homes the Beatles tour now headed for downtown Liverpool and The Cavern Club. Along the way we passed two other important Beatles’ sites. This is the school where Paul and George were bussed into everyday for years.
Literally right beside it is the Liverpool Institute where John studied and honed his abilities as an artist which he put to debatably good use in later life.
Our last stop with Paul Beesley was the legendary Cavern Club on Mathew Street which, in contrast with the other spots we visited on this tour, was crawling with tourists and every manner of Beatle related paraphernalia was offered for sale.
We said our goodbyes to Paul at this point and thanked him for a truly wondrous tour.
If you would like to book a tour with Paul you can reach him at [email protected]. Total cost of our tour for five with driver was £253 before tip, which I consider a bargain given the many insights you will get from Paul.
The Cavern Club
No trip to Liverpool would be complete without seeing a show at The Cavern Club where they have their own Cavern Club Beatles playing a number of sets on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost £20 and can be reserved on the club’s website.
The place has limited seating so get there at least half an hour before entry at 8:00 to get a decent seat. The band doesn’t come on until about 9:30, but once they do you will forget the long wait and be transported back to the early 60’s. You’ll dance through the night and hold each other tight and all your troubles will be far away. Believe me.
Years before I wrote this post I did a song by song analysis of The Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me. Read it here.