Down and out with the Beatles in Liverpool

Welcome to the world, Beatles! An unexploded bomb in a Liverpool garden, two miles from the home of John Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, November 1940. Courtesy: Merseyside Police.

Quick! Name the pub on the cover of Ringo Starr’s Sentimental Journey album (at right). Or, the venue where Ringo played his first official gig with the Beatles. Thanks to a recent trip to Liverpool, I know the answers—although it would have been cheaper to stay home and do an Internet search.

Liverpool

The Empress, 230 feet from Ringo Starr’s childhood home at 10 Admiral Grove (and next door to a mosque)

Hulme Hall, at the Port Sunlight model village in Wirral—across the Mersey from Liverpool. Ringo played here with the Beatles on Aug. 18, 1962, two days after Pete Best was fired.

But then I wouldn’t have experienced the most important music city in the world. People debate the so-called “Fifth Beatle”—George Martin? Billy Preston? Neil Aspinall? But I would posit, a little poetically, that the Fifth Beatle is Liverpool herself. As Mecca is to Muslims, so is Liverpool to discerning music fans. Only after walking the streets, soaking in the atmosphere, taking a ferry ‘cross the Mersey, and trying to decipher Scouse, etc., etc., can one begin to understand the essence of these working class kids.

Poor bastards taking photos of John Lennon’s home on a quick drive-by. Avoid this sort of tour.

Some pilgrims—especially those on drive-by bus tours—will inevitably get the wrong idea and romanticize the Fab Four’s humble beginnings, forgetting that Liverpool was a war-torn wasteland in the ’40s and ’50s (and a socio-economic disaster zone in the ’70s and ’80s). Thanks in part to Beatles-related tourism, it is now a fairly interesting town by modest English standards. But I’ll bet John and Paul were kicking themselves for not writing “We Gotta Get out of this Place.”

This house in the Childwall district was less than a mile from Aunt Mimi’s place. Liverpool, a vital port city, was the second-most-bombed UK target. Courtesy: Merseyside Police.

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Ringo has made no secret of his disdain for the Liverpool myth. I wonder why. What’s not to love about terraced housing and outhouses?

Ringo was born at this now-derelict rental flat (closest to the camera), at 9 Madryn Street, Dingle. All the houses on both sides are boarded up. The area was bombed during WWII.

No. 10 Admiral Grove, Dingle. Ringo lived in this “two (rooms) up, two down” with his mother and stepfather for 20 years until 1963. It’s a 2-minute walk between the two homes, via the Empress.

George Harrison didn’t have it much easier.

No. 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree. George Harrison was born in this “two up, two down,” and lived here with his parents and three older siblings for the first six years of his life. The toilet was in the backyard.

No. 25 Upton Green, Speke. George Harrison and his family moved to this new council estate near the airport in about 1950. Still bleak.

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John and Paul had better digs in the nicer suburbs of Woolton and Allerton, respectively. Their well-preserved childhood homes, separated by a 25-minute walk along the golf course, are managed by the National Trust on behalf of the British people. It’s no exaggeration to describe Aunt Mimi’s Mendips and the McCartney residence on Forthlin Road as two of the most significant buildings in rock ‘n’ roll—in England, even. Attendance is compulsory. Book an official tour with the National Trust. There is no other way to get inside.

No photos are allowed in the houses, so you’ll just have stand in quiet solitude in John Lennon’s bedroom overlooking Menlove Avenue and imagine how he plotted world domination. Over at the home of Jim, Mary, Paul and Mike McCartney, sit in the living room where John and Paul wrote many of their early songs. I appreciated the austere childhood homes of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, but 251 Menlove Avenue and 20 Forthlin Road are simply sacred.

The McCartneys relocated to this council estate from a less-favorable one in Speke, in 1955. There are three bedrooms upstairs, a bathroom, and a toilet—a new luxury for the family. They also had a telephone, which was a rarity. Paul moved his widowed father to a new house 15 miles away in 1964. It was bought by the National Trust in 1995.

View from the front garden

The McCartneys’ living room, depicted on the cover of the National Trust souvenir booklet. Photo: Dennis Gilbert.

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The semi-detached house was built in 1933 with art deco, art nouveau and Olde English trimmings; it takes its name from the Somerset countryside. John’s maternal aunt Mary “Mimi” Smith and her husband George moved here after they were married in 1939. John joined them in 1945. He and Paul often practised in the porch, which was enclosed in 1952. The house was sold in about 1965, after Mimi retired to Poole, Dorset, where John bought her a bungalow.

John’s bedroom! He looked out these windows! John lived at Mendips until 1963. After moving to New York, he never returned to Mendips. Yoko Ono bought the house in 2002 and donated it to the National Trust

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NOTE: Since you made it this far, reward yourself with my gossipy rock bio Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles, available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com

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Apud McCartney. “Keep a knockin’ but you can’t come in.”

Underneath John’s bedroom.

Copyright © 2019 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING