I hate being an official tourist. Part of it is that I’ve never been comfortable with doing what other people do, what you’re supposed to do, the whole teenage hatred of conforming thing. Most of the teenage responses to situations have either gone of their own accord, or have been forced to go (because seriously you can’t live your life like that and have any peace), but that tourist thing is still there. The other factor is a grammar school thing, a fear of sticking out that was beaten into you by the school bullies.
Consequently, I like to find places for myself, take myself round, having found out all about it beforehand, and not be herded around by a jaded tour guide. I like to take photographs discreetly, and not in a way that would have the locals laughing or moaning to themselves about another bloody middle-aged Beatles tourist. But, that is exactly what I did this afternoon, booking a place for Ella and myself on the official National Trust tour of Lennon and McCartney’s childhood homes. There’s no other way – they don’t let you just turn up with your member’s card. I needn’t have worried however – the tour guides were excellent – informative, funny, warm, and while I knew pretty much everything they were telling us, they were so good at it that it didn’t matter. It was about being there, in those houses, that was what mattered. Walking in the footsteps of giants.
But I’m getting ahead of myself – that was today, and there is still some of yesterday to recant.
So, after the Casbah Club, we came back in to town, where we were to hook up with Ella’s boyfriend for supper. But before that, I had a few places to see, particularly 3 Gambier Terrace.
This one is not on the tourist route. There is no plaque, and rarely any tourists outside it, except the diehard fans. There were none yesterday, certainly. I started to take a picture, when one of the occupants of number 3 arrived, and looked at me curiously as he went in. I guess you get this all the time, I said. No, not really, he replied. Lennon lived up there for a while, I said. Oh, right, yes, he replied, although I think it was one of his friends. Yes, Stu Sutcliffe, I said, to make sure he knew I wasn’t an idiot tourist. He kind of nodded.
For those that don’t know, Stu Sutcliffe was briefly the bass player in the Beatles, joining not long before they went to Hamburg the first time, but he fell in love with a German girl called Astrid Kirchherr, who took the first ‘official’ photos of the Beatles. During their second stint in Hamburg in 1961, Stu left the group, having got engaged to Astrid in their first term there, and enrolled in the Hamburg school of art. He tragically died of an aneurysm the next year.
I asked the guy if he knew which flat Stu’s had been, but he didn’t. In fact, he said no-one really knew. I suspect Bill Harry, the founder of the Mersey Beat magazine, would know, but he wasn’t there to ask. He’s very much still around though – must try and meet him sometime! Bill was at art college with Stu and John, and remained lifelong friends with the latter, so he’d probably been up to the flat somewhere above the black door countless times. The flats are just around the corner from what used to be the Art School, and while Lennon didn’t officially live there, for all intents he did, as did Cynthia, his girlfriend and future wife. Back then these weren’t the affluent townhouses they are now, however, they were fairly squalid digs, so squalid in fact that the Sunday People, in an article decrying the leaders of the Beatnik movement, Ginsberg et al, took a photo of the inside of the flat apparently below Stu’s to illustrate their point.
It’s almost certain that it was a set up though, a publicity stunt by Allan Williams, pictured left with beard, who ran the Jacaranda coffee bar (still going as a bar), and also managed the then Silver Beetles (no ‘a’), whose name can be seen on the poster on the wall. It was changed to The Beatles only weeks after the article ran. It is generally thought that the figure with his back to the camera talking to Williams is John Lennon, but I don’t see how it can be, because he has his hair flat, in a Beatle-like haircut, but the Beatles weren’t to adopt that hairstyle until their second trip to Hamburg, and this article appeared on August 7th 1960, before they’d even been there the first time.
Nonethless, 3 Gambier Terrace had to be sought out.
It was, as I said, just around the corner from the Art School, which was then in this building on Hope Street.
It was easy to imagine walking in their footsteps from the flat to the college, although they would have been mostly Stu’s footsteps, as by the summer of 1960 Lennon was hardly ever there, if at all. He would more likely have taken a detour before getting to the art college, down Rice Street to the Ye Cracke pub, also very much still there.
Ye Cracke has a plaque on it, celebrating the day Lennon, Sutcliffe, Harry and their artist friend Rod Murray decided to change the world.
I didn’t go in. It had been a long day, and we were heading for supper. But we did make a quick detour to the Phil, or the Philharmonic Dining Rooms to give it it’s full name. The main reason to go was because Ella had previously worked there, but it was also a favourite haunt of Lennon and Sutcliffe, and Lennon once bemoaned the price of fame as not being able to buy a pint at the Phil. It is a glorious building though, full-blown Art Nouveau, with legendary pink marble urinals.
These are not my photos – the embarrassed tourist thing kicked in again when I went in, and the toilets weren’t empty long enough to take a photo.
I intended to do various other lesser-known sites after supper, but frankly I was tired, so decided to leave them for the next day.
My wife sent me a text this evening, asking if it was like I expected. I think the answer is yes. Liverpool is fast becoming a Beatles theme park, and I’m sure even Paul and Ringo are a little embarrassed at some of the tat that has been generated because of them. Or maybe they aren’t, maybe it’s more reassurance, not that they require any I’m sure, that they really did conquer the world. However, some of the landmarks, to a relatively obsessive Beatles fan, are just another part of the fabric of the city, unnoticed by the majority, and unremarked by the Beatles industry, and that is how it should be. If 3 Gambier Terrace was open to the public, and festooned with memorabilia, it would somehow make it a lesser experience finding it. McCartney and Lennon’s houses are very much part of the tourist route, and are a very different experience indeed, but that’s for the next part. They belong to the public, as do the Beatles, but today, 3 Gambier Terrace just belonged to me.