The poetry of the Welsh streets

I went to look at the poems which have appeared on the doorways of derelict houses in the Welsh Streets, now threatened with demolition. A group calling itself the Unknown Poets posted the poems the other day to draw attention to the imminent destruction of the houses, which include Ringo Starr’s birthplace at 9 Madryn Street.

Demolition of the empty properties could begin in three weeks’ time.  Clearance notices, announcing that the bulldozers would be moving in soon, appeared in the area last week – this afternoon they could be seen pasted to lamp-posts and doors of derelict properties. No developer is yet assigned to the area, which means the empty site will be grassed over.

A spokesman for the Unknown Poets said:

This was a poetic response to wanton destruction. It was intended to lift people’s spirits. We focused on Beatles lyrics and in particular John Lennon on what would have been his 70th birthday. The idea behind the piece, called Safe as Houses, was to put a poem on the doorway of each derelict property. The demolition compares with the destruction of the original Cavern club. While we don’t think it will save the houses, it will have brightened up people’s lives in some small way. We turned a derelict street into an open-air gallery.

I noted poems by Shakespeare,Roger McGough and Adrian Henri – as well as several Beatles’ lyrics, including Ringo’s ‘Liverpool 8’:

I was a sailor first, I sailed the sea
Then I got a job, in a factory
Played Butlin’s Camp with my friend, Rory
It was good for him, it was great for me

Liverpool I left you, said goodbye to Madryn Street
I always followed my heart, and I never missed a beat
Destiny was calling, I just couldn’t stick around
Liverpool I left you, but I never let you down

Livepool I left you, said goodbye to Admiral Grove
I always followed my heart, so I took it on the road
Destiny was calling, I just couldn’t stick around
Liverpool I left you, but I never let you down

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Ringo Starr was born in 9 Madryn Street, where he lived until he was four. His family then moved to Admiral Grove, a minute’s walk away, where he was still living when he joined the Beatles.  Madryn Street is earmarked for clearance as part of the government’s controversial Housing Market Renewal (Pathfinder) Initiative, described by the Urban Task Force as a ‘crude, insensitive and wasteful’ return to mass housing clearance, and criticised as ‘high risk’ by the National Audit Office. The programme has already resulted in the demolition of large swathes of Liverpool, for example along Smithdown Road, Kensington and Wavertree Road.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage and the local Civic Society are calling for the immediate listing of Madryn Street, together with 10 Admiral Grove, Ringo’s subsequent childhood home; 12 Arnold Grove, the birthplace of George Harrison; Mendips, Menlove Avenue, where John Lennon lived from 1945 to 1963; 20 Forthlin Road, childhood home of Paul McCartney, and the ornate iron gates and stone piers of Strawberry Field, all that remains of the house and gardens which inspired one of the Beatles’ most famous songs. William Palin, Secretary of SAVE says:

This is a bid for national recognition and statutory protection for a group of buildings which are intimately associated with the four men who, together, became the greatest cultural phenomenon of the 20th century.  In 1973, Liverpool’s celebrated Cavern Club, birthplace of the Beatles, was demolished because of a council compulsory purchase order, to make room for a ventilation shaft that was never built. The destruction of Madryn Street would represent another tragic loss and a further assault on the heart and spirit of the city.

The demolition of the Welsh Streets, 16 streets with Welsh names, would also close a chapter in the long-standing relationship between the city and Wales. More than any other English city, Liverpool’s roots are uniquely Celtic: towards the end of the 19th century around 120,000 of the city’s 450,000 population were first-born Irishmen, and second only to the Irish influx was the wave of migrants from Wales.

The streets were nicknamed the Welsh Streets because they were built and lived in by the Welsh workers who also built a large percentage of buildings in Liverpool in the 19th century and early 20th century. The streets were consequently named after Welsh towns and villages. In the late 19th century almost a quarter of the city’s population, around 80,000 people, were Welsh, drawn by the promise of work.  Liverpool once had 70 Welsh chapels, and across the city, in places like Anfield, Walton, and Vauxhall and Scotland Road, are dotted rows of Victorian terraced properties with Welsh places names like Denbigh Road, Snowdon Lane and Barmouth Way.

Views are deeply divided in the local community between those who are fighting to preserve the streets and those who favour demolition and rehousing. The homes in the Welsh streets were built above streams and have had persistent problems with rising damp.  They are small properties and have no gardens.  Others argue that the houses were well-built and could be modernised.  On the outside, at least, these are pleasant, tree-lined streets which once harboured a strong sense of community and solidarity.



Lennon’s on sale again

Lennon’s on sale again

Lennon at 70 Albert Dock

Above us only sky

Today would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday and here in Liverpool the John Lennon Tribute Season, a two-month programme of events celebrating his life is in full swing – concerts, guided walks, exhibitions, a re-creation of the famous Bed-In, and today’s unveiling of a peace monument (below).  Tonight, the Albert Dock was illuminated with an image of John Lennon, taken by photographer Bill Zygmant (above).  In the wider world, a flood of merchandise and remastered albums has been released.

But, argues Neil McCormick in The Telegraph, Lennon would have been appalled at the tat surrounding his 70th birthday and tacky souvenirs and adverts insult his memory.  It’s a good argument, made by someone who has high regard, as do I, for ‘the raw life in Lennon’s music’.  McCormick writes:

‘You get the biggest prize when you die, a really big one for dying in public,” John Lennon said in one of his final interviews, in 1980. “I don’t appreciate the worship of dead Sid Vicious, or dead James Dean. What do they teach you? Nothing. Death. Sid Vicious died for what? So that we might rock? It’s garbage, you know. I’ll take the living and the healthy.”

When do the dead stop having birthdays? If John Lennon had lived, he would have turned 70 next Saturday, an imaginary anniversary being commemorated with the rerelease of remastered versions of his solo recorded output. These can be bought separately, or alongside a hardback book of Lennon’s artwork as part of a handsome, LP-sized John Lennon “Box Of Vision” (“the exact same John Lennon Box of Vision that will be stored inside the John Lennon Time Capsule”). Can you hear a faint voice, twisting in the wind: “It’s money for dope, money for rope…”?

This is the latest offering from a posthumous, multi-million-dollar Lennon industry, partly fuelled by his widow’s sometimes suspect desire to keep the flame burning. It has led to such dubious tributes as a TV commercial for the Citroën DS3, a Mont Blanc fountain pen retailing at $27,000, a limited edition Gibson Imagine guitar ($10,748), alongside the usual array of Lennon-branded mugs, clothing, books, calendars, prints and even an Imagine brand of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

And that’s just the official merchandise. Last month, the lavatory from Lennon’s home in England was auctioned for £9,500. The last album he ever autographed, for his assassin Mark Chapman, went for $525,000 in 2003. In 2009, his bloodstained clothes and glasses were part of an exhibition in New York.

Yet the worship of Lennon – his transformation into a brand immediately identifiable by a scrawled cartoon of a Jesus rocker in spectacles – only serves to obscure the raw life in his music. Lennon’s brutal slaying robbed him of his raging complexity, turning tragedy into martyrdom. Looking back through blood-tinted National Health spectacles, we see only St John, thin face reposed and angelic. And the quest to know more about this icon takes us into some pretty strange places. In its current issue, Vanity Fair has had the temerity to publish an “interview” with a 70-year-old Lennon, imagining (with a banality that insults its subject) what might have been had he survived.

But Lennon doesn’t need to be rekindled through speculation. As he said a few weeks before his death: “I’ve done more in my life than most people would do in 10… even if I never did another damn thing.” The progression of Lennon’s songwriting is the story of popular music in our time: the joyous sexuality of the early Beatles; the explosion of colour and complexity as pop became art, fully embracing the pretentiousness of the avant garde; the shedding of such pretensions in pursuit of truth and beauty, in a spirit of sometimes brutal, sometimes tender candour.

“There is nothing conceptually better than rock ‘n’ roll,” Lennon said in 1970. That was the mine he was digging into from the days of his skiffle group, the Quarrymen (school motto, “Out of this rock you will find truth”). It was there at the very end, snaking through the grooves of Double Fantasy, his final album. On a new, “stripped-down” version released on Monday (the only genuinely worthwhile addition to the Lennon canon among the latest remasterings, offering something closer to the essence of his performance), Lennon kicks off a lean, rocking (Just Like) Starting Over with a whispered “This one’s for Gene and Eddie and Elvis and Buddy!” But we can add another name to that litany: “It’s all about me,” as Lennon explained when he released his first solo masterpiece, Plastic Ono Band, in 1970. “I don’t know about anything else, really.”

Plastic Ono Band is a sparse, uncomfortable, utterly magnificent attempt to blow through the obfuscation and myth making, in order to not just reveal himself but actually discover himself. It is an album that gave birth to the confessional singer-songwriting genre, which reverberated throughout pop culture, from punk to hip hop. After Plastic Ono Band, nothing less than the truth would do.

And it is that truth which keeps Lennon’s solo work so fresh. It certainly wasn’t always great. Imagine is superb, described by Lennon as “Plastic Ono with chocolate coating”. Walls And Bridges (1974), which documents a fleeting break-up with Yoko, is tender yet funky, with some real gems. The lovingly crafted Rock ‘n’ Roll (1975) is brilliant, suffused with joy and purpose, even though Lennon wrote none of the songs.

But even on his misguided political rant Some Time In New York City (1972), the creatively exhausted Mind Games (1973) and the mostly self-satisfied Double Fantasy, there is a visceral, emotional intensity in Lennon’s need to express himself that remains utterly of the moment.

“If I’m singing, ‘a wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom’, I mean it,” he once said. In the end, that’s all that really matters. Why worship the dead Lennon, when you can still listen to the live one?

Back in Liverpool, the White Feather exhibition is certainly worth visiting for a balanced portrait of Lennon through the mementoes and memories of his first son, Julian, and first wife, Cynthia.  It is they who have gifted to the city the peace monument, unveiled  by them today in a gala ceremony in Chevasse Park.

Peace monument

The monument was commissioned by the Global Peace Initiative, an American arts organization dedicated to creating peace monuments around the world to promote global peace, and was created by 19-year old American artist Lauren Voiers.  Tonight, crews were dismantling the stage and moving out equipment.  Liverpool One security wouldn’t allow anyone into the area where the monument is located, so I was only able to grab the shot, above, from a distance.  For pictures and a report of today’s unveiling, go to the Liverpool Art & Culture Blog.

Liverpool’s Seven Streets blog is not impressed:

The memorial itself, being dedicated to a dead legend and a memorial to peace, is kind of fire-proofed from any criticism. But having said that it’s not exactly subtle.  Designed by American artists Lauren Voiers, it comprises a huge globe wrapped in a guitar, saxophone, keyboard and stave. Above it are a pair of hands releasing doves into the sky, one of which has a white feather in its beak.  It is, in my opinion, quite hideous; a kind of ‘throw everything at the wall’ effort that doesn’t really say anything about Lennon or peace except in the most literal way imaginable. A kind of Wal-Mart, MacDonalds or X-Factor kind of monument. But, there you go, art is nothing is not subjective; no doubt many will love it. And Julian and Cynthia Lennon, who always seem to conduct themselves with dignity, seemed to approve. For his part Pete Best – one of about 20 different ‘fifth Beatles’ – reckoned Lennon would be ‘bemused’ by it.

Footnote: I’ve just come across this article by Jon Wiener in The Nation, Bob Dylan’s Defense of John Lennon, in which Wiener tells the story of the letter (above) that Bob Dylan sent to the US immigration service in defence of Lennon when he was threatened with deportation  in 1972: “John and Yoko,” Dylan wrote, “inspire and transcend and stimulate,” and thereby “help put an end to this mild dull taste of petty commercialism which is being passed off as artist art by the overpowering mass media.” Then he added, “Let John and Yoko stay!”

The Lennon deportation proceedings dragged on under Nixon. After Watergate, Nixon left the White House, and Lennon and Ono stayed in the USA, living in the Dakota in New York until 8 December 1980 when Lennon was murdered at the entrance to the building.

Astrid Kirchherr retrospective

I’ve been to see the exhibition, Astrid Kirchherr: A Retrospective, at the University of Liverpool’s Victoria Gallery and Museum.  The collection features more than 70 pictures taken by Astrid Kirchherr, the German photographer who met the Beatles in 1960 while they were playing in Hamburg nightclubs, and who helped define the image of the group.  Continue reading “Astrid Kirchherr retrospective”

Penny Lane: thoughts in the barbers

Penny Lane – there is a barber showing photographs
Of every head he’s had the pleasure to have known
And all the people that come and go
Stop and say hello…

I was having a trim today in the Penny Lane barber shop and I thought my hair would have grown another inch before the cut was finished.  Not a complaint: the reason was that the place was invaded by tourists, including a Japanese couple, keen to step inside the famous barber’s, take photos and buy memorabilia.  So the hairdresser had to keep breaking off from my trim.  When the rush had subsided we got to chatting about the sorry state of the old bus shelter in the middle of the roundabout and the strange failure of the authorities to capitalise on tourists’ interest in the Penny Lane area. Amazingly, she said that when she had phoned the City Council to raise these issues, the newly-appointed tourism officer had asked where Penny Lane was!

We both agreed that signs and plaques could be placed in the vicinity to identify the main points of interest from the Beatles’ song for tourists.  But the main problem is the sorry state of the former bus shelter which presents a very poor impression to visitors.

Penny Lane – the barber shaves another customer
We see the banker sitting waiting for a trim
Then the fireman rushes in
From the pouring rain…
Very strange

When Lennon and McCartney lived locally, Penny Lane was the terminus for trams and buses from the city.  In the video for the ‘Penny Lane’ single, released in 1967, there are shots of the old green rear platform number 46 bus with its destination sign that reads ‘Penny Lane’ (although, in reality, the destination is Smithdown Place – but no-one ever calls it that).  Originally the building was used as a tram stop and inspectors’ office, with public toilets added to the rear of the building.  When the building closed as a transport facility in 1990, it was redeveloped as Sgt Peppers cafe, decorated with Beatles photographs, artwork, posters and memorabilia.  In 2006 owner Ray Maatook closed it, saying the limited size of the premises made it uneconomic to operate as a going concern; in addition, the Beatles tours that passed by didn’t stop there because there was nowhere for coaches to park.

A year later Maatook put in a planning application to extend the cafe by adding an upper floor to the former tram stop, and increase the floor space to attract more diners and visitors on the Beatles trail.  The Council rejected the proposal, arguing that an upper extension on what was built as a single storey structure could create a feature out of keeping with the street-scene around Penny Lane.

Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout
A pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray
And though she feels as if she’s in a play
She is anyway…

So the building has been standing empty and increasingly forlon-looking for four years now.  There were hopeful signs last June when the Daily Post reported on Council plans to create a Penny Lane Beatles quarter to revitalise the area the area.  Specially-made signs would be put up along the two-mile route giving information about the quarter, and there was talk of  a more cafe-orientated district, with widened walkways and a major facelift to an area of derelict land on Penny Lane itself.

The Post reported that the Penny Lane Development Trust had secured £760,000 of Big Lottery funding to refurbish a run-down and disused building on the site,which would feature local art and provide access for coaches visiting Penny Lane.  There were plans for a gift shop and a Beatles museum to bring more music tourists to the area. Meanwhile, Ray Maatook had submitted revised plans for the extension to the building which would be less obtrusive. I wonder whether any of these ideas will come to fruition?

On the corner is a banker with a motorcar
The little children laugh at him behind his back
And the banker never wears a mac
In the pouring rain…
Very strange

Ray Johnson, a manager for Magical Mystery Tour, said last year: ‘Penny Lane is a very ordinary part of Liverpool, but also very important, as it was part of the Beatles’ early career. This is where they got their inspiration to write songs.  It’s changed now, of course – the barber’s is now a modern salon and Martin’s bank became TSB.  It’s one of the most iconic streets in the whole world and every year tourists see a sign, and that’s it.’

Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
I sit, and meanwhile back
In Penny Lane there is a fireman with an hourglass
And in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen.
He likes to keep his fire engine clean
It’s a clean machine

The fire station isn’t actually on Penny Lane  – or Smithdown Place – but over a mile away at the junction of Mather Avenue and Rose Lane.  A little bit of artistic licence there by Paul McCartney. More artistic licence was shown by the Beatles when they filmed the promo video for ‘Penny Lane’:  although there are some shots of the green 46 bus and a brief overhead view of the ‘shelter in the middle of the roundabout’, the street scenes with the Beatles were filmed in  London’s East End and the sequence of John walking alone was filmed on the King’s Road.  The other outdoor scenes were filmed at Knole Park in Sevenoaks.

Bioletti’s barber shop as it was in 1971 – see the comment from Dave Robertson below.  In The Beatles Anthology, Paul says:

‘The  lyrics were all based on real things.  There was a barber called something like Biletti (I think he’s actually still therein Penny Lane) who, like all barbers, had pictures of the haircuts you could choose.  But instead of saying ‘The barber with pictures of haircuts in his windows’ it was changed to: ‘Every head he’s had the pleasure to have known’.  A barber showing photographs – like an exhibition.  It was twisting it to a slightly more artsy angle, more like a play.  Like the nurse who’s selling poppies from a tray for Remembrannce Day.  Then ‘she feels as if she’s in a play’ – which ‘she is anyway’.  These were all trippy little ideas we were trying to get in.

A lot of our formative years were spent walking around those places.  Penny Lane was the depot I had to change buses at to get from my house to John’s and to a lot of my friends.  It was a big bus terminal which we all knew very well.  I sang in the choir at St. Barnabas Church opposite.  It’s part fact, part nostalgia for a great place – blue suburban skies, as we remember it, and it’s still there.  ‘

Nowhere Boy

Went to FACT with S to see Nowhere Boy, Sam Taylor-Wood’s film depicting John Lennon’s teenage years.  I had been fearful that the movie would be glossy and unconvincing, but it turned out to be quite the opposite – a gritty rendering of Liverpool family life and youth culture in the fifties, burnished with fine acting and excellent direction.

It opens with one of the classic moments in pop music – the opening chord of  ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, but that’s all you hear, the reverberations hanging there to signify the greatness to come. Then we are plunged into the world of Lennon’s growing – skiffle, Elvis, greased hair, sex, beer and brawls, shoplifting records, and ultimately the formation of  The Quarrymen,bashing out Lonnie Donegan, Eddie Cochran and ‘Maggie Mae’.

There are some great authentic touches – most especially in the portrayal of schooldays at Quarry Bank, with scenes filmed outside the school gates and Lennon and his mates wearing the correct school tie (gleefully noted by S, a former pupil at Calderstones, as it had then become).

But it’s the acting that lifts the film above the mundane, with fine performances from Kristin Scott-Thomas as Aunt Mimi and Anne-Marie Duff as John’s mother, Julia. And there are two other fine performances from Aaron Johnson as John (not a lookalike, but channelling Lennon’s crude passion and aggression in a convincing portrayal of  a magnetic personality, but someone who must have been difficult to be around) and Thomas Sangster as Paul, looking a bit like a weedy shrimp, but with the musical knowledge and skills that bound John to him, and a sensitivity that John lacked.

Essentially, this is family drama, exploring the complicated circumstances of John’s upbringing: the conflict between his Aunt Mimi, determined to provide him with a proper upbringing, and mother Julia, the good-time girl who taught John to play banjo and sparked his obsession with rock ‘n’roll. The script by Matt Greenhalgh (who scripted Control) refuses to allow the viewer the easy option of siding with one or the other and avoids lapsing into soap opera. The result is a satisfying account of a gifted adolescent in a specific time and place.

There are one or two off-key moments: the scene where John and his best mate Pete Shotton ride for several miles on the roof of a double-decker bus – I don’t think so; and when Julia selects Ike Turner’s ‘Rocket 88’ on the jukebox in Blackpool the director is trying too hard to evoke the Beatles musical roots – can there ever have been a jukebox this side of the Atlantic that held that disc?

However, I was transported by the brilliant evocation of the historic performance – and photograph – of the Quarrymen performing at the St Peter’s Church fete in Woolton in 1957. Sam Taylor-Wood gets all the details down to perfection, including the photographer in the crowd!


Abbey Road remembered

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

Keep that one – mark it ‘fab’.

Abbey Road was released 40 years ago today. I remember on the evening of September 26, 1969, in the student flat we were living in at the time, we tuned into BBC2 on a litle mono TV set for the then unprecedented of having the whole second side of the album previewed on Late Night Line Up, with accompanying psychedelic images.

This was the Beatles last album in chronological terms: work on Abbey Road began in April 1969, making it the final album recorded by the band, though Let It Be was the last album released before the Beatles’ dissolution in 1970. I seem to remember that we were aware of this as we  lay there watching the album preview.

The track that has always seemed to epiomise Abbey Road is ‘Here Comes The Sun’, written by George,

‘at a time when Apple was getting like school, where we had to go and be businessmen– all this signing accounts, and ‘sign this’ and ‘sign that.’ Anyway, it seems as if winter in England goes on forever; by the time spring comes you really deserve it. So one day I decided, ‘I’m going to sag-off Apple,’ and I went over to Eric Clapton’s house. I was walking in his garden. The relief of not having to go and see all those dopey accountants was wonderful. And I was walking around the garden with one of Eric’s acoustic guitars, and wrote ‘Here Comes The Sun’.’

Before the ‘hidden’ track, ‘Her Majesty’, the suite that makes up side 2 of the LP ends with ‘THe End’, a favourite Paul song:

‘We were looking for the end to an album, and ‘In the end the love you take is equal to the love you make’ just came into my head. I just recognized that would be a good end to an album. And it’s a good little thing to say– now and for all time, I think. I can’t think of anything much better as a philosophy, because all you need IS love. It still is what you need. There aint nothin’ better. So, you know, I’m very proud to be in the band that did that song, and that thought those thoughts, and encouraged other people to think them to help them get through little problems here and there. So uhh… We done good!!’

Abbey Road medley

George Harrison: Here Comes The Sun live

Paul McCartney: The End live

Sgt Pepper remastered

When I get older, losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a Valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?

Doing the garden
digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?

Well I’m not quite there yet – four more years – but I’m definitely losing my hair and digging the weeds…

In my hand is a birthday pressie from Sarah: the remastered edition of Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Going back in time on the sounds of the nation – it’s a Caroline flashback!! This always takes me back to a blissful summer before I left home for Liverpool and university. I completed my A-level exams in June; in the pub after the jukebox played A Whiter Shade of Pale. Later that month I began working for the local council, riding round south Cheshire cutting municipal grass. That same month Sgt Pepper was released and as I sat in the back of the lorry moving from one job to the next, all that was in my head was the sublime music from the unprecedented album. There was plenty there to nourish a young man’s imagination. All it takes is the smell of freshly-cut grass, and I’m drawn back, Proustian-like, to that summer and those sounds.

Listening now to the remaster, the promise of the Love album a couple of years back certainly seems to have been fulfilled: there is more depth and clarity and all the instruments sound real and present, especially Ringo’s drumming and Paul’s bass. What comes across, too, is how much this is Paul’s album: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, Getting Better, Fixing a Hole, She’s Leaving Home, When I’m Sixty-Four, and Lovely Rita. The packaging is handsome, with a booklet containing detailed notes on the recording process, as well as notes on the cover by Peter Blake. This is something that the Beatles’ CDs have lacked up to now. There’s also a mini-documentary on the making of the album (it’s a segment of the 60 minute documentary shown during the recent BBC4 Beatles season).

The album packaging was designed by Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth. It featured a colourful collage of life-sized cardboard models of famous people on the front of the album cover and lyrics printed on the back cover, the first time this had been done on an English pop LP. The Beatles themselves, in the guise of the Sgt. Pepper band, were dressed in custom-made military-style outfits made of satin dyed in day-glo colours.

The collage depicted more than 70 famous people, including writers, musicians, film stars and (at Harrison’s request) a number of Indian gurus. The final grouping included Marlene Dietrich, Carl Gustav Jung, W.C. Fields, Diana Dors, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, Aldous Huxley, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Sigmund Freud, Aleister Crowley, Edgar Allan Poe, Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, William S. Burroughs, Marlon Brando, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and Lenny Bruce. Also included was the image of the original Beatles bass player, Stuart Sutcliffe. Adolf Hitler, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus Christ were requested by Lennon, but ultimately they were left out.

Recording for the album began in late 1966 beginning with When I’m 64 and A Day In The Life. In November and December two songs were recorded that were ultimately dropped from the album, Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane. When Beatles manager Brian Epstein decided that a new single was needed,the two songs were issued as a double-A-sided single in February 1967. It was the group’s usual practice, that single tracks were not included on the LP (a decision George Martin states he now regrets).

When Sgt Pepper was released in June 1967, after an unprecedented six months in the studio, it was a major cultural event. In The Times Kenneth Tynan described Sgt. Pepper as ‘a decisive moment in the history of Western civilization’. Geoffrey Stokes commented, ‘listening to the Sgt. Pepper album one thinks not simply of the history of popular music but the history of this century’. Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane has said: ‘Something enveloped the whole worldat that time and it just exploded into a renaissance’.

In his definitive survey of The Beatles recordings, Revolution In The Head, Ian Macdonald wrote that the album

‘remains the most authentic aural simulation of the psychedelic experience ever created. At the same time, something else dwells in it: a distillation of the spirit of 1967 as it was felt by vast numbers across the western world who had never taken drugs in their lives. Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band may not have created the psychic atmosphere of the time but, as a near-perfect reflection of it, this famous record magnified and radiated it around the world’.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: mini documentary from remastered CD


John Lennon: In My Life

John Lennon: In My Life

Mark McGann In My Life

There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I’ve loved them all.

Went to the Phil with S to see Mark McGann’s In My Life: A celebration of the music of John Lennon. Backed by Swedish band Pepperland, McGann reprised the role he first performed in Ken Cambell’s 1981 Everyman production, Lennon. The show told John’s story deftly, with McGann utilising apt Lennon quotations in his narration and he and the band performing equally well-chosen songs very professionally.

That said, there were some downsides to the evening. There was a terrible, unexpected support act – some guy doing karaoke to George Harrison songs. It was truly awful,  like being dragged kicking and screaming into the X-Factor. The slideshow during In My Life was amateurish and throughout both sets the sound was bad.  I think Pepperland brought along rather substandard speakers that were pushed beyond their limit, especially on the high notes. A bit like shards of glass being hurled into the audience.

It was in Liverpool in 1981 that Mark started his career, aged 20, in the Everyman’s original production Lennon. Last night I misinformed S that it was in the 1974 Everyman production John, Paul, George, Ringo and Bert that I had first seen him play Lennon. Googling today, I realised I was quite wrong – McGann would only have been 13 at the time.

In fact, the play, which was Willy Russell’s first success, it was Bernard Hill who played John (while Paul was played by Trevor Eve and Ringo by Antony Sher!) Commissioned and directed by Alan Dosser for the Everyman Theatre where it opened in May 1974,  the production transferred to the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue in August.  The show was a major box office success for the Everyman Theatre. Nearly fifteen thousand people attended during its eight week run – record at the time.  The show also starred also starred Barbara Dickson just starting out as a singer.

The Liverpool Everyman was a creative powerhouse in the 1970s:

‘Even at the time and without the benefit of hindsight one knew just what an extraordinary company of actors Alan Dossor had assembled. As well as Bernard Hill and Tony Sher there was Johnathan Price, Alison Steadman, George Costigan, Trevor Eve, Liz Estensen, Philip Joseph, Matthew Kelly, Pete Postlethwaite, Julie Walters, Bill Nighy ….. awesome really’ – Willy Russell.

I thought I’d round off this post with two classic photos – bookends to John Lennon’s career. The first is the wonderful one of  The Quarry Men on 6 July 1957 performing at St. Peter’s Parish Church Fete, Woolton. This was, of course, the day that Paul met John. After this afternoon show, as The Quarry Men were setting up for an evening performance inside the church hall, John was introduced to Paul by mutual friend, Ivan Vaughn (leaning in towards John in the photo). Paul played Eddie Cochran’s Twenty Flight Rock for John and he knew the words to Be-Bop-A-Lula. John was impressed and a friendship began. On 18 October 1957, Paul made his debut with The Quarry Men at New Clubmoor Hall.

The other night I was watching the Imagine documentary on photographer Annie Leibovitz, in which the story of this – just about the last photo of John – was told:

The session took place in a bright, sunny room overlooking the park,” says Yoko Ono of her and John Lennon’s photo shoot at the Dakota, their New York apartment building, on December 8th, 1980. “We were feeling comfortable because it was Annie [Leibovitz], whom we respected and trusted, so John seemed not to have any problem taking off his clothes. John and I were hugging each other, feeling a bit giggly and up.”

“I was thinking that they had never been embarrassed to take their clothes off, that they could do a nude embrace,” says Leibovitz, who was photographing them for a Rolling Stone cover to mark the release of Double Fantasy, their first album in five years. “John took his clothes off in a few seconds, but Yoko was very reluctant. She said, ‘I’ll take my shirt off but not my pants.’ I was kinda disappointed, and I said, ‘Just leave everything on.’ We took one Polaroid, and the three of us knew it was profound right away.”

Yoko Ono & John Lennon Annie Leibovitz

That evening, returning to the Dakota on his way home from the recording studio, Lennon was shot and killed by a deranged fan. The photo would become the cover of Rolling Stone’s commemorative issue – no additional text was felt necessary.

Paul McCartney: bad boy!

Here’s a great photo of Paul McCartney as a schoolboy, pointedly having nothing to do with the ritual of the taking of the school photograph.  He’s the bad boy at the back, head in a comic, surrounded by classmates from Joseph Williams School in Belle Vale , taken in 1952.

Below: what Joseph Williams School would have looked like in McCartney’s time. THe building was demolished in 2006.

Maybe Paul wasn’t such a bad boy after all: another photo in the auction shows him as a boy scout in 1952 when he was a member of the 16th Allerton Group St Aiden Troop. And he looks quite angelic in another photo of him at a schoolfriend’s birthday party in 1952.

Another photo that’s turned up is this one of an eight year old Richard Starkey aka Ringo Starr taken sometime in 1948/49 for a St Silas Church of England school photograph. He was ill a lot as a child and missed a lot of school, making a photograph of him with his classmates quite a rarity.

And to complete the collection, here’s John Lennon in part of a panoramic photograph from Quarry Bank School in 1957.

These previously unseen photos will be auctioned later this week  in the Paul McCartney Auditorium at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (Lipa). It’s amazing that unseen photos like this still turn up!

Finally, for no particular reason, my favourite photo by Linda McCartney of Paul and the kids.

A schoolboy Paul is seen engrossed in a comic surrounded by classmates from Joseph Williams School, Liverpool, in the picture, taken in 1952.

White Feather: the Spirit of Lennon

White Feather: the Spirit of Lennon

The Beatles Story

While we were down on the waterfront today, Sarah and I went to see White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon, an exhibition at the new branch of  the Beatles Story museum located in the new ferry terminal building at Pier Head.

The exhibition was launched in June by John Lennon’s first wife, Cynthia, and their son, Julian and features possessions and images of the Lennons’ family life. It’s an honest and intimate account of their life together, revealing their experience of John as less than perfect husband and father.

“Growing up as John Lennon’s son has been a rocky path. He was a great talent, a remarkable man who stood for love and peace in the world, but to me he was the father I loved and longed for in his many absences. Mum was his first love, she was the one who held us together through it all”.

From the outset it feels as if Julian and Cynthia are talking directly to you and the sense of being invited to explore their personal possessions and experiences is heightened by the short video clips at the beginning (in which Julian expalins the significance of the white feather)and at the end of the exhibition, when Julian and Cynthia thank you for visiting the exhibition and sharing their story, Cynthia warns us to ‘behave’ and Julian reminds us to ‘love your mum’.

“For ten years I shared my life with a man who became a legend in his lifetime. When the Beatles formed and went on to delight and astound the world, I was at John’s side, sharing the highs and lows of his public and private lives. It was a time when he was at his creative best, a time when he loved his family and The Beatles.

John was an extraordinary man – infuriating, lovable, sometimes cruel, witty, talented and needy. I have always loved him and never stopped grieving for him. That’s why I want to tell the story of the John I knew. He believed in the truth and would want nothing less.”

The memorabilia on display includes childhood drawings by Julian (though not the one that inspired Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds), postcards sent by John to Cynthia or Julian and the guitars that John gave to Julian.

Paul McCartney with a young Julian Lennon

The central section of the exhibition tells the story of how Paul McCartney came to write Hey Jude for Julian. Originally titled ‘Hey Jules’, McCartney wrote the song in 1968 in an attempt to comfort Julian, during John and Cynthia’s divorce, following John’s affair with Yoko Ono. Cynthia recalled, “I was truly surprised when, one afternoon, Paul arrived on his own. I was touched by his obvious concern for our welfare…. On the journey down he composed ‘Hey Jude’ in the car. I will never forget Paul’s gesture of care and concern in coming to see us.”

About the original title of the song, Paul McCartney said, “I started with the idea ‘Hey Jules’, which was Julian, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Hey, try and deal with this terrible thing. I knew it was not going to be easy for him. I always feel sorry for kids in divorces … I had the idea [for the song] by the time I got there. I changed it to ‘Jude’ because I thought that sounded a bit better.”

It would be almost twenty years after McCartney wrote the song that Julian would discover that it had been written for him. He remembered being closer to McCartney than to his own father: “Paul and I used to hang about quite a bit—more than Dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad.”

Julian and Cynthia Lennon open White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon

Julian explains the meaning of the white feather:

“One thing Dad said to me should he pass away, if there was any way of letting me know he was going to be ok the message would come to me in the form of a white feather. Then something happened to me about ten years ago when I was on tour in Australia. I was presented with a white feather by an Aboriginal tribal elder, which definitely took my breath away. One thing for sure is that the white feather always represented peace to me.”

The White Feather Foundation is the name of a charity currently being set up by the pair, focusing on environmental and humanitarian issues. The closing video provides details of projects funded by the Foundation, including support for indigenous groups whose traditional culture and way of life is threatened with extinction.

White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon


Cruising the canal: Pier Head to Salford Quays

Yesterday we enjoyed the Mersey Ferries’ cruise along the Manchester Ship Canal in glorious sunshine under a cloudless sky. The cruise begins at the new  Mersey Ferries terminal building (opened in April) which houses a branch of the Beatles Experience.

The £10 million building had aroused controversy because of fears it would impair the view of the Three Graces from the river. But as can be seen here, the 3-storey building somehow manages to be low-rise.

A guide provides an informative commentary for nearly the full four hours of the trip!

This guy kept up an informative commentary for about four hours!

The Museum of Liverpool Life building has now taken shape – it’s interesting that its form seems to echo that of the Ferry Terminal. I wonder, is that an accident – or do they share the same architect?

The cruise is a journey through the industrial history of the  Mersey and the towns to which it has given life. Opened in 1894, the Manchester Ship Canal was one of the last major canals to be constructed in Britain. It stretches for 36 miles from Eastham, on the southern shore of the Mersey estuary 6 miles from Liverpool, almost to the centre of Manchester.

Passing the old Eastham ferry pier

Leaving Eastham Lock at the western end of the Manchester Ship Canal

The canal roughly follows the original route of the rivers Mersey and Irwell, along its course using several sets of locks.

With deteriorating economic conditions in the 1870s, the dues charged by the Port of Liverpool, and the railway charges from there to Manchester were seen as excessive by Manchester business interests. A ship canal was proposed as a way to reverse Manchester’s economic decline by giving the city direct access to the sea for its imports and its exports of manufactured goods.In 1882, a meeting of Manchester businessmen resolved to create a canal to enable sea-going ships to reach Manchester, so that Manchester industry could compete with other areas by avoiding the high charges for using rail transport and Liverpool Docks. The proposals were bitterly opposed by Liverpool and the railway companies but, in 1885, Parliament passed a bill approving the plan.

Ellesmere Port – entrance to the Shropshire Union canal

We pull in to allow a tanker hauled by tug to pass

Stanlow oil refinery

Frodsham Marsh – Liverpool on the skyline

Frodsham Marsh – the ferry that takes cattle across the canal to the saltmarsh

River Weaver joins the canal

Weston Point – Weaver navigation

Christ Church, Weston Point – built by the Trustees of the River Weaver Navigation Company for employees and families in 1841.

Salt washes into the canal at Weston Point

Salt on the quay at Weston Point

Approaching Runcorn rail and road bridges

Widnes church across the Mersey

Fiddler’s Ferry power station

Approaching Acton Grange viaduct railway bridge

In addition to the Barton swing aqueduct which carries the river Irwell the Bridgewater Canal across the Ship Canal, there are a further seven swing road bridges, four high level road bridges, five high level railway viaducts and five sets of huge locks – Eastham, Latchford, Irlam, Barton and Mode Wheel.

Approaching Latchford High Level Bridge preceded by swan

Passing beneath the M6 viaduct

The junction with the River Bollin

Today, largely because of the decline of UK-based manufacturing industry and also because many ocean-going ships are too large to fit in the canal, the amount of freight it carries has dropped to about six million tonnes each year. Salford Quays are no longer used as ship docks, and ships using the Manchester Ship Canal unload their cargo at various places along the canal.

Irlam locks

Barton Road swing bridge

However, in 2007  Tesco announced that it was using the canal for transporting wine between Liverpool and the Irlam Container Terminal, from where the cargo is offloaded and transported to a nearby bottling plant. Tesco say that this will save 700,000 miles of road haulage per year.

Centenary Bridge, Trafford Park industrial estate

Approaching Salford Quays

Mode Wheel locks, Salford

Imperial War Museum North

Salford Quays – The Lowry

When the canal reaches Manchester (or more properly Salford) it enters a web of quays and jetties. The old Salford-Manchester Docks disappeared in the early 1970s and over the past few decades, as Manchester has ceased to be the strong centre of manufacturing that it used to be, the canal has fallen largely into disuse.

Salford Quays – Millenium Footbridge raised

The docks were redeveloped as Salford Quays, with waterside housing, light industry, entertainment and recreational complexes (The Lowry, Imperial War Museum) and now the BBC Media City development.

Salford Quays – the new BBC Media City development

The renovation of Sefton Park 

The renovation of Sefton Park 

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2009 1

One afternoon last week I took the camera and recorded the progress of the renovation work along the waterways in Sefton Park. The waterways are full and the waterfalls pour again for the first time in a long time. This post compares those photos with ones taken in October 2008.

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2008 1

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2008 2
October 2008: work on the Jordan watercourse is in full swing

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2009 2

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2009 3

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2009 4
Now the waterways are full and the waterfalls pour again.

Sefton Park is amongst the premier historic parks in the world and is one of Liverpool’s key heritage assets. The site of the park was once within the boundaries of the 2,300 acre Royal Deer Park of Toxteth which became ‘disparked’ in 1591, the land eventually being acquired by the Earl of Sefton. The park’s history began in 1867 when the Liverpool Corporation purchased land for the park from the Earl of Sefton, and then held a competition for the design of the park.

Sefton Park plan1867
Hornblower and Andre’s Sefton Park plan1867

The French architect Edouard Andre and the local architect Lewis Hornblower won the competition with a park design in French style. The winning park design included a cricket ground, and a lake for recreation activities such as boating, and fishing. The park opened in 1872. Further development of the park continued with the construction of the Iron Bridge in 1873. Construction of Victorian houses at the park’s perimeter continued until around 1890. The restored Victorian Palm House opened in 1896. Another attraction is the Peter Pan statue which was made by the British sculptor Sir George Frampton and donated to the park by George Audley in 1928.

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2008 3

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2008 5

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2008 6

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2008 7
October 2008: work progresses on the Jordan watercourse

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2009 5

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2009 4

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2009 6
June 2009: everything looks good

When the park first opened it served as a cultural hub for the city and was the reason that many travelled to Liverpool. Hotels and guesthouses that border the park are a testament to the popularity of the park with tourists and visitors,taking advantage of the elegant watercourses and boating lake, historic monuments, and spectacular Grade II listed palm house, home to previously unseen tropical plant species. A 60 strong team of groundsmen lived on the site to maintain and preserve the grounds.

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2008 9

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2008 8
October 2008: work progresses on the Jordan watercourse

Unfortunately, over the years, Sefton Park, as with most public parks, had suffered from a lack of sufficient investment and management. Liverpool City Council, keen to reverse this period of decline committed itself to restoring the park to its former splendour and to reinstate Sefton Park as the cultural centre that it once was.

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2009 9
June 2009: beautiful once more

There are two watercourses which run through the park, following the routes of the Upper and Lower Jordan, both of which existed prior to the construction of the park in the 1870s. Since the opening of the park the impact of urbanisation and the development and management of the rivers upstream has lead to problems in the river flows. The major issues with the watercourses included silting, condition of lake linings,connections between watercourses and bank erosion. In addition to these, it was found that an additional water supply was needed to supplement the existing flows in the Lower Jordan.

Surveys and site investigations had shown that the condition of the waterways had degraded from the park’s heyday. Investigations showed that the lining of the waterways had deteriorated. The lining was constructed with puddle clay and finished with dressed stone walls, many of which showed various states of disrepair. Silting of the river courses was found to be a major problem. This adversely affected the capacity of the rivers, wildlife and aesthetics, as well as causing obstructions to boating in the main lake.

In 2005 the City Council received approval for a £5 million Heritage Lottery funded renovation project which involves the refurbishment and improvement of many of the park’s features. The work began in June 2007 will be completed this summer. This work was controversial with some regular users of the park as it included destroying trees and breeding sites of birds. The work led to the formation of the Friends of Sefton Park campaign group.


Together with fully renovated watercourses, and a restored, five-acre boating-lake that occupies the former valley of the River Jordan – named as such by the Puritans who lived in the district in the 17th century – the park is receiving a whole new lease of life.

The Peter Pan statue has been restored and the surfacing around it upgraded. Best of all, the ugly concrete bridge across the Jordan to the statue has been removed.

Dorothea Restorations was contracted to restore the original bandstand as part of a project to create an outdoor performance venue. Their team labelled and carefully dismantled the bandstand for repair and restoration. Works included the manufacture of a new cast iron main column, as one had a large crack in it. Once repaired and painted the components were returned to site and re-erected on its original base.

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2008 4
The bandstand a year ago
Sefton Park renovation autumn 2009 7
And now
A Victorian postcard of the bandstand

The bandstand, seen above in a 19th century postcard,  is said to be the inspiration for The Beatles Sergeant Peppers album.

Sefton Park renovation autumn 2009 10

The old aviary has been pulled down. It was built in 1901 and at one time was home to many exotic birds. As Liverpool’s fortunes slid in the 1980s, I remember it as a dreadful place with bedraggled and sad-looking birds trapped behind the most monstrous cage bars to keep out the vandals. Now the old cages have been removed and replaced with a new curved viewing point with trellis (through which climbers will grow) which overlooks new outside planting.

Sefton Park: the old aviary
Sefton Park: the old aviary

The aluminium Eros atop the restored Shaftesbury Fountain – it’s a replacement of the original figure which is too corroded for outdoor use and is now on display in the National Conservation Centre in Liverpool.

Shaftsbury Fountain detail


The new fountains

New fountains have been installed in the watercourse either side of the bandstand.

The fairy glen (or Dell) also has new cascades that appear (like the fountains) to be solar-powered.

The Dell


The Rathbone monument has been cleaned and the area around it resurfaced and provided with some of the elegant new seats that have been installed throughout the park.

William Rathbone was a member of the noted Rathbone family of Liverpool. He was a Liverpool merchant elected a Liberal councillor for Liverpool in 1835 and Mayor of Liverpool in 1837, and fought for many cases of social reform. He was an active supporter of the Municipal Reform Act 1835, supported Kitty Wilkinson in establishing Liverpool public baths and wash-houses following the devastation of the cholera epidemic and was responsible for the distribution of relief funds for Irish famine 1846-1847.

Fencing still surrounds the field covered by the mud dug from the lake and watercourses during restoration. Looks like Banksy has been lurking round this Nonexistant Area!

Nonexistant area
Nonexistant area

And it’s not over yet: the Council has announced plans to spend £70m improving Liverpool’s parks and green spaces. The funding will be part of a 25-year plan to restore the city’s heritage parks, including Sefton and Stanley Parks.

Improvements will also be made to Fairfield’s Newsham Park, Knotty Ash’s Springfield Park and Anfield cemetery, as well as other key projects, including the restoration of Croxteth country park and the relocation of the unique botanic plant collection. Up to £1m will be spent upgrading play areas in parks and public spaces as part of the scheme, which councillors insist shows Liverpool’s commitment to its Year of the Environment. They said the world’s economic downturn could not get in the way of investment in communities. Council leader Warren Bradley said: “The city has undergone a dramatic change and we need to sustain this.”

And earlier this year Princes Park was recognised for its historical importance. The 166-year-old south Liverpool park  (seen here after a snowfall in March 2006) is being upgraded from grade II to grade II* listed status by English Heritage. It was the first major park created by Joseph Paxton, inspiring other designers, and elements of Princes Park can be seen in urban parks throughout the country.