googled06bb313055e587a.html Rock N Roll Rehab for the Control Of Rock and Roll Starring Greg Piper and The Tooners: Jerry Strull's Tour Of Liverpool

Jerry Strull's Tour Of Liverpool

 The Tooners' guitarist, lead guitarist of the brilliant John Lennon show, Just Imagine starring Tim Piper and singer-songwriter Jerry Strull just sent us an account of his recent trip to Liverpool. Jerry, like the rest of us, is a HUGE Beatles fan. Here's what he had to say:

Liverpool - A Hard Day's Day by Jerry Strull

Arrive mid-afternoon Thursday May 19 by train from London Depart  morning Saturday May 21 by train to York (train stops in Manchester and Leeds on way to York), So we arrive at Lime Street Station and are whisked away by taxi to the Hard Day's Night Hotel which is only a couple miles away. Lloyd, our cabbie, is proud of his city and of his fellow Liverpudlians. Among other things, he suggests we go to Albert Dock to see the "real" Liverpool (which turns out to be nothing more than a tourist area on the Mersey shore. Had a nice little walk along the Mersey, though).

The Hard Day's Night Hotel turns out to be great fun! As it turns out, it's one of the best hotels in town. A good many of the guests seem to be there for the same purpose as us,  to see Beatles history. But I still see many guests who are clearly in town on business or to visit family.

 Jerry and Tom, the driver at Penny Lane.

The hotel is nicely done and modernish. They've incorporated the Beatles theme top to bottom. Pictures everywhere. Memorabilia in the form of photos, paintings, objets d'art..all Beatles related. Small items to walk up close and scrutinize. Large items to remind you of the Beatles no matter where you may glance. Long panels of black and white Early Beatles photos lining the walls all the way up along the wide, lavish spiral staircases leading to the upper floors. The pillows on the lobby sofas are printed with Beatles paintings.

The rooms are smallish, but nicely appointed. A painting of John and George above our bed. "A Hard Day's Night" (the song) plays as soon as you turn on the lights to the room. The card for the door-knob that lets the maid know that you don't need the room made up in the morning says "Let It Be". (If you DO want the room made up in the morning, the reverse side of the card says "I Need You".) The 24-hour room service menu is headed "Anytime At All".

Jerry and Abby Strull at Penny Lane (should have been ABBY Road).

The hotel is only a few yards away and around the corner from Mathew Street where the Cavern Club is. The Liverpool powers-that-be have decided that this area around and including Mathew St. is the center of Liverpool Beatlesdom and, if you visit only one Beatles-related spot on your visit to Liverpool, then Mathew St. is where you need to go. Still, for the real fan, the interest on Mathew St. starts and ends with the Cavern Club.

The street is filled with touristy stores and restaurants. Surprisingly, only a two Beatles souvenir shops. There are a few Beatles-themed pubs (e.g. Sgt. Peppers Pub, The Cavern "Pub"), but several non-Beatles related rock pub/clubs. Prime place for buskers..saw a trio doing some pretty  good rockabilly wearing cowboy hats. Lloyd has told us it gets a little rough there at night... so best not be there too late. From our hotel room, we can hear too well the thumping of hard rock classics being played by a cover band at one of the nearby Mathew St. clubs...going on until well past midnight. (Thank god for earplugs!)

So, we've checked into our room. We've taken a taxi down to Albert Dock. Bought a few souvenirs. Walked along the Mersey and walked back to the hotel. Now we go for a visit to the Cavern Club around 4:00 p.m.

The Cavern Club is only "sort-of" located in the same physical space as where the Beatles actually played. If I understand correctly, it's in the very same GPS coordinate as the original, but the original was actually a floor or two below the current location. At some point in the past, it became necessary to move the club up a couple floors. Despite this, a successful effort was made to otherwise recreate the place and the experience. (I was told they used some of the original bricks in the remake.) The current Cavern Club still has what feels like a long descent from ground level... down a couple shadowy flights of brick staircase... to reach the club. It DOES feel like a cavern.

Still, whether or not this version of the Cavern Club has exact same locus as where the Beatles performed, what IS there now seems to be kind of a living spiritual center for us disciples of the British Invasion. It had many of the aspects of an ongoing Christian revival meeting..except that the religion/dogma for this service was the Music of the Sixties'..particularly that which came from the UK.

There is live music from opening at 11:00 a.m. until after midnight...7 days a week. I think they have acoustic guitar/singer type acts for the first part of the day, and then bands starting about 6 p.m.. We were there for a couple hours and only heard acoustic guitar/singers. The couple guys we saw were very good performers. Very good at involving the audience and being entertaining. Obviously they played a lot of Beatles, but also many other Brit Invasion songs from groups such as The Kinks and Gerry and the Pacemakers. I also heard some Queen. One guy even did a show-stopping, funny version of "American Pie".

So why am I pointing out the spiritual aspect of this? To start, the place was jammed to the rafters and entirely made up of people who were teenagers back in the 60's. A lot of people with white hair....all just going bonkers hearing THEIR music. I've been to hard rock concerts that were less raucous than this place on this afternoon. There was a palpable sense of community (a lot of drinking going on IS a pub after all. That certainly added to the vibe).

So, given that this was just an ordinary Thursday afternoon..not even in the high tourist season...and the place is filled and just was easy for me to imagine that I was witnessing a small part of what was really an endless stream of the "faithful" pilgrimaging from around the world to "Mecca" to worship. Quite striking!

Then, next morning comes and it's the big day! I've done my research. Rather than taking the "Magical Mystery Bus Tour" which is a popular thing to do (you get on a bus and they drive you past the historical sites with a narrator commenting the whole way), I've opted to go with the better-reviewed "Fab Four Taxi Tour". That's a service where a guide drives anywhere from 2 to 6 people around in a London taxi cab to the Beatles sites for anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. It's supposed to be a more intimate experience and the guides are supposed to be very knowledgeable. I, of course, have opted for the 4 hour tour. It turns out Abby and I are the only ones on the tour this morning. (Much to the dismay of Tom, our guide. I can see he's thinking how he can keep us interested for 4 hours. He immediately says he's going to add in some non-Beatles Liverpool history to the tour).

Tom's even more challenged to fill up the 4 hours with us because he realizes that we need to skip a couple of the highlights of his normal tour...that is, to see the childhood homes of both Paul and John. We're skipping that part because, being the insane Beatles fan that I am, I've booked us for a SECOND tour for that afternoon. This second tour is one given by the National Trust (which is Britain's historical society). They have control of both John and Paul's boyhood homes. While the other Liverpool Beatles tours will all take you TO those homes, only the National Trust tour takes you INSIDE the homes. So, no point in Tom driving us by there.

So, off we go with Tom. We see the hospital where both John and Paul were born (Ringo and George apparently were born at home.) We hear the back story as to how it came to be that, unlike most children back then, John and Paul were born in a hospital (both Paul's mom and John's Aunt Mimi were nurses and had connections). We see Brian Epstein's love nest where Cynthia was ensconced for a while after the birth of Julian so as not to let the fans know John was married. We go to the Dingle where Ringo grew up. We go to where Paul and George went to school ..which is right next door to where John and Stu Sutcliffe went to art school (both buildings eventually acquired by a group led by Paul McCartney to create the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts). We see Penny Lane. We see George's boyhood home. We go to St. Peters Church where the Quarrymen were playing at their "garden fete" on July 6, 1957 and John and Paul were first introduced. We see the graveyard at St. Peter's Church where, sure enough, there's a gravestone with the name "Eleanor Rigby".

 Eleanor Rigby's grave.

We see Strawberry Fields last. Throughout all of the tour, Tom is telling us the back story and interesting anecdotes every stop. Fascinating stuff!

And it's at Strawberry Fields where things start to unravel. (Actually, they'd started to unravel a bit earlier. As we were leaving the Eleanor Rigby gravesite, I felt something fall on my nice, new jacket somewhere between my shoulder blades. I thought it was an acorn or something that had fallen from the trees above us. Reflexively, I reached back to feel back there. I thought. Then I looked on the ground to see if the fallen acorn was to be seen. Nothing there. I moved on. After crossing the street, I happened to look to see that my hand where I had reached to feel my back was filled with slimy green bird crap. It was horrifying. And no washroom around. Tom had some paper-towels and some windshield cleaner in the car. Did my best with that, but I can tell you, I didn't really feel clean for the rest of the eventful afternoon. I couldn't wait to get to some hot water and soap).

 The Church where "she picked up the rice"...

Anyway, back to Strawberry Fields and the unraveling. Strawberry Fields is closed to the public, so the only thing to do for tourists is to go up to the iron gate that says "Strawberry Fields" and take pictures. Tom tells us the Lennon-related history there. It's fascinating. A story I'd never heard before. Turns out that, back when Lennon lived nearby, the place was an orphanage. Lennon, being more or less abandoned to his Aunt Mimi by his mom and dad, felt a strong kinship with the orphans that lived there. So, he would spend a lot of time there hanging out with the orphans. He'd climb the fence to get in. Climb up a tree and while away the time. Get in the meal line with the orphans. Even spend the night sometimes (partly, Tom says, being as some of the orphans were female.) Then Tom fills in the back story with how this all can be found in the lyrics to "Strawberry Fields Forever". When John gets caught spending the night at the orphanage, the police are called in. They warn John and his Aunt Mimi that, if it happens again, John will be prosecuted. Mimi tells John "If you do that again, I'll hang you!"..hence the lyric "Nothing to get hung about." "Living is easy with eyes closed" (how people would be blind to the travails of the orphans.) "No one I think is in my tree" (John hanging out in the trees at the orphanage.") I'm blown away by all these stories. I'm feeling like, boy, this tour is GREAT!

  Jerry and Abby Strull in front of Strawberry Fields.

Earlier, Tom had had some similarly detailed, intriguing stories about the lyrics to Penny Lane and its real-life references.

Skipping way ahead to the end of the afternoon, I find a moment at the end of our National Trust tour of John's boyhood home to talk to the docent, a very nice mid 60's year old man named Colin. I mention to Colin about how amazed I was to hear Tom's back story about Strawberry Fields. Colin is taken aback. He tells me that Tom's story about Strawberry Fields is clearly pure fiction. He wants to know who this guy Tom is. Colin is seriously going to consider getting in contact with the Fab Four Taxi company. He feels that this sort of thing downgrades the reputation of the whole Beatles tour industry in Liverpool. Colin, was born and raised and still lives in that same neighborhood as John did...and is friends with some of the people who were
friends with the Beatles. He's a pretty good authority.

So here at the end of the day, I find out that all of the interesting stories I'd heard from Tom that morning have to be taken with a grain of salt! Very disappointing. But I didn't know about that as we drove away from Strawberry Fields towards the rest of the afternoon's events. Looking back on the day, I have to say that things still worked out great because of the amazing events that were about to happen.

The Fab Four Taxi tour sort of ends with Tom driving us over to the The Casbah where we're dropped off for an extra sort of "event" which costs an extra 15 pounds apiece. I really had no idea what this was going to be, but it's a part of the tour I had inadvertently signed up for. I had only a vague awareness of The Casbah. The letters in the name suggest "The Cavern Club", so I'm figuring it's just another club where the Beatles played early on. Au contraire! It turns out to be way more interesting and way more important. Totally unexpected experience.

Tom takes us to the place. It's a somewhat dilapidated 3-story house on a residential street. Not a commercial district, but a totally residential area. Very unexpected. He drives down a long driveway to the back of the house. There's 4 other customers there from Wisconsin milling about in the backyard along with their driver. We're all waiting for the scheduled 1:00 p.m. Casbah "show". The "show" really DOES turn out to be a "show". There is a "tour guide" for The Casbah, but this was not your usual docent droning on. This was theater. Almost Shakespearean. The "actor", if you will, was Roag Best. Pete Best's half-brother. Son of Mona Best and, as we only learned at the end of the hour, Neil Aspinall (if you don't know who this is, that's fine, but any Beatles fan worth his salt will know who he is. He started out as their driver and ended up being the head of Apple Records..and everything in between). Roag was born out of wedlock and Aspinall only in his later years would acknowledge publicly that he was Roag's father.

Roag is a whirling dervish of energy. Black pony-tail. A little bit of a black beard. Comes off kind of like a maybe 5' 8" Lowell George look-alike. A bit hippyish. Speaks clearly with the local accent. As I watched him do his shtick for the paying customers (and a good shtick it was), I thought this is the only time in my life I'll become seasick from simply watching someone talk.

This is a tour where the customers are walked through the various windowless rooms of the club...stopping in each room so Roag can tell the stories that go along with that room. Often, he makes his dramatic points by briefly getting eyeball-to-eyeball with one of us... asking some question like "So what do you think happened next?!" and then backing off to finish the answer to the group. The guy's a natural showman. Well done, Roag!

So here's what I learn. It turns out that, without the involvement of his mom, Mona Best, the Beatles may very well have never happened. Just her part of the story makes for a pretty good story.

I may not be totally accurate in my memory of her story, but here's the broad strokes: She's a Brit born and raised in India. Ankle-length hair, and a daredevil. Races motorcycles, I think? Something else to do with crocodiles, I think? Anyway, being a white woman daredevil-type is not what you'd expect to find in the late 1930's India. She meets and marries Johnny Best..a highly successful sports promoter from a prominent Liverpool family. They go to live in his family's mansion in Liverpool, but early on, Mona doesn't get along with the family and they move to less classy digs. (Mona is an extremely strong-willed person and it would seem her relationship with Johnny Best was a tempestuous one.) So the family lives for nine years in the smaller house, but Mona dreams of having a bigger house like the one in which she grew up in India. She finds the house she dreams of (which had a windowless bottom floor that would eventually become The Casbah Coffee Club), but doesn't have the money for it. Legend has it that she sells all of her jewelry and bets all the proceeds on a horse with a 33 to 1 shot to win... because she likes the name of the horse ("Never Say Die"). She wins, the house is purchased and the family moves in. (It seems that, at some point, Johnny Best has left or will leave the scene.)

Mona then sees a TV news report about some coffee club in London's Soho district that's a big local hit and apparently making some pretty good money. The attraction is that teens can come there to listen and dance to popular music. Seems to be a burgeoning demand for that sort of thing. So Mona decides to turn the bottom floor of the family residence into The Casbah Coffee Club. (This is about 1959.) The "live rock and roll band" situation in Liverpool at this point is in its infancy. At that point, Mona just asks around to find ANY live rock musicians who can play opening night and finds a couple guys who seem to have a group turns out..George Harrison as their guitar player. It doesn't sound like they have more than a few songs in their repertoire. Mona books them to play, but then hands them paint and brushes and says "Great! If you want to play here, part of your job is to get the club ready for business!"

There's a lot of comings and goings personnel-wise, but at some point early on it becomes John, Paul, George and Pete Best forming a group and playing there on and off during their early years. Roag points out how the various rooms of the Casbah have been painted and by which Beatle. There's a couple places where John has signed his name on the ceiling after he painted it. One room has a ceiling where there are hand-painted silver stars painted by the guys. According to Roag, Sotheby's has valued that ceiling alone at several million pounds.

Anyway, the club opens and the first night there are something like 3,000 kids lined up to get in. It turns out the club is a huge success and stays that way for a long time. The Beatles come and go from Hamburg a couple times. The Beatles start to get it together musically. They start to become very popular.

It's Mona who goes the The Cavern Club to promote the Beatles playing there. Apparently she sees they could be getting more attention playing in a real centrally-located downtown club rather than in some funky room on a suburban street.  It would give the Beatles wider exposure. However, the Cavern Club has a "jazz-only" policy. The owner tells Mona that he refuses to book the Beatles. They're not jazz. Mona then asks the owner how he stays in business. She mentions that she's been down to the club  a few times now and could see they were drawing only a handful customers each night. The owner admits that he's about to go out of business. So Mona basically convinces him to take a chance on rock and roll. The rest is history.

Roag also mentions that it was Mona's stories of her childhood in India which triggered George's fascination with Indian culture and music. Apparently, he wouldn't stop pestering her with questions on the subject.

So the Casbah Coffee Club was ground-zero for the Beatles. And the scene of events that would later determine my own future (who knew!). I shake Roag's hand, congratulate him on a terrific tour.. and then get whisked away by Tom and his taxi. We've arranged with Tom that, for an extra 15 quid, we would be dropped off at our next destination: that National Trust tour of Paul and John's childhood homes.

I'll throw in a side story. It was as we walked with Tom back down the driveway to where his taxi was parked, still desperately wanting soap and a hot shower, that I learned that Tom doesn't take credit card. This was surprising because I had paid for the 20 pound deposit to book the tour by credit card over the internet. (And because we'd just come from London where EVERYTHING could be paid for by credit card).

I didn't have half of Tom's fee in cash with me, so he drives us to an ATM so I can get him his cash. To my dismay, although I had deliberately checked with Bank of America before we left home to make absolutely sure I would have no problem getting cash using my ATM card was rejected

We drove to a B of A -affiliated bank to see someone in person who could straighten this out. Waited in line for the teller while Tom and his taxi..with Abby acting as collateral in the back seat...were waiting. (I was sensing Tom's increasing impatience.) The tellers tried to help, but they couldn't get approval either.

So now I'm out of options. Defeated and stressed out, I get back in the taxi and tell Tom the bad news. Finally, as Tom drives us to where the National Trust tour bus will be waiting, he gets on the radio with his
dispatcher... repeats my credit card information to him as I shout it out from the backseat..and the payment gets made.

So we make it to the National Trust bus in time and we get to visit both of John and Paul's childhood homes. The experience is totally worthwhile, but in a way that's hard to pin down. The experience isn't really revelatory in any way. There was very little about either house that was distinctive in appearance. They could have been anyone's houses for the most part (although there was care to present the houses as they would have looked in the late 50's when they were living there). Some of the items really belonged to the McCartney's and Lennon's. The McCartney house had some family photos displayed because Paul's brother, Michael, was an amateur photographer back in the day and took a lot of family photos. (Linda, the docent and Colin's wife, says that Michael lives in town and often pops by to visit and drop off family artifacts for the exhibit.)

One thing that WAS revelatory to me was the answer to a question I'd had in the back of my mind for years: "Why does John's house have a name?" John's house is universally called "Mendips"? The house has a street address like most houses, but anytime John's house is mentioned in books it's referred to by the name and not by a street address. Colin told me that it was an "affectation" of middle class Brits attempting to create for themselves a little of the prestige of the upper classes whose mansions all have names (e.g "Downton Abbey").

John Lennon's house, Mendips.

So we've gone through this whole day. The Mendips tour ends. Colin invites us 15 or so guests to wander through the house at their leisure until the bus comes back to pick everyone up. It's during this time that I have the conversation with Colin about Tom and his Strawberry Fields fantasy is exploded.

Then the bus comes to pick everyone up and take them back to where the tour started. Everyone gets on the bus but us. We had arranged a different plan.

Before the tour started, we had an opportunity to talk to the bus driver. When we mentioned where we were staying, he suggested that at the end of the afternoon's tour at Mendips, we'd be better off just getting a bus or taxi straight back to our hotel rather than going back with everyone to the starting place. This was because the tour starting place is in exactly the opposite direction of where our hotel was. Surprisingly, at the last minute, the driver asks Colin to call a taxi for us. I kind of felt like I was imposing on Colin, but he says he frequently does that for the tourists. He gets on his cell phone and texts the address for where the taxi service should pick us up. But the taxi service doesn't text right back to confirm the time we can expect the taxi to arrive as it usually does. He's not sure why not. It might be just a busy Friday rush hour. The bus has pulled away. It's just the three of us alone standing in the driveway at Mendips.

So, a kind of amazing thing happens. We were the last tour of the day. Colin's got to clean up the place before he can go home which takes a few minutes anyway. He invites us to come and sit in the living room while we all wait to see if and when the taxi service would respond. So we sat alone in the Lennon living room for about 10 minutes and waited while Colin straightened things up in the other part of the house.

Now this may not seem like a big deal, but for me and Abby it was really kind of mind-blowing. In one instant, I have the awareness of nothing more than sitting in a rather tawdry living room. In the next instant though, I have the awareness of what has happened in that physical space and the people that inhabited it. For example, we were told that this is the room that John and his first skiffle bands would rehearse in. Who knows what else might have happened here? Paul and John sitting around playing guitars perhaps? John's mom Julia teaching John how to play banjo chords on his guitar? In our minds, a connection was made to those lost moments by simply being present there.

Undeniably, there was something magical..truly miraculous about the phenomenon that was the Beatles. Something that couldn't have been anticipated from the simple confluence of people and events. Sitting there, I wondered if I had been a witness of those events taking place in this room and had known what was to come, would I have been able to see the clues?

Then Colin came into the room. Affable guy. He tried the taxi service again. Got them this time. The taxi was supposed to arrive in about 15 minutes. We walked to the sidewalk and had a final chat with Colin as he was about to walk home. He had earlier pointed out the bus stop a half block down from Mendips and on the other side of the wide street. That was where we would have to catch the bus if the taxi didn't arrive. To get to that bus stop, we would have had to use the same crosswalk, going the same direction, for the same purpose... as John's mom Julia was doing when she was tragically run over and killed by a drunken off-duty policeman.

And in the taxi on the way back to the hotel, the driver confirms what Linda the docent had mentioned earlier to our tour group. Paul McCartney had just arrived in Liverpool the day before. Never found out why. Probably having to do with the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. Still, the thought that McCartney actually being in town at the same time was the cherry on top of the cake for me.

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