International Beatles Week, 2010

Well, we just returned from an awesome three week vacation…two weeks cruising around Greece, Italy, Turkey, Slovenia, and Croatia, and the last week, we spent in Liverpool!  We arrived two days into International Beatle Week, (my second!), and had a wonderful time!  Once again we stayed on the top floor of the Hard Days Night Hotel where, each night for the week we were there, I sat out on the balcony facing the LiverBuilding with my cup of tea, listening to the revelers singing and laughing on the street below, just soaking in the atmosphere. I’ve been in Liverpool at other times of the year, and, while I’ve always enjoyed myself, I must say that there is something magical that comes over the city during that last week of August!  I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend Beatle Week twice now, and I have loved it both times! 


The morning following our arrival, we attended the annual Beatles auction.  Now, I have to say here that I usually go only to sit and drool as most of the more interesting items are waaaay beyond my wallet’s capacity!  That morning, though, I went specifically to see the auction of one particular item that was causing quite a stir.  The item in question was a toilet owned (and operated!) by John Lennon!  No, you didn’t misread, and no, this isn’t a joke! The “throne” was housed in Lennon’s Tittenhurst lav somewhere between his 1969-1971 residency when he had it replaced, telling builder, John Shea, he could have it and that he should “put some flowers in it or something.”  What Shea did was stored it in his shed where it had sat for the past forty years until his recent -  uh, passing, (sorry!).  The Lennon loo ended up being purchased by “an unidentified overseas buyer” for a whopping £9,500, (roughly $14,500), more than ten times what it was estimated to bring in!  My friend, Donna, who worked the auction, overheard another auction insider joke that he hoped that the brown water ring staining the toilet was merely a rust stain! Blech!  That bidder may very well have gotten more than s/he bargained for!  (Wonder if they’d have to pay extra for that – heh, heh!) Right, moving on from the scatological to the eschatological, (a little theology humor there – yeah, yeah, okay…very little!).


Without a doubt, the highlight of this year’s Beatle Week had to be the “Peace, Love, and Understanding” concert held at the Anglican Cathedral, (the same one where a young Paul McCartney failed the audition for the choir!). The four hour program consisted of twenty-six Beatles’ Tribute bands and solo artists representing each of the seven continents.  They even projected a video message sent from Antarctica that began with a Russian monk from the Orthodox Church sharing a message of peace followed by three Russian scientists giving their rendition of “Let it Be,” accompanied on an acoustic guitar!  One of my favorite moments, though, was when Lennon-impersonator and musician extraordinaire, Marcus Cahill, sang “Happy Xmas/War is Over” backed by the Dovedale School Choir.  For those who don’t know, Dovedale was attended by both John and George.  A quick aside….Jim and I had met and befriended Marcus during Beatle Week back in ’08 and were very pleased and proud when we learned that he was one of the five Liverpool musicians selected for the new Hollywood production, “The Beatle Sessions.” Produced by Stig Edgren and former Beatles’ sound engineer, Geoff Emerick, the show will recreate the Beatles’ recording career at Abbey Road. So, once again, a heartfelt congrats to Marcus!  Getting back to the concert….the two principal tribute bands were the Swedish “Pepperland” and the Argentinean “Nube 9,” (spanish for “Cloud 9”) – both bands were incredible!  The performances of Beatles and solo-Beatles material were interspersed with various introductions, tributes, narratives, and poetry recited by folks like the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool; Julia Baird, (John’s half-sister); Mark McGann, (who, in the US, is probably best known for his role as John in the 1985 NBC film, “John & Yoko: A Love Story”); and David Bedford, (author of “Liddypool: Birthplace of the Beatles”); among others.  There was honestly not a single minute of the concert that was not enjoyable, (well, other than a sore butt from sitting all that time!), and the setting in the Cathedral seemed not only appropriate, but positively awe-inspiring!


Sunday was the day of the Beatles’ Convention at the Adelphi Hotel.  In addition to the large room where all sorts of Beatles items from records to posters to other memorabilia were sold, several conference rooms hosted a non-stop rotation of various bands and solo musicians.  Two films made their UK premiere there that night.  One was “Come Together,” a documentary about the plethora of international Beatles tribute bands and the fans who love them.  Though it sounded interesting, unfortunately, we had other plans and had to miss it.  The second film, “Let Him Be,” we did see.  This Canadian film posits the question, “What would happen if John Lennon actually survived and was hiding out in a small Canadian town?”  Shot as a pseudo-documentary, the story begins with a filmmaker’s discovery of a mysterious clip found in a camera purchased at a garage sale.  The brief clip shows an older man bearing a striking resemblance to John Lennon as he might have looked at that age had he lived.  The intriguing plot makes the film worth the view, so I’ll refrain from giving too much of a description and review in the event readers would like the opportunity to view it for themselves and decide.  The film is available for purchase on line via the site, which is linked above. 


The following night, we attended the “Beatles Variety Show” at the Philharmonic Hall. The show kicked off with a sampling of early Beatles tunes by the Backbeat Beatles, followed by two of “The Rutles,” – “Ron Nasty” and “Barry Wom” (Neil Innes and John Halsey), Badfinger’s Joey Mulholland performed, and, replacing Denny Laine in the line-up was none other than Pete Best!  Being a huge Monty Python fan, you can guess who I was most excited to see!  The show was great, and, I have to admit, Pete Best and his band blew me away….they were fantastic!


The culmination of Beatle Week is the Matthew Street Festival.  This year had six stages dotting the city centre which was closed to vehicular traffic for the day.  Though one mostly heard various tribute bands giving their rendition of each one of the Beatles’ albums, some of the stages hosted bands playing the music of other recording artists like David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Nirvana, etc….  One stage was even dedicated as a forum for up-and-coming new artists to introduce their own material.  At the end of the day, it was Marcus Cahill again, backed by the fantastic Spanish tribute band, Los Escarabajos, (“The Beatles” in Spanish), who closed the Festival and initiated Liverpool’s two-plus month observation of  John Lennon’s thirtieth anniversary by playing his entire “Imagine” album.  The note-perfect rendition was outstanding as evidenced by response from the approximately fifty thousand fans, many of whom were visibly moved.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect day! The city’s claim is that a record-breaking number of people attended the Festival this year, citing 150,000 as the final count – more than 20,000 than last year!  As we tried moving from stage to stage, it wasn’t hard to believe….it felt like the city was wall-to-wall people, but everyone was in good spirits.  No doubt the beautiful sunny, warm day contributed to the increased numbers.


It wouldn’t be a Beatles event, however, without a bit of controversy, and Beatle Week 2010 was no exception.  No, I’m not talking about the movement to save Ringo’s Madryn Street home.  In the months leading up to the Festival, the city council threw a proverbial pot of cold water on the festivities when, diverging from tradition, they failed to provide a stage for the original Liverpool “Merseybeat” sound groups.  We’re talking about bands and singers whose names at least are known to most Beatles fans familiar with the group’s earliest gigs on the Merseyside and Hamburg circuit: The Undertakers, Lee Curtis’ All-Stars, King Size Taylor and the Dominoes, the Mojos, Beryl Marsden (yep, she married Gerry of Pacemakers fame!), and others.  Protests from the artists, other artists (including Rolling Stone, Bill Wyman and former “Shadow,” Hank B. Marvin), their fans and supporters from around the world (including their earliest chronicler, Bill Harry), fell on virtually deaf ears prompting these original Liverpudlian rockers to pen and record a song protesting their treatment, “Let’s Bring Back the Merseybeat Stage to Liverpool.”  Sadly, it was to no avail.  Despite being a wildly popular attraction in previous years, not one of the six stages was given to these pioneers on this 50th anniversary of the “Merseybeat” sound! What a slap in the face!  As Dave Goldberg of The Merseybeats explains, “It was like New Orleans without the Jazz!”  Let’s hope the council wises up for next year!  If you’d like to learn more and/or add your voice to the demand for the return of the Merseybeat stage next year, check out their web page at .


Although not technically a part of the scheduled activities, Jim and I also went to the Victoria Gallery & Museum which was hosting the exhibition, “Astrid Kirscherr: A Retrospective.”  Most Beatles fans are more than familiar with the iconic black & white images of the young Beatles decked out in their Hamburg leathers and sporting the then-fashionable slicked back D.A. as well as pics Astrid snapped a short time later of them with the newer radical “do” that was to become their trademark.  What was especially interesting about this exhibit was the collection of personal memorabilia: early photos of Astrid herself at various ages, with her family and friends, with fellow art students, self-portraits, images of lover, Stu Sutcliffe and former husband, Gibson Kemp, as well as letters, receipts, postcards, and other such items from her personal collection.  While the photos and portraits exhibited were well known to me, I was pleasantly surprised to find a few that I’d not seen before.  Understandably, all of these images were taken during various sessions that produced several of the better known pics, but, let’s face it, it’s rare that we see anything new these days, (unless, of course, someone discovers a fifty year old undeveloped role of film à la Paul Berriff’s ’63-’64 collection which is being exhibited at The Beatles Story).  Other Beatle pics include the “chair” photos requested by Brian Epstein of the newly spruced-up, suited Beatles; the Tenarife holiday pics; and the “A Hard Day’s Night” pics shot for the German “Stern” magazine.  There are also some interesting non-Beatles photos shot during that same trip that Astrid took of children and of local rock and roll groups in Liverpool.  Knowing the she was still in town and that she frequently hung around the Gallery, I was a bit disappointed that she was not there the day we visited. Meeting Astrid and obtaining her autograph would have made the whole trip even more worthwhile for me!  Nonetheless, I enjoyed the exhibition immensely and was pleased with my purchase of the fully illustrated, narrated catalogues of both Astrid’s exhibition and the earlier exhibition of Stu’s art, (“Stu Sutcliffe: A Retrospective”).  FYI….both catalogues are available for purchase through Amazon and are well worth adding to your collection. 


As great a time as we had this year, I have to say that I preferred the schedule for the ’08 Beatles Week.  The biggest reasons is because the “powers-that-be” had actually included venues across the river.  It may have just appeared so, but I felt there were more varied activities offered to choose from.  Of course, ’08 was also the year that Liverpool was chosen for the European “Capital of Culture,” so that might have had something to do with it.  At any rate, International Beatles Week 2010 was a simply fantastic experience!  On a personal note, I want to thank Donna, (soon to be a resident of Woolton!), for helping to make our visit extra-special yet again. I’d also like to thank all of the folks there in Liverpool, from the hotel clerks to the taxi drivers to the shopkeepers who all manage to make the multitude of foreigners descending upon their city feel welcome and do it all with a smile and a sense of humor.  Last but not least, a big thank you to all of the tribute groups and solo artists who come out – some every year! – as well as the fans who make each Beatle Week a sensational success!  You know, one of the things that struck me one night as I was just chillin’ outside the Cavern, watching the crowds of people walking past on Matthew Street, is just how amazing it is that, forty years following the break-up of the Beatles, so many people from all corners of the world and of all age groups still find the music so endearing, inspiring, energizing, and relevant and that they have such tremendous affection and respect for these “four lads from Liverpool” that they make the trip just to be part of that spirit, whether from across the Mersey or across the world….and every year, the crowd gets bigger and bigger!  It’s incredible to walk around Liverpool, taking in these humble origins of John, Paul, George, and Ringo and then look at the tens of thousands of people who are there to celebrate the group and their music.  That’s when it really sinks in….the Beatles truly have left one hell of a legacy!

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