Travel Report: The Beatles Story, Liverpool.
May 2019. The whole idea of making Liverpool the centerpiece of my 2019 travels around England was to fulfil a lifelong desire to see all those amazing Beatles spots I’ve read about and seen on TV. If you’re into The Beatles, and let’s face it most people are, there’s a serious amount of Fab Four stuff to check out here. So it’s actually a good idea to work out what you wanna prioritise. A natural starting point would be The Beatles Story, the world’s largest museum singularly devoted to telling the story of John, Paul, George and Ringo.
May 2019. I was feeling more than a little curious when I entered The Beatles Story that sunny May afternoon. As a Fab Four fanatic who’s collected the records, seen the movies, watched the documentaries and consumed god knows how many books, I found myself wondering whether this place could actually bring anything new to the table. With entrance tickets priced at £17, I was certainly hoping so!!!
May 2019. Opening its doors in May 1990, The Beatles Story has walked over five million visitors through the ups and downs of the band’s eventful timeline. It all kicks off with a replica of the truck that John Lennon and his skiffle band The Quarry Men performed on as part of the garden fete at St. Peter’s Church, Woolton on the 6th of July 1957.
The other band members that day were Eric Griffiths (guitar), Colin Hanton (drums), Rod Davis (banjo), Pete Shotton (washboard) and Len Garry (tea-chest bass). This was also the day that John first met Paul McCartney, who impressed Lennon by teaching him how to tune his guitar before belting out impressive renditions of Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent songs.
I’ve heard this story a thousand times over of course and while the model truck was fun to see I was more impressed by an original business card belonging to The Quarry Men. I would love to have known how The Beatles Story came upon it.
May 2019. George Harrison didn’t join the group until early 1958 after an audition setup by Paul, who badgered John into giving George the chance to audition. The meeting took place on top of a double decker bus, where Lennon was suitably wowed by fourteen-year-old Harrison’s take on Raunchy by Bill Justis. The Beatles Story has managed to get hold of George’s first guitar, a basic Dutch made Egmond model bought for him by his mum and dad after George was hospitalised with a kidney infection. It took just one day for an inquisitive George to unscrew a bolt, which made the neck fall off. When it was eventually put back together the strings started hitting the fret, causing a buzzing sound. And so he was only able to play a few chords, which happened to be just perfect for the art form known as skiffle!
The Beatles Story has all kinds of stage mock ups covering those early years. Bypassing the more familiar territory of The Casbah Club, the Hamburg years and The Cavern Club, I found myself lingering around this model studio of Mersey Beat Magazine. Founded in 1961 by Bill Harry, one of John Lennon’s classmates at Liverpool Art Institute, Mersey Beat quickly became the go-to publication focused on Liverpool’s blossoming music scene, which at that time featured a staggering five hundred bands.
Mersey Beat was pretty much the first paper to bring people stories about The Beatles and of course The Beatles Story has a few original copies on display. Apparently the magazine received regular complaints that it should rename itself The Mersey Beatles, so heavily were the boys featured. Mersey Beat was dissolved in 1964 when the boys’ manager Brian Epstein approached Harry to go national with the magazine. And so Music Echo was born, though Harry soon resigned when it became clear he wouldn’t be enjoying the same editorial freedom.
I’ve always found Brian Epstein an incredibly fascinating and complex individual, so I was delighted to see The Beatles Story dedicate a nice big chunk of their exhibition to The Beatles manager. Set in and around a giant mock up of NEMS Music Store, visitors are walked through the story of how he discovered the band, gave them their first contract, stuck them in suits, streamlined haircuts, brought in George Martin as producer and booted out drummer Pete Best in favour of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes sticksman Ringo Starr.
As lovingly laid out and colourful as the Brian Epstein exhibit is, for me it was a couple of authentic items that took my Beatles Story experience to the next level. Take Brian Epstein’s actual signature cashmere coat for example, which now lives in the museum. The coat was custom made for Epstein by Aquascutum of Regent Street in London.
But Epstein’s coat is probably outdone by this torn fragment of letter sent by Brian himself to “the boys”. Written sometime in early 1967, the letter presents Epstein in a very regretful and insecure state of mind as he worries that The Beatles’ spiralling popularity will signal the end of his reign as manager. “My personal usefulness to you is now obviously superseded by your own intellect, knowledge and so on” he says. For those looking to go deeper into Epstein’s sad and brief life story, I can highly recommend Deborah Geller’s biography The Brian Epstein Story.
I found myself quickly drifting through The Abbey Road Studio section, after all just a week earlier I’d paid a visit to the actual Abbey Road in London for a walk across the famous zebra crossing. But again there were a few amazing antiques to see, such as George Martin’s original orchestral arrangement for Yesterday.
The Abbey Road gallery also includes some of Martin’s impeccable handwritten studio notes during the 1965 Help! sessions.
The Beatlemania section of the museum is a memorable one thanks to a life-size mock up of PAN AM flight 101, which The Beatles took for their first visit to The USA on the 7th of February 1964.
Once you’re off the plane you’ll find yourself walking through a dimly lit tunnel of screaming fans and flashing cameras, all actual archive audio and video footage from the time.
Also in The Beatlemania exhibit, a great little story that I hadn’t been familiar with revolving around a four year old boy called Russell Jamieson. In 1963 he was crowned the world’s youngest Beatles Fan Club member. This great honour saw little Russell get to actually meet The Fab Four and receive a number of signed items. A pair of Russel’s Beatles jackets from back in the day are also on display.
The Beatles Story eventually zones in on a handful of the band’s key albums with exhibits on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour (complete with replica bus) and the museum’s most recent addition, The Beatles in India, which breaks down their trip to Rishikesh and how it spawned the songs that would end up on The White Album.
The Beatles Story is an essential city attraction for Beatles fans of all shapes, sizes and persuasions. Digesting everything that’s on offer here could pretty much take you all day, so like me you’ll probably find yourself dipping in and out of the those bits that particularly pique your interest. As a lifelong Beatlehead who was very familiar with the narrative on offer, I thought the The Beatles Story was still worth it simply for the original items on display. For more on this impressive museum, take a look at their website.
For more on the greatest rock band in history, check out my other articles from The Beatles In Liverpool. Alternatively, have a read about my visit to Abbey Road in London, or check out my review of The White Album.
Like this? Check out more of my pieces from around Liverpool.
Or maybe search further afield with my articles from all around England.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001, so why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.