Travel Report: The Beatles Story, Liverpool.
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 the city’s legendary Beatles spots.
If you’re into The Fab Four, there’s a serious amount of stuff to check out. So much so, it’s actually a good idea to work out what you wanna prioritise. Because believe me, you can’t see it all on a three day trip. A natural starting point would be The Beatles Story, the world’s largest museum devoted to telling the tale of John, Paul, George and Ringo.
I was feeling more than a little curious when I entered The Beatles Story that sunny May afternoon. As a huge fan of the band, I’d already collected the records, seen the movies, watched the documentaries and consumed god knows how many books. Hence I found myself wondering whether this place could actually bring anything new to the table. With my entrance ticket priced at £17, I was certainly hoping so!
Since 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 Quarrymen performed on at St. Peter’s Church Garden Fete on the 6th of July 1957.
The Beatles Story, Liverpool.
John’s fellow 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 afternoon that John first met Paul McCartney, who impressed Lennon by belting out renditions of Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent songs.
In truth I was already familiar with the story of how The Beatles formed. Thus I found myself more intrigued by the little details. Those cool items, for example, that the museum has managed to acquire. Such as this business card that John had made to promote his group.
George Harrison didn’t join the band until early 1958 after an audition set up by Paul. In fact, Paul had to badger John into giving George a chance to show what he could do. 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 showcases George’s first guitar, a Dutch made Egmond model bought for him by his mum and dad. It was a present for young Harrison after he’d been hospitalised with a kidney infection. It took just one day for an inquisitive George to unscrew a bolt, which caused the neck to fall off.
The Beatles in Liverpool.
When he eventually succeeded in reassembling it, Harrison noticed that the strings were now hitting the fret. This caused a weird buzzing sound. George was now only able to play a few chords clearly, which happened to be perfect for the stripped back art form known as skiffle!
The Beatles Story has all kinds of mock-ups depicting various aspects of Liverpool history in the 1950s and 60s. Bypassing the 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 college classmates, Mersey Beat quickly became the go-to publication about Liverpool’s blossoming music scene. Which, at that time, included a staggering five hundred bands.
Mersey Beat was the first magazine to feature stories about The Beatles. Happily, the museum has a few original copies on display. Apparently, the publication became so focused on the Fab Four, they began receiving complaints. “You should rename yourselves The Mersey Beatles” moaned one disgruntled reader.
Mersey Beat dissolved in 1964 when the boys’ manager Brian Epstein approached Bill to go national. And so it morphed into a new magazine, Music Echo. However, Bill soon resigned due to Epstein’s constant interfering, which greatly curtailed his editorial freedom.
The Beatles Story, Liverpool.
I’ve always found Brian Epstein a fascinating and complex individual. So I was delighted to see a dedicated chunk of space to The Beatles manager. Set in and around a giant mock-up of NEMS Music Store, visitors learn how Brian discovered the band and guided them towards their first record deal.
Born into a successful family retail business, Epstein was managing NEMS at the time The Beatles were making a name for themselves in Liverpool. Brian of course knew exactly who they were, especially with his role as a columnist for Mersey Beat Magazine.
Moreover, he found his interest piqued when numerous customers came into his store asking for a record, My Bonnie, by the singer Tony Sheridan. The song featured… yes… The Beatles, credited as The Beat Brothers.
Brian’s curiosity finally led him to go and see The Beatles play at Liverpool’s Cavern Club. His visit, on the 9th of November 1961, would prove life changing for everyone present. “I was immediately struck by their music, their beat and their sense of humour on stage” revealed Epstein, in a later interview.
The Beatles In Liverpool.
Despite having no experience of managing bands, Brian convinced John, Paul, George and Pete (Best) to sign a contract with him. And it didn’t take long for his influence to take hold. First, he cleaned up their rough look, putting them in suits and giving them identical hair cuts. In many ways Brian modelled their look on himself, a man who was never seen without a spotless suit and a neat hair cut.
He also got the boys to exchange their onstage sneers for warm smiles. And to start bowing at the beginning and end of shows. Everyone was happy to do this except Lennon, who fought back until, at last, Epstein won him over. From there, Brian led the band to their first record contract with EMI. Alongside producer George Martin, he later oversaw Ringo Starr’s replacement of Pete Best.
In addition to Brian’s Cashmere coat and some personal items, The Beatles Story has a handwritten letter he sent to “the boys”. Penned sometime in early 1967, it presents Epstein in an insecure and regretful state of mind.
Worrying that The Beatles’ spiralling popularity would soon mean the end of their relationship with him, Brian writes: “My personal usefulness to you is now obviously superseded by your own intellect, knowledge and so on”. Within just a few months Epstein would be found dead at the age of 32.
His exceptional but all-too-brief life makes for an incredible read. For those looking to delve deeper into his charm, vulnerability, alcoholism and homosexuality, look no further than Deborah Geller’s biography The Brian Epstein Story.
The Beatles Story, Liverpool.
I found myself quickly drifting through the museum’s Abbey Road Studio section. I’d read about these sessions a hundred times over and had recently been to Abbey Road itself for a walk across the famous zebra crossing.
Nevertheless, The Beatles Story delivers with original items of the time, such as George Martin’s orchestral arrangement for Yesterday. Pictured below meanwhile, are his studio notes for takes on Ticket to Ride and Another Girl.
The Beatlemania wing of the museum is memorable for its recreation of PAN AM flight 101, which took The Beatles on their first visit to The USA on the 7th of February 1964. Departing from London, they arrived in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport excited ahead of what became a sensational three weeks.
Greeted by around four thousand fans and two hundred journalists that day, this narrow, dimly lit tunnel provides visitors with an idea of just how intense the wall of noise was when they exited the plane. Archive video footage meanwhile shows how frantic some of those teenage girls were to see their idols.
Their first US trip was of course a resounding success. They performed to rave reviews in Washington and New York City. But it was their performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in front of seventy three million people that was the icing on the cake. That’s two fifths of America’s population at the time, in case you’re wondering.
The Beatles In Liverpool.
Elsewhere, I came across a great little story that I hadn’t been familiar with. It revolves around a four year old boy called Russell Jamieson. In 1963 the band crowned him the world’s youngest Beatles Fan Club member.
This great honour saw Russell get to meet The Fab Four and receive a number of signed items. A pair of Russel’s Beatles themed jackets hang on display in the museum.
The narrative eventually zones in on a handful of the band’s key albums, with exhibits on Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour.
I also saw a recently opened exhibit, 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. This was a special treat for me, as The White Album is probably my favourite Beatles record.
Featuring photographs by Paul Saltzman, a sound engineer for the National Film Board of Canada, the exhibit captures the band during sessions of intimate songwriting. Additionally, it sheds light on their relationship with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and their introduction to transcendental meditation.
The Beatles Story, Liverpool.
Overall, I’d say The Beatles Story is well worth a visit for fans of all shapes and sizes. Indeed some of what’s on offer felt a bit dumbed down to me and is clearly aimed at casual tourists and Beatles newbies.
But the museum still delivers for more seasoned fans like me thanks to their excellent collection of authentic items from back in the day. In any case the exhibition is so huge you can happily dip in and out as you like, honing in on the stories that most attract your interest. For more on this impressive attraction, 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. Maybe even read my review of The White Album.
Like this? Check out more of my pieces from around Liverpool.
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Great post 🙂
Thanks a lot!
I also visited Liverpool in May 2019. We were there for only a day, and opted for Roag Best’s museum in Mathew Street rather than the Beatles Story. So I’m very glad that your article has shown me some of it. I did, however, peek inside the front door and got a picture of George’s first guitar.
Hey ‘Someone’, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Should I ever make it back to Liverpool l’ll definitely be checking out the Magical Mystery Museum on Mathew Street as so many people have recommended it!
I heard of Liverpool because of the Beatles lol!
Indeed much of the city’s sights revolve around the band. Six more articles coming up covering these sights. Thanks for reading!
Great to read about the Beatles Story as its doors were firmly closed as we passed by Leighton. There seems to be much to interest people whether they were fans or not so hopefully I’ll make a visit there before too long. I was an ABBA fan and adored visiting their museum in Stockholm three years ago though husband less so! Hope your weekend goes well. Marion
Ha ha I can appreciate your husband’s weariness. I’m not the biggest ABBA fan, but I would love to visit their museum. Going to Stockholm wouldn’t be so bad either 😉
Stockholm is beautiful and hopefully you’ll get there in the next few years!
This was a great tour through the Beatles museum, thanks Leighton. Whether it’s old or new information, the important thing is that their history will not be forgotten thanks to a museum like this one.
Thanks for reading! I think it offers a decent overview for Beatles fans of all ages, both casual and committed.
I did a lengthy comment here but it seems to have vanished into the ether. Have you received it Leighton?
Oh dear, this isn’t going very well for us is it? Ha ha. I’m afraid I haven’t received it.
It went something along the lines of….this post has really made me want to go there, I would no doubt lose myself for hours in the Beatles Story location, it looks and sounds terrific, me being a sucker for anything related to music history 1950s onwards. I’m often tempted to do a post on the subject – personal points in rock history, you know the kind of thing – but Michaela won’t let me, unless it’s travel related! Great post though, really enjoyed reading it and now really want to visit.
You’re an absolute star for posting this again. Glad you liked it and, I suspect, you’re really going to love the next six posts. Even if the majority of my readership will perhaps find it a little too indulgent! By the way, why not start your own music blog!
Worth a visit to Liverpool, for sure. We all hear the music, but we do not always know the stories behind it. Thanks for the post. Have a great weekend. Allan
Thanks for reading Allan. Hope readers don’t get Beatles burnout over the next few weeks 😉
The Beatles are such legends. This seems like a great reason to visit Liverpool.
Thanks for reading! I have always been fascinated by The Beatles and their place in history.
My 6th grade teacher got me into The Beatles, and although I’m not a crazy fan, I appreciate their long-lasting legacy and catchy tunes. I also respect how they’ve evolved throughout the decade or two of their music career, from the “boy next door” kind of boy band to an highly-experimental and political force. Their hard work playing gigs at small bars really made them deserve the worldwide fame they got later down the line, and Liverpool really shows what they were all about. 🙂 PS “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was the song that started it all out for me!
That’s a very concise overview of the band there Rebecca. Glad you enjoyed this one and hope the flurry of Beatles posts that are on the way won’t outstay their welcome. Keep those Instagram food posts coming!
You bet I will! 😀
Another great post , Leighton! Enjoyed it!
Thanks for reading!
As a long time Beatles fan, I loved this post! So good to see what’s inside the museum. And did you walk across Abbey Road?
I did! That post should be coming out later this year. Thanks for reading Ruth!
I loved this post and getting to see so much of what made the fab four! Their earlier music will forever be some of my favorites and it was so fun to see some snapshots of their beginnings and their progression into the icons they are. Excellent post!
Thanks! It’s a really detailed and well designed museum.
How can you cover the Beatles in a museum much less a blog? Fascinated by all the little known factoids that you include. It really makes for a fun read. I was struck by Liverpool having 500 bands at the time. Must have been quite the live music scene. And I’m really glad that Epstein got them to ditch their onstage sneers. Hard to picture them sneering.
Lennon had quite the aggressive persona back in the early 60s. He was the hardest one to turn around, as the story goes. You’re right, covering The Beatles in a museum is a tough order. I’ve taken seven articles just to summarise the Liverpool sights. Thanks for reading!
Beatles newbie here (one could tell from the typo I almost made writing out the name! haha, glad I caught that one fast!). This was a very interesting read.
Aw, thanks for reading and commenting anyhow. Glad you liked it and hope you learned a few things about The Fab Four.