Friday, September 01, 2006

Beatle Week

We're just home from Beatle Week in Liverpool, an event I would recommend to anyone with any love for my favourite band. It was our first visit and while we were prepared for wall-to-wall Beatles music from all sorts of tribute bands, and meeting all sorts of fans, what we didn't expect was how utterly moving the week would be; how beautiful the city would be; that there'd be a fire in the hotel....

The various venues were crawling with Beatles of every species known to music: Hamburg Beatles, Cavern Beatles, Help Beatles, Sergeant Pepper Beatles, Abbey Road Beatles, Post-Beatle Beatles, all decked out in the appropriate finery. Normally, I am cynical about tribute bands (To be frank, I think they are all parasites living off the work of others) but, seeing them in some sort of context, in their natural habitat, so to speak, I was surprised to find my antipathy suspended. I suddenly saw them doing what they do, not out of creative bankruptcy or lazy plagiarism, but out of sheer love of the music (someone told us that none of the bands - apart from those appearing at the Liverpool Empire - received any payment. Could this be true?) and, in the process, bringing great live Beatles music to those who, like us, had never seen the band live. You could, argue, of course, that such people would be better off listening to the original albums, but it was obvious that they'd already done that, as almost everyone at every performance, irrespective of native language, sang along with every word of every song. Every song I heard reminded me yet again of what a brilliant band the Beatles were and more than once I felt that shiver up the spine.

The best bands we heard were Beetle One, four young lads from Brazil whose enthusiasm was matched by a musicianship that raised the roof of the Adelphi Hotel. I didn't even have to close my eyes to be back in 1963. We also liked The Bootleg Beatles and, from the Czech Republic, a band called Boom (complete with brass, choir and strings) whose sheer joy to be playing Beatles songs in Liverpool overcame their nerves and endeared them to us all.

Throughout the week there was a great sense of esprit de corps among fans who ranged from recent converts through eagle-eyed collectors, to manic obsessives. I know it's sentimental, very flowers in your hair, man, but it was a lovely feeling to see complete strangers, who hadn't a word of each other's language, smile in recognition of their common bond, great timeless music....

Even away from the music, there were many magical moments: Passing that shelter in the middle of the roundabout; standing at the gate of Strawberry Field (sic); meeting some of the original Quarrymen, seeing the actual instruments they played; staring at the Beatles childhood homes all brought lumps to my throat. The Magical Mystery Tour was great but it's a pity that the organisers, the National Trust (who own Lennon and McCartney's childhood homes) and the company that runs the outstanding Beatles Story at Albert Dock, don't put their heads together and come up with an integrated package. On this note, if you're thinking of attending Beatle Week, be aware that you must book separately for The Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles Story and entry to the houses. Book well in advance for the latter as, quite understandably, only a dozen or so visitors can be accommodated at a time.

Someone told us that, after London, Liverpool has the most listed buildings in England. We were overwhelmed by the variety and beauty of the arcthitecture: If, like me, you had the idea in your head that Liverpool was a dour, industrialised place, your eyes will definitely be opened. If you see nothing else, make a beeline for the two cathedrals. Behind the Anglican one you'll also find St James' Garden, an oasis of peace and quiet and, for the interior lighting alone, make sure you visit the nearby Catholic cathedral which rejoices in the local name of Paddy's Wigwam. If you don't know it, find it on-line and you'll understand the brilliance of that soubriquet.

Maybe we were just lucky, but the Liverpudlians we met went out of their way to be helpful and extend the sort of Cead Mile Failte we're supposed to have a monopoly on in Ireland. The only downside to our week was the Indian restaurant whose food was great but whose surly, overworked staff seemed surprised that we should enquire why each course - including coffee - took half-an-hour to arrive. I am not exaggerating. Maybe we should have booked the meal before we left Ireland at all.

Finally, two surreal scenes: When fire broke out in the hotel, we were all evacuated. Picture us, standing outside in the middle of the night, residents and miscellaneous local revellers, accompanied by two Russian accordionist, singing Beatles songs in the rain... some wit at the back shouting for 'Burning Down the House' and 'Light My Fire'. On another occasion, at eight o'clock in the morning, I blinked in disbelief as six Beatles - in full moptop regalia - approached along the hotel corridor....

On returning home, incidentally, I found that my tolerance for tribute bands was indeed ephemeral. But that's another story....


Anonymous John said...

Really enjoyable blog...reminded me of last year when I saw a Beatles tribute band play in Dublin - they were amazing.

1:46 am  

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