Unfinished Business: Liverpool

Almost two years ago now, back when i started this little thing of mine, I went to Liverpool and whilst I was there i thought that I would go and find the Cavern Club… A place famous for once having a resident group of musicians called the Beatles. If you have even the remotest interest in Music at all it’s one of those places you must visit once in your life simply because of its worldwide fame and it’s importance in music history. Well, needless to say last time things didn’t go to plan and I missed the place entirely so, alas, it became one of those  ‘almost stories’… So I decided it was about time to rectify the situation and finally return to Liverpool…

Liverpool is a strange, contradictory place. It feels both like a modern city and at the same time a very old one. It’s not like Manchester (Liverpool’s rival) which seems to think it’s New York and frequently dresses up as such… It’s, quite frankly, unique, like any good city should be… Although quite frankly it’s mad… The entire city seems to me to be like one massive maze, easy to get lost in and very difficult to get out of… There are places in Liverpool I’ve seen once and never found again. I know for instance there’s a ruined church from the second world war floating around somewhere. I found it once but I’ve never seen it since. There’s also a couple of cathedrals but god knows where they are…  The only reason I ever find my way out of Liverpool is because I know that the station lies just beyond the Radio City tower so I always just aim for that. Needless to say therefore I’m undertaking a near impossible task… Last time I was here I walked straight past the place and didn’t even see it so my chances of finding it this time are even slimmer. I do however have one clue… The Cavern is on ‘Matthew Street.’ The only issue there is finding ‘Matthew Street’ which given that it’s not a main thoroughfare will be a very difficult task indeed.

But that’s for later as I decide to first visit a few ‘new’ places first. Frankly these aren’t difficult to find as they’re just opposite the station. The first place is St George’s hall and I’ve been meaning to go and have a look ever since it was refurbished a few years ago. So that’s what I do… I cross over the road from the station and I’m there. An easy enough place to find. Quite frankly it isn’t really a building that stands out, especially in Liverpool. Looking at it from Lime street station it could be any old museum or a court house or an art or similar… It’s that kind of style of building. But once you get close you can see it for what it really is. It’s built in a nice ‘Roman temple’ style. It’s an almost quirky, nice kind of place… I especially like the way in which the main entrance is kind of done as though it’s the entrance to some Ancient Egyptian tomb… Very cool. It’s interesting to note that this place has quite a history to it. Charles Dickens used to do regular readings here… (Now that is an idea… Imitate Dickens by doing an impromptu reading of something like Dark Legend on the steps outside? Let me know what you think…) This is the place where scousers gather for big celebrations and such… They’ve gathered here for FA cup wins, strikes, capital of culture declarations, weddings and the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison (You can probably bet it will also happen with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr…). And Speaking of the Beatles, Ringo Starr once played on the roof. It was also used in one of these films from the history challenge…


Another thing I liked about St George’s Hall was the statues… There were so many it could almost have been a nest of Weeping Angels. Most of them i can’t recall who they were but the one above was Benjamin Disraeli, one of Victorian Britain’s most revered statesmen and also our one and only Jewish born prime minister (That is unless Ed Miliband ever wins an election which, given that he has about as much political competence as the Chancellor has knowledge of economics, doesn’t seem likely!).  Now I find it strange that Disraeli should be here, in a fairly prominent position when from what I can find Disraeli had very little to do with Liverpool. William Gladstone on the other hand (who is hidden somewhere behind the building) was born there so a statue to him in such a prominent position makes much more sense. Also you in the area you can find Wellington’s column… the less well known ‘Sister’ monument to the one in Trafalgar square. Theres also a statue of Disraeli in Ormskirk north of Liverpool… Though he has nothing to do with Ormskirk either…

But statues of Prime Ministers are a curious thing… 19th century PMs like Disraeli and Gladstone are quite well represented (There’s a Statue of Gladstone doing the Night Fever dance in Manchester for instance, Earl Grey’s column in Newcastle, Statues of Peel, The Earl of Derby, Lord Palmerston and a few others besides.) 20th and 18th Century PM’s are less well represented. The 20th century PM’s with statues are Campbell Bannerman, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson… I’m only counting public depictions so the statues in the members lobby of the house of commons don’t really count as a lot of the time they are off limits to the public and you can’t really just wander around the commons on a whim… But if they were public you could add Thatcher, Balfour and Asquith to the 20th century list. There are also busts of all the other 20th century prime ministers with the sole exception of Tony Blair but busts don’t count as statues either. Still, only five statues (8 if you count non-public) out of 19… Which even at 8 is still quite poor as it’s not even half. At least they have statues though… and busts but they don’t count… The 18th century PMs don’t even have busts… And only one of them (out of 16!) has a statue… And that’s Pitt the Younger. The others have nothing… Not even the First PM, Walpole… Which is despicable considering that even THATCHER has a statue somewhere. Compare that to somewhere like America where every president probably has a statue somewhere… The only exceptions would probably be the late 20th/21st century ones… Although Bush Jr does have a statue in Albania… Apparently.

But moving on from St Georges Hall… I head in a northerly direction and across the street towards the Walker Art gallery… simply because I’ve never been there either. So I went in and on the right is the large sculpture gallery so figured I would have a look around in there first off… And it was interesting enough. Not brilliant… Just enough to peak my interest for five minutes. But when I moved to go and look at the rest of the museum I noticed a sign saying ‘IF YOUR BAG IS BIGGER THAN THIS SIGN PLEASE DEPOSIT IT IN THE LOCKER ROOM.’ Now I can understand where they were coming from with this… They don’t want their artwork damaged… But the sign was so small that even those very small handbags that chavs carry around would have to be put in the locker room. Clearly it was a ploy to snatch valuables off people and I wasn’t leaving my stuff in some god forsaken locker room where anybody could rifle through it… (Am I being too extreme?) Considering I couldn’t even see a locker room I decided not to chance things and got my butt out of that place. I know some may call it cowardly but consider this, I wasn’t in Liverpool to look at art. I had business to get on with and really I didn’t have time to spend hours upon hours wandering around the art gallery… So I used the sign and lack of locker room as an excuse to leave… And I did.

So then it was off to what has been described as the ‘mecca’ of all music… The Cavern Club. It’s a strange and peculiar thing but Liverpool appears to have produced more successful musicians than anywhere else in the country. It started out with Sea Shanties, Liverpool is apparently the home of Sea Shanties (really?), and not only do you have world renowned bands and singers such as the Beatles hailing from Liverpool but you’ve also got… wait for it… The Wombats, The Zutons, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer, Billy Fury, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, , Echo and the Bunnymen, The Hollies, Hermans Hermits, The Lightning Seeds, The Rascals, The Searchers, Cilla Black and the Atomic Kitten. Not to mention many more X Factor wannabees and the likes who’ve probably been long since forgotten. It’s fair to say that most of those have probably played at the Cavern club. So it really is a must see place.

From the Art Gallery I head out around the back of St Georges Hall and come across a large bus station type place so it’s fair to say that I really have no idea where I’m going. Anyway, I can see the tower ahead and I know if I go past that then I’m heading in the right direction. It really is a good marker for the city that tower. Not long after this I find myself in a decent sized shopping street with one of those ‘You are here maps’ which is actually a godsend considering this is Liverpool and you can’t really ever find the same place twice… I may never find the art gallery again for instance though if I ever need to find it I know that it’s somewhere past St Georges Hall which is opposite the station… It shouldn’t be that hard really. But anyway… This map really was a godsend as it told me exactly where I was and where I needed to go. I was closer to the cavern than I thought actually. I thought I would have been miles away but no… Matthew street was just around the corner so off I went. Although I’m sure it was in a different part of the city the last time I went looking…

It’s an unassuming little back street in all reality, especially when viewed from without. Stanley street running across one end could be any old place and in itself it looks a little off the beaten track. And at the other end of the street the entrance is hardly noticeable… It’s very inconspicuous. But needless to say I soon come across the street and as I proceed down it I can feel the weight of history bearing down from above… This is a street known by some of the greatest men in musical history (see above) and the sense of power that stems from this seemingly ordinary place. And then towards the end of the street i saw the place where I had made the error last time and I was more than satisfied that I wasn’t alone in my previous mistake… There was the statue of John Lennon and the wall with all the names on the place that isn’t the Cavern Club… And I’ll be that most people believed that was what they saw… The cavern club. I believed it the first time around until I realized much later on that it wasn’t the Cavern Club and I wonder how many people actually go away thinking much the same thing, IE: The building with the John Lennon Statue outside is the Cavern club. There must be a fair few I shouldn’t wonder.

Even this time I nearly walked straight past the place but out of the corner of my eye I saw it… As unassuming and as quiet and as hidden and tucked away as ever an underground club ever was… That was it, The Cavern club. It came as something as a surprise and I just stopped and looked at it for a while, feeling the weird vibe of history coming from it… There was an old man in a nearby corner and I could sense him watching me. Other people were just walking straight past it and there only seemed to be me and the old man who were able to see it (maybe the old man was the ghost of John Lennon in disguise?). It was kind of like the Leaky Cauldron in Harry Potter… People walking past and not being able to see it I mean… Maybe that’s why nobody else couldn’t see it and why I missed it the first time around… But anyway, invisible or not this is it:


And then I had a decision to make… Should I go in? Was I even allowed in? Would I walk down the steps and be accosted by some security guard? I was going to wander off pleased in the knowledge that I had finally found the world famous Cavern Club. But then I found myself just walking towards it… Maybe it was the ghost of John Lennon behind me egging me on… I don’t know. But I found myself standing on the cusp of this… Club!… wondering if I should go in or not… I just stood in the doorway looking inside for ages… And then a thought struck me… If I didn’t go in I probably never would. I was there after all and it was open so why not… (John Lennon again…) In life you not only have to take the bull by the horns you have to kick it repeatedly in the crotch. So in the end, ignoring all those daunting thoughts about if I was even allowed in I crossed the threshold and descended…

It did feel a bit weird being in there but at the same time it was so totally awesome. I can’t really describe what that was like… It would be a bit like describing an actual colour… It can’t be done. But rest assured when i say it was probably one of the coolest places I’ve ever been… And I’ve been in the White House! So I looked around at all the stuff and all the memorabilia they have in there and it was interesting… There was a strange looking curtained off area at the back of the place but I avoided this as some fat lady went through and then got chased by an angry bar maid… Perhaps that’s the way into Liverpool’s version of Diagon Alley… ( suggestions for names welcome!) And then I began to ponder on weather or not I should have a drink. In the end I decided that I would… Just because it was something I can say I’ve done… An experience if you like! And yes, it did feel good to have a drink in the Cavern club and if I’m ever in the area again I might go in for a drink just for the sake of it (Or would that cheapen the experience? Possibly.)

Leaving the Cavern Club I had one last bit of unfinished business to attend to in Liverpool… The new museum which was opened only a few weeks after my last visit. It’s down by the docks but thankfully they’re easy to find… Once again use the tower as a guide but head in the opposite direction to Lime street station. You’ll come to it eventually… But ignore the signs. The signs will take you to some seriously weird places… The maps are more useful but they’re few and far between and if you get lost they really don’t help because you’ll probably just get further lost. But anyway… Using the tower as my guide I quickly come to the docks… Though each time I travel down there I find something different along the way… This time it was a giant escalator and a strange park type place surrounded by restaurants. The museum isn’t too hard to find once i get to the docks though. I wouldn’t say it was a spectacular museum… It was ok. They had some interesting exhibits, a nice section on the music and writing of Liverpool… As with music Liverpool seems to think of itself as a writers city but there are very few who I think will be remembered in further centuries, the sign of a true great… (Perhaps… The thing about writers is that you can be as popular as you want during your life time but it’s how the public treat you after your dead and the copyright’s expired that the true test begins… Hence why I will probably never know if I ever fulfil my destiny to become the greatest writer of the 21st century…) I also found out something very interesting… Liverpool once had a castle. It doesn’t exist any more though which is something of a shame (Not that anyone would ever find it more than once.)

I’ll tell you something else about the museum though… There was this section devoted to the long vanished Liverpool overhead railway (See… THIS CITY EVEN LOST AN ENTIRE RAILWAY… I bet it’s still floating around in the city somewhere… It wouldn’t surprise me.) As part of this section they had an old tram that you could go and sit in and get a feel for what it was like on the railway (Is like on the railway considering it’s probably still there somewhere?). I went in and sat down just for the sake of it… Also in there were a pair of pensioners and they were just irreverently chatting away about iPads and other stuff as though they were in a cafe or on the actual overhead railway and not sitting in a museum exhibit… It was absolutely surreal and hilarious at the same time. You really had to be there to get the full effect but I think it’s one of those images that will just stick with me. I don’t think they were part of the exhibit but you never know… Would be a very innovative idea if they were a part of the exhibit.

Alas i had a real train to catch so from the museum I headed back into the city, using the Radio City Tower as a marker to guide me back towards Lime Street station… And surprisingly I didn’t get lost!


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