Friday, February 14, 2014

The Beatles, Shakespeare
John Otway, John Cooper Clarke
UK Road Trip
Pics and Ruminations
February 2 -10, 2014

We headed into this trip with a little trepidation. It was the first time we had flown with the wheelchair and we are back in the UK where cobblestone streets reign supreme.

We needn't have worried. What a terrific vacation. Good fortune followed us everywhere ... except when we were driving. And understand, this is no fault of Cece's. She is a supreme navigator and what we found was all her doing. Any issues with getting lost really came down to a quick-trigger finger on the driver who just couldn't seem to wait for the right exit on the round to come around...or, keep going around if you're not sure.

Here's Cece giving me instructions: "Honey, go straight for .8 miles then at the round take the third exit towards A5080 Liverpool."

Here's how I react: When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride Till I get to the bottom and I see you again Look out Helter skelter, helter skelter
Helter skelter.

But we found Liverpool and so much more.

One small mishap with the wheelchair transfer. There was some confusion as to whether it would be brought to the plane or we were to pick it up at the baggage carousel. Baggage carousel it is...but no chair. Luckily Cece spotted the gentleman who grabbed it at the plane door as he was being wheeled by her. We recovered ours and were on our way.

To our second travel lesson. Watch out for the car rental upgrade scheme. No matter what you order online they will try to slyly move you up a notch or two for another £15 a day extra...though the 'extra' part was not crystal clear. I declined and tried to pay in Canadian dollars. She hit me with a chorus of "You never give me your money...You only give me your funny paper and in the middle of negotiations, you break down."

So we're on the long and winding road and we're so tired. The only way to do Europe is stay up as late as you can that first day. So we head off to find all the Beatle related historical sites we could locate.

First stop, St. Peter's Church in Woolton, appropriately it's on Church Road.

It's here, on July 6, 1957 that Paul McCartney remembers first meeting John Lennon as he relates on tape in a display at The Beatles Story.

Follow this link to The Beatles Bible for a great retelling of that day 

History, being a thing that always changes, has recently been revised, as told to me by Tim Swaddling on Facebook: "As revealed in Lewisohn's new book, Paul first met John on a bus. Lennon didn't remember the encounter later but Paul did, as Paul was aware of John previous to that as someone he found interesting. John's reputation preceded him. It is, of course, where they established the friendship and musical interests."

Just to the left of the church is a graveyard where Eleanor Rigby rests.

Paul says his song has no relation to this marker. So that's TWO myths blown to hell and we've only made one stop. 

Suffice it to say this much is indisputable. St. Peter's Church is the starting point of the Beatles Story.

And John was the Quarryman. The Man from Mendips.

This is located at 251 Menlove Ave. John's formative years were spent here. Yoko purchased this house in 2003 and donated it to the National Trust. His daily travels took him by places familiar to his later fans.

Strawberry Field, John threw in the final 's'. 

It was a Salvation Army children’s home with sprawling wooded grounds where John often played as a child. The brick walls have been heavily graffitied by visitors over the years. The red iron gates have recently been replaced by replicas. Unlike The Beatles.

The best second fiddle in rock n roll is next ... well, tied with 'Keef maybe. Paul McCartney grew up at 20 Forthlin Road.

The small house was an early gathering place for the Beatles and many songs were written here. Because of this historic significance, the National Trust purchased the property in 1995.

 It's amazing this sign is still here on the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles taking over America. I didn't bring the right tools.

Did find a barbershop on Penny Lane.

Where I took some time to get a clipping and the barber took this photograph.

The people who own the home George Harrison grew up in do not want a sign on their door. They get enough attention without it. When we appeared on the scene the door was slightly ajar. We chose not to walk in. This is located at 12 Arnold Grove. It is also a designated heritage site. The house is packed in at the end of a few very small streets. I dare you to find it! It was precarious backing out of the road as there was little room for a U-turn and no way out by going straight ahead.

Next on the list: Ringo's house. Fatigue combined with frustration to make us give up on this one after circling around the general area for over 30 minutes. Just could not find the one street we needed to get us to where we could get out and walk to where the house used to be. I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink. Isn't it always Ringo's fate to be the last and least considered? Hope he doesn't take it personal. It's a reason to go back.

It's been a hard days night and we're off to our hotel at Albert Docks...where we fix ourselves another drink. This is the view from our room.

Speaking of A Hard Days Night, our cab driver dropped us off in front of that very spot to begin our second day in Liverpool.

It's right outside the Cavern Quarters at Matthew Street, a pedestrian mall dedicated to the memory of The Beatles in these alleys.

These dark and narrow roads lead into a huge, bright, pedestrian mall called Liverpool 1. A marvelous 2 square mile shopping heaven. It was packed, even before the mid-day break made it too congested.

We circumnavigate the mall a couple times then make our way to Albert Docks for a trip back in time via The Beatles Story Museum. The first part of the exhibit is housed in the glorious brick buildings of the Docks.

It's a great walk through accompanied by audio and video stops. I'll just post some pics I took on the way through.

Out on the street for a one mile walk to the newer confines of the second part of The Beatles Story. This building contains the Fab 4D experience, Elvis and Us and the Hidden Photos exhibit. No photos allowed at the Elvis and Us exhibit, Graceland rules. The most distressing part of the story, the day the Beatles met Elvis, was that Col Parker and Epstein made sure there were no recordings of the impromptu jam. Not very forward thinking of them.

Here's a link to the Hidden Photos gallery.

The road out of Liverpool actually has us braving the deep interior of the city again as I was not able to get that haircut the first time we happened by the barbershop on Penny Lane. Also forgot to get the Eleanor Rigby headstone. Still didn't find Ringo's house. If it was there.

We made it to Royal Leamington Spa in good time but did get lost along the way. Ended up in Stratford-Upon-Avon a day before we wanted to be visiting. After we found our hotel we decided not to head out in the evening to a town we had not yet visited to catch a play. Ate the tickets. Got acclimatized to our host city for the next few days. Gives us a reason to go back.

The next morning has us venturing back to Shakespeare's hometown. We can't find it. Right away. But we do. Another town with a large pedestrian mall making it easy to see the buildings.

Here's Shakespeare's birthplace. It's old.

And his daughters house.

And Hope House where he died.

And his deathplace

Beside his wife, Anne.

Housed inside Holy Trinity Church.

That's it for the pictures. More ruminations and some sound samples below.

Day out in Leamington Spa, another shopping/walking town...but with a hill. Easy enough to get around...a little to boutique for my liking. Met a nice 'outdoor friend', they are always there for conversation if you have an eye that actually sees them.

We are outside the Leamington Assembly early enough to chat up some other OCD patrons who think 7 o'clock doors means being there at 6:30 PM. Nice marquee here; Stiff Little Fingers, The Stranglers, Buzzcocks and Joan Armatrading coming soon.  We'd made some arrangements to make sure we could access the venue in comfort and Mr Paul Hannon took great care of us as he wheeled us to the rail before the main doors opened. Now for a high quality recording I should have stepped back about 30' or so...but it's the rail, so I'm not leaving.

In the bar I run into John Otway and grab his arm as he's reaching for his wallet. In retrospect that might have been a touch fresh. "In Canada the artists don't pay for their beer, they get paid in beer. Put you wallet away sir." "But I'm buying for the whole band," he replies. Once we ascertain he's not travelling with the London Philharmonic I agree to buy the entire band a round. Cost only £22. Got 15 minutes of conversation out it, well worth the price. John and the boys will be in Canada in May. I will be there buying another round.

I won't got into too much detail about Otway, or tomorrow's show with John Cooper Clarke. Suffice it to say that Cece and I flew to England to see them and built the rest of the trip around these two nights.And we don't just go anywhere to see anybody...OK, maybe we go everywhere to see everybody, but this one is real special.  It's too late to turn you on to them but I was so happy in the moment that it made this trip more than worthwhile.

As one of the band members said when I related seeing Otway in 1979 and 1980. "Well then, same show, same gags, you will be right at home." For the most part he was right...on both counts.

John opens with two punk-paced early hits; 'Cor Baby That's Really Free and Beware of the Flowers ('Cause I'm Sure They're Gonna Get You Ya) and I'm smiling cheek-to-cheek. These are from 1977 but they are not his first release...that is yet to come.

Next up is a wonderful cover that makes you see a classic song in a different light. More of that to come as well. Otway tears into the 'i felt the spoon in my hand' version of Tom Jones' Delilah.

Next a 'new' song (ie. it was released after 1981) called Enjoy, It Won't Last Long, a heartfelt ballad. John does ballad and bedlam.

Louisa On An Horse is bedlam at it's finest. John's a visual artist. The first two songs tonight were accompanied by running-cross-stage-somersaults. Dangerous for anyone, never mind someone collecting their pension. This one has John making a neck-brace for his mic with a coat hanger. 'Cause he's ridin' you see. On an horse.

First set closes with two more punk-speed pop tunes, Lets Pogo and We Rock.

Second set. More mayhem.

Opens with his second, if fabricated hit, Bunsen Burner. Do the google, or not, there's better stuff to come.

House of the Risin' Sun. The BEST EVER audience participation sing-a-long. It wasn't like The Astoria but it was fun.

Another new fast paced song, Crazy Horses, is followed by a wonderful ballad, Josephine. We wanted Geneve in this spot but you can't have everything. It's followed by another newer song, Oh My Body Is Making Me. Not Bodytalk, that would have been cool.

Cover time, Canadian style. Bachman Turner Overdrives, You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet.

Back into ballad mode for Best Dream I've Ever Had and then the money shot.

Back to back.

The extremely rare, Birthday Boy. I've taken liberty with this edit. Before the show a couple showed up with some birthday cakes meant for a post-show celebration. The owner of the venue is celebrating his 112th, or something. After the third song I shouted out... "Who's the lucky birthday boy", but it was a little premature. So I've edited that cry and put it at the beginning of this song. Nothing is real.

And then...Cheryl's Goin' Home. It's John's Let It Be or his Like A Rolling Stone or his Terraplane Blues...the best he's ever done. I've got a video of my 3 year old son playing air-guitar to this song. It's pretty precious.

Show closes with When We Were Two.


Our driving difficulties convinced us to book a hotel in Northampton for the John Cooper Clarke show rather than risk driving back an hour after the show. Good choice. Cece found us another hotel that was walking distance to the venue. You know what that means, right? Pre-drinking!

We're up front again tonight. JCC is breaking himself up. Makes it a little hard to follow but once again I am so in-the-moment I'm just lapping it up. We get a lot of familiar stuff and some new tomes that were pretty funny.

Show opens with a piece on the rhyming names of the inhabitants of Northampton. It's followed by Hire Car, which is what we're driving, but I'm taking much better care of it than John would.

Get Back on Drugs, You Fat Fuck is a laugh riot.

John goes off on tangents. They don't translate well to tape but they are fun to watch and listen to.

We got the Beasley St/Beasley Boulevard Suite. Even the most run-down areas eventually become gentrified.

He closes out with the Beatle-esque I Wanna Be Yours and the dark and funny, Evidently Chicken Town. Not suitable for airplay.

On the last Sunday we head to Talke to spend some time with some friends and their growing family.

Then we're home. And looking for something to do. The last Beatle reference was waiting for us as the airline hostess announced our baggage claim carousel is Number 9, Number 9, Number 9.


Sunday, February 02, 2014

Road Trip: UK Style
Mersey Beat to Mancusian Punk Poetry
with some insanity in Leamington Spa
February 2014

 OK, so back in November I said to Cece, "I've got good news and bad news." "The good news is I want to go somewhere warmer in February. The bad news is, it's Manchester."

Should be a LITTLE warmer anyway. No beaches though.

John Otway AND John Cooper Clarke; this double-header has been on my bucket list since it's inception back in 2001. In the early 1980's we had the pleasure of seeing both these marginal British 'new wave' artists in Toronto.

Otway accompanied by Wild Willy Barrett played in a basement room with a capacity of 50 and a stage that was about 8' X 4'.  That was two shows at The Hotel Isabella on Sherbourne Street. Headbutts and somersaults, riding an horse and that train, that train, going choo-choo-choo down the track. He brought it all and left behind blood, sweat and tears of laughter.

Cooper-Clarke was a different scene altogether. The hardcore punks were out in force at The Voodoo Lounge on St Joseph's street. We didn't know what we were getting. The alt-radio success of Beasley St. was not representative of this man's oeuvre. What we got was machine-gun fast heavily accented spoken word. And no band. It was terrific. The crowd was growing restless but JCC shut them down with this admonition; "If you want the fuckin' music, buy the fuckin' album."

In the intervening decades life happened to all involved but I've never forgotten the joy of those three sweaty evenings at the peak of the last great wave of rock n roll. I had the good fortune of seeing the likes of The Clash (before the release of London Calling), The Ramones, Rockpile, Elvis Costello and a list of other artists who crossed the ocean (mostly) or came north from Rockaway Beach. With the exception of Elvis what these two have on the rest is ... they are still playing. That I find serendipitous. 'Cause I'm still movin'.

In 2005 we visited the UK and Liverpool was on the agenda. Car troubles cost us most of our allotted visiting time. This year we're going to spend 3 days in Merseyside and see all there is to see. Or all we care to see, at the least. It'll be the usual; looking for childhood homes, dead people and places known in songs. The Albert Docks looks like a good place to spend a day.

Just the two of us. We have memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead...but it doesn't mean we have to stop making them.

We are then going to set up camp in Leamington Spa for four nights. From here we can spend a couple of evenings in Stratford-Upon_Avon diving into the Shakespeare mythology.

Perhaps even catch a play or two at The Globe.

Then it's the double-header of Otway/Clarke and a day visit with a long-time dylanpool friend and his family near Manchester.