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TORONTO, Ont. /Troy Media/ – Walking tours are a great way to see a city. Wear good shoes, dress for the weather, pack a snack and meet at pre-determined landmark or transit stop. This is how I saw a lot of Berlin, New York and countless themed tours of London – Bloomsbury, Shakespeare, the world wars and so on.
The companion Beatles tours of Liverpool and London are nice bookends to the Fab Four’s career and help in understanding the rivalry between the two cities.
While American music might come from Lubbock, Muscle Shoals, Memphis or even smaller towns, Liverpool was the far north and a backwater not to be taken seriously in the 1950s and early 1960s. Going back farther, British politician Benjamin Disraeli described northern and southern England as Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy. This quote from 1845 appears in a good book that touches on the rivalry, John McMillian’s Beatles vs. Stones.
My tour of Liverpool took me to actual places named Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, immortalized in song titles. Long before The Cavern Club, the Beatles hung around and played in The Jacaranda – apparently their first venue. It still has John Lennon’s murals and graffiti. I saw the modest homes of the four musicians, only one I think with indoor plumbing. I didn’t hear much about original drummer Pete Best, but did hear a bit about Ringo Starr’s original group – Rory Storm and the Hurricanes.
Because it was Liverpool and I’d heard that the Liverpool sound was in part inspired by the records brought to town from America by cruise ship employees, I wanted to see the port.
I asked around near the waterway.
Right there, was the response. Ocean-going ships of the day were so small that where they tied up looked so inconsequential that I missed it.
Down in London, there’s a man who has been conducting a Beatles walking tour for decades. I’ve taken it twice – 20 years apart. I walked the zebra crossing at Abbey Road, saw where the roof-top concert was played and all the other landmarks. I heard the trivia, fascinating facts and interconnections.
There’s also a lesson in the city rivalry in this musical education.
The Beatles were up against a group called The Tremeloes on their first audition, for the recording company Decca. The Beatles lost. To be somewhat fair, The Tremeloes did great harmony (do an Internet search of Silence is Golden or Yellow River) and wrote some of their own tunes. The Tremeloes covered some of the same American tunes the Beatles did (Twist and Shout) and even covered some Beatles tunes with good results. And yet turning down the Beatles seems like the mistake of the century.
It may have been, but it was partly decided by the fact that The Tremeloes were from London and the Beatles were from the wilds of the north. That apparently tipped the scales.
After the recording company EMI picked up the Beatles, Decca, kicking its own rear, signed the Rolling Stones and promoted them, determined to make up for the error. The Stones were actually the more urban and urbane group, and some say they stole the Beatles early ‘greaser’ image.
Back on the street, there’s a general rock ‘n’ roll tour of London, during which I saw where all the groups of the time played, including Americans who came over (Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon). Beatles manager Brian Epstein ran concerts at a theatre and the Stones regularly played at the Crawdaddy Club.
Many cities are defined by their music. Broadway musicals and New York are inseparable. ‘Summer of Love’ music helped define San Francisco.
Walking tours are a great way to see cities – especially if there’s a soundtrack in the back of your mind.
Troy Media columnist Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our time on five continents over 25 years. He is the author of Safer Cities. Allan is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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