The Liver Birds

Okay… I warn you in advance.  This is gonna be one looonggg post!  I have a lot to say – or rather a lot to show.  Look… think of this as a book.  A post that you can dip in and out of.  Like that bird thing that drank the water that Homer used to keep the Nuclear Power Plant running.  Just a tappin’ that key.  Ha ha!

I went to Liverpool.  I saw a lot of things, and I took a lot of pictures.  Some of these pictures will end up as band artwork so I may hold them back.  But I will try to reveal as much of interest as I can.

First things first.  I took the ferry across the Mersey.  Sing the song in your head whilst viewing the photos.  This ferry crossing gave me the first chance to see the Liver Building.  The Liver Building will be talked about in detail a little later.  It also enabled me to see the Port of Liverpool building from the water.  The Liverpool river front is certainly a captivating sight!

(note the huge cathedral in the 5th image… we’ll see more of that later!)

I visited Liverpool on the Centenary of the construction of its most famous building – the Liver Building.  This is one fantastic piece of architecture.  And to celebrate 100 years of its existence it was lit with a dazzling display of head spinning lights.  And I had the best view possible.  ‘Cause I was on the roof of the building opposite (a great Pan-Asian restaurant).  That restaurant was THE place to be in Liverpool that night.  The bouncers on the doors were working their asses off!

The Liver Building is the most amazing sight even without the light show.  Like the top of a sky scraper cut off.  Like you’ve cut the top off a boiled egg with a spoon.  And the building has two birds sitting on top of it.  The Liver birds.  There are many stories regarding how the birds came to be there and what they signify to the city – but safe to say, Liverpool would be in crisis if the birds were to fly away.

I just love this shot.  Reminds me of Ghostbusters!

This celebration also marked the opening of a new Museum dedicated to celebrating all things Liverpool.  I gotta say… I was not impressed with the museum.  I think they are gonna have to find a few things to actually put inside it.  At the moment it is just one HUGE empty staircase!!!

I filmed a short video to give an example of the light show.  It’s not exactly representative of actually being there.  But it gives you a flavour.  I particular liked the syncing of the sound to the light during the sequence played out on the museum building.  I know this kind of technology has been used before on famous buildings around the world.  But this was the first time I’ve seen such a thing… and it blew me away:

Anyway, like I said… superb light show.  And marking 100 years of an important British landmark.  And I was there!  Yippeee!!!!

I also entered the Port of Liverpool building.  Some great examples of extravagant architecture in this building.  Flourishes from a time when Britain ruled the world!

First thing the next morning I made my way to one of the most important buildings I have ever stepped into.  John Lennon’s childhood home:

This is the house John Lennon lived in with his Auntie Mimi throughout his childhood.  It is the house he lived in when he met Paul McCartney.  It is the house he lived in when the Beatles were formed.  It is the house that the young Lennon would sit in at night and listen to the radio – probably the Goons.  If you are a Beatles fan then it’s a pretty important place to be. I say “place to be”, because there really is a feeling of ‘occupying the same space’ if you catch my drift.

The house is ‘by appointment only’ so the general tourists can only stand outside the gate.  At one point this was strange ’cause you have to understand that the house is just an ordinary looking house in an ordinary looking street.  So at one point I’m standing in the porch.  Now this is interesting to me as this was the porch that John and Paul used to hang out in with their guitars (Aunt Mimi wouldn’t let Paul in any further!).  So I’m standing there… basking in the ambience… when I look out the window to see 100 Japanese tourists taking pictures, of the house, of the porch, with my face looking out.  Hmmm… way to be famous!  Ha ha!

Seriously though… fantastic ambience.  You get a free reign of the house (after having your camera locked away!).  I stood in the small room where John would listen to the radio.  I stood in his bedroom.  I kind of felt the presence of a young John being rebellious in the house to the lodgers that Aunt Mimi would invariably accommodate.  For a fan like me… fantastic!

Although the house is ‘just’ a house… it has a certain aura.  It even featured on the cover of a single by Oasis – Live Forever (although they had the sense not to wear a Pac-Man T-shirt!)

So….hmmm… where to go after John Lennon’s childhood home?  Hmmmm… How about Paul McCartney’s?

20 Forthlin Road is similar to Lennon’s house in that you have to book to get in.  It’s a terraced house in a typical street.  A little poorer that Lennon’s area.  Again, I have no photos from inside the house as they lock away all cameras.  The purpose of this is that there are unpublished photos and artefacts inside.  Although the ambience was slightly different to Lennon’s house, in many ways this is actually the more important of the two houses.  This is the house that a lot of the early Beatles songs were written.  I have photos of John and Paul writing songs in this house.  I have grown up with those photos – and finally I was able to stand in that living room and place one foot where I know Paul sat, and one where I knew John sat.  For a moment there I was literally standing in history.  For a Beatles fan like myself this is/was a huge deal.  Standing in Paul McCartney’s bedroom.  Seeing the drain pipe he climbed up to get into his room when the house was locked at night.  Most importantly though… to stand on the original tiles of the kitchen floor.  These tiles had been stood upon by all four Beatles.  Sent a shiver up my spine!!!

McCartney’s mother died a year after he moved into this house so it obviously holds mixed emotions for Paul.  He has never been back since he left.  But nevertheless… it makes an interesting pilgrimage for a Beatles fan!

Okay… here’s something I wasn’t going to do… but anyway.  Here’s a song I wrote inspired by the visits to those houses.  It is called “Last Night But Three“.  It will be the centrepiece of my next Confession of the Whole School album and this is a sneaky surprise just for my devoted fans (It won’t be available to anyone else until the release of the next album).  Why not press play and then read the rest of the article?

So… Childhood homes… Childhood homes.  Where to go next?  Hmmmm… How about Penny Lane?

Penny Lane is a street that forms a junction not far from Lennon’s house.  At the time of the boys’ youth this would have been a very busy junction as it was next to a bus station.  The area is quite upmarket now and a barber shop is still there.  Other than that, this place probably holds more interest for me than anyone else. For your average person it’s probably just another street.

I hold McCartney and his Beatles-era songs (such as Penny Lane) in high regard.  He is a much maligned Beatle with most people forgetting that it was actually McCartney who was the experimenter.  It was McCartney who wove the tape loops and inspired the most psychedelic songs such as Tomorrow Never Knows.  It is McCartney who did not get murdered and therefore did not become a deity.  And it is McCartney who is our greatest living songwriter.


To take a break from the Beatles for a second I would like to show you a few photos I took at that huge Cathedral that we could see from the Mersey Ferry.

A breathtakingly big cathedral… I think my photos do it justice!

And the views from the top of this monumental building were incredible!!!

And a bomber just happened to fly past!

And … relax… Ha ha!  So… off to the Cavern!  Yay!

So… The Cavern Club… Possibly the most famous club in the world?  Everyone knows the story of how this iconic building was demolished right?  It was an underground club and was filled in as part of some kind of railway work.  A National Disaster if you ask me!!!  Anyway… the Cavern was rebuilt with many of the original bricks and to roughly the original layout in approximately the same place.  So you can now go to the Cavern as a Beatles fan and pretend to let its atmosphere wash over you.  I was genuinely surprised at how much of a “gigging venue” this place actually is.  I want to play there.  Ha ha!  You get that feeling of cramped conditions and sweat dripping off the ceiling.  You can almost imaging the Beatles playing there.  When I walked in I was amazed at how deep down into the ground you feel you’re going.  Some guy was on stage playing Beatles songs to anyone who shouted a song title out.  I was actually pretty impressed with him. Good luck… whoever you are. Here’s a (very) short video:

The original entrance to the Cavern still exists:

As I said at the beginning… I shall hold a bit back for future artwork… but I hope you got a taste of Liverpool.  From my experience, a city that is still very proud of the Beatles.  In fact, if they’re going to have a museum dedicated to the city then they’d better find something other than the Beatles to put in it.  The city seems to exist in the shadow of the Beatles… and what a fantastic shadow that is!  🙂  Thanks to Ioanna and Pete for their amazing knowledge of the city!

Les Miserables at Queens Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, January 2011

Where do you start with a ‘review’ of Les Miserables?!?  It has to be said that this show is a true epic work of art.  Anyone who has read this site before will understand all too well how preoccupied I am with all things epic.  I strive to produce the epic.  Well… Les Miserables is about as epic as they come.  Other words such as;  grandiose… emotional… heart-wrenching… all-consuming… come across as clichés I suppose.  But believe me… this is one hell of a show!

As Les Mis has been playing since 1985 then I would assume that most of you out there will have seen it by now.   I was, unfortunately, very late to the party.  I was only really converted to the cause a couple of years ago when my girlfriend played me the CD in the car.  “Here we go…” I thought, “another musical” (she likes musicals!).  But that was the end of the sarcasm.  I was blown away by the sheer audacity of the piece.  The complexity of the story.  The beauty of the music and the clarity of the lyrics.

So, I bought her a DVD of the show for Christmas.  I think it was the 10th Anniversary Concert at the Albert Hall.   And then I was blown away all over again.  Now… what I didn’t quite understand at first was that the DVD wasn’t actually the show.  It was just the actors singing the songs from the show.  I say ‘just’ – I thought the guy playing Jean Valjean was outstanding – but you get my drift?  It wasn’t actually “the show” apparently.  To see “the show” – I knew I was going to be in for a treat!

Now… I was taking my girlfriend to see Les Miserables.  So of course all of my enjoyment had to be secondary to hers.  Luckily she had a great time… and because of that I can now write about it as if it were just for me. 😉

Queens Theatre, London is a pretty, welcoming little theatre.  It oozes history and just being there you feel the aura of ‘specialness to come’.  I believe this theatre has played nothing but Les Mis for a few years now and – whether that is true or not – it shows!

Without giving too much away, and condensing the story to its essence, we have the tale of a convict pursued by a relentless policeman in revolutionary France.  There are many important side-stories… but basically, we are experiencing the life story of Jean Valjean.  When you see it for real it makes a lot more sense than just watching the DVD with the songs!  I now understand the difference between ‘watching the songs in a theatre’, and ‘watching the actual show in a theatre’.  The sets are awesome.  Truly marvellous.  Just to imagine the sheer work that must have to be put into every single night simply to construct and manoeuvre the backdrops.  The huge set-pieces, the spectacle, the immaculate singing.  The emotion.  Definitely deserved the standing ovation!

The actor playing Jean Valjean was the standout… although that always seems to be the case with Les Mis (from my extremely limited experience).  I also thought the guy playing the policeman Javert was outstanding.  The comedy couple, the landlord and his wife were excellent.  The only disappointments were some of the upper class/soldier characters, particularly Marius.  It’s hard to invest much sympathy in a character so dripping wet!

The show is a bit of a slog.  3 hours.  But it never drags.  Every second seems well judged and well paced.  This is the epitome of epic.  The “something special” that I myself am striving for.  I am nearing completion of a gargantuan piece of music that I am collaborating on with the American artist Bill Ryan.  This piece of music is going to be somewhere in the region of 7 minutes or so.  It will form part of the Eleventh Hour‘s debut album and I am hoping it will shape up to be the centre-piece of the whole show.  It certainly has the potential… it’s only for Bill or I to drop the ball now and spoil it.  🙂  Ha ha!  If I could just squeeze a fraction of the grandeur of Les Mis into the song then I will face 2011 as a happy man.

Anyway… in short… Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre, London is well worth a trip.  Bloody outstanding.  10/10.