Imagine there’s no Beatles. I wonder if you can…
You’ll have to suspend disbelief in the new movie “Yesterday” (out June 28), in which a worldwide blackout and momentary glitch in the universe erases The Beatles from the world and the memory of everyone on the planet. Everyone except one person, that is.
Wannabe songwriter/musician Jack Malik (Himesh Patel — while an unknown in the States, Patel is very familiar in the UK for his role in the long-running soap “East Enders”) was knocked unconscious in a bus accident during the blackout. Upon awakening, he comes to the realization that he is the only person who can remember not just that The Beatles existed, but also their songs.
How can he resist the ruse?
Performing “his” new songs brings him a support act with Ed Sheeran (who, fresh off his “Game of Thrones” cameo, plays himself, Chris Martin of Coldplay having turned down the role). But fortune and fame always has a price, and his might just be losing the love of his life, Ellie (Lily James, “Downton Abbey,” “Mama Mia”).
Oscar winning director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “Slumdog Millionaire”) and writer Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Love, Actually”) are at the helm of the movie, and James says that a lot of the film’s emotion hinges on Boyle capturing the feeling of the early Beatles.
“He brought back that spark in the music that the whole world fell in love with,” she says. “He’s a huge Beatles fan, so we all knew the story was in the perfect hands.”
On the heels of biopics like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which explored the legend of Freddie Mercury and Queen, and “Rocketman,” about Elton John’s, it’s a fond take on the legacy of The Beatles and a unique comedic premise, generously sprinkled with takes on 16 classic songs.
For the town of Liverpool in the northwest of England, the sudden loss of The Beatles would certainly be a blow — tourism from fans brings in $104 million a year from those looking to find the places where John Lennon and Paul McCartney lived, visit the clubs where they — and Ringo Starr and George Harrison — hung out, and see the places that inspired the songs.
Similarly, in the film, Malik escapes to Liverpool to try and channel the spirit of The Beatles by visiting their hometown.
“It felt right to return to Liverpool to film it in a way that made it look as though The Beatles had never existed,” says Boyle, noting that “it’s tough in Liverpool, because they’re very proud of The Beatles — we did have to do a bit of digital erasing.”
In the real world, luckily, there are many sites to visit that Beatles fans consider sacred as well as those sought out in the film. So for those looking to pay homage and see the city that inspired the Fab Four, check out these places — even if some were edited out of the movie.
It’s here that our protagonist from “Yesterday” comes for inspiration. As the song says, its suburban skies are a bit outside the city, about a 20-minute drive. It was this road that the bus traversed to take Lennon and McCartney to school at the Liverpool Institute. The “shelter in the middle of the roundabout” was where they would transfer buses.
It later became transformed into the Sgt Pepper Bistro, long since abandoned and now just something of an eyesore (not pictured in the film).
Penny Lane itself is a fairly ordinary road with establishments playing up their famous addresses. But the barber shop is still there, now a fully fledged hair salon.
The Penny Lane road marker that McCartney signed during James Cordon’s now infamous “Carpool Karaoke” last June — where Cordon took Macca on a nostalgic trip round Liverpool culminating in a surprise pub performance — has been removed by the council for “safe keeping” and a new, unmarked one is in its place.
Coincidentally, Cordon appears as himself in “Yesterday” as the host of “The Late, Late Show,” which he filmed just as he was secretly planning the McCartney “Carpool Karaoke” skit.
It’s an obvious place for Malik to search out: Just consider the many fans who’ve scrawled their initials on the famous red gates.
The site held an orphanage from 1936 to 2005. Lennon, who lived with his Aunt Mimi just around the corner, looked forward to going to the fairs held here, hence the dreamy, nostalgic quality of the song “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Owned by the Salvation Army, the site has been abandoned for more than a decade but is just completing a major rebuild. Strawberry Field is throwing open the gates in September, when it will house a vocational training center for learning-challenged adults along with a Beatles exhibit area that explores Lennon’s youth and the history of the song. Group tours will be able to take in the gardens and woods where Lennon played, and enjoy an onsite cafe and gift shop. “I am sure that John would have been thrilled that Strawberry Field is to become a bastion of hope for young adults as well as an inspirational visitor experience,” says John Lennon’s sister, Julia Baird, the honorary president of the Strawberry Field project.
Incidentally, the red gates up now are handmade duplicates of the originals — which were removed in 2011 to prevent further damage and will become part of the Strawberry Field exhibit.
The “most famous club in the world” opened in 1957, helping to spawn the post-war Britain youth revolution that The Beatles would spearhead. The Beatles first played there in 1961, and a devoted following soon blossomed. Local record store owner Brian Epstein spotted them here, too, and went on to become their manager and Svengali.
The original Cavern was filled in with rubble in 1973 as part of a British Rail project, so the club moved to an identical cellar across the street. Authentically reproduced, it continued to host emerging world-class acts.
Today, it’s still a live-music venue with performers from around the world, and even surprises fans with appearances from major stars like McCartney. (Patel performed there to promote the movie, too.) It’s also been expanded to include a second stage, the Live Lounge, where you can catch resident tribute band the Cavern Club Beatles. Because the British Rail expansion was ultimately abandoned, you can also visit the Cavern Pub across the street, which has free admission and offers music.
Admission to the club and lounge varies from free to about $8. Both are open, with various hours, seven (not eight) days a week. The Cavern Club also runs the Magical Mystery Bus, which operates two-hour Beatles Liverpool tours ($25) which includes admission to the club.
Magical Beatles Museum
As the epicenter of Beatlemania, Mathew Street has wholly embraced its legacy. The small pedestrian thoroughfare is festooned with Beatles memorabilia, statues and 1960s-inspired shops, restaurants and pubs such as The Grapes, once patronized by the Fab Four.
This latest addition to the street, opened in August 2018, is also steeped in Beatles legacy. The new museum displays the personal treasure trove of Roag Best, the son of Neil Aspinall, the band’s driver who later became the head of their company, Apple Corps. His mum was Mona Best, whose first son was Pete Best, the original Beatles drummer ousted in favor of Starr in 1962. With that kind of heritage, you can be assured of a lot of personal ephemera, including quite a bit about Pete, who many perceive as one unlucky man. (He went on to be a government worker, but finally got substantial royalties when a Beatles back catalog featuring him on drums was released in 1995. He and Roag also tour as the Pete Best Band.)
As you go up the museum’s five floors, you pass through different Beatles eras, featuring correspondence, original posters, costumes, instruments and artwork, all paired with relevant audio. Roag says he has so much left in storage yet to display that he will continue rotating the exhibits to keep the museum fresh. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, and admission is $19.
The Beatles Story
Situated over on historic Royal Albert Dock, this award-winning museum is housed in a 19th-century brick warehouse. You’ll walk through time as the exhibit winds its way through replicas of the Casbah Club — which Mona Best established as a private club in her basement and where The Quarrymen, a former incarnation of The Beatles, played — to the Cavern Club and Abbey Road Studios. A headset provides audio narration from the rise to the final dissolution of the band and on into post-Beatles lore. There’s a recreation of the white room in Lennon’s mansion, where he and Yoko Ono wrote and performed “Imagine.” It’s open daily, and admission is $22.
The Yellow Sub
In Liverpool, there are many themed restaurants and pubs with Beatles-inspired names. But for a true slice of the city, which is unabashedly arty and eclectic, head over to the Baltic Triangle. This hub of creativity is housed in an area that was once home to lumber yards and is a recent urban renewal success story. Independent businesses and start-ups have flocked to Jamaica Street, while inside the defunct Cain’s Brewery buildings you can shop for vintage finds and original art. The edgy vibe extends to the many outside bars and food trucks, including the Yellow Sub trailer, which is fashioned into the cartoon yellow submarine, complete with ’60s music and retro vibes. Sit on the deck with Beatles-inspired cocktails like the Eleanor Rigby (parma violet gin, vanilla vodka, prosecco, peach gomme and lemonade — English lemonade is more like Sprite — for $10) and indulge in a ton of selfies.
The Beatles’ childhood homes
The only way to get inside the house Lennon lived in with his Aunt Mimi at 251 Menlove Ave. and Paul McCartney’s home at 20 Forthlin Road is by getting a ticket from the National Trust, which owns the properties and runs four tours a day from central Liverpool. Inside, the houses are sympathetically decked out in early 1960s style. Lennon’s house is posh, a large semi-attached affair thanks to Mimi’s relative affluence, while McCartney’s is a modest local authority post-war house. Because space is limited, so are tickets (15 per tour), so advance purchase is necessary. Admission (from $32, or $12 for Trust members) includes minibus transport from a couple of Liverpool hubs.
For the record, Ringo Starr’s home (10 Admiral Grove) was bought by a Beatles fan, and shares another claim to fame as one of the many Welsh district homes used for the filming of “Peaky Blinders.” George Harrison’s at 12 Arnold Grove is equally working class and also privately owned, so both of these residences are by drive-by only (and beware irritated neighbors).
The author was a guest of VisitBritain.com.
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