JAIMIE VERNON – RULE BRITANNIA
As you read this the UK has decided to cut ties with their trading partners in the European Union and make a go of it on their own. The response in the financial markets was swift especially where currency power was concerned and the British Pound plummeted 8% overnight. On the upside it now allows the rest of us to buy more MacIntosh Toffee and import vinyl. It might also bode well for the UK travel industry in the short term.
I’ve been to England twice – once in 2001 and again in 2007. I’d love to go back if only to spend quality time in digging up my family history. My Dad’s parents came from Chapel-en-le-Frith in Derbyshire while my Mom’s family originated just outside of Manchester. My wife’s family also came from England so it would make our traveling a family affair. Of course, neither of my kids has seen the Motherland and that too would be a great reason to go again.
The first adventure was at my wife’s behest. She made plans to attend a Bay City Roller convention in Liverpool. I wanted to tag along a) to see England and b) to see Liverpool specifically as I have been a Beatlemaniac since the age of 12. Unfortunately, my enjoyment was hampered by a horrendous back injury from spending 14 hours on a plane getting over there. I was in pain lying down AND standing up. Medication didn’t help. I was miserable. Add to that a shitty, shower-less and food deficient hotel experience and I was ready to tell the Brits to take their 2000 year-old traditions and flush it all down the Thames – if they’d had actual toilets that worked.
In 2007 I had the opportunity to play at the legendary Cavern Club (well, the club that now sits on the site of the demolished original club). I offered to take people with me. I wanted it to be a band. Everyone said no. Their loss. It was a 180 degree turn from my 2001 visit. This one changed my life.
I kept a diary through my long defunct “Life’s a Canadian Blog“. Here are some excerpts.
PART ONE: Roll Up For The Mystery Tour!
Hellooo from Liverpuddle…
Arrived safe and sound in the UK on Friday morning at Manchester international after an uneventful but sleepless flight overnight. From there it was easy access through customs – being Canadian has its advantages – and grabbed a taxi into Manchester’s downtown core. Was dropped at Manchester’s modern looking train station (think Harry Potter on Mars) and caught a small commuter train through the lovely English countryside north to Liverpool.
The train dropped me off at Queen’s Square in the port city of Liverpool which is a hub of activity mostly because it’s seriously under construction as the residents gear up for their 800th anniversary in 2008. Walked down Lime Street with luggage in tow because it was a lovely, though cool, day and my hotel was a short ‘hop’ from there. Across Ranelagh/Hanover streets which remind me a lot of Montreal. Shops and bistros and street performers. In one square block I spotted 3 music stores and two CD shops including a massive Virgin Megastore.
Down Paradise Street which it no longer was as they’ve torn down every building in the Liver Street crossover area to make way for a monster mall of some sort; I counted eleven construction cranes. In amongst the dust and hard-hats I stood outside the Hanover Street Merseyside headquarters of the BBC. Made my way to The Strand which is like Toronto’s Lakeshore Boulevard minus the eyesore that is the Gardiner Expressway. Final destination being the Albert Dock.
Across the road and over ancient cobble stones, the pier stands magnificently restored since my last visit to Liverpool in 2001. I was greeted at the desk of the Premier Travel Inn by a lovely gal who said I was too early to check in, but gladly hid my luggage so I could explore. Minutes later, I found myself wandering about the huge dock facility investigating the local shops.
The highlight here is the Beatle Story Museum where they’re about to reconstruct one of Ringo’s childhood homes from scratch after tearing it down last year. I’ve been to the museum in the past and it’s a fascinating recreation of the Beatles story using mannequins and authentic artifacts (like sections of the original Cavern Club stage). They’ve even recreated the offices of Mersey Beat magazine and the music store where McCartney bought his first and subsequent Hoffner bass guitars.
The dock is an enclave of brownstone buildings on stilts that encircle a rest-water pier where local boats can navigate from the canals and locks off the Mersey River proper. The out-buildings consist of an authentic mechanic’s house (converted to a museum to show what pre-WW II tenement homes look like inside), a Pumphouse which is now converted into a two story hotel and pub and sculptures of Liverpool icons including Billy Fury.
Had lunch at the Panamerican Café & Bar, got my hotel room sorted out and then off to investigate the entertainment for the day as a prelude to the whole purpose of my trip – The International Pop Overthrow Festival. A brisk 15 minute walk in another direction leads one to James Street/Lord Street up North John Street to Victoria and presto The Cavern Quarter or more specifically Mathew Street – the legendary home of The Cavern Club and the birth place of The British Invasion. The street itself is barricaded at both ends and is now a colonnade for pedestrians. The impetus, and the luring charm, aside from its historical significance on the world of popular music is the continuation of its musical vibe. There are only pubs and souvenir shops mixing tourist commerce with the ongoing tradition of music…and drinking. The Irish Pub, The Grapes (where The Beatles went to drink after their shows at the alcohol-free Cavern), Remiss (a 90s dance club), Rubber Soul Oyster Bar, Kid Cavern’s, The Cavern Pub, Lennon’s and The Cavern Club itself.
But I wasn’t going to the Cavern on this day. I would walk right passed it and downstairs into the newer Lennon’s pub where on arrival I met up with one of my record label’s premiere acts Dave Rave and also BongoBeat label president and Diodes band manager Ralph Alfonso who was literally getting ready to go on stage as the opening act for his roster of talent at this, the BongoBeat, showcase.
For those who don’t know Ralph he is the embodiment of beatnik cool. A more studied variation of Mike Myer’s jazz poet character in the movie “So I Married An Axe Murder”. Ralph knows his stuff and his poetry is entertaining when set to surf guitar licks or a re-reading of “Louie Louie”.
Dave Rave also took the stage next representing both BongoBeat, where his new jazz album will be released shortly, and as a Bullseye artist because Dave is still promoting the very successful anthology series we released last year. His backing band was a reformed alternate version of his pre-Teenage Head rockabilly band The Shakers. A rousing set of rockabilly originals followed culminating in Dave’s wild ride of a version of Teenage Head’s “Let’s Shake” with added backing vocals by Ralph, Ari Shine and The Plastic Heroes. It brought down the house!
The piece-du-resistance was due next. It took 30 years and a 3,000 mile trip to accomplish, but The Diodes took the stage for the second of two shows (they played the Cavern to a full house the night before) and leveled the bar. I missed them during their prime but Paul Robinson, Ian McKay and John Catto along with the drummer from Liverpool’s High Noon, made the long wait to see them worthwhile. It was a short thirty minute set but they did not disappoint with renditions of “Child Star”, “Red Rubber Ball” and the song that was voted by Chart Magazine in 1995 as one of the greatest Canadian songs of all time: “Tired Of Waking Up Tired”. The entire BongoBeat roster took the stage to do call-and-response vocals on the chorus.
By 6PM it was all wrapped up and several non-Bongo Beat acts appeared after them….but we all rolled out into the fading sunlight of Mathew Street as the Diodes loaded gear to go back to John Catto’s rehearsal studio (he and Paul Robinson live in Britain now).
But before we could figure what to do next, Spencer Leigh, celebrated DJ and legendary British Invasion historian, arrived to interview Ralph Alfonso and Dave Rave about their knowledge of Liverpool ‘60’s singing sensation Billy Fury (whom Leigh has just done a biography of in his new book ‘Wondrous Face’). Leigh was quite impressed with the two gents and their knowledge and will be airing the interview on BBC Merseyside soon.
As the noise from the surrounding pubs on Mathew Street grew louder – particularly from the 40 or more soccer hooligans singing a karaoke version of Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way”!!! – it was decided that what we needed was Indian cuisine. So Dave Rave lead us up Victoria Street past the St. Thomas Hotel to the Jerome Building and a restaurant called The Sultan’s Palace. Paul Robinson had arrived earlier to book seating for 22 people and so began an interesting night of spicy food and tall tales. After a few hours and a full stomach I took my leave as I’d been without sleep at that point for 35 hours straight. I stumbled back to Albert Dock and face-planted. Jet lag’s a bitch, baby.
LIVERPOOL Part 2 – ADVENTURES AT THE BBC MERSEYSIDE
With 12 hours sleep under my belt I woke up close to noon and headed straight for the Travel Inn’s restaurant for lunch. Had a hearty Salsa Burger with fries and a Coke. With the eating out of the way I grabbed my video camera and took a walk along the back of Albert Dock that is adjacent to the River Mersey (cue Gerry & The Pacemakers). The water is as brown as dirt, but interestingly, the tide was out and the river was a good 200 feet from the breakwater I was standing on. Nothing but mud as far as the eye could see.
Strolled into a mechanic house that has been converted into a pre-WWII tenement recreation complete with sitting room, kitchen, bedrooms and bath but no toilet because that was an outdoor affair back then. Authentic accouterments in each room including toys, pictures, furniture, and food stuffs. Two stories high which surprised me, but Liverpool and most of Britain still has these houses in abundance.
Walked several blocks up Paradise Street at Hanover and into the BBC Merseyside headquarters where, upon arrival, one merely has to enter the sliding glass doors, passed the reception desk and into a large foyer area. Which I did, uncontested, and where, low and behold, legendary British Invasion historian and BBC DJ Spencer Leigh was aiding the recording engineer in getting ready for a live broadcast of artists appearing at the International Pop Overthrow Festival.
Spencer recognized me from the day before at Lennon’s and wondered aloud where Ralph Alfonso and Dave Rave might be because he had some autographed books for them: ‘Wondrous Face: The Billy Fury Story’ and ‘The Best Of Fellas: The Story Of Bob Wooler’. Spencer gave me the books to forward to them when I returned to Canada and we proceeded to discuss the Canadian music scene and specifically my performance at IPO and Bullseye Records in general. After graciously taking my new solo CD he asked what tracks he might programme should he like what he heard. I gave him a rundown of the material I was doing live and they would be the best representation of what I sound like to a new audience.
From the BBC I strolled back up to Clayton Square where the Montreal-styled street vibe exploded across a promenade and several courtyards for shopping. Up and around the block on Lime Street and back down Victoria and I was full circle from where I had been last night – the Cavern Quarter. Guess it was time to finally go into The Cavern Club and see who was playing at this day’s International Pop Overthrow performance.
Wending my way down the four flights of stairs (that’s right folks, the Cavern is below sea level and hence the name), I immediately hit a wall full of people blocking the entrance. The bar was completely full and I wasn’t able to get a view of the stage.
Up and over my head I fired up the video camera and attempted to get shots of who was playing. It was loud. It was rocking. It was absolutely stinkin’ hot. I don’t believe the oxygen in the room has been changed since the Beatles played there back in the early ‘60s. The spring jacket I was wearing to protect myself from the eternal grey of the British skies was now a serious impediment to my motor skills.
I clawed my way through the mass of humanity to the wall that divides the club in half. Passed this wall people were sitting comfortably in chairs at small tables, smoking, drinking, ignoring the deafening entertainment. Across another entranceway I spotted festival organizer David Bash and he greeted me with a big smile. I asked him how it was going and he said he had to leave and get to the BBC where he was being interviewed by Spencer Leigh!!!
I hitched my wagon to David’s speedy exit and we chatted about the Festival on our brisk walk back down to the BBC. I decided that I would go to support him and the acts that Spencer had already sound-checked for the formal broadcast at 6:30 allowing me to scoot back to my hotel down the street once it was over. We arrived at the Merseyside studio to find the foyer area was now filled with chairs and a lot of people. Very OLD people who I believe had been around when the original BBC was founded. But, hey, an appreciative audience all the same. Johnny Lloyd Rollins was on stage and we had 10 minutes before showtime. Spencer came by to greet us and give David a schedule for when he was to be interviewed.
David then did his trusty sales pitch for the IPO and several more acts followed. David left as the IPO portion of the show was pretty much over. Susan Hedges was up next and as she was preparing Spencer put me on the air briefly to discuss the state of record labels as it related to Susan’s current quest for a new one. We briefly touched on the state of MP3 downloading, radio in general and the fact that my label was no longer exclusively doing classic rock re-issues, but expanding its roster of original acts to tap into a more youthful market. Susan Hedges played her wonderful set of ballads and rockers and I made my exit. Alas, the broadcast was live so I never even got to hear it back on the radio.
Upon returning to Albert Dock I took some video footage of the Granada TV studio that stands beside the facility and dropped into the Pumphouse Inn for a bite of dinner. Steak & Ale pie with chips and veggies. Another great meal. Stuffed, I retired to my room tired but satisfied.
LIVERPOOL Part 3 – THERE ARE PLACES YOU’LL REMEMBER
It occurred to me that because John and Paul met crossing the yard at St. Peter’s Church in Woolton, and George Harrison, though younger, was a school contemporary prior to the formation of The Beatles proper, it seemed likely that most of The Beatles early haunts were in proximity to each other. On the previous visit we were whisked around the streets of Liverpool in a rather reckless fashion and being unfamiliar with the landscape and enamoured by the tour operator’s six-degrees of separation stories (he had apparently been at the Quarry Bank Grammar School as a classmate of the Beatle boys), I didn’t pay much attention to how or where these landmarks actually were. I don’t think it occurred to anyone that they might hand out MAPS of the place because it would mean people would venture off on their own and lose the twelve quid us stupid North Americans were paying to sit on a replica coach from that god-awful Beatle flick “Magical Mystery Tour” and being shown where Lennon took a dump in 1961.
And so, I realized, I could create my own Vernon Beatle Stalkery Tour of things I’d already seen and many that were by-passed on the bus route. Not far from my hotel is Speke Road that leads into the neighbourhood of Woolton where Lennon and Harrison lived. John at 251 Menlove Avenue and Harrison at 174 Macket’s Lane. The Lennon location was a drive-by picture op on my first visit as the current owners are not giving of the throngs of tourists snapping pics. The Harrison house was not part of the tour as it’s located away from the other John/Paul landmarks. So these could be easily videotaped by one, lone, Canadian fanboy.
But before Woolton there is another, slightly more affluent neighbourhood called Allerton from whence the McCartney’s resided at 20 Forthlin Road. This is the house that nearly all the early Lennon/McCartney songs were composed (in the front sitting room, in fact). “Love Me Do”. “Please Please Me”. “P.S. I Love You”. “From Me To You”. From there it continues north up Mather Road to Greenhill and eventually Harthill Road to the location of the Quarry Bank School itself residing just outside Calderstones Park where the Quarrymen took their name.
Passed the school is Menlove Avenue where Lennon’s house kitty corners with Beaconsfield Road and the legendary Salvation Army Orphanage called Strawberry Field. The building sits a few hundred feet back from the road behind an iron doorway that’s easily 10 feet high and barricaded by two large stone pillars holding the gateway in place. The gate itself is covered in flowering ivy and it looks rather Dickensian like something out of ‘Oliver Twist’ or ‘David Copperfield’.
Pushing passed Strawberry Field is Church Road and as you head south St. Peter’s Rectory is the most prominent building in sight. It was here that both Lennon and McCartney met for the first time in a sandlot off the back of the church property leading them to become Quarrymen soon after. And if that fateful day weren’t symbolic enough, it is here where the actual Eleanor Rigby is buried.
As you continue down St. Peter’s south you cross Menlove Avenue again which soon becomes Hillfoot Road and leads to Harrison’s house on Macket’s Lane. The final stop on the trip. All of this would have been well and good had I actually taken the trip. But as it is in the United Kingdom, fate is dealt on the back of inclement weather. It pissed rain the entire day which doesn’t make for a good foot journey or videotaping.
And so, through rain into late afternoon I trudged toward the Cavern Club to go see Johnny Lloyd Rollins with a side trip that would allow me one more Beatles hot spot adventure. At the corner of Slater and Fleet Streets is the still existing, still thriving Jacaranda Club where the Beatles would rotate on nights when they wanted a little extra money after playing the Cavern. Legend has it they’d play a set at the Cavern, pack up their gear and carry it over to the Jacaranda to do an early set before packing up and heading BACK to the Cavern to finish a late night. I can’t imagine running a 20 minute gauntlet across Liverpool’s cobblestones with a full drum kit, amps and guitars. The journey is simple by foot, but with musical equipment it would have been a nightmare.
Anyway, I arrived to catch Johnny Lloyd Rollins great set at the Cavern, and afterward I walked directly across Mathew Street to the Cavern Pub. A small stairway leads to the brightly contrasted pub just below street level – think of Cheers with a ton of Rock Memoribilia festooning the walls. Most notable was a glass showcase from floor to ceiling located on the stage behind the area where the bands play featuring an original Ringo Star drum kit, and guitars from the other three Beatles.
Jeremy Morris of Jam Records took the stage with his band including Dave Dietrich on drums (a patron of all things Goddo…and executive producer on several of them). Jeremy’s band was tight and he managed to not only dominate the small stage and dance floor in front of him, but take the performance above and beyond the call of duty. Afterwards it was time to eat and go back to the hotel for a rest. I needed my sleep for tomorrow would be my own appearance at the house The Beatles built.
LIVERPOOL Part 4 – VERMIN TAKES THE STAGE
I stayed in bed until 12:30 PM because it was raining. Of course, the late waking time also meant missing the buffet breakfast I’d come to enjoy in the hotel restaurant. So I was off in search of food before having to hit the stage at 2:45 at the Cavern Club.
Down at the end of the Albert Dock was the Pumphouse Inn where I’d eaten supper several nights before. Sure enough, they had an all-day menu. I ate and quickly made my way to Mathew Street and the Cavern proper. I was greeted by David Bash upon my arrival about 45 minutes early to watch a set of beautiful folk-inspired pop songs by Liverpudlian lass Liz Hunney. Meanwhile, I was growing nervous not only for my debut at the shrine of the Mersey Beat, but because the guitar I had arranged to borrow for the occasion from Jeremy Morris hadn’t yet arrived. I scoured several of the other clubs to see if he was checking out other acts, but nothing. It was getting real close to showtime now and I gave organizer David Bash the panic button. He quickly found members of Endbutt Lane still in the house and whose guitarist and second vocalist Jed was willing to lend me his acoustic guitar.
On stage I went to line check this beast and arrange my copious notes that I need now that my cluttered corporate mind and advancing brain damage suffered at the hands of child rearing with my wife. Then a wondrous sight appeared in the seats in front of me – Dave Slater from the 1960s Liverpool group Focal Point who were not only on the verge of a comeback but were working with a fellow Canadian friend of mine, Peter Foldy, on a film about their life story [tragically the film and comeback never materialized after the shocking suicide of the band’s Paul Tennant a year or two later]. Dave and I briefly emailed months before my trip and I wasn’t sure he was up to coming out and seeing my set. But there he was. A friendly face in the otherwise small audience on this soggy bank holiday.
Then, like the arrival of another long-lost friend, Spencer Leigh sat with Dave Slater. And to cap the arrivals Jeremy Morris appeared in front of the stage with the other guitar. I was embarrassed because I’d begged him for use of his blue plated electric machine before I left Canada. Instead of being annoyed at bringing the guitar that I no longer needed, he offered to accompany me on stage. I was grateful but leery because he knew none of my material. However, I was terrified of going on stage all alone and was confident he’d pick up cues from my cheat sheets strewn across the front of the stage.
So off we went. It was all a blur and some 30 minutes later, after plodding my way, unrehearsed, through my songs “Time Enough At Last”, “Turn”, “Give Me Your Hand”, “If Paradise Should Fall”, “Don’t Blink Too Long’ (a new one), “Turn On The Radio” from my Moving Targetz days and a musical tribute to Paul Hyde of The Payola$ with a version of his 1989 song “America Is Sexy” we left the stage. CDs got sold. I was soaking wet from the hot atmosphere of the room and took my leave to return to the hotel for a shower, a nap and another meal before my return show that night at the Cavern Pub.
It all somehow seemed anti-climactic. The dream of every musician who ever wanted to be a Beatle (or at least as rich as them) is to grace that stage. My nerves were in anticipation of the event. But after completing the songs I wasn’t jubilant or ecstatic. Just relieved and disappointed that more people weren’t there to see me flail away, un-musician-like through tunes I still can’t remember by rote.
LIVERPOOL PART 5 – LET’S GO DOWN THE PUB
Undeterred by the underwhelming effects of having just played The Cavern Club hours before, I returned to the scene of the crime and across the laneway to the Cavern Pub. Jeremy came by a short time later with his electric guitar. I took a different tact this time. Some grittier material to reflect the guitar I was now wearing. But I was warmed up and more relaxed because, hey, this was the Cavern Pub….and not the CLUB anymore so I had my confidence back. This time it was original tunes “Exiled On Planet Pop”, “If Paradise Should Fall”, “Rest In Peace”, and “The Soundtrack To Oblivion” (a new one). The Paul Hyde number worked really well with a second guitar at the Cavern Club so I thought I’d up the ante. Any drummers in the audience? I need a Bo Diddley beat. Jeremy to the rescue again!! The crowd loved it and even sang along to the “lalalalas” in the intros.
From there I did “I Am A TV Show” to close and was about to segue into Golden Earring’s “Twilight Zone” (a thematic continuation of “TV Show”) when some rowdy woman out front screamed for some Beatles. I was on a roll and had a repertoire that could carry the request. I cut into the first few bars of “Day Tripper” and Jeremy pounded the drums. The crowd was eating it up. But before the first chorus I changed keys and tempo into the old standard “Slow Down” – not a Beatle song, but they did a rousing version that I was able to match Lennon’s screams on. But Jeremy had pooped out. Suddenly, the soundman comes to the rescue on drums and off we went. The crowd loved it and I thanked them. While packing up the guitar another bunch of drunken lads began singing “You’re Sixteen” (the Ringo version) and I chimed in with that. Applause and laughter all round! Good night, Liverpool. And I hope we passed the audition.
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon