Meets Liverpool: My December 2004 Pilgrimage
by Mark Guerrero
On December 12, 2004, I flew out of Palm Springs airport on
my way to Liverpool, England to experience the city which
literally gave birth to The Beatles. For me it was more
of a pilgrimage than a vacation on which I was embarking.
It must be understood that The Beatles are my all-time favorite
musical artists. But they were a lot more than mere
musical artists to me. As most of the world knows, they
had a enormous cultural impact beyond the music. I also
liked their wit, humor, and intelligence. I liked their
movies and read books published about them. They appeared
on the world stage when I was thirteen years old and already
leader of my first rock band, The Escorts. I bought
The Beatles' first hit single, "I Want To Hold Your Hand,"
and first Capitol Records album, "Meet The Beatles,"
when they first came out. I also saw them on the Ed
Sullivan Show when they first appeared. I was hooked
from the beginning and bought every Beatle album as it was
released. My band began to sprinkle its repertoire with
Beatle songs and continued to do so throughout the 60s, as
it evolved into Mark & the Escorts, The Men From S.O.U.N.D.,
and Nineteen Eighty Four. My band was part of a music
boom in East Los Angeles which happened simultaneously to
the Liverpool explosion. Like in Liverpool, East L.A.
had countless bands and plenty of venues in which to play.
In the period of 1964 to '65, East L.A. produced several bands
who had national and international hits such as The Premiers
("Farmer John"), The Blendells ("La La La La
La"), and Cannibal & the Headhunters ("Land
of a Thousand Dances"). It is at this point that
East L.A. met Liverpool for the first time. In 1965,
Cannibal & the Headhunters' manager, Eddie Davis, got
a phone call from Brian Epstein inviting Cannibal & the
Headhunters to join the current Beatle tour, which was in
progress. They were put on a plane to New York for their
first concert with The Beatles, which turned out to be the
historic Shea Stadium concert. They went on to play
other venues in the tour, including the Houston Astrodome
and the Hollywood Bowl. I was fortunate to personally
witness the Hollywood Bowl concert, where Cannibal & the
Headhunters made a good accounting of themselves and got the
best response of any of the opening acts. I also saw
The Beatles at Balboa Stadium in San Diego in 1965 and Dodger
Stadium in 1966.
Given the background information in the paragraph above, it's
easy to understand why I had to one day visit Liverpool, the
cradle of The Beatles. I wanted to see all the places
I had read about or seen in documentaries such as "The
Compleat Beatles" and the more recent Beatle "Anthology"
set. I decided 2004 would be the year I would do it.
Shortly after making my decision, I serendipitously received
an e mail from Arty Davies, a Liverpool drummer. He
had come across my website in search of an autographed photo
of none other than Cannibal & the Headhunters. (Amazing
how it all ties together). I wrote him back saying that
two of the original members had passed away and I'd lost track
of the other two. I knew Chan Romero was very famous
in Liverpool because of his song "The Hippy Hippy Shake,"
which was played and/or recorded by The Beatles and many Liverpool
bands of the era. I told him I knew Chan and could send
him an autographed photo of Chan if he was interested.
He said he'd love to have it, so I got two autographed photos
from Chan and sent them to Arty. It also turned out
an ex-patriot English guitarist friend of mine, Dave Wendels,
knew many of the Liverpool musicians from back in the 60s
and as it turned out, many remembered him. Dave had
played with Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers, Tom Jones,
and Lulu. In the course of my e mail dialogue with Arty,
I told him I was going to Liverpool later in the year.
This led to an invitation to meet and play with some of the
Liverpool musicians of the Beatle era. He said the guys
would welcome me with open arms.
On Monday, December 13th, I arrived in Manchester, England
via Chicago and then caught a train to Liverpool. After
checking in at my hotel, I headed for the Beatle museum, called
The Beatles' Story. The first room of the museum blew
me away immediately. On one wall there was a giant blow
up of the famous photo of a 16 year old John Lennon playing
with the Quarrymen at a garden fete on the grounds of St.
Peters church in Woolton. In a glass case in front of
the photo were ALL the original instruments in the photo,
including John's first guitar. On the opposite wall
was a blow up of a well-known photo of a 14 year old George
Harrison playing his first acoustic guitar. You guessed
it. In front of the photo was the actual guitar.
The museum leads you through many rooms, including a recreated
Cavern Club, Abbey Road Studio, the John Lennon "Imagine"
white room, and much more. On your way in, you get a
tape recorder with headphones to guide you with information
at your own pace. The museum also has a Beatle store,
which has CDs, books, T shirts, and just about anything else
you can imagine emblazoned with The Beatles name and/or likenesses.
That night Artie picked me up and took me to a neighborhood
pub called the Fantail in the district of Kirkby. It
wasn't one of the vintage, classic English pubs, but a newer
suburban one. There performing solo, was one of the
original Undertakers, Geoff Nugent. Geoff, along with
Jackie Lomax, were members of the Undertakers, who played
at the Cavern many times in the Beatle Liverpool era.
Geoff is an excellent singer, accompanying himself with tracks
and a Gretsch guitar. When Arty told the patrons that
I was also a singer, I was encouraged to go up and sing a
few. I wound up doing a few three song mini-sets and
had a great time. Geoff and I also sang a couple of
Everly Brothers songs together. Geoff was very gracious
and the pub patrons were great.
On Tuesday, December 14th, I went on a private Beatle tour.
Three weeks before I left for England, I met a nice couple
from Liverpool named Ann and Michael at my gig in Palm Springs.
It turns out her sister runs a Beatle tour. Serendipity
strikes again. Her sister Margie and her friend Brenda
took me to John Lennon's birthplace, the childhood homes of
The Beatles, Strawberry Field, Penny Lane, St. Peters Church
in Woolton (where John and Paul met), the Cavern Club, the
Jacaranda Club, the Liverpool Institute (where George and
Paul went to school), the Liverpool Art College (where John
attended), pubs they frequented, and many other Beatle haunts.
This tour greatly fulfilled my desire to see the places I'd
read about. That night, I was a guest on a radio show
on BBC Merseyside. In the months before my visit, Chan
Romero had recorded a song I wrote for him entitled "Rockin'
Like There's No Tomorrow" and Trini Lopez had recorded
another one of my songs, "Oh Maria." Chan
hooked me up with Spencer Leigh, a BBC radio host from Liverpool
who had interviewed Chan about five years before when Chan
was touring England. A few days before I left for England,
I called Spencer and he invited me to do his show. I
arrived at the studio right after my Beatle tour. We
did a about a half an hour interview in which we discussed
subjects such as The Beatles, Chicano music, the East L.A.
music scene of the 60s, Chan Romero, and Trini Lopez.
I also performed four songs in studio on acoustic guitar,
loaned to me by Liverpool musician Kingsize Taylor, whom I
had not yet met. I did two of my own songs, "Pre-Columbian
Dream" and "On the Boulevard"; a Beatle song,
"No Reply"; and one of my dad's songs, "Los
Chucos Suaves." The show was taped to be aired
at a future time so Spencer would later edit in the two new
recordings of my songs by Chan Romero and Trini Lopez.
After the show, I walked over to historic Mathew Street, which
is the center of Liverpool's nightlife. It is on this
cobblestone street, which is closed off to car traffic, that
the famous Cavern Club is located. The Cavern is where
it all started for The Beatles. They played there 270
times! Unfortunately, it was closed on this night so
I went to the Cavern Pub across the street. I walked
down a flight of stairs to find a thriving drinking establishment
with live music. Behind the band playing on stage, was
a glassed in shelving containing classic Beatle instruments.
Though probably not the originals, it was good to see that
John Lennon black 6-string Rickenbacker, the George Harrison
Gretsch Country Gentleman, and Ringo's famous grey drum set
emblazoned with "The Beatles" on the bass drum skin.
They must have had the Paul McCartney violin bass too, but
it may have been hidden from my view. On the stage was
a great band called S.P.X. It was a three piece band
featuring a monster guitarist/vocalist, who's voice and vocal
style reminded me of Sting; a bass player/vocalist, who was
excellent at both; and a solid drummer, worthy of the talents
of the other two. These guys could play and sing!
They did interesting cover material that you don't hear most
cover bands do, like "I Won't Get Fooled Again"
by The Who and I think it was "Money" by Pink Floyd.
I found out the band member's names from a young musician
standing next to me by the name of John Birch, who plays bass
in a Beatle cover band. The guitar player, who played
a Les Paul gold top, is Ronnie Hughes. According to
John, Ronnie was a member of the Fourmost in their later stages.
The Fourmost also go back to The Beatle Liverpool era.
The bass player is Davey Walsh, according to John a graduate
of the school founded by Paul McCartney called the Liverpool
Institute of the Performing Arts (LIPA). The drummer's
name is John Ditchfield. They were great. The
place was crowded and hectic so I didn't get a chance to meet
them. All in all it was quite a second day in Liverpool.
On Wednesday, December 15th, Arty picked me up and took me
to a rehearsal at the venue where we would be playing that
night. It was called the Huyton Park Conservative Club.
I met the guys that would be backing me that night and we
went over the six song set I had planned. After going
out for some fish and chips, we picked up Faron of Faron's
Flamingoes at his house. Faron's Flamingoes also played
at the Cavern during the Beatle Liverpool era. (Arty
Davies plays drums for the current version of Faron's Flamingoes.)
At the venue, I met Kingsize Taylor of Kingsize Taylor &
the Dominoes, who also played at the Cavern in the Beatle
era. They also played in Hamburg, Germany in the era
in which The Beatles were there. I also met Lee Curtis
of Lee Curtis & the All Stars of the 60s, and many more
musicians. All these musicians are members of an organization
called Sounds of the Sixties. They do shows to raise
money for musicians who are in financial need. This
night's "Christmas Jam" was part of this worthy
effort. The opening set was provided by the group of
musicians who were to back me up. They jokingly call
themselves The Wheely Bins. Kingsize Taylor calls them
The Wheels of Fire. I came on next with my six song
set, which was comprised of "Let the Good Times Roll"
by Louis Jordan, "Slow Down," "Roll Over Beethoven,"
"Nadine," "Back In the U.S.S.R.," and
"Long Tall Sally." It was a good ol' rock
& roll set that went without a hitch. I was in good
voice and the band did a great job with the tempos and a great
rockin' feel. The band members were Arty Davies, drums;
Ritchie Ballard, bass, George Eccles, rhythm guitar, and Phil
Ford on slide guitar. George Eccles loaned me a Fender
Stratocaster that felt and sounded good and I used a Fender
tube amp, which may have been a Twin Reverb. I liked
the sound of the rig. Phil and I shared the lead guitar
duties and all went very well. We rocked! We were
followed by Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes, who also rocked.
They did a set of classic rock & roll including "Slow
Down," with Kingsize commenting with tongue in cheek
that I had "pinched" the song from them. Kingsize
Taylor aka Ted, generously allowed me to close his set by
singing Chan Romero's "The Hippy Hippy Shake" with
them. It rocked and I had a great time doing it.
Mr. and Mrs. Kingsize Taylor were also celebrating his son
Mark's birthday, which I believe was the next day. Later
in the evening, Mark Taylor also got up and sang a few songs
himself. Faron's Flamingoes were next. Aside from
being an excellent singer/performer, he's over the top with
his humor, enthusiasm, and sometimes off-color antics.
He's truly a loveable character. At one point, he called
me over to where he was singing on the dance floor to join
him on "Walking the Dog." After trading a
couple of verses, he took hold of me and we began circling
arm in arm like in a square dance. After a few spins,
I had to run off the dance floor for fear of what he might
do next. The Undertakers followed, without Geoff Nugent,
who had another commitment. I'm sure they would have
loved to have Geoff, but they played well without him.
Lee Curtis was next. Believe me when I tell you, this
guy can sing. He has his own style and sound, but he
reminded me of Roy Orbison. Like Roy, his voice can
be operatic in power and range. Lee can still hit some
incredibly high notes with full voice. He was very impressive.
The show ended with a finale of Ray Charles' "What'd
I Say." Just about everybody was on stage, including
myself, taking turns singing verses. Needless to say,
I had a great time. It meant a lot to me to be able
to meet and play with all these veteran Liverpool musicians.
At the end of the show, I was approached by a man named David
Jamo, who invited me to come to another jam across town the
next night. He was from another Liverpool musicians
organization called The Merseycats, who do shows to raise
money for children. Also, Kingsize Taylor kindly gave
me a copy of the CD "The Beatles Live at the Star Club,
Hamburg, Germany 1962. This is an important and historic
musical document recorded by Kingsize Taylor himself.
After the show, Arty and I took Faron home. He invited
me in and showed me some incredible photos on his wall.
One was of Faron with all four Beatles. Another was
Faron with Paul McCartney. Both photos were circa 1962.
As I was leaving, he gave me a scarf from the Liverpool Art
College attended by John Lennon. Faron had also gone
to the school. It was a generous gesture that was greatly
On Thursday, December 16th, Arty took me to two Beatle-related
places which turned out beyond my expectations. First,
we went to John Lennon's Quarry Bank School, which is now
called Calderstones School. The part of the school John
attended is now called the Quarry Bank Wing. I was taking
pictures outside the school walls when a teacher, who happened
to be having a spot of tea looking out over the wall, said
to me "John Lennon went to school here." I
said, "I know. I'm a huge Beatle fan."
She invited Arty and I to drive onto the school grounds.
She said to tell whoever approached us that she said it was
o.k. (Unfortunately, I can't remember her name.)
She took me to the front entrance of the school for pictures
and then took me inside the building. I went up the
classic old dark wooden stairway with hand rails, saw a classroom,
and got the feel of the old school John attended. I
also met a couple of male teachers and posed with them for
a photo. On the school grounds, I asked the female teacher
if the students knew John Lennon had been a student here.
She said, "why don't you ask them?" I asked
a group of kids around 8 years old if they knew who John Lennon
was. One immediately said yes, while another said no.
Ob La Di Ob La Da life goes on, bra. Arty and I headed
next for Strawberry Field, where two days before I had taken
a picture at the famous entrance. This time we got in
due to someone Arty knew and had spoken to on the phone earlier
in the day. I won't say who it was so Strawberry Field
won't be inundated with tourists using the name of this person
to attempt to gain entry. For those who don't know,
Strawberry Field is a children's home called The Salvation
Army Strawberry Field Community Home. I met the director
and staff, who were very friendly and gracious to me.
He showed me around and gave me a couple of Xerox copies.
One Xerox was of the way the building used to look when John
Lennon used to play on the grounds as a boy. The other
was of a painting of an adult John Lennon in front of the
Strawberry Field gate by a female American artist.
That night I had dinner with Ann and Michael, the couple I
had met in Palm Springs weeks before my Liverpool visit.
It was an incredible multi-course meal worthy of a fine restaurant.
The venue of The Merseycats show wasn't too far from their
home in Crosby, so Michael drove me down. It was in
the Old Roan, Aintree district of Liverpool and the venue
was the Aintree Royal British Legion Hall. The first
band to perform, The Zodiacs, had one of the original members
of Gerry & the Pacemakers playing keyboard. According
to Arty, some of them were in the original Ian & The Zodiacs
of the 60s. They did an enjoyable set of late 50s/early
60s rock & roll and played very well. The next band
was fantastic. It was called The Liverpool Express,
whose leader is Billy Kinsley. In the 60s, Billy was
a member of the famous Merseybeats. Someone told me
he still plays with them as well. The Liverpool Express
did a set of cover tunes including Steely Dan's "Reelin'
In the Years," Badfinger's "No Matter What,"
"Stuck In the Middle" by Stealer's Wheel, and a
couple of Beatle songs, "All My Lovin" and "I
Saw Her Standing There." They're a four-piece band
composed of drums, bass, guitar, and keyboard. These
guys can play and sing. They've also got great harmonies.
After a comedian, whose accent I had trouble understanding,
I was asked to come up and sing. I didn't get a chance
to rehearse with the band ahead of time and the equipment
situation was not suitable for me, so I did "Slow Down"
and "Roll Over Beethoven" and got off. Although
my segment didn't go as I had hoped, it was still very worthwhile
being there because I got to hear some great music and meet
Billy Kinsley and his band, who mercifully were in the dressing
room when I did my two songs.
On Friday, December 17th, I slept in for half the day.
I spent the late afternoon walking around downtown Liverpool
and soaking it all up. I found Liverpool to be a clean
city and one in which I felt safe walking around both day
and night. Its downtown area has new buildings mixed
in with those that are old and historic. There are many
great restaurants and a lot of nightlife. Around the
city you'll find cathedrals that are hundreds of years old
and classic old pubs. On weekends Matthew Street is
teaming with young people frequenting the night clubs, pubs,
and restaurants. The old docks have been refurbished
and turned into nice hotels, restaurants, and shops.
The docks also often host major rock concerts. Liverpool
is a vibrant and hip city and the vast majority of the people
are friendly and helpful. That night I went to The Blundell
Street Music Lounge, where I saw a very good duo called Feelin'
Groovy. They were doing cover tunes, a lot of the same
ones I've done on similar gigs in the past. During their
set, someone requested "Brown Eyed Girl," which
they dutifully performed. It made me suspect that even
on the other side of the Atlantic, cover musicians probably
have to play that song nightly. It's a great song, but
once you've played it every night for years on end, it gets
old. I spoke to the guy who sang it and he verified
what I suspected. He was burned out on it as well.
I understand Van Morrison himself refuses to do the song in
concert these days. Later that night, I returned to
Mathew Street and went into the Cavern Club. Unfortunately,
this night they had a DJ and no live music. It was still
very cool being down there and imagining what it was like
when The Beatles and others played there in the early 60s.
On the wall behind the stage are the names of bands who played
there in the early days. Right next to The Beatles on
one side it read Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes.
On the other, Faron's Flamingoes. Down further to the
left, The Undertakers. It brought home what I had experienced
on my trip to Liverpool. I would also like to say that
having seen many bands perform at the two events described
above, my observation is that these musicians love rock &
roll and play it primarily for that reason. I found
it to be very inspiring.
On Saturday, December 18th, I caught a train at Liverpool's
Lime Street Station bound for London. I spent three
days there in which I saw the theatrical production featuring
Queen's music called "We Will Rock You." It
was great. I also went on a Rock & Roll/ Beatle
Tour, which goes to London Beatle and other rock & roll
sites including Abbey Road Studios, the former Apple building,
Jimmy Page's castle, where Jimi Hendrix lived and where he
died, Bill Wyman's Sticky Finger's restaurant/pub, Freddy
Mercury's former home, and much more. The tour was hosted
by a former mod who enthusiastically regaled two non-English
speaking Japanese tourists and I to infinite stories about
rock & roll London. I also saw the vault at the
Hard Rock Cafe Store, where they have John Lennon's shirt
from his New York City Central Park concert, Bob Dylan's hat
from Nashville Skyline, a Jimi Hendrix guitar, etc.
I especially enjoyed wandering around Soho, where there are
a lot of great restaurants, clubs, pubs, and shops.
It's also where Paul McCartney's offices are located.
I also saw an excellent singer named Sarah Jane Morris at
the legendary jazz club, Ronnie Scott's. She's a white
jazz/blues/pop singer, who was backed by some great musician's.
She's also an excellent performer and is very good at her
between song stories and comments. The highlight of
her set for me was a New Orlean's style version of "Me
and Bobby McGee," with a full horn section. On
the non-musical front, I visited the British Museum and the
Cabinet War Rooms, which were Winston Churchill's secret wartime
headquarters. All in all, I got quite a lot in on my
eight days in England.
A couple of weeks after my return home, I was talking on the
phone with my aforementioned English musician friend, Dave
Wendels, about my trip. Dave, who now lives in Hemet,
California (about 45 minutes from me) was saying how he had
taken a trip to Memphis around 1980. Being a huge Elvis
and rockabilly fan, going to Memphis and visiting Graceland
and Sun Studios was a pilgrimage to him. It was magical.
It probably has to do with the era in which one was a teenager
and maybe a little of the grass is greener on the other side,
of the ocean in this case. I've been to Memphis myself
and it was an exciting and profound experience to go to Graceland
and to see Sun Studios, but for me the magic is in Liverpool.
Sound Bytes and Photo Gallery Links Below:
mp3 Sound Bytes
of Mark Guerrero Liverpool Set
on three tracks below: Mark
Guerrero- lead vocals, lead guitar; Arty Davies- drums; Ritchie
Ballard- bass; Phil Ford- slide guitar; George Eccles- rhythm