Among various other anniversaries, this week has been Beatles week, prompted, I suppose, by the release of the whole of the band's back catalogue, digitally remastered. Attached to this event there have been programmes on the TV, early footage of performances at the BBC and a documentary of their first tour of the United States.
Watching all this footage and listening to all this music has brought back remarkably few memories. I was, I guess, a year or two too young to go and see the Beatles performing all over Liverpool at local dances and the Cavern Club in the centre of town, but even if I had been the right age I don't imagine that I would have seen the greatest band in the history of the world playing live, even though I would have probably had to travel only a few hundred yards to do it. The period when I was a wide-eyed teenager was the era of the Liverpool Poets – Adrian Henry, Brian Patten, Roger McGough, as important in their own way to poetry as the Beatles were to music and I never saw any of them perform live either.
It wasn't that I didn't want to be present when history was being made, but it was just that I was a very disorganised and confused young man. And so I would hear about or read about an event and I would would try to attend, but would either get to the venue on the wrong night or I would go to a pub that had the same name as the pub where history was being made but it would be the wrong pub, so I would spend all night in some grimy bar down by the docks, sipping on a half of bitter and wondering if the old bloke in the plastic mac talking to his whippet was in fact the beat poet Allen Ginsberg in disguise. (Sometimes it was.)
I do remember one evening we were watching the local BBC TV news programme Look North at home and they had a feature on a Japanese performance artist who was appearing, that night, at the Bluecoat Gallery behind Woolworths in the town centre. This extremely odd-looking woman wrapped herself in toilet paper and conducted her side of the interview, composed of various gnomic pronouncements in a high-pitched, heavily accented squeaky voice.
The presenters in turn treated her as if they were talking to someone in the novelty slot usually reserved for comical livestock or batty, 100-year-old men, who'd fought in the Boer War. At the end of the interview they turned simpering to the camera and announced that the woman's name was Yoko Ono.
"That's the last we've seen of her." I said to my dad and of course I was wrong. Indeed, since these days Yoko controls the estate of John Lennon and as John and the rest of the Beatles are now such a big part of the economy of Liverpool, Yoko's aura hovers over the city like a circling easyJet flight. In fact, Liverpool John Lennon Airport can be called Liverpool John Lennon Airport only because Yoko gave permission for it to be so. The motto of the airport is "Above us only sky", though I am told that the baggage handlers have another motto drawn from the same song: "Imagine no possessions".
I also find it spooky that one of the most successful and busiest flights is from Liverpool to Granada, so you can fly from John Lennon to Federico Garcia Lorca, from one airport named after a young man who was murdered to another named after another young man who was murdered.
Since I made my documentary series Alexei Sayle's Liverpool last year, I have spent a lot more time in my home city. If I am there for a few days I stay with my mum and if it is longer, at a serviced apartment on the revitalised riverfront. It was from there a few weeks ago that I took a very odd tour. English Heritage now owns both John Lennon's childhood home on Menlove Avenue and Paul McCartney's house on Forthlin Road. They have furnished them as they were when the boys were in their formative years and operate a very limited number of tours every day.
It is an extremely unsettling experience to take a tourist trip round your home town. At one point our minibus actually passed the end of my mum's road. At both houses you are greeted by a guide who lives in the house in a locked back room, cooking at night on John's or Paul's old cooker and being woken in the middle of the night by demented German fans who've climbed over the fence. Both of these men had the slightly faraway look of lighthouse keepers.
Already disturbed by the experience it was spooky to be looking at the porch where John and Paul wrote their early hits and the furniture and household products identical to those in my own childhood home. It was also a more solipsistic point that struck me most forcefully. I noticed that though they had the choice of a number of bedrooms, both had chosen the narrow back room for their room. This was exactly the same room as I'd chosen!
Unfortunately, my childhood home, 5 Valley Road, has not fared as well as John's or Paul's. I filmed outside my old house several times during the making of my documentary and the thing that struck me most forcibly was that every single house in the street, unusually for Liverpool, has been meticulously restored. The yellow bricks were burnished to a dull gold. The windows, a high-quality uPVC successfully replicated the originals. The roof slates had been carefully replaced with no gaps.
Every house, that is, apart from my old house. Number Five remains a dilapidated mess. The bay with its stone cornice has been removed at some time during the terrible 1970s or 80s; the whole front is now in danger of collapse. We met the woman who lives in the house I was born and brought up in – she appeared bemused as to why she alone in the whole street has missed out on the benefits of regeneration. I think she secretly blamed me.Reuse content