Helen Walsh: At The Sharp End

'That whole grinning, mop-top, funny suit-and-winkle pickers image is just so cabaret, darling. It leaves me numb'
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The Independent Online

It doesn't open for another year, but the Hard Day's Night Hotel in Liverpool is experiencing a feeding frenzy, with guests from all over the world eager to book. The Hard Day's Night is a Beatles-themed hotel, with each of its 110 rooms decorated after a Fab Four song. One Norwegian businessman asked the hotel to name its price as he tried to block-book the place for Christmas 2007. This, as the last few tourists drag their Reeboks around Beatlepool in the wake of the Mathew Street Festival - an annual jamboree for which tribute bands from as far afield as Peru, New Zealand, the Gambia and, this year, Basingstoke, flock to the banks of the Mersey.

It's become a part of the social scene up here - on a par with Ladies' Day at Aintree and Mad Mondays at Ned Kelly's as something one simply does. Or most people do, anyway. But when my pal phoned to ask if we were going to the big opening night down at the Pierhead, I found myself uttering the following heretical lines: "Dunno. I mean, I don't really like The Beatles..."

Needless to say, he responded the way everyone does when you blurt out the unthinkable: "Christmas? Take it or leave it, me. The big crazy roast is fine, but the rest of it? Crap."

People assume you're larking about, but they can't help that oh-so-slightly slower delivery of their next couple of sentences: "What? You're joking! Everyone likes The Beatles..."

And, OK, I'll go along with that to an extent. Everyone likes The Beatles - until they're asked to think about it. And now I think about it, I can say this: most of the ballads are really good. Whether it's Lennon or McCartney behind those beautifully poignant elegies like "Strawberry Fields Forever" or "The Long and Winding Road" or, best of all, "In My Life", The Beatles are masters of Sad. The sad thing is, most of the time they're a jaunty, wise-cracking, thumbs-up goodtime beat band who I just find irritating. I mean, "Love Me Do" - for crying out loud: "Love, love me do/ you know I love you, I'll always be true..."

How twee is that? That whole grinning, mop-top, funny suit-and-winkle pickers image is just so cabaret darling, and it leaves me numb.

I wouldn't go so far as to say I hate The Beatles. Long journeys to Cornwall in my Dad's old jalopy were punctuated by musical jousting among the family: It was Chart Rave for Mum and I - Black Box, Snap, Rozalla, Blue Pearl - but my brother was mad for jazz, so Dad's penchant for The Beatles and Marmalade made for blessed relief after a 12-minute Buddy Rich drum solo.

The next time they reared their head was at the height of Britpop, when the Brothers Gallagher tried to explain away their own lack of originality by passing themselves off as the second coming of The Beatles. All around me, former rave babies were going all Sixties on me. Ocean Colour Scene were The Who. Blur were The Kinks. Cast were The Animals. And I was left there, scratching my head. What's the point, I thought? It's all been done before, all that. "Come on," ventured my pal. "It'll be a laugh."

If anything is ever going to push you into doing something you really don't want to do - put your hand in the fire, go to a horrid person's party - it's the wiggling cleavage of "it'll be a laugh".

And it was. It poured down, but what a great time was had. Everyone grinned at each other in a jaunty, thumbs-up, mop-top sort of way. A really, really bad covers band from Basingstoke ran through a barely recognisable "Twist and Shout" and every single person twisted and, verily, shouted, to boot. The music and the vibe of the festival cut right across taboos of age, taste and dancing ability. It was all-in, a free-for-all that was, actually, free for all. It won't make me rush out and bulk-buy The Beatles' back catalogue and I'll never quite be able to think of "Love Me Do" as a classic. But for the first time in my life I "get" The Beatles - and, you know, that can't be bad.


No! Let it not be so! There are terrifying signs that one of Down South's most heinous lexical tendencies is heading Up North. I refer to the odious practice of running several words - often entire sentences - into one long slur that challenges, or defies, the listener to work it out for themselves. I'd become accustomed to this being the preserve of the arrogant Upper Classes. One chap I knew (who once ventured that his son's intended was of "good stock"; I imagined him pulling her lips back to check her teeth and gums) regularly ended phone calls with the word "slerr". He'd deliver it like that old roué off The Fast Show and it took me months to realise he was saying: "I shall speak to you later."

Standing at the bus stop yesterday, I couldn't help tuning in to two lads planning a night out. One of them - the one with the plan - was persuading the other that, even though they were under age, they might as well have a crack at getting into this new bar. The thing is, he didn't pause for breath once. There was no gap where one word ended and another began. It was one long, quite annoying noise whose only distinguishing features were its variations in tone and emphasis. I'm frightened. Before we know it, people will be randomly checking my teeth and gums.