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Liverpool Revisited
July 11- 17, 2006

by Mark Guerrero

     I knew I would one day return to Liverpool, England, but didn't think it would be quite so soon.  My first trip in December of 2004 had been one of the best experiences of my life.  I visited Beatle-related sites I'd read about since I was a teenager in the 60s and met and got to play with many of the musicians who'd known The Beatles and played on the bill with them in Liverpool and Hamburg.  What prompted the timing of my second visit was an e mail I received from Arty Davies, the Liverpool drummer who'd backed me on my previous trip with his band, now known as Wheels on Fire.  He was also the one who was my original contact that made my first Liverpool adventure possible in regards to being able to meet and play with the Merseyside musicians.  Arty's e mail informed me that the Sounds of the 60s organization, for whom I played on my first visit, were now doing a weekly show on Sunday nights at the legendary Cavern Club.  The Cavern is, of course, the venue on Mathew Street in Liverpool that really got The Beatles career rolling.  They played there 292 times!  I knew I had to play there and wanted to make sure I would do it while I had the chance.  You may have heard the original Cavern was torn down in the early 70s.  Here's the scoop on the Cavern as it is today.  On April 26, 1984, the Cavern Club was re-opened.  Over 15,000 of the old Cavern bricks had been saved and treated.  The old bricks were used to reconstruct the arches and vaults to more or less the same dimensions as the original Cavern Club.  However, there are some differences to the original floor plan.  The club today occupies 75% of the original site.  The reconstructed club is deeper than the original, 30 steps down as opposed to the original 18.  The original archways and vaults were at 90 degrees to Mathew Street, not parallel as they are today.  One could say the new Cavern Club was ordained on December 14, 1999 when Paul McCartney performed there on a new and bigger stage in a new room.  The new stage is just feet away from where the original stage once stood.  The reconstructed old stage is like the original with the same wall behind it with the names of all the bands who played there in the 60s.  However, they made the stage bigger by giving it more depth.  I don't know how the 60s bands fit on the original tiny stage.  As far as I'm concerned, the Cavern Club, even as it is today, is sacred rock & roll ground.  The feel of it is as it must have been back in the early 60s.

     I booked my return trip five months in advance for July 2006.  The five months flew by and I was on a plane out of Palm Springs, California, via Atlanta, Georgia, to Manchester, England.  Upon arrival, I was picked up by Arty Davies and driven to Liverpool.  It had been arranged that I would play at the Sounds of the 60s at Huyton Conservative Club on Wednesday night and the Merseycats Aintree British Legion Hall on Thursday night, as I did my previous trip.  The Merseycats are another organization of Merseybeat musicians.  Both organizations, the Sounds of the Sixties and Merseycats, raise money for good causes and keep the flame burning for Merseybeat music and good ol' rock & roll in general.  Both groups still love and revere the music of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, et. al.  These were the same artists that gave inspiration to The Beatles themselves.  I was looking forward to my Huyton and Aintree shows, however, the great anticipation for me was my scheduled performance at the Cavern Club.  On my first night in Liverpool, I walked from my hotel at Albert Dock to Mathew Street and descended the stairs of the Cavern Pub, not to be confused with the Cavern Club across the street.  On the bandstand was 2/3 of the same band I had seen a year and a half before.  It was the same drummer and bass player/vocalist, John Ditchfield and Davey Walsh, with a different lead guitarist/vocalist.  They had changed their name from S.P.X. to Zebra 3 and were just as great as before.  They were doing rock and funk cover tunes and were as good as any three piece band could be.  I spoke with the new guitar player, Kevin McCann, who was very friendly and an excellent guitarist.  He was hoping to get to America someday.

     The next day, July 12th, I rehearsed for about an hour with Wheels On Fire for our set that night at Huyton Conservative Club.  At the event, many of the same musicians were there who were there last time, including Kingsize Taylor.  Around 9:30, I did my set with Wheels On Fire.  Band members included Phil Ford on slide guitar, George Eccles on rhythm guitar, Ritchie Ballard on bass, Arty Davies on drums, and Frank Hopley on piano.  We didn't have a piano in the band on my previous visit and it added a lot to the energy and excitement of our shows.  Our set list consisted of "You Never Can Tell," "Nadine," and "Roll Over Beethoven" by Chuck Berry, "Back In the U.S.S.R." by The Beatles, "Slow Down" by The Beatles via Larry Williams, "Let the Good Times Roll" by Louis Jordan, "It Takes a Lot To Laugh (It Takes a Train to Cry)" by Bob Dylan, "Fire Down Below" by Bob Seger, and two of my rockers, "Meet Me On the Other Side" and "Rockin' Like There's No Tomorrow."  Near the end of the night, I sang "The Hippy Hippy Shake" by Chan Romero, "Long Tall Sally" by Little Richard, and a reprise of "Roll Over Beethoven."  There was a good turnout and many musicians got up and rocked like there was no tomorrow, so to speak.  However, gratefully, there was a tomorrow.

     On Thursday, July 13th, I performed at the Aintree British Legion Hall at the Merseycats jam.  The Wheels of Fire came along to back me at the venue.  The previous time I played at the Merseycats, in 2004, things didn't go too well musically due to some well-meaning, but slightly inebriated backing musicians.  For this reason, Arty made sure Wheels of Fire would back me this time.  We did a solid, rockin' set of songs, consisting of the same song list we used the previous night in Huyton.  On this night we had the pleasure and honor of having Sam Hardie, founder of the Dominoes, playing piano with us on our last two songs, "The Hippy Hippy Shake" and "Long Tall Sally."  Our set went over very well and we were happy with our performance.  After the show Arty said to me, "It looks like you killed a ghost tonight."  Yes, I think he was right.  I did feel like I did the performance I wanted to give the previous time I was at Merseycats.  Geoff Nugent of The Undertakers and Lee Curtis of Lee Curtis & the All Stars were in attendance, who were both part of the Liverpool/Hamburg scene of the early 60s and contemporaries of The Beatles.  I had met them both on my previous trip.  On this night, Lee Curtis sang a few songs,  including a great rendition "Slow Down."  Before I did the same song during my set, I asked Lee from the stage if it was alright for me to do it.  He gave me the thumbs up so I went ahead.  It's kind of an unwritten rule that you don't do the same song someone else did earlier because it might appear you were trying to show them up.  There was great camaraderie among the musicians that night and a good time was had by all.

     On Friday, July 14th, I visited the childhood homes of both John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  On my previous trip I had been to the homes, but couldn't go in because they're closed at certain times of year.  This time they were open so I made sure I had reservations and did the tours.  The National Trust owns and runs the sites and have live ins in the homes who conduct the tours.  Beatle fan that I am, it was a profound experience for me to be in the homes where John and Paul grew up.  Paul's home on Forthlin Road is a small and somewhat humble two story apartment with a small backyard.  It has simple wooden fences separating it from neighbors on either side.  Lennon's childhood home on Menlove Avenue is larger than Paul's and somewhat higher up the social scale with a bigger back yard.  As nice as it is, it still is what they call semi-detached.  This means that there is another dwelling attached to it on one side.  Considering how far John & Paul went in the world, creating the best and most successful musical group of all time, it boggles the mind to think they accomplished all they did from such relatively humble beginnings.  When I was in the homes, it tended to humanize the lads that became the world famous Beatles and, if anything, increased my admiration for who they became.  John and Paul wrote many of their early hit songs in these two homes.  Later that day, Arty took me over to Faron Ruffley's house.  Faron played venues such as The Cavern Club and The Casbah, along with The Beatles, in the early 60s and knew them well.  He was particularly good mates with John Lennon.  I had been to his house on my previous trip so we knew each other.  As on my previous visit, he regaled us with many stories from his adventures as part of the Merseybeat revolution of the 60s and played many of his recordings for us.  On my visit in 2004, Faron gave me a wool scarf from the Liverpool Art College where he and John Lennon went to school.  This time he gave me a pair of glasses identical to the one's John Lennon wore in 1980.  Faron's a wonderful guy and a character to be sure.  I might add, he's also a hell of a singer and dynamic performer.

     On Saturday, July 15th, I was a guest on Spencer Leigh's radio show on BBC Merseyside.  I had done a half hour interview/performance with him on my previous trip.  This time he asked me to come on  a show about the music of George Harrison and wanted me to perform a couple of George's songs.  Of course, I was very happy to do so.  His main guest was Ian Kennedy, who is a sports reporter on the station, who happens to be a huge George Harrison fan.  He also has a great knowledge about George and his music, both with The Beatles and from his solo career.  It was a two hour program in which many George Harrison songs were played and discussed.  I played "Here Comes the Sun" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" in the early part of the show and participated in some of the discussion about George.  As the show progressed, Spencer kept asking me to sing another song.  I wound up singing four more songs.  He asked me to do a couple of my songs so I did two rockers I was doing with Wheels On Fire, "Meet Me On the Other Side" and "Rockin' Like There's No Tomorrow."  Later in the show, Spencer asked me to do a Beatle song so I obliged with "Back In the U.S.S.R."  Finally I did one of my dad's songs, "Los Chucos Suaves."  It was very  cool to be doing a song in Spanish, actually Chicano slang, in Liverpool, England, particularly one of my dad's songs.  The program worked really well and had a nice flow to it.  We were all pleased with it.

     On Sunday afternoon, July 16th, Arty took me to a lecture/performance by Kingsize Taylor at Fort Perch Rock.  Fort Perch Rock was built as a coastal defense battery during the Napoleonic period to protect the Port of Liverpool.  It's across the Mersey river from Liverpool.  The event was staged in one of the basement rooms.  The walls were adorned with vintage posters of early Merseyside dances that featured the likes of The Beatles, Faron's Flamingos, The Undertakers, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes, and others.  There was also Elvis Presley memorabilia on display.  There was a small stage where a band called the Black Knights were set up.  The musicians were  Frank Hopley and Ritchie Ballard (who backed me on my shows), Mal Jefferson on guitar, Gerry Stewart on sax, and Allan Schroeder on drums.  Kingsize Taylor performed a few rocking songs with the band before the lecture.  Kingsize and his wife Marga sat at a table in front of the audience of about 100 people.  Through microphones set up on the table, Ted "Kingsize" Taylor talked of his days in Hamburg, Germany, the early Liverpool scene, and some memories of Brian Epstein and The Beatles.  It was very informative and entertaining.  After the lecture, he got up with the band again and rocked the place.  By way of introduction to his performance of "Slow Down," Kingsize Taylor good-naturedly said, "we're going to do a Mark Guerrero number.  Mark pinched it from The Beatles, who pinched it from me."  Apparently Kingsize Taylor was doing "Slow Down" before The Beatles in the early days.  I got a huge kick out of what he said.  After a few songs, Kingsize Taylor graciously invited me up to sing a song with the band.  I did "Roll Over Beethoven."  The band rocked and it went over well with the audience.  Kingsize then invited Geoff Nugent of The Undertakers up to do a song.  Geoff, who was another pioneer of the Liverpool rock scene of the 60s, rocked the house with his version of Carl Perkins' "Matchbox."  (The Beatles also covered "Matchbox" on one of their early albums.)  After Arty and I had a great lunch at an Indian restaurant, he drove me around to see a few more sights.  We stopped at John Lennon's first school, Dovedale Primary.  Apparently, George Harrison also attended the school for a while.  We also drove by the late Brian Epstein's childhood home, as well as his house during his early days as manager of The Beatles.  We also went to the church graveyard where The Beatles' original bass player, Stu Sutcliffe is buried, but couldn't find the gravestone.

     If my experience at Fort Perch Rock wasn't enough for one day, my date with the Cavern was upon me.  That night we set up at the Cavern, where we were on the bill with Flashback, J O'Connor & the Huytones, Wes Paul, Recall (from Manchester), and the legendary Kingsize Taylor.  There was a very good turnout for the show.  We had a video camera we had used on our previous two performances, but it was simply set on a table.  The result was that on our Sounds of the 60s and Merseycats shows, my head was out of frame.  I was the phantom headless rocker on those videos.  For this one, I asked Geoff Nugent's girlfriend to pick up the camera and get some good shots.  She did so and did a great job.  As a result, I have some good footage of our performance at the Cavern.  On our first two shows, at Huyton and Aintree, I used a great Fender Stratocaster loaned to me by George Eccles.  At the Cavern, David Jamo of Merseycats was very kind to offer me a Fender Telecaster.  For a change of pace, I decided to use it and it worked very well.  Our set consisted of "You Never Can Tell," "Roll Over Beethoven," "Slow Down," "Let the Good Times Roll," "Back In the U.S.S.R.," "Meet Me On the Other Side," "The Hippy Hippy Shake," "Nadine," and "Long Tall Sally."  We rocked the Cavern and went over well to my relief.  After the show we all posed for pictures backstage.  There was a feeling of a job well done and we also knew this was our last performance of this trip.

     The next day, Arty and I went to Phil Ford's house to see the videos and say goodbye.  Upon arrival, I found that George Eccles and Ritchie Ballard were already there watching the Cavern video.  After seeing some of the video, I got some of my own video footage of all the guys playing acoustic guitars and joking around outside.  After saying our goodbyes, Arty and I went to see Faron one more time.  There I got some great video of Faron telling stories of his early musical days in Liverpool.  Once again he was entertaining, funny, and a pleasure to be around.  That night, Arty and I had dinner with Sam Hardie of Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes at yet another Indian restaurant.  As you may have heard, or know first hand, there are a lot of great Indian restaurants in England.  This one was right around the corner from Sam's house.  We had some great conversation and heard some great stories of the early Liverpool and Hamburg music scenes from another person who was there.  With this, my second trip to Liverpool, I feel I have a growing bond with the musicians.  I feel accepted and am treated very well by everyone.  I genuinely like many of the people I've performed with and gotten to know.  When in Liverpool, I truly feel like I'm a part of the scene.  One can visit sites and play shows, but it's the people that make a place special and what it is.

Cavern Club Flyers and Photo Gallery link below
 

 

All The Way From The USA

Chicano Rock Singer

Mark Guerrero

As part of his UK Tour

With his Tour Group

Wheels on Fire

Also

J' O'Connor and The Hytones

Also Top Yorkshire

60s Band

Flashback

and The King of Hamburg

Kingsize Taylor


Click here for Liverpool Photo Gallery
 

 

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Mark Guerrero
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