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Sunday, February 3, 2019

Joyce, the Cavern and the Pool

I felt very disrespectful as I tried to tread Joyce off from the soles of my hiking boots onto the floor of the Cavern Club. Mind you this is no regular musical shrine. It's the almost original venue of the Beatles and other assorted beat combos from the ‘Pool. In fact it's the one over the road from the original, but it does go back to 1966 when, although the Beatles had long since left town, a local MP, Harold Wilson, was on hand to mark the opening of the new venue.

There had been quite a lot of Joyce spillage in the process of disbursing some of her ashes in as discrete a fashion as possible. We both then tried to cover up the evidence by plonking our backpacks on top of what stubbornly looked like a very bright, white, pile of powder. The whole point was to leave Joyce in a place she connected with. And in this shrine to the greatest pop band of all time, you could connect. I had been feeling a tad awkward about the total tourist excess of the venue, but, after some Theakston’s and a local singer offering ‘Norwegian Wood’ to some Scandinavian tourists, I had begun to feel better. As we prepared to climb the stairs out of the Cavern we trod heavily on the stone slabbed floor in the hope of leaving more of Joyce behind on this hallowed ground. Outside in Mathew Street, a middle aged bloke and his mother were about to go downstairs; he was telling security that ‘all this lot was her stuff’, and that he’d only come to Liverpool to remember ‘A Flock of Seagulls’. V and me laughed as this connected with our last trip to Liverpool with Joyce in 2015, although I’ve been a Beatles’ fan since I was a boy. We inspected the entrance to the renowned (upstairs at) ‘Eric’s’, a small venue where a good friend had seen John Martyn in 1979, and admired a new tribute to Submarine-era Fabs.

Downstairs at Eric's

Repairing to one of Liverpool’s oldest and most famous pubs, Thomas Rigby’s, V prepared a Cavern postcard as a memento of what we had just done; silver gel penning her Mum’s name to the photographed roster of performers who’d played there, and writing some words to her niece. Lunchtime drinking is a tricky exercise, though it’s one made easier when you’re on holiday. A very drunk woman held court at the bar, engaging with every man who entered, and we mused on the reality of her relationship to the silent, bearded, ‘guardian’ who kept her company with tall glasses of lager alongside her tacky-looking cocktails. I started trying to write some of these words into a newly-purchased diary before switching to doing it on my phone in the delusion that this would make me seem less of a middle class tourist desperately trying to be less self-conscious. Her rantings partly made me envious of her (drunken) honesty, and partly chilled me to the bone as I was reminded of past acquaintances. Her excess made me question what we were all doing in a pub at 3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon? Getting pissed in order exorcise some personal demons or to just blot out some fucking anxieties or other. Walking off my pint of ‘Quagmire’, running-in at a not immodest 6% and supplied, appropriately enough, by ‘The Big Bog’, a local microbrewery, V and I departed from the street and headed to the Docks via a car park. A blind man looked in danger of walking into a lot of traffic so I offered him a slightly awkward helping hand, fearful of patronising him or compromising his independence. He though was grateful. 

On the waterfront; the revamped Albert Dock on such a winter's day

We walked to the embarkation point where the legendary Ferry still crosses the Mersey, where Joyce, V and me had laid out on stone benches in the unexpected heat of a spring day, waiting for our ship to come in. We had then crossed, in time-honoured fashion, to the other side of the River to Birkenhead and a vision of hundreds of new cars from Ellesmere Port ready for export. This time V and me just walked around Albert Dock and felt the intense, icy Atlantic blast. Nick and Joyce were to be fused together in the second ritual disbursal of the day, as V distributed the contents of a tiny jam jar down the side of the wharf, most of the ash falling in to the Mersey itself. We walked around some of the waterfront’s iconic buildings, new and old, and examined some of the newer iconic sculptures: oversized Fabs and a more impressive Billy Fury whose stone figure had fresh flowers laid under it, marking perhaps the great man’s birthday or his tragic departure at 43.

Billy Fury under a brilliant Mersey skyline
Around the city of Liverpool and on Albert Dock you can enjoy the wacky art installations, the Superlambbananas (see below). Images from the city’s musical heritage, its natural beauty, the local community or from a lamb’s world (a wolf) are depicted on their side. Walking around the gentrified warehousing that contains the Tate Liverpool, we mused on how the development of Liverpool seemed to lack the crass social engineering of London even if these riverside apartments were out of most people’s reach.

A Superlambbanana featuring The Real Thing, China Crisis and The Mighty Wah

A Superlambanana featuring Echo & The Bunnymen (and The Mersey)

Detouring back to the city centre, The Central pub on Ranelagh Street beckoned as I had hankered after going into it ever since that earlier trip to the ‘Pool’. A glory of mirrors and wooden cubicles; steady drinking but nothing too excessive. At least not until a female customer got into a telephone barnie with her boyfriend. Considerate-like, she conducted it outside the pub. Valerie surmised that she’d been let down just one time too many by some scally and wasn’t prepared to put up with his shite any longer. When the woman came back into the pub, this verbose and somewhat tired and emotional lady was refused another drink. On her way out, the disgruntled customer repaid the compliment with the ‘cunt’ epithet. ‘I don’t think she likes me,’ the barmaid mused afterwards.

The telescreen does nothing to spoil the view in The Central pub
Two pints each were sunk before we decided to find some food, having read that the bar Tess Riley’s was just around the corner, which it was but we had unintentionally diverted via the shopping mall and Radio City’s iconic tower until we eventually found the huge pub. It was absolutely rammed; folks even older than us were doing a kind of line dance in the bar area. No food was on offer so we quickly exited, deciding that we should bow to the inevitable, ‘The Richard John Blackler’ in Charlotte Row, otherwise known as Wetherspoon’s. Friendly service, easy to find a seat, adequate burgers with a complimentary pint; what’s not to like? We were then drawn to ‘Smokie Mo’s – JR’s’ next door, a music pub that featured a soul-based duo, Jo and Jake, who were performing on a stage in the window as we stood watching from the street. After a few moments we hurried in, only to find that their storming set had just climaxed with Jo’s powerful interpretation of ‘You’re My World’, a song made famous by local lass Cilla Black. We exited immediately and Jay, the other half of this excellent duo, gave us a wave from the window, appreciating our conclusion that there was obviously no point sticking around any longer.

What now? Other bars seemed tame after that, while an Irish pub, the one next to.. eh… ‘The Irish House’, was stuck in its seeming never-ending and pretty anodyne solo acoustic set mode. We stomped about before deciding to return to Smokie Mo’s when we heard another performer take the window stage. Though possessed of a powerful and impressive voice, overall Joanne Wenton (see picture below) didn’t quite make the impact of Jo and Jay, largely because Joanne’s uncanny ability to deploy original backing musicians came care of her laptop. But, hey, that’s the deal. How else are you going to hear a version of ‘Let’s Stay Together’ comparable to Tina Turner’s take on Al Green’s original just for the price of a pint and only minutes from Lime Street Station Liverpool? We danced to Joanna doing a cover of a song by a local act, The Real Thing, ‘You to Me are Everything (the Sweetest Song that I can Sing, oh Baby…oh Baby)’. Joyce would definitely have wanted it that way.

Joanne Wenton, 'The Queen of Soul', performs at 'Smokie Mo's -JR's'  
It had been an emotional day. We had made the pilgrimage to Liverpool’s most famous musical venue (and a few other haunts besides). For all the probable power of a cleaner’s hoover, it is quite possible that some of Joyce will remain in The Cavern Club, secreted between the cracks where the stone floor meets the old brickwork walls. Our work was done.

Don't stop the dance (@'Smokie Mo's - JR's')

1 comment:

Neil Partrick said...

Bob Bowell, an alias of an old friend of mine, commented: "It’s been so long since I’ve been to Liverpool it was almost like reading about a foreign land. I remember when Albert docks were built and everyone thought it was a huge white elephant but it actually marked the turning of the tide (pun intended)." Thanks Mr Bowell.