ONLY two things came to mind when I thought about Liverpool and Manchester – one had a band, the other a football team. So, that’s all I knew before trekking north from London to the homes of the Beatles and United, respectively.
After having lived in London for more than a year, it becomes all too easy to travel exotic European destinations, which is understandable given it can cost less to travel to Italy than it does to Birmingham or Bristol. For two days I decided to venture north to two cities which have never been at the forefront of my travel agenda, for around the price of a couple of pints.
Off to the Kop
Having arrived the previous evening, in time to check out the scenic waterfront, the first stop to cross off my list was a trip to Anfield , the home of England’s ‘most successful football club’, Liverpool FC. Not being a huge football fan, I didn’t know much of its history, other than Steven Gerrard. Despite not being there for a match, Anfield was a great sight. It’s easy to imagine standing in the Kop (name given for an area of terraces at Anfield, named after the Battle of Spion Kop), singing You’ll Never Walk Alone. This song, so the tour guide says, is sang religiously each game and standing in the empty stand, it’s hard not to get excited at the thought of bellowing it out. The mini tour, because of its limited access to certain areas (including the dressing room and side stands), cost £11. The full tour, which includes entry to these areas, costs £15 for adults (www.liverpoolfc.com), and which tour you are able to take depends on the match schedule. Both tours feature entry to the museum, which is well worth a look, and by the end, you’ll be able to recount every minute of the club’s 2005 Champions League win over Italian heavyweights, AC.Milan. I can’t remember watching this game but by the end, I was in awe at the side’s famous second half comeback (Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties, after being down 3-0 at halftime).
Back towards town on the bus, it’s time to get visit Mathew Street, the spiritual home of John, Paul, George and Ringo, otherwise known as the Beatles – pop music’s most influential band. My knowledge of the Fab Four is limited, so I was enthused to soak up the band’s beginnings. Before getting to Mathew Street, my history lesson started at the Beatles Story – a museum located on the town’s waterfront, Albert Dock (www.beatlesstory.com).Costing £12.95 for the basic adult tour (dubbed the Fab 4 Experience), it’s pretty decent value. The museum includes the use of headphones which tells their story, starting with how John Lennon and Paul McCartney first met, forming skiffle group the Quarrymen.From here it details the band’s humble beginnings, performing 292 times at the Cavern Club, to their famous performances on the Ed Sullivan Show. One thing struck me as I walked through: the band deserves every accolade bestowed upon them. What they achieved is remarkable, and whether you’re a fan or not, what they’ve done for music, whether this generation’s bands or the next, is unquestionable.While I did get the feeling the museum skipped over parts of the band’s history, such as the influence of Yoko Ono, it’s a good start for any Gen Y music fans or a great nostalgic trip down memory lane for those lucky enough to have lived through this era.
Without too much time to spare, it’s more Beatles stuff – a short trip to the ‘Cavern Club’, where to replicate the heyday, they have a young lad playing Here Comes the Sun on an acoustic guitar, among other classic Beatle’s hits. The walls are covered with photos of the band performing at the original Club, the one I stood in being a replica, and a range of merchandise.Entry is free, but buying a drink would be courteous (www.cavernclub.org).
For someone who respects the Beatles rather than a passionate fan, the trip to Liverpool was fantastic. For being the birthplace of the Beatles, I dreaded that the town would take advantage of this, but while it’s definitely promoted, it’s not in anyway overdone – and I respect this.
It was back on the bus to head to Manchester, where having already visited Anfield, I decide to bypass Old Trafford. Instead, I decide to take in some more music. After all, this is the town that gave us the Stone Roses, New Order (staples of the Madchester music movement) and two brothers, who would later become arguably music’s last true ‘Rock Stars’. Those, of course, are the Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel (and for the record, I love ‘em both).
The city reminds me of a smaller London; it’s a thriving metropolis, buzzing with activity and a plethora of tourists and locals. The town is spilt for choice for food, and I take the chance to sample some Chinese food at Yang Sing, touted by some as being the best in England.It’s good (very good), but I couldn’t go along with that claim.
Because of my limited time here, my first point of call is to check out some live music.The closest venue is the Ruby Lounge (www.therubylounge.com), and to my luck, up-and-coming band Jeff the Brotherhood are on the bill.For a measly £10, this is good value to see the impressive, and loud, two-piece garage rock band tipped to be one of the genre’s next big things. The basement venue reminds me of Liverpool’s Cavern Club. It’s dark and cramped, but this makes it the more impressive. Other live music venues to check out are Band on the Wall and the Deaf Institute – both staples of the city’s thriving and diverse music scene.
Back to reality
The quick trip up north was fantastic. Both places have plenty of tourist activities, but both still maintain a distinct character. My only regret is I didn’t spend more time in Manchester, if not to take in some more live (and local)
music. Both cities feature a range of other attractions such as art galleries, museums and various festivals throughout the year. Depending on your tastes, it’ll no doubt cater for all ages, and all budgets. But for me, a sports and music fan, sitting in the Kop, walking down the stairs of the Cavern Club and
catching a gig at the Ruby Lounge, it was a rewarding trip, if not a reminder of why towns like these two – not on every tourists’ top five must see places –are vital to understanding England’s cultural and sporting history.