For anyone old enough to have a vinyl record album, the name Liverpool brings to mind the Fab Four, the Beatles, and the impact they and other British Invasion groups had on popular culture in the second half of the 20th century.
For those of us on the trip, although we couldn’t all name the four Beatles, we had heard of them from our grandparents and the occasional appearance of Paul McCartney on tv.
What we learned on the trip is the importance the Beatles had in bringing Liverpool out of the industrial era and into the 21st century as a cultural, event and tourism center for Great Britain. Although current Liverpool students listen to much the same music as American students, they all have a keen awareness of the role the Beatles played in Liverpool.
From visiting the Beatles Museum we learned that the group first played music that they call “skiffle” which was American folk music including instruments like the banjo. They were conscious of the folk traditions of the US and added their own interpretation to the music. But what made a bigger impression was the music of black artists from the US south and cities like Chicago and Memphis that made its way to the Liverpool shores via the influx of black American soldiers during World War II. The Blues and Gospel music and something called rock and roll made the biggest influence on the Beatles as evidenced in their earliest recording of songs by black artists. What the Beatles, and groups like the Rolling Stones, did was to introduce white America to the music of people like Little Richard, Chuck Berry and others who did not find a way to the mainstream audiences in America due to the segregationist attitudes in the US through the 1960’s.
Dr. deLisle tried to help us understand the influence of the Beatles by saying that if Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Adele and Chris (Ed) Sheeran formed a band they still would not match the impact of the Beatles on American musical culture.
For one of our group members, Jim Russo, who graduated in 2015 and had participated in last year’s trip to Rome, his main motivation for joining the trip was to learn more about the Beatles and to see, hear and feel their presence in Liverpool.
Here is an excerpt from his journal:
I have been a Beatles fan since I was about six years old. I studied their entire history, and knew every song at a very young age. Ever since I can remember I have wanted to visit Liverpool, where The Beatles were born and became famous. I visited at Mathews Street, site of the Cavern Club, where The Beatles played their very first gigs together. I went to the Beatles Museum twice! Before I left for this trip, I told myself that I would try and experience as much as I could while I was in Liverpool. Who knows when I will be back? Being the obsessive fan that I am, I “googled”, where some very important people related to the band were buried around Liverpool. I found out that their manager, Brian Epstein, was buried in Everton Cemetery, just a few miles down the road from Mathews Street, where the Cavern is located. The visit became quite an adventure getting bogged down in the mud in the cemetery in a hired cab. It all worked out and I even found a second hand store where I was able to buy some 45 rpm records of Beatles songs that were never released in the US.
A final connection to the Beatles took place in our last days spent in London. At Jim’s urging we made an early morning trip to Abbey Road, the recording studio for the Beatles and the site of an iconic album cover that were looking forward to re-enacting.
For the group, learning about the Beatles was an unexpected and very fun part of the trip!