To Liverpool, 7th November, 2014
We start at ten. The gear goes in the back, the boys go in the front and we get on our way, out into the You-Kay. Liverpool shivers at the end of the road in a milky November morning. The road-signs are blue and the cones are red – fields and fences, copses, hedges – everything crumpled into the confines of this congested country. The sun swims low in the southern sky, slipping through knots of clotted cloud, making its way to the Atlantic.
It’s a short jaunt, a quick buzz around provincial England ending in two London nights. The trees cling on limply to their remaining leaves not yet taken by the wind. Winter hasn’t taken its first real bite but you feel it coming. The pasture is that British/Irish emerald that you see nowhere else and it sings in the sporadic shafts of sunlight. Everything glistens in autumn dew.
We descend into Liverpool’s murky depths, coming in through the wide cobbled roads and brick warehouses of a dockside zone. It could be Whiteinch or Yoker in Glasgow, there’s no difference. Port cities, ugly and hard. The 21st century structures jut up impertinently, like tarts in fancy dress at a family funeral. Seventies monstrosities hang over the harbour forming a cliff face of humourlessness. It’s a blazing mess, twisted by years of blight, corruption and neglect. And yet, in the cracks between the badly planned outcrops you find marvellous things.
I don’t notice at first but the walls of the hotel corridors are festooned with Beatles tat, framed and glazed as if containing priceless artefacts rather than old LPs and photocopied press shots. They are sad specimens. The venue too has been Beatle branded – renamed the Epstein Theatre in honour of Brian (and Queenie, no doubt). It’s a gorgeous little auditorium originally called the Crane Music Hall and built in 1913 to showcase the pianos sold by the Crane Brothers’ music shop below. It is one of those marvellous things that has escaped demolition. I feel Brian would have blushed with pleasure at the tribute.
Mr. Niz and I walk back to our digs after the check. The night is black and the wind coming off the river around the Three Graces has a whiff of Caribbean moisture about it. You can feel the connection to that old New World, the great gape of the Mersey sucking in the West and spilling something special back out; the wit, the lip, and the melodies to make shit happen. Liverpool’s head is often up its arse but its heart is always on its sleeve.
The audience in the Epstein are magnificent. Loud in every way. Not a theatre crowd at all. I’m buoyed and abashed. A poet called Tony comes backstage afterwards with his daughter Lily. I show them the two theatre cats who are sleeping in a little side room. About six months old, the young felines are desperately friendly and heartbreakingly beautiful, one a motley tortoiseshell, the other charcoal brushed with ginger. They have delicate skinny bodies and glossy coats and, judging by their confidence around us, are obviously well treated. They have the freedom of the place when the artistes absent themselves. I think of them mousing through the night in the dark galleries and quiet staircases. Back in the dressing room Tony the poet recites an original. We stand eyeball to eyeball in a curious display. Two cats in a stand-off.
I fall asleep watching an appalling Paul Newman disaster movie from the ’70s, called When Time Stops. I’ve seen drunks direct traffic better. Newman looks lost, wandering into scenes exuding class to find himself surrounded by bad sets, inept acting and lighting modelled on a Bloomingdales catalogue. Half asleep, my hand gropes for the off button and I put him out of his misery.
The morning brings the British rain, hitting the windscreen with its tiny applause. Tail lights float ahead in the spray. Where shall we go today?