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In Liverpool the Mersey beat goes on.

Costa Rica

25 years ago, Liverpool was in the doldrums. Now those days are gone… The big boost to the city came in 2008 when it was European capital of culture. Since then museums have opened. New districts have started up. There are shiny new attractions, and fine old buildings have been renewed. I found chic hotels, one of the biggest shopping centres in Britain, all that Fab Four heritage, Albert Dock and the historic waterfront now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, and much more. Liverpool is now a regular stop for cruise ships. Vessels dock at the Cruise Terminal on Pier Head, a 10 minute stroll from the city centre. And once HS2 is built, although probably not until the early 2030s, travel time by train to London will come down from 128 minutes to 96 minutes.

Sleep like a log.

Once Beatles fans besieged the hotels where their idols were staying. Now they have one all to themselves, although the hotel is open to people of any musical persuasion. The 4 star Hard Day’s Night Hotel is the first Beatles themed hotel.

They converted the Central Buildings (built 1884), retaining the imposing marble columns and internal spiral staircase, decorating each bedroom with an individual print by US artist Shannon. There are more Beatles references in the Malmaison Liverpool, a touch of Manhattan on Prince’s Dock, where a yellow submarine hangs above the first floor atrium. You sink into mile-high sofas in royal purple - a diplomatic mix of the blue and red of the two football teams. Hope Street Hotel is a boutique hotel, faithfully fashioned from a grand 1860 Venetian palazzo of a townhouse, in the Georgian Quarter.

Pride of the city

Liverpool’s Victorian masterpiece is St George’s Hall, with its splendid Corinthian columns, vast portico, antique air-conditioning, chandeliers and gilded plasterwork. Dating from 1854, to house concert hall and law courts, it was one of the finest neo-classical buildings in Europe, the city’s big proud statement of its trading wealth. Charles Dickens gave regular readings here. After a £23m restoration, it was reopened in 2007. The interior woodwork is polished to a sparkle. The Great Hall, modelled on Rome’s Baths of Caracalla, with its floor of Minton tiles, and columns of polished porphyry - more royal purple – is gloriously decadent.

Follow the Fab Four

There are many ways to sample the Beatles’ legacy. Mendips, (childhood home of John Lennon), and 20 Forthlin Road, where Paul McCartney, lived have been saved for posterity. Both, furnished in1960s style, are owned by the National Trust – you see them both, on a 'magical' minibus tour.

But for many people only a visit to the Cavern Club, 55 years after The Beatles first performed on its stage, will do. The club was opened in January 1957 by Alan Sytner. He was inspired by venues he had visited in Paris, where it was the custom to play jazz in cellars. He had one particular club in mind - Le Caveau de la Huchette.
So the Cavern was founded on jazz – the first gig was by The Merseysippi Jazz Band.

In in 1973, in an act of vandalism considered routine for the time, the warehouse buildings that housed the original Cavern was demolished, and the cellar filled in with rubble. It reopened in1984, reconstructed using many of the bricks from the original Cavern. Although new groups perform there, there is an emphasis on tribute and nostalgia.

Beatles Story, the largest permanent exhibition devoted to the lives and times, the music, culture of the group, comes in two parts. The rooms in the Albert Dock building should twang poignant chords deep in your psyche, as you go from room to room and a fresh hit sound booms out in each.

Those over a certain age will recall precisely where you were when you first heard that tune. They whizz you from Woolton Village Fete (McCartney first meets Lennon) via the Casbah Coffee Club and the Star Club on the cobbled streets of Hamburg, on to Abbey Road Studios and the USA. There are images, memorabilia and video interviews with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Olivia Harrison and Yoko Ono.

The Beatles Story’s second site is the Ferry Terminal Building, Pier Head. More exhibitions and “The British Invasion: How 1960s beat groups conquered America”, with previously unseen photographs and memorabilia.

Great space

Liverpool is a city of two great cathedrals, each of them relatively new, bookending Hope Street. The great sandstone Anglican Cathedral upon the hill, (built 1904 -1978), and the biggest in Britain, towers regally over the city. “The Great Space” is awesome. It has highest and heaviest carillon of bells world and Britain’s mightiest organ. And the tower tour gives some off the best views of Liverpool.

But it is but hardly solemn. They were holding a service to honour Ken Dodd when I called, and that line from Happiness in the song sheet, “A big old heaven full of stars above”, summed up the easy-going spirit of this people’s cathedral. It’s the largest thing Sir Gilbert Scott built: in a neat touch, they included his smallest design, the old red telephone box.

The other cathedral is the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King.

50 summers of love

In 2017, the city marks 50 years since the “phenomenal summer” in Liverpool in 1967. The tourist website describes it as it “a defining moment in modern culture and creativity”, the year that The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and All You Need is Love were released and the Mersey Sound poetry anthology was published.

Liverpool venues - Bluecoat, Everyman Theatre, Homotopia, Hope Street, the Met Cathedral, the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Sound City and Unity Theatre - will host celebratory events throughout the year,

And 2017 is also the 10th anniversary of Liverpool Sound City, the largest international music, digital and film festival and conference in the UK, It celebrates upcoming and emerging artists, such as Florence and the Machine, The Maccabees and Ed Sheehan.

2017 is the 300th birthday of Liverpool’s oldest city centre building. Since 1959 the Bluecoat Centre has been a centre for creativity and contemporary art. Yoko Ono’s first performance was here in 1967. Her work will be on show in a larger exhibition, part of the “300 days of celebrations” the centre will be holding.

Ferry across the Mersey

There’s only one way. You must take the world’s most famous ferry ride, to fully appreciate one of the best of all city profiles, Liverpool’s Waterfront dominated by the Three Graces , the Royal Liver, the Cunard, and Port of Liverpool Buildings – proud emblem of Liverpool’s commercial might. But stay a while on the other side of the river. The Seacombe Space Park at the ferry terminal lets you trip around the universe, through a clever mix of information and entertainment. I took the ‘Space Explorer’simulator for a wild four-minutes of impossible virtual roller coaster thrills on some distant planet.
Keeping precarious hold of my lunch, I swept over mile high drops, and clattered at 200 mph across vast chasms.

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