Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Liverpool Weekend

Lots of people wanted to have their photo taken with the Beatles statues.
Just back from a family weekend in Liverpool, where I finally got the chance to see the Double Fantasy John & Yoko exhibition at the Museum of Liverpool just by the ferry terminal and Roag Best's new Magical History Museum smack in the middle of Mathew Street.

The Double Fantasy exhibition was at first supposed to run only to April, which is why this trip was booked, but after having secured the flights and hotel rooms, the exhibition was extended to run until November 3d, 2019. The museum is nearby the Beatles statues and the museum also hosts three other exhibitions related to the city of Liverpool. Entrance is free of charge.

The Double Fantasy exhibition runs chronologically, and after a brief introduction to John and Yoko from their births through to adulthood, we start at 1966, the year when the two first met. We are treated to recreations of some of Yoko's art objects from their first meeting, like the "yes" painting, painting to hammer a nail in and the apple. Overall the exhibition has a number of real items from John and Yoko's lives, as lent by Yoko. The exhibition has a circular course, so the end and exit is parallell to the entrance. Of course, you may start at the end and work your way to the entrance.

The original "Mr Kite poster".

One of the items we were most eager to see, was the original Mr Kite poster, which has never been on display before. And I have to admit, it was a lot smaller than I had imagined, and the recreation poster I purchased in Hamburg many years ago. You can appreciate the size compared to the Sgt Pepper album which was sitting next to it. Also, there's the handwritten lyrics next to the album.

There were two film rooms in the exhibition, one was showing the full "Imagine" film over and over again, the other had a John & Yoko film festival going. The festival consisted of experimental films with some relief brought by inserted music videos:

1. Erection (1971) 18 minutes
This time lapse film of the construction of a hotel was inspired by John’s interest in new architechture.
2. Love music video (1970) 3:20 minutes
3. Free Time (1970) 11 minutes
Concept art pieces performed by Yoko, John, and filmmaker and poet, Jonas Mekas.
4. Give Peace A Chance music video (1969) 5:30 minutes
5. Walking On Thin Ice (1981) 6 minutes
6. Freedom Film 2 (1970) 1 minute
John scratched the word FREEDOM directly onto the film.
7. Apotheosis 2 (1969) 18 minutes
This film follows the couple, as they take a hot-air balloon ride over snow-covered countryside.
8. Sisters, O Sisters music video (1971) 3:10 minutes
Recorded live at the Apollo, New York.
9. Woman music video (1981) 3:35 minutes
10. Live At The Fillmore East (1971) 24 minutes
Live recording from the 6 June concert, when John and Yoko joined Frank Zappa on stage.
11. Power To The People music video (1971)
12. Mr and Mrs Lennon’s Honeymoon (1969) 79 minutes
A documentary about John and Yoko’s Amsterdam Bed-In for Peace.
13. Mind Games music video (1973) 4:15 minutes
14. Joseijoi Banzai music video (1973) 3 minutes
15. Film No. 5 (Smile) 1968 51 minutes
A slow motion film capturing John’s smile. «Imagine a painting that smiles just once in a billion years».
16. Happy Xmas (War is over) (1971) 10 minutes
Documentary footage of John and Yoko talking about World Peace, includes their music video.
17. Borrowed Time music video (1984) 4:45 minutes
18. Imagine (1971) 70 minutes
This documentary style film was created to accompany the album Imagine.
19. Freedom Film 1 (1970) 1 minute
The film focuses on the undoing of a bra clasp. It is a metaphor for the liberation of female identity.


When I was there, the Apotheosis 2 film was shown. There was also a listening room, where headphones brought you John & Yoko music, and there were cushions all over the floor to relax on. The couple's albums were decorating the walls, up to the John Lennon Live in New York album.

Not sure Menlove Avenue was included.
Here are some of the photos I took, I mainly concentrated on items that had belonged to John Lennon.
John's military shirt
This was one item of clothing you may remember from a Dick Cavett talk show and other occasions. When viewing John's clothes, I am always struck by how small and slim he was. One other item, this time from Lennon's "lost" 18 month "weekend" was the famous New York City t-shirt, which he was given by Bob Gruen.
John ripped off the sleeves of the tee for the famous photo.
The famous photo was taken on the balcony of the apartment John was renting with his then girlfriend, May Pang. The "lost weekend" did actually have a section in the exhibition, and John was depicted with some people from his LA crowd: Anne Murray, Harry Nilsson, Alice Cooper and Micky Dolenz. The narrative focused on the drunkenness and substance abuse surrounding the "Rock'n'Roll" sessions, and avoided mentioning that these 18 months was John's most prolific time in his solo career, if you look at all the recordings and collaborations that took place. But then we didn't expect that here.

A few instruments were also on display, like the acoustic guitar used on "Give Peace A Chance" and the Sardonyx 800 D II from the Double Fantasy sessions.

A display box with a bed spread and guitar from Montreal.

The last guitar associated with John Lennon was this still futuristic looking Sardonyx.
Outside the exhibition was a merchandise stall with related stuff, but we didn't swing by so I can't give you details about what they had for sale.



All in all, it was a great experience and if I lived in this city, I would go and see this several times over, and check out all the films.

Link:
Official Website

The Magical History Museum
The next day we paid a visit to Roag Best's Magical History Museum, which is located in Mathew Street, just next to The Grapes pub, which was undergoing refurbishing when we were there. Someone told me that the pub will open again this Friday.

Admission for adults at the new museum was £15 in the summer, but just £9 when we were there in the winter season. As we were paying, Roag himself stuck his head out from the office to inform us that the coloured lights in the display boxes in second floor were out, but the items inside could still be clearly seen.

The museum consists of items from Roag Best's personal collection. He is the brother of Pete Best, who was the drummer in the Beatles for two years, from August 1960 to August 1962. Roag is also the son of Neil Aspinall, who was the Beatles driver and then assistant, before becoming one of the directors of the Beatles' company Apple, ending up running the company for them when they went solo. Many of the items in Roag's collection was given to him by either his mother Mona, who was championing the group when Pete was in it, by Pete and by his father. In addition to this, Roag has been collecting on his own as well. Taking photos was not allowed, so I have illustrated with photos Roag himself has published on Facebook.

The museum consists of three floors, each dedicated to the main Beatles years. The first floor, the black and white one, is about 1959 to 1962, so it coincides with his brother's time with the group. The whole journey starts with a huge, floor to ceiling photo of young Mona Best, who was a stunning beauty in her day. Beside the photo, a wall tells us the story of how she pawned all her jewellery to bet the money on a horse called "Never Say Die" and used the money from the win to buy a big house. The radio where she listened to the race was also part of that particular wall. Of course, she then cleaned out the basement and made it into a youth club, the Casbah Club, for her boys, Rory and Pete and their friends. George Harrison was booked to play on that first night with his group, but the group folded and George recruited old Quarrymen mates John Lennon and Paul McCartney alongside Ken Brown for the gig. The soon-to-be-Beatles even helped getting the cellar ready for opening night, decorating the place. Much thanks to Mona and her club, the Beatles were then back on track after a lull, having broken up as the Quarrymen when drummer Colin Hanton had quit after a row earlier in 1959.

The floor had several personal items belonging to Pete, and I was most fascinated by two items related to this photo.

John, Paul and George on a rooftop in Hamburg in 1961.
Although some leather pants were on display as well, I was most pleased to find a pair of boots in the same fashion as on this photo, as well as one of the pink caps they were wearing. Pete Best was not in this photo, but it was his boots and cap. Every boot had a different pattern, but his was similar to that style, and his cap identical to the others. They had found the cap squeezed behind a refrigerator in the Casbah Club and brought it to the exhibition. Thanks to it not having gotten very much sunlight over the years, the cap probably hadn't faded like it would have, otherwise. It was made of fabric, so it was not a leather cap, and the Beatles probably bought them to wear when they were performing alongside Gene Vincent, who they met during this stint at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg. Gene's backing band were the Blue caps and were equipped accordingly.
Another interesting thing was the camera who took the photos that were taken at the Indra Club in August 1960. I had no idea that those pictures were taken with Pete Best's camera, as I was sure they were taken on request by their boss, Bruno Koshmieder - for display outside the club where they were playing. At least one of the photos were also a made into a postcard.

Composite made from two versions of the same photo.
The above photo was one of the ones accompanying the camera in the exhibition, except that it was a complete photo and not pieced together from two photos like my version of it (above). Still, the one in the exhibition was not of the same high quality as the part with Paul, John and George in the above photo, it was a bit more mediocre.

The earliest colour film of the Beatles was bought by the Bests and some of the footage used in their DVD "Best of The Beatles" years ago. The film was also put to use in the museum, but the daylight and blown up picture didn't help the quality much, and I also believe the proportions were distorted. There was more of the film here than published, but the extra footage was not of much interest, since it didn't feature the group. Sadly, the film only captured John, Paul and George, so Pete, although present, was never in the frame of the filmmaker.
A couple of Pete's drum cases were placed alongside two not identified guitars, and George's first Futurama guitar, strings missing was also on display. George and Rory Best had bought identical Futurama guitars, and when George's broke, he borrowed Rory's in trade for guitar lessons that never happened. So the Futurama in the museum is the one you have heard George play on the Tony Sheridan recordings. It has previously been lent to the Beatles Story museum.

Back from hamburg and into the spider room.
You may recall the photo of the Beatles in the spider room of the Casbah, Paul singing into a microphone while playing his Rosetti Solid 7 guitar restrung with three piano wires into a makeshift bass guitar. That microphone was Paul's and he later sold it to Mona, and now it's in this museum.

Entering the next floor, which focused on 1963 to 1966, we realised that we were going to be alone during our visit. That was a good thing for us, but never a good thing for a museum who stays open due to the income generated by the admission fees. With the sad demise of the Beatles museum in Hamburg in mind, I sure hope they are busier at other times.

The memorabilia years
A Beatles Christmas single was on display for each of the rest of the years, and quite a few items from the memorabilia years, or merchandise years if you wish, added colour to the 1963 and 1964 sections of this floor.


The Irish linen towel, the Dutch dress etc were on display, as well as one of the boxes for a 1963 NEMS Beatles puzzle, with the framed puzzle hanging elsewhere on this floor.

Beatles dress, Photo from someone's private collection.
A canister holding an undeveloped film with photos of John Lennon taken by Neil Aspinall was there, teasing us that it would some day be developed and the photos added to the exhibition. Another section focused on John's acting experience in "How I Won The War", with the actual helmet he wore as Private Gripweed as the centre piece.

"How I Won The War" section.
A few of John's prescription glasses were also here and there in the exhibition, which was also true for the Double Fantasy exhibition, he must have had many pairs of glasses throughout the years.

John's leather cap alongside memorabilia from "Help!"
Wherever The Beatles travelled, they were presented with gifts from fans, other celebrities, official persons etc and a number of these must have fallen into the hands of Neil Aspinall through the years, because a few of these items had found their way to the exhibition. One of the more interesting ones was a gift from Elvis of a model horse and carriage.

Model horse and carriage next to the Elvis photo on the right, Shea seats below the star spangled banner.
A recent addition to the exhibition were two seats from Shea Stadium, presumably dismantled before the stadium was demolished a few years ago. I think that makes this a dedicated museum, as the Beatles Story only had anonymous flight seats to symbolise the Beatles' first U.S. trip.

Some garden furniture from John and Cynthia's home Kenwood in Weybridge were on display, and there was clearly more personal Lennon belongings than stuff from George, Paul and certainly Ringo, who was underrepresented throughout.

The final floor was of course dedicated to 1967 to 1970 and started with a photo copy of the "Mister Kite" poster which we had viewed the original of, just the day before. Mind you, a few of the overblown posters in this exhibition were a bit too blurry and had clearly been taken from printed matter and not from original photos or negatives. This cheapened the exhibition unnecessarily, as there are so many real items here to see - no need to add second rate material. Such real items as for instance the medals Mona had lent the Beatles to adorn their Sgt Pepper uniforms with, for the cover of that album. The OPP patch was also here.

There was a wall of tribute to Roag's father, Neil Aspinall and the museum itself was as much a tribute to Mona, Pete and Neill as it was to The Beatles. Still, these people are interwoven with the history of the Beatles, so it wasn't disturbing in any way. At least not for people in the know. I can only recommend this museum and its exhibition to all Beatles fans, newbies as well as seasoned aficionados.

Music was played throughout our trip to the museum, but it was not Beatles music. Too expensive, I wager.



Links:
Official Website
Official Facebook page
Tripadvisor

9 comments:

Edward Russell said...

The best museum sounds a bit of a rip off

Roger Stormo said...

Edward, that was not my conclusion. The award winning Beatle Story museum in Albert Dock is far more of a rip off, with bery few items that has belonged to any Beatle. The Best museum has many genuine artifacts.

Peter C said...

The John & Yoko exhibition is wonderful! I went to Liverpool (for the first time) with my Beatles-fanatic brother back in November, and the whole experience as revived my own interest in both the group and their solo career. Great news that the exhibition has been extended, will probably return later in the year.

Teddy Salad said...

The Best family certainly has their right to be bitter about the way Pete was treated, but if they are going to try to make a profit from the Beatles' legacy, they aught to at least give Ringo his due in the exhibit.

Flaming Pie said...

We did both the exhibition and museum on the same day back in the summer last year. We missed Pete by a couple of hours and Yoko by 1 day :-(

James Peet said...

Great review Roger!

I was intrigued by this sentence you wrote, "Such real items as for instance the medals Mona had lent the Beatles to adorn their Sgt Pepper uniforms with, for the cover of that album." Does this mean that there was contact between the Beatles/NEMS at the time of the Pepper recording?

I've always found the Pete Best chapter in the group's story uncomfortable. Pete was treated poorly, and certainly financially. However, he has benefitted from his part in the story, and I think he made a nice packet from the tracks he played on in Anthology 1. This doesn't make it "right" to have sacked him in the manner they did, but equally, he has become wealthy from his time in the Beatles. Whichever ever way you look at it, there will always be a sense of the bittersweet when looking at that period.

Unknown said...

The Beatles Story is a rip off to be honest. The Beatles museum in Alkmaar, The Netherlands has far more original stuff. Thanks for the review of Double Fantasy and Roags's museum. I think it will be great.Just as the Casbah Coffee club. A Liverpool must see instead of the Cavern club.

Unknown said...

Visited Roag`s museum twice last summer. Nice and helpful staff. Just great. Check it out!

Bern Litzner said...

Very nice write up Roger!
Some of the Lennon exhibits I had caught at the Rock & Roll Museum in Cleveland many years ago. The highlight of that trip was Stu Sutcliffe's paintings for me.

Bern