On August 2, the nation’s favourite all-Liverpool born Beatles tribute band play at Lytham Festival. The band’s friend – John Lennon’s sister Julia Baird – spoke to Jon Rhodes about why the Fylde coast has a special place in her heart.
Let Me Hear Some of That Rock’n’Roll Music” a frenzied John Lennon would belt out like no-one else could back in the day.
Lennon’s love of rock standards stayed with him his whole life. It was a life tragically cut short, but the image of him wielding his legendary Rickenbacker 325 and rocking them good lives on.
And it lives on not only in the monochrome images captured at the height of Beatlemania, the zany movies and those cherished memories locally of John, Paul, George and Ringo on stage at Blackpool’s Queens Theatre, the ABC, Opera House and Fleetwood’s Marine Hall.
Today, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Beatles tribute bands around the world. Some, it is fair to say, are better than others.
At the top of the tree – if you are looking for the authentic all-Liverpool Merseybeat sound – sit The Mersey Beatles.
They are heading to Lytham Festival’s Pavilion Stage at Lowther Pavilion on Wednesday August 2 for a special two-part show. It mixes the classic rock’n’roll hits with a 50th anniversary playing of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in all its kaleidoscopic brilliance.
And The Mersey Beatles – the former house band at Liverpool’s world-famous Cavern Club – boast a rather well-informed fan who has travelled the world with them over the years.
Julia Baird knows a good John Lennon when she sees one… well, she should do, she is Lennon’s sister after all!
The first time she saw Lennon and his mates (then the Quarrymen, eventually to become The Beatles) was “in my kitchen in 1957 and we followed them everywhere after that!”
As far as judging credentials go that’s pretty impressive, and it’s fair to say there is no room in Julia’s life for cheap imitations of her beloved big brother John.
So, in Mark Bloor, who takes on the unenviable task in the show of recreating Lennon though the years from the snarling Hamburg-honed rocker to the more refined nuances of his later Beatles work, they have a good one.
Julia said: “Mark is extremely professional in his approach and he wants to make it as much like John as possible. He’s a wonderfully talented and accomplished musician, but does not try and do anything the real John Lennon wouldn’t do so he gives the fans what they want – an authentic sounding John.
“The harmonies with Steven Howard, who plays Paul, are spot on and all the boys give the audience a true Beatles experience.”
Quite what John Lennon would make of tribute bands and tribute shows will sadly never be known.
However, before his death in New York in 1980, John Lennon was struck by a wave of nostalgia, and after many years of no communication he began writing to relatives back home in England asking for old family pictures. He even requested his old school tie which he wore right up until his death.
And it was Julia he turned to.
She said: “In the mid-1970s John started thinking about his family again. He was the one who got in touch with us because getting hold of John was like trying to get in touch with Henry VIII, it was impossible. It was a phone call out of the blue and we got the message ‘John is looking for the girls’, meaning me and my sister Jackie.
“Up until then the entire family lost touch with him. He went away to America and they were strange years for him. We didn’t know what was going on, none of us did, and when he woke up and came to his senses he wanted to know where his family was.
“He was the one that was in the rich and powerful ivory tower and we couldn’t get to him, but he was still a human being and he got to us.”
The Fylde coast famously played a vital part in John Lennon’s early life. A young Lennon spent many summers with cousins Leila and Stanley who were at boarding schools in St Annes and Rossall respectively.
He would often take the tram into Blackpool to see the likes of George Formby, Dickie Valentine and Arthur Askey. He also learned to swim at Fleetwood’s old open-air baths. Rumour has it he and Stanley even supported Fleetwood Town!
And he lived in Blackpool, at a house in Ivy Avenue, South Shore, for two months in 1946. It would be a scene of heartbreak for the five-year-old future Beatle. It was here – while living with his father Freddie at a friend’s home – Lennon had to choose between his estranged parents. He chose his mother Julia.
John’s sister, who shares her mother’s name, added: “That is absolutely true and it’s just unbelievable behaviour on behalf of both adults involved. It still shocks me.”
Julia has a treasured picture of her and her brother – long before he formed the most successful group in music history. Dressed in a summer bonnet, two-year-old Julia is pictured next to John and their cousins at the home of Aunt Anne “Nanny” in Rock Ferry, Wirral.
Julia added: “I would have been two and half and mum was pregnant with Jackie and I was sitting with the Silly bonnet on.
“Most of the family pictures were taken by my cousin Stan with his Brownie 127 which he got for his 16th birthday.
“If Stan had not been interested in photography there would not have been any pictures at all. We are now so used to documenting our entire lives and it seems strange now that you can grow up with only 20 family pictures back then, but that is how it was.
“Maybe if we had known John was going to be as famous as he was we would have been snapping away more!”
Julia has many fond memories of trips to the Fylde coast during her childhood.
She added: “My cousin Leila went to boarding school in St Annes and Stan went to Rossall. Stan’s mother rented a house in Preston when Stan was at Rossall.
“I have loads of very happy memories of Blackpool and we came every single year for the Lights’ Switch-On. The Lights were splendid and the beaches wonderful. My friend went to college in Poulton-le-Fylde so I know the Fylde coast and the Trough of Bowland, another of our favourite places, very well.”
Now Julia’s friends The Mersey Beatles are looking to create some more treasured memories of the music of Lennon and The Beatles on Wednesday August 2 at Lowther Pavilion.
She said: “It’s going to be a wonderful show at Lytham Festival. The Mersey Beatles are a fantastic band who absolutely nail the sound of The Beatles in a true and authentic way.
“The crowd will have a great time. The Mersey Beatles do a brilliant Sgt Pepper set, and the atmosphere will be fantastic.
“The minute they start the Beatlemania part of the show, everyone will be up on their feet dancing. I’m sure the good people of Lytham and the Fylde coast will not be constrained by their seats!”
After leaving The Cavern to tour the world, The Mersey Beatles – who are Steven Howard, David Howard, Mark Bloor and Brian Ambrose – have wowed audiences around the globe including headline shows this year in America, Germany and Norway.
And when it comes to stage performance, they brilliantly exude the inner and outer spirit of the original Fab Four, from the costumes, the instruments and, of course, that unmistakable Fab Four live sound.
Julia, who is a director of The Cavern Club, added: “I saw John and The Beatles play everywhere in Liverpool from 1957 onwards. I’ve known The Mersey Beatles for the best part of 20 years and they recreate the real thing brilliantly.
“They have such a massive fan base in Liverpool and all over the world. They were The Cavern’s original resident band for 10 years. The only reason they stopped doing that was because promoters would come to The Cavern and ask them to play in America, Germany, Sweden etc so they just went for it.
“I’ve been to the USA with them seven times and people absolutely love them over there. You only have to imagine how many Beatles tribute bands there are in the States but The Mersey Beatles are authentic and have that pure Liverpool sound.
“They also have that brilliant ability to get people out of their seats to dance. John would have loved that!”
Tickets for The Mersey Beatles special Sgt Pepper 50th Anniversary Show are available, priced £17, from lythamfestival.com and lowtherpavilion.co.uk or by calling the Pavilion’s box office on 01253 794221.
Julia Baird’s book Imagine This: Growing Up with My Brother John Lennon (published by Hodder Paperbacks) is available in all formats