By Jay Jay French
I recently spent 24 hours in Liverpool with my daughter Samantha on a dad/daughter Beatle visit. I have been to Liverpool several times while Twisted Sister was touring to perform but never stayed longer then the time it took to arrive, play and leave. I have wanted to do a “Beatle” tour ever since the name Liverpool came into my consciousness in 1964.
The plan was to stay at the Hard Days Night Hotel, go the the long established Beatles museum, visit the rebuilt Cavern Club, and take the Magical Mystery bus tour to all the houses (including Brian Epstein’s) which also covered Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, the graveyard of Eleanor Rigby and “the church where a wedding had been.”
I wanted to finish this off at the Casbah Club located in the basement of Mona Best’s home (the house of Pete Best’s mom, where The Beatles got their start) but time started to catch up with us so we didn’t get there. Yet I wanted to do all the standard stuff that one would do on this adventure.
Apparently, over the last five years or so, Mathew Street (home of the Cavern and the Hard Days Night Hotel) has been transformed from its seedy past to an almost Universal-looking theme parkfor Beatles fans. There is a Rubber Soul Bar as well as a Sgt. Pepper restaurant on Mathew street now. It’s all actually a bit too much kitsch! Liverpool itself, at least in the heart of the commercial district where Mathew street is located, is high energy and full of new businesses and buildings. New condos dot the Merseyside along with a huge bustling mall in the center of town. This was not the dark, depressing Liverpool that I had always read about.
This was a town on fire!
Liverpool is so hot that the world famous “Terracotta Army Soldiers Exhibit” from China was also on display at the Liverpool Museum when we were there.
This was also the warmest summer on record. All of this combined to give Liverpool the feel of a mini-London and not the Liverpool broadcast around the world at the beginning of Beatlemania.
It appears that Liverpool is financially sustained by two very thriving businesses: All things Beatles and the Liverpool football club.
We were just about done seeing everything and heading up Mathew street to the Cavern for one last look. The Cavern is on Mathew street but located down the block from its original location which can be noted by the Cilla Black statue that stands on the spot of the original club location.
As I looked up the street I saw a sign proclaiming a Beatles Museum with Beatles paintings in the windows and the names of Pete, John, George, Ringo, Paul and Stuart on the front.
Wait a minute... This is not part of the Beatle museum located about a mile from Mathew street.
What is this?
Well, this is a new museum called The Magical Beatles Museum and bills itself as “The World’s Only Authentic Beatles Museum” which is the brainchild of Roag Best, half-brother of fired first Beatles drummer Pete Best.
For those who need a quick history, The Beatles first tour manager, Neil Aspinall (at the age of 19) started a relationship with Pete Best’s mom, Mona Best, while The Beatles were playing their first shows in the basement of her house, in a club which she called the Casbah Coffee Club. It did not serve alcohol, hence the “coffee club” description.
That relationship led to the birth in 1962 of a son, Vincent (Roag) Best. The relationship between Neil and Mona, so often incorrectly described as nothing more than a one night stand, actually lasted eight years.
Roag grew up with his dad, Neil. Neil was The Beatles driver at first, then the tour manager, then CEO of Apple Corps and eventually the manager of the business of The Beatles until he resigned in 2007 due to health issues. Neil died in 2008.
Roag Best has now, in my mind, entered the universe of world famous offspring who have emerged, in their own right and in various musical realms, from the Beatle universe.
That world is occupied by Julian and Sean Lennon, Stella and James McCartney, Zak Starkey and Dhani Harrison.
Stella, of course, in terms of sheer dollars and influence, may be the most famous of all of the “next generation.”
Roag perhaps is the least known... until now.
Although Roag is not a son or daughter of one of the Fabs, he is the son of not only their longest running associate, Neil Aspinall—who went on to manage the band and was one of the only people in the world who had the confidence of John, Paul, George and Ringo and their wives and family members—but he is the half-brother of The Beatles original drummer.
This is about as close as it gets. And because of the unique position he found himself in, he was the beneficiary of much Beatle-related memorabilia, not only given to him by his dad but also items from the band’s very beginnings at the Casbah Club, that is considered historically significant.
I was given a tour of this amazing museum by museum manager Paul Parry. This was totally an unexpected bonus to our trip and I wanted to take photos but Paul explained that it wasn’t totally ready, but he could help arrange an interview with Roag to talk about the story behind the museum and what makes it so special.
Here is my interview:
JAY JAY FRENCH: How did the idea of the museum come about?
ROAG BEST: My dad would come home from various tours and film sets and bring items from them home. I began collecting and storing them. The collection eventually became massive. Over the years my wife wanted me to get it all out of the house. At first there was one locker then a second locker, then a third until I had so much stuff that I couldn’t store it all. A mate of mine asked me one night over dinner, “What do you really want to do?” Of all the things that I had listed, the museum idea stood out and he said, “You must do that!”
JJF: Then what?
RB: And so began a search for a building. Over a 10-year period I came close three times but each time, it seemed at the last minute, I got “gazumped.” [This is British slang for losing a real estate sale at the last possible minute.]
I wanted the location on Mathew street, (near) the location of the legendary Cavern Club and the Hard Days Night Hotel, but this seemed impossible as Mathew street is one of the most sought after addresses in Liverpool and of course nothing was available.
Just when I thought all hope was lost—literally 30 minutes from my most recent failed attempt—I was walking across Mathew Street and bumped into an old mate who told me that a building on Mathew street had been offered to him but that he turned it down. I told him what I wanted to do and he made the introduction to the seller. I made a handshake deal that I would buy it and that the seller would keep any word of the availability of the building secret. [And both parties kept their word.] I couldn’t believe my luck!
JJF: Do you have partners?
RB: Yes. Five
JJF: Are you the sole creative force?
JJF: What makes your museum stand out, especially against the other Beatle museum in town?
RB: Three words: Authenticity, unique, original.
JJF: How so?
RB: Everything is real and authentic from the musical instruments to the letters sent and received by the band to the items from album covers like Sgt. Pepper.
The other museum has mostly recreations and/or stuff seen before and of the 30 or so original items they have, half of them are mine.
We have 300 original items on display with an addition of 1,200 in storage. This allows us the freedom to change the exhibit which we will do every year to keep it fresh and give you a reason to return!
JJF: Tell me about the layout.
RB: There are three floors. First floor is Beatles 1959-1962. This has mostly a black and white motif because most photos in that era were black and white (not because Pete Best, Roag’s half-brother, was fired in 1962) which was reflective of the era.
The second floor covers the period of 1963-1966.
The third floor covers the period 1967-1970.
This allows for themes relating to each era to be focused on.
JJF: Is this an official Beatles Museum?
RB: Not an official Beatles museum but I did get approval from Apple. Believe me, if Apple doesn’t want something to happen, it doesn’t happen! I got their blessing.
JJF: So Apple does not receive royalties?
JJF: Did Paul visit when he was in Liverpool in August?
JJF: Ringo or any other Beatle family members yet?
JJF: Roag, as a lifelong Beatles fan I was blown away at the collection. There is real depth in this. I learned nothing at the other museum that most casual fans didn’t already know. Not that there is anything wrong with that but to a real fan, you deliver something very special.
RB: We wanted to give real Beatles fans a really special, authentic, unique and original experience.
JJF: Are you still finding new stuff to display?
RB: We just got never before seen film footage that we will be projecting soon. I don’t want to give away too much much but it’s amazing!
JJF: Do you have a target admission number that you are hoping to
RB: About 300,000 visitors annually. We are on target!
JJF: Roag, in closing, what would you say would be the perfect day as a Beatles experience when you come to Liverpool?
RB: First go to the Casbah Club—the most visited of all Beatles sites—then come to our museum, The Magical Beatles Museum, and end the day with a visit to the Cavern Club across the street to listen to some good music and have yourself a drink.
Go to magicalbeatlesmuseum.com for more information.
Jay Jay French is the founding member, guitarist and manager of Twisted Sister. This is French’s first Beatles-related column for Goldmine. French is also a motivational speaker and writes a business column for Inc. com.