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10th August, 2023

Picture Yourself in a Boat on a River: The Beatles and Mersey Ferries

The Beatles and Mersey Ferries: two key parts of Liverpool’s rich history. Although the city is now most famous for being the home of The Beatles, the self-proclaimed “Original Famous Scouser,” Mersey Ferries, have been a part of the city’s day-to-day life since before Liverpool was Liverpool. It only makes sense, then, that the world-famous ferry service shares a story with our famous Fab Four - playing host to some of the band’s earliest gigs.


Mersey Ferries’ history spans back over 800 years, making them older than Liverpool itself! A regular ferry service from Birkenhead to the small fishing village, which would later develop into Liverpool, was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The service was established by The Benedictine Monks from Birkenhead Priory, taking locals across the river Mersey to the markets – and went on to receive a Royal Charter from Edward III almost 250 years later in the year 1330. The ferries continued to carry passengers over the Mersey as Liverpool developed from a small fishing village to a seaside town, and later from a maritime city to home of The Beatles and beyond.  


In the early 1960s, a local band called The Beatles performed as part of the Cavern’s ‘Riverboat Shuffle’ cruises on Mersey Ferries’ Royal Iris. The little-known band, who would later go on to change the world, started these ‘Riverboat Shuffle’ cruises as a support act for performers such as Acker Bilk and Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, but finally became the headline act for their final Riverboat gig on 28th September 1962, with their newest member Ringo Starr on drums.


The Beatles played the ‘Riverboat Shuffle’ cruises on 25th August 1961, 6th July 1962, 10th August 1962 and 28th September 1962.


In attendance at some of these gigs was Paul McCartney’s brother, and photographer, Mike McCartney. Mike’s photograph, taken on a twin lens Rollei Magic camera gives a fascinating insight into The Beatles’ early days. In a recent conversation with Mersey Ferries, Mike said “Those were the days! Our kid & his mates practising their music, supporting Acker Bilk on a packed ‘Royal Iris Riverboat Shuffle’ & me practising photography, trying to get a decent shot in the crowd with my twin lens Rollei Magic camera… Magic days!”

This photograph, taken by Mike McCartney, shows an early Beatles gig aboard the Royal Iris.
© Mike McCartney


The 60s ‘Riverboat Shuffle’ Cruises departed from the Pier Head terminal, which is now home to The Beatles Story’s Fab4 Café and Fab4 Store. That small local band boarding the ferry to perform had no idea that 60 years later that very terminal would be home to a café and a shop dedicated to them and their careers. Incredible!


Mersey Ferries’ connections to The Beatles continues into the modern day, too. Their famous Dazzle Ferry, built in honour of the patterns that were first used on vessels in World War One, was designed by Sir Peter Blake – the creative genius behind the album art for The Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!


Mersey Ferries continues to entertain passengers with themed live music nights, such as the upcoming Beatles Tribute Cruise, which gives you the opportunity to travel back in time and relive those early ‘Riverboat Shuffle’ Cruises. Or if a sightseeing excursion is more your style, why not enjoy two iconic attractions for the price of one with our ‘River Cruise & The Beatles Story’ combined ticket?

Mason Griffiths

Mason is the Content and PR Manager at The Beatles Story.

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