We came, we saw, we conquered. Then we were fingerprinted, photographed and told to get the fuck out of England.
The story you are about to read is true. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent. In fact, we want you to know who we are. We just wish the British government didn't!
"We" are the Romeo Flynns, a rock group from Detroit, who were invited to play two May dates at the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool, England, by the International Pop Overthrow, which sponsored the weekend music event. This is where it all began, as far as we're concerned — "it" being the birth of the Beatles, the beginning of the '60s (from a cultural standpoint) and the origin of a counterculture movement that has yet to be eclipsed by any other "next big thing" that has since come to pass.
It also marked the beginning of our deportation from the UK.
What follows is a harrowing account of our pilgrimage to pop music's ground zero for anyone even remotely acquainted with the British Invasion and its legions of pop groups that changed the American music scene forever. It began as the trip of a lifetime and ended up as a pile of deportation documents and procedural miscues by the authorities that landed us briefly in a bureaucratic limbo. Can't stay because we have no work permits. Can't go until we convince the airline to rebook us because of the emergency at hand. We have been officially classified as illegal aliens.
Friday, May 22, 9:35 a.m. (BST)
Arrive at Liverpool John Lennon Airport in Speke, just outside the city limits. There are five of us — guitarist Dorian Lee, bassist Jimmy Moroney and drummer John Sarkisian, along with Joe and me, two roadies who have come along to help transport the equipment. The airport is small. We are the only ones at customs.
We tell customs what we are doing in Liverpool. They document everything we say and then disappear with our passports. Return 10 minutes later and tell us there's a "slight problem." We need either work permits or official sponsorship to gain entry to the country. We tell them we are doing the show for free. They tell us it doesn't matter.
Friday, May 22, 11:48 a.m. (BST)
Customs officials return and inform us that, due to changes in British Immigration law, we will be detained until they can arrange our transport out of England. Hand us documents explaining our predicament as defined by article this and paragraph that and section whatever in accordance with Immigration Act 1971 and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. Tell us we will be photographed and fingerprinted for the Home Office central files, as required for all visitors denied access to the UK for any reason.
Friday, May 22, 2:07 p.m. (BST)
Customs officer appears again and offers to allow us to stay in the country for 24 hours but warns us not to perform anywhere, for free or otherwise. Confiscates our passports and warns us to be back at the airport promptly at 4 a.m. the following morning or risk criminal prosecution!
We board a bus for the hotel. Have a message waiting for us at the hotel desk from British Immigration — just checking to see if we followed orders. Proceed to rebook our return flights and discover that KLM has loused up the arrangements. Straighten it all out and stumble all over each other trying to unpack in a hotel room no larger than the average Extended Stay America kitchenette. Hail a cab for Mathew Street and pay two pounds, eighty pence plus tip (about $7) before realizing that we were already so close that we could have walked there.
Friday, May 22, 3:36 p.m. (BST)
Arrive at Mathew Street, where the refurbished Cavern Club sits just off the main thoroughfares of Victoria and North John streets. Unassuming as it may seem, this is the spot where the Beatles played 282 times before fame swept them from Liverpool forever. Inside the Cavern, the smell of cheese rinds, mildew and sweat has been replaced by the fragrance of disinfectant and a strictly enforced "No Smoking" policy.
Run down the street to the Grapes pub, where the Beatles used to hold court after their shows at the Cavern. We meet up and have our picture taken with Sam Leach, who managed the Beatles before Brian Epstein took over, and was the promoter of Operation Big Beat in the early 1960s. Sam points to a booth a few feet from where we are sitting to show us where he once sat with John, Paul, George and Pete Best.
Friday, May 22, 4:35 p.m. (BST)
Find the International Pop Overthrow reps and explain our situation to them (we later discovered we should have read the invitation letter they originally sent to us in which we American bands were advised it probably wasn't a "good idea" to inform British customs what we were there for ... though customs officials did tell us that lying about such things is a serious crime and we would've been jailed if they'd discovered the truth wasn't told). The Cavern Club owner immediately rings Immigration to again plead our case, but the Home Office won't budge. We debate whether to accede to the rule of law or say "bollocks" and risk suffering the consequences. Like Samuel Beckett, who preferred Paris at war to England at peace, we decide we prefer detention in Britain to freedom in Detroit.
And so we do the show anyway.
We try to be professional about what we do, so despite the thrill of playing the Cavern, we strive to keep our excitement in check. The challenge grows harder as the applause gets louder. The audience is getting curious. Who are these guys from Detroit? Can we dance? There isn't enough room, so several patrons settle for moving their chairs closer to the stage. Soon our photographer is competing for space. The owner of the club, in attendance, personally invites us back later this summer — not to be deported, we hope.
Friday, May 22, 8 p.m. (BST)
Drag ourselves back to the hotel desk to explain why we have to shorten our stay. We have already been up for 32 hours straight, and, other than some airplane food (which shouldn't count), we've had nothing to eat. Find an Italian restaurant 10 minutes from the hotel and eat what seems to be the most delicious meal we've ever consumed. Dorian is reticent. Jim is reserved. Joe and Mike are exhausted. Johnny wants dessert.
Saturday, May 23, 3:30 a.m. (BST)
Two cabs arrive to escort us back to the airport in the cover of darkness. Liverpool is still asleep. We arrive just before our 4 a.m. deadline and are greeted by the watchful eyes and stern expressions of airport personnel. They know who we are and have been waiting for us.
The reservationists process our rebooked flight arrangements and tell us we will receive our passports at the gate. The gate tells us that the passports are in the custody of the pilot, and we will get them once we land in Amsterdam. This is to prevent us from attempting to "pull a runner" by darting off the tarmac and disappearing back into Liverpool. After we land in Holland, the flight attendant hands each of us an official-looking packet containing our passports — which now include a big black cross against our original stamps! — and all deportation papers. We leave for Detroit and arrive eight hours and 53 minutes later, having traveled a total of 9,000 miles in a 48-hour period to perform a 30-minute show.
Hello. Goodbye. It was that quick. And like Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, we were sorry that it was time to go.
The Romeo Flynns play Friday, July 24, at the Ritz, 24300 Hoover Rd., Warren; 586-756-6140.Mike Megerian writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]