Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ray McFall

Last week, 9 January, 2015 ( feel's weird writing/reading 2015 doesn't it? ), we lost a true music legend who is often over looked; Ray McFall. Some of us have never even heard of his name but we've all heard of the legacy he established; a little club in a warehouse cellar called The Cavern Club. Also, yesterday, 16 January, 2015 (still weird), we celebrated the fifty-eight year anniversary of the club it's self. With all this being said, it's only fitting to write about McFall's story and his role in Cavern history.

Alan Sytner, born in Liverpool in 1935, was brought up with vacations in Paris where his music influence flourished and nurtured the melodies of jazz. At age twenty-one Sytner received a generous amount of money from a life insurance policy, four-hundred pounds, which he used towards bringing the swinging jazz sound to his home on the Merseyside. After being inspired by a jazz club called Le Caveau De La Huchette, from his Paris days, Alan went on to pursuit his love for the art and bought an old air-raid shelter of World War II and tunnel system on Mathew Street, Liverpool England.

The property was located near a market and tucked away in an alley way at the proud address of number Ten. Sytner put a lot of effort into opening his new club, from installing toilets, coatrooms, snacks, and even a stage made of wood in the far end, but finally on the cold January day 1957 the club was opened to the public and soon became a well-renowned Jazz club, with the opening night's act Merseyippi Jazz Band, Wall City Jazzmen, Ralph Watmough Jazz Band, and Coney Island Skiffle Group. It wasn't until that coming June that McFall would accept any other music genres to play at his club when he hired Gin Mill Skiffle Group.

Hiring a Skiffle Group, a kind of music based off of the roots of folk and rock'n'roll, attracted more young audiences and more bands, including the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group, who made their debut on 31 July, 1957 with their beloved drummer, Richard Starkey (bet you can't guess who that is). That coming August, another local group called The Quarrymen, made their first appearance at the club with members, John Lennon, Len Garry, Rod Davis, Colin Hanton, Pete Shotton, and Eric Griffiths- unfortunately their lead guitar player at the time, Paul McCartney, was away on a boyscout trip. During their lunch-time set, Lennon received a note from Sytner thinking it was a request or a 'great job' message, but when he unraveled he paper and squinted he made out the words 'Cut out the rock!'.
McFall is the one with the hat

From many different jazz musicians like Ronnie Scott, Mr. Acker Bilk's Paramount Jazz Band... performed under the roof of the dingy, dim, and damp club, things were about to change in 1959.

3 October, 1959 The Cavern Club was bought out by Ray McFall for 2,750 pounds, after Alan Sytner moved to a more popular club in London, The Marquee Jazz Club.

Ray McFall was born 14 November, 1926 in Garston, Liverpool to a sea merahnt. His family and himself then moved to Maghull where he would sit behind a desk at St Mary's Roman Catholic College, Crosby. From time to time he found himself working at the Clock Face Colliery and then as a clerk as an accountant. He later found himself working as a cashier part-time for Alan Sytner at The Cavern Club and the rest went like this...

McFall opened his night with two blues musician's, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Unlike Sytner, McFall understood that times were changing and skiffle and rock'n'roll were making their way into the hearts of the young Liverpudlians and The Cavern began to change, starting with  Rory Storm and The Hurricanes, who provided high energy levels anytime they performed by their lead singer, Rory Storm, and their loveable drummer, Richard Starkey, who would later be known as Ringo Starr.

Ray then hired a stage manager and announcer, Bob Wooler, who began advertising for young rock'n'roll groups, McFall was successful when Wooler finally closed the deal with a charming mother, Mona Best, and hired her son's band, The Beatles, to play. In 1961, The Beatles, featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Pete Best started their fame at The Cavern. Prior to their Mathew Street productions, the band were frequently playing in Best's basement, after his mother decided to open up a club in their home called The Casbah.

In total The Beatles played 292 time sat The Cavern earning about twenty-five shillings per act. The group became The Cavern's top act with lines flooding up the turning staircases and onto the street. If girls weren't getting all dolled-up in the bathrooms they would either be fantasizing about The Beatles or fighting for a closer spot, and even fighting over the boys affections.  Despite the fighting, damp, dark, and awful mixture of spoiled fruit from the market and sweat, The Beatles were untouchable. The following video is The Beatles performing "Some Other Guy" at The Cavern, 1962;

Amongst The Beatles other acts such as, The Searchers, Rory Storm and The Hurricanes (whose drummer, Ringo Starr, joined The Beatles in 1962, which lead to a HUGE upset amongst Beatles fans- but that a story for another post), Gene Vincent, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Swinging Blue Jeans, and others. Even in the later years after The Beatles took off, broke out of Liverpool and started the worldwide trend called "Beatlemania" (maybe you've heard of it), bands like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Who, The Kings, John Lee Hooker... would make their debut at the city's now over populated club.

With his success came a dreadful ending in 1966. The Beatles had been gone for nearly four years, the sewage system went and McFall didn't have enough money to put fix it and had to declare bankruptcy. The Cavern Club closed on 28 February, 1966 but was reluctantly repaired by Alf Geoghegan and Joe Davey and was officially reopened with a souvenir shop, coffee lounge, eatery, and even a new entrance, by British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson on 23 July, 1966.

After selling The Cavern Club, Ray and his family, wife Shirley Wilkins and their six children, moved to a southern London town called, Balham where he did a number of jobs, from selling insurance to adding machines, to joining an office business.  On 8 January, 2015, we said goodbye to Ray McFall, at age eighty-eight.

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