Saturday, January 28, 2017

60 Years of The Cavern Club

‘The Cavern was sweaty, damp, dark, loud and exciting  . As usual, we didn’t start out with much of an audience, but then people began to hear about us. We could always entertain them" - Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology

Tucked away down a rugged, bumpy stone road stood a diamond in the rough - Rough being used in an appropriate manner, due to the pungent stench of rotting fruit from a little stand that was advertising across the street, and the damp, dark basement that would soon smell almost as strong as the market once it became filled with teens dancing and begging for the attention of the latest Merseyside heartthrobs crooning away with their best Elvis impersonation.  Proudly grounded at number ten on Mathew Street, Liverpool became one of England's most prestigious and popular attractions; The Cavern Club.

The roots of The Cavern club all began with a young man named Alan Sytner, whom was born in the disheveled city Liverpool in 1935. Alan's young adult trips to Paris and its swinging nights left a tremendous impact on him. His infatuation and influence for jazz flourished with every Parisian holiday he took. What happened next may be fate. At the mere age of twenty-one, Sytner received a generous amount of money from a life insurance policy that granted him with the comfortable load of four-hundred pounds. After nurturing the melodies and harmonies of jazz that he grew to love in France he took his money and brought the dulcet sounds to the Merseyside. On one trip in particular he discovered Le Caveau De La Huchette, the club where he got his music fix on his trips that influenced him to buy an old air-raid shelter of World War II and tunnel system on Mathew Street, naming it duly after his nights in Paris. 

Pouring in all of his savings and energy, Alan Sytner dedicated his efforts into opening his new club by adding all the amenities, including toilets, coatroom, snacks, and a stage made of wood perched at the far end to house local jazz musicians.  His dream came true on 16 January, 1957 as Merseyippi Jazz Band, Wall City Jazzmen, Ralph Watmough Jazz Band and the Coney Island Skiffle Group topped the bill. When the foot prints of the public stepped behind The Cavern doors that winter's night, they laid the foundation of a club that would birth a new generation of music.

Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group, 1957; Wilson Hall
Many musicians would soon step foot on the privy stage of the club that became a sensation immediately. From the early sounds of Big Broonzy, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Marie Knight, Brownie McGhee, and more with their blues and jazzy style, that was until the Skiffle was introduced.  Just like an epidemic, skiffle would soon sweep the nation thanks to Lonnie Donegan, who brought the american folk style music to Britain with "Rock Island Line". Once the folk revival invasion caught the attention of the young population, Synter decided it was time to start hiring Skiffle groups more regularly.. Besides the Coney Island Skiffle Group on opening day, the next skiffle group that would be known for playing there would be Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group in late July 1957. A group consisting of co-workers at H.Hunt & Sons, Eddie Miles and Richard Starkey, along with John Dougherty, Roy Trafford and Frank Walsh, who had previously only been playing at Peel Street Labour Club and Wilson Hall. Notably known for  their matching shirt color and bootlace attire. The next group that would be introduced to The Cavern Club with the skiffle beat would be The Quarrymen, who made their debut on 7 August, 1957. The becoming popular band front man John Lennon and members Len Garry, Rod Davies, Colin Hanton, Pete Shotton and Eric Griffiths, all friends from Quarry Bank High School. The Quarrymen performed during a lunch session where their performance was seen more as a disturbance when they broke out into the developing area of Rock'n'Roll. Alan even passing the nearsighted Lennon, a folded up paper reading "cut out the rock!."

From many different jazz musicians like Ronnie Scott, Mr. Acker Bilk's Paramount Jazz Band, and even a visit from Lonnie Donegan himself, as well as numerous others whom performed under the roof of the dingy, dim, and damp club.  Until things were 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.

Streets flooded with fans waiting to get in
Ray McFall was born 14 November, 1926 in Garston, Liverpool to a sea merchant. His family and himself then moved to Maghull where he would sit behind a desk at St Mary's Roman Catholic College. From time to time he found himself working at the Clock Face Colliery and then as a clerk as an accountant. He later invested his time 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. Under Mcfall's name  club began to holding more events, starting in 1960. These would include a Jazz festival followed the first promoted beat night session with open Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (previously known as the Texan Skiffle Group). The group provided high energy levels anytime they performed by their lead singer, Rory Storm, and their lovable drummer (who had already made his debut at the club with Eddie Clayton), Richard Starkey, who now was known as Ringo Starr. 

Things began to fall into place, especially once a young man named Bob Wooler stepped foot into the club. He was asked to improvise and make a spontaneous announcement, and what he said next landed him a job as The Cavern's announcer. 
"Remember all you cave-dwellers the Cavern is the best of cellars".- Bob Wooler, 26 Wednesday October, 1960
 The already well-received club began to soar once Wooler finally closed once he sealed the deal with a charming mother, Mona Best, and hired her son, Pete's band, who had now become known as The Beatles . 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 acts, the band were frequently playing in Best's basement, after his mother decided to open up a club in their basement called The Casbah

Although The Beatles would soon become the biggest act The Cavern had seen, it didn't start out that way. 9 February, 1961 The Beatles made their first appearance at a lunchtime session. As The Quarrymen, John Lennon and Paul McCartney (who joined the Quarrymen in 1957, read about it here) had appeared on The Cavern stage before, this was however the first time George Harrison and Stuart Sutcliffe would appear. The five members had been putting on lively, howling shows in Hamburg, Germany where they got their first real taste for life as musicians. From going from £2.50 each per day in Hamburg The Beatles were now being paid £5 to split among themselves for their first Cavern gig. Author of The Cavern ,Spencer Leigh, quotes Ray McFall;

John and Paul at the Cavern
They were different and they were very well rehearsed because they had come back from three months of torture in Hamburg. The other groups were like Cliff Richard and the Shadows, but The Beatles’ music was so vibrant… However, I didn’t like them wearing jeans which were taboo in the Cavern. Our doormen would stop anyone wearing jeans. I felt that if people were wearing good, clean clothes they would be more likely to behave themselves as they wouldn’t want them getting dirty and damaged.

"We used to play lunchtime dates. We'd get up and go down to the Cavern and play from noon till about two. It was casual; we'd have our tea and sandwiches and cigarettes on stage, sing a couple of tunes and tell a few jokes." - George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology
Pete Best

It was in the same year that The Beatles became The Cavern's signature act that the Liverpool Lads became Liverpool Lords as a well respected businessman from NEMS record store saw the band perform; It wasn't long until the band were under the management of Brian Epstein. Epstein took The Beatles to recording studios and finally landed a position with George Martin of EMI Studios at Abbey Road. With Martin's suggestion and Brians agreement, Pete Best was soon dropped from the band and replaced with Ringo Starr. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison had played with Ringo before and had been around him as well as other bands in the Mersey beat sound. When it came to musicians at this time, if someone was sick or couldn't make it they would interchange and steal a member from another for a session. It was in Germany when The Beatles and Rory Storm where on tour together and Beatles drummer, Best, fell ill and Starr joined in. It was that autumn day in 1960 that the floorboard vibration of the Kaiserkellar rattled the pointed shoes of John, Paul, George and Stu. Keeping the beat of the roaring chaos that the boys were producing, as well as starting the pulse of the bands heart - corny? Maybe. Truth? Yes. Playing with Ringo was eye opening to The Beatles.  - But this is another story for another post.   However, Ringo joining The Beatles wasn't as supportive as they intended. In fact there were a lot of hate towards them from some groups, resulting in even George Harrison getting a black eye.  Chants like "Ringo Never, Pete Best Forever!" echoed the area. Fans,however, could not stay away from The Beatles  and grew a love as Ringo as a replacement, for his charismatic charm, leading to the boys reigned king as the Liverpool Lords. 
Ringo Starr

They would go on to play a total of 292 times at The Cavern, and quickly became the most recognizable group to play in history. 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;

With Ringo now backing them up, The Beatles took off, leaving the Cave Dwellers to dwell, as they wouldn't be returning to the Cavern anytime soon; Beatlemania had just begun.
(L-R; George Harrison, Paul McCartney,  Ringo Starr, John Lennon)


Eric's Club
Unfortunately in 1966 Ray McFall declared bankrupt and the club was forced to close doors. Shortly after the fall of Alf Geoghegan and Joe Davey invested in the space to improve the iconic space. on 23 July of that year, Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister officially reopened the Cavern with new owners and after the cosmetic changes, including new entrance, souvenir shop, a boutique and a coffee lounge. However, the original vaults still stood.  In 1970 the club was sold to Harry Waterman and Roy Adams, whom kept the music and legacy of the club alive, as they hired acts like Status Quo, appearances by Queen, as well as other local acts. Under the new ownership, more cosmetic changes were added, as the club extended the cellar vaults.  On 27 May 1973, The Cavern Club re-opened adjacent to the original location at 10 Mathew Street; It now was placed at 7 Mathew Street. The original club was knocked down from street level up, leaving the remains of the once thriving cellar filled with destruction and was replaced with a parking lot. For a brief period in time in the mid-late 70s, the club was renamed to Revolution Club but was shut down within months before it re-opened as Eric's.

Demolition of The Cavern Club

 News broke early morning 9 December in Britain; John Lennon had been shot and killed outside of his New York apartment. Memorials spread across the globe as heavy hearts shared in remembering the life, love and legacy of their false god. It was almost stepping back in time, as Mathew Street began to flood with people, although, not with the same high spirits as they use to. Within a year, plans  launched to re-establish the original club, by excavating the rubble of the Cavern cellar on 10 Mathew Street. Although the original vaults and arches were now too weak and could cause safety hazards, the original bricks from the 1950s establishment were sold and all proceeds were donated to Strawberry Fields Children's home. However, not all bricks were given away, in fact  15,000 authentic bricks were used in the reconstruction. Within the decade numerous owners took over the club and in 1989 the club was closed due to a customer assault which landed the new owners in jail.


Luckily, due to the club, almost being a demand site for tourist, Cavern City Tours re-opened it in 1991 and music was thriving once again; including a little band called Oasis. Both Ringo and Paul came to visit the new Cavern Club and proudly signed their names on the historic brick walls. McCartney however, decided to end the century with a rock'n'roll concert in the new facility.

The Current entrance of the Cavern

McCartney may have been The Beatle to return to the club the most; once in the 60s with then girlfriend, Linda Eastman, 1990s, and then again he held an "End Of The World" Party in the cellar in 2003, where a sign was posted that the club would be closed due to a "Private retirement Party" being held.  Two years later the Artic Monkeys made their appearance and soon became a sensation worldwide.

The Cavern Club is almost a sanctuary, a temple that everyone has to see. Many have played there including renowned names like The Rolling Stones, Bo Diddley, Donovan, The Yardbirds, and thousands of others.

You can now visit the historic Cavern Club either on your own tab or part of a tour.

To read more about The Cavern Club and find out about tours click here.

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