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Merseybeat Nostalgia

The Cavern

The queue for the lunchtime session in the early 1960’s

Cavern 1

The Cavern Club first opened its doors in January 1957, the policy of its owner, Alan Sytner, was to put Liverpool on the map as having the leading Jazz club outside of London and based the name on the Parisienne Jazz Club ‘Le Caveau’. Over the next couple of years many of the big names in British jazz appeared at the Cavern, making it a focal point for jazz enthusiasts. Even though the club attracted the big names, the capacity of the club hit profits and in 1950 Alan sold the club to Ray McFall who maintained the club as a leading jazz venue, but the days as a jazz only club where close to ending. Coinciding with the club opening, skiffle was also becoming popular. It was an improvised form of jazz with basic instruments, a washboard and single string tea-chest base where all that was required to generate the sound.

The Cavern Club first opened its doors in January 1957, the policy of its owner, Alan Sytner, was to put Liverpool on the map as having the leading Jazz club outside of London and based the name on the Parisienne Jazz Club ‘Le Caveau’. Over the next couple of years many of the big names in British jazz appeared at the Cavern, making it a focal point for jazz enthusiasts. Even though the club attracted the big names, the capacity of the club hit profits and in 1950 Alan sold the club to Ray McFall who maintained the club as a leading jazz venue, but the days as a jazz only club where close to ending. Coinciding with the club opening, skiffle was also becoming popular. It was an improvised form of jazz with basic instruments, a washboard and single string tea-chest base where all

Lonnie_Donegan

that was required to generate the sound. Although skiffle disappeared almost as quickly as it had started, the Cavern Club provided the perfect stage, the simplicity of skiffle gave teenage musicians the confidence to perform but rock ‘n’ roll soon became the driving force behind their development. Most of the big names in the Mersey Beat scene of the early sixties started as a skiffle group, John Lennon’s ‘Quarrymen Skiffle Group’ made their first Cavern appearance in 1957, Ringo is believed to have made his first appearance a week earlier with ‘The Eddie Clayron Skiffle Group’, lunchtime sessions were introduced to cope with the boom in skiffle. Many years later people talk of The Beatles lunchtime sessions as the best times at the Cavern, this was not shared by jazz fans who disliked the noise amplified groups made. By 1960, demand for beat music at the Cavern was increasing and would ultimately turn around its financial fortunes. On May 25th 1960, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (with Ringo Starr on drums) opened the first beat night sessions, little did they know this was the start of the most exciting period in British rock ‘n’ roll history, in what was to become the most famous club in the world. The standard format for the club gradually became Beat Group sessions, Bob Wooler became the presenter of lunchtime sessions and jazz was confined to weekends until 1963 when it disappeared altogether.

The_Beatles_2

Throughout 1960, 1961 and 1962 the club became the spawning ground for the Merseybeat sound that was to sweep the world of music. In 1963 the extensive local music scene enabled groups to develop their own individual styles, but it was The Beatles, on their return from Hamburg, in December 1960 who soon became club favorites after their first performance in early 1961. Teenagers couldn’t believe how good they where and soon started to draw large crowds Long, night after night sessions in Hamburg had developed their repertoire and stamina.

The Cavern had increased in popularity throughout 1961 and 1962, groups such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Big Three, Kingsize Taylor, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, The Swinging Bluejeans and The Searchers had built up their own fan base, some of these groups had their own success in the world of music. Bob Wooler became the force behind the beat scene in the Cavern and by summer 1962 persuaded owner, Ray McFall to start booking big names, in July 1962 Gene Vincent, with The Beatles, The Swinging Bluejeans and Sounds Incorporated (who backed Gene Vincent) on the same bill, made his debut at the Cavern. Bob was looking further afield for artists to appear on the Cavern and brought top acts to the club.

The_Beatles_3

The Rolling Stones

Rolling_Stones_-_1963

The Hollies

The_Hollies

Freddie & the Dreamers

Freddie_and_the_Dreamers_-_1963

Bruce Channel, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Joe Brown and the Bruvvers and from Manchester, Pete McLaine and the Dakotas, Freddie and the Dreamers and Peter Novack and the Heartbeats (later known as Hermans Hermits). Even in the Early 60’s there was rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool but the Cavern members totally accepted the Manchester groups. In November 1963, The Rolling Stones appeared at the Cavern for the first time, Mick Jagger commented afterwards;

Man was it hot! We almost sweated away. They’ve had so many big groups at the Cavern that you’ve got to prove yourself, they asked us back so they must like us’,

and Bill Wyman, recalling his Cavern debut in his autobiography said;

‘While some people where building a wall, metaphorically, dividing the north from the south in pop music, we found no barriers whatsoever from Merseyside fans. Walking around the city we were stopped and chatted to by friendly Liverpudlians. In the evening our show at the Cavern was fantastic, with a marvelous crowd’

In March 1965, the Cavern saw an incredible line up, on stage one night were; Gene Vincent, Sandie Shaw, Petula Clark, Manferd Mann, The Kinks and local favourites The Clayton Squares. The show was broadcast live on French television but was never seen in Britain! In October of the same year rock legends The Who made their only appearance at the Cavern and in early 1966

Elton John, who was a member of Bluesology, performed at the Cavern. By this time the club was required to install new toilets and a proper drainage system. The cost, said to be 3000 plus, was way out of Ray McFall’s financial reach and knew the club would have to close unless the money was found quickly. Local groups decided to play at the club for no fee, in total 24 groups appeared on stage including The Spinners, The Scaffold and The Undertakers but despite the efforts, sufficient funds could not be found and the bailiffs entered the club in February 1966 to officially close it with debts of an estimated 10,000. An appeal fund

Re-opening

was set up as people clamoured to re-open the club, an offer of 5500 was made by local businessmen Joe Davy and Alf Georgheghan which was accepted and they started developing and improving it. On July 23rd 1966 the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, officially opened the club. Brian Epstein and The Beatles sent a telegram wishing the club every success, their only contribution!! Although the club remained an important local venue for a further seven years, it proved an impossible task to restore the Cavern to its former glory, the general opinion seemed to be that the club had lost its uniqueness and originality that set it apart from other venues. In 1967 the club had started to sell alcohol, Bob Wooler had less involvement and Billy Butler had become the principal DJ and compare. The music was moving towards a mixture of live music and discotheque. In 1969 Roy Adams took over the management, although he continued to provide a good standard of music, bringing in top acts with a mixture of top quality local musicians, the halcyon days of The Beatles and the Cavern had become fading memories. The original club closed for the final time in 1973, when Roy Adams opened a new Cavern Club over the road, the Cavern members and regulars had moved elsewhere.

Fans scratched the names of their favourite groups on the walls of the original Cavern, sadly this was lost when it closed

The_Hideaways
The_Notions
The_Riot_Squad

The Cavern would have to wait until the 1980’s and 90’s before it would receive its legendary status based on its affinity with the greatest group of the twentieth century, who, at the time the Cavern needed them most, ignored the pleas from fans.

This has been a brief history of the Cavern Club, for more information read ‘The Best Of Cellars’, The Story Of The Cavern Club by Phil Thompsom, ISBN 978 0 7524 4202 0

Spencer Leigh, a radio Merseyside presenter and a leading authority on the Merseybeat era has written many books on the subject, I would suggest reading his book ‘The Cavern - The Most Famous Club In The World’.

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