The Cavern - The place that gave birth to The Beatles
The Cavern: The place that gave birth to The Beatles
I loved the Cavern. It was a claustrophobic hell, but it was a great one. — Paul McCartney
MANILA, Philippines - The Cavern, the most famous pub on earth, so they say, marked the 50th year since The Beatles first appeared there in 1961. For 30 months from that time to August 1963, The Beatles played in this underground pub 292 times and left its premises as British superstars. There should be not much controversy to plot the Cavern as the birthplace of The Beatles.
Looking back at those days when The Beatles played at the Cavern, one may say that this famous underground cellar was a silent witness to the transformation that happened with the group.
It was there where The Beatles received proper recognition as a group of musicians. John Lennon recalled, “We stood there being cheered for the first time. This was when we began to think that we were good. Up to Hamburg we’d thought we were OK, but not good enough. It was only back in Liverpool that we realized the difference and saw what happened to us while everyone else was playing Cliff Richard...”
It was there where The Beatles took Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans to join permanently the entourage. Neil had related, “They were using cabs at the time and all the money they were earning was going to the cab drivers. I had a van and needed the money... I did that for £1 a night, which... was better than the £2.50 (a week) I was getting as a trainee accountant.” As The Beatles got more dates for gigs outside Liverpool by the early part of 1963, Neil needed another pair of hands, especially to pack, carry and set up the group’s equipment. Mal, who frequented the Cavern and got hooked to The Beatles and eventually became a bouncer in the pub, readily gave up his job and joined as a group roadie.
It was there where The Beatles unknowingly enthralled Mr. Brian Epstein to manage them. “Brian took his PA, Alistair Taylor, along for the support and they stood at the back of the crowd and heard, John, Paul, George and Pete on stage, although they can’t have seen much. Nevertheless, Brian was bowled over by them… He also liked how they behaved, and he found them very animalistic. They were unkempt, they didn’t comb their hair — and, most importantly, they were lithe and physically attractive,” Bob Wooler, the Cavern DJ, narrated.
It was also there where The Beatles polished their act with professional supervision from Brian. “Brian Epstein said, ‘Look, if you really want to get in these bigger places, you’re going to have to change — stop eating on stage, stop swearing, stop smoking…’” John explained. “He wasn’t trying to clean our image up: He said our look wasn’t right, we’d never get past the door at a good place,” he continued.
They were at the Cavern when The Beatles experienced the biggest rejection in their career at that point, when Decca turned them down. Dick Rowe grossly miscalculated the musical trend at that time when he declared in justifying the rejection, “Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr. Epstein.” John disagreed, “I listened to it. I wouldn’t have turned us down on that. I think it sounded OK. Especially the last half of it, for the period it was. There weren’t many people playing music like that then. I think Decca expected us to be polished (but) we were just doing a demo. They should have seen our potential.”
They were still at the Cavern when they suffered the first casualty in the group. “In April 1962,” George Harrison recalled, “Stuart Sutcliffe died. He had already left the band. Not long before he died, he showed up in Liverpool (in the Pierre Cardin jacket with no collar, he had one before we did) and he went around and hung out with us — almost as if he’d had a premonition that he wasn’t going to see us again.” Stuart died a day before The Beatles reached Hamburg for a stint. John was most devastated, and said, “I looked up to Stu. I depended on him to tell me the truth.”
They were still playing at the Cavern when the permanent cast of the group materialized. Pete Best had to go and Ringo Starr took his place. George asserted, “To me it was apparent: Pete kept being sick and not showing up for gigs so we could get Ringo to sit in with the band instead, and every time Ringo sat in, it seemed like ‘this is it.’ Eventually we realized, ‘We should get Ringo in the band full time.’
“John said, ‘Get rid of your beard, Ringo, and change your hairstyle,’” Ringo recalled. “I cut my hair, as the saying goes, and joined the band. I never felt sorry for Pete Best. I was not involved. Besides, I felt I was a much better drummer than he was.”
They were yet at the Cavern when the big break came — EMI signed them up for audition and eventually a record deal. Paul McCartney shared, “In September (1962) we went down to London with Ringo and played for EMI again. By this time we did have a contract. This was our intro to that world…”
Yes, they were still at the Cavern when the first single came out. “Even though Love Me Do didn’t make No. 1, it was exciting. All we had wanted was a piece of vinyl — my God, a record that you hadn’t made in some booth somewhere!” said Ringo.
They were yet at the Cavern when Please Please Me, the second single with the accompanying album of the same title, was recorded and rose to the top of the charts. Please Please Me ruled the charts in Britain by February 1963 and an album became the logical next step. “I had been up to the Cavern and I’d seen what they could do,” George Martin related. “I knew their repertoire... and I said, ‘Let’s record every song you’ve got, come down to the studios and we just whistle through them in a day.’ We started about 11 in the morning, finished about 11 at night, and recorded a complete album during that time.”
And, finally, The Beatles were still doing the Cavern when they started populating radio and television shows and their presence in concert halls triggered hysteria from among fans. Beatlemania, as it was widely understood, already gripped Liverpool long before the term was coined. The Beatles concluded their appearances at the Cavern when the time was ripe to rule over Britain.
The Cavern had official address at 10 Mathew St. in Liverpool center, with an area of 58 feet by 39 feet and was 11 feet below street level. It used to be a part of a warehouse. Entrepreneur Alan Sytner developed the Cavern as a replica of a Paris basement jazz club Le Caveau de la Huchette; hence, the English equivalent’s name.
“My first memories (of the place) were of us trying to get booked there, but in the early days the Cavern only booked jazz and blues artists and frowned upon upstart rock ‘n rollers like ourselves. We fibbed about our repertoire and managed to get a date there… When the owners of the Cavern realized what we were doing, they sent up little notes to the stage complaining but by then it was too late and we had managed to infiltrate,” intimates Paul in his Foreword to Spencer Leigh’s book The Cavern: The Most Famous Club in the World.
True enough, the Cavern was the “home base for the Liverpool beat musicians,” admits author Spencer Leigh. It opened on Jan. 16, 1957 as a straight jazz and blues hangout which gained prominence in no time thanks to the promotional skills of Sytner. The new hangout attracted quite a number of bands including skiffle ones. The Quarrymen, John’s first band, landed a gig in it, too. On Aug. 7, 1957, the Quarrymen made their debut performance at the Cavern. Alan recalls in Leigh’s book, “Skiffle was a breeding ground for musicians — one or two of them became jazz musicians, but more ended up doing rock ‘n roll. I knew John Lennon quite well as we lived in the same area: He lived 400 yards up the road from me. He was 16 and arrogant and hadn’t got a clue, but that was John Lennon.”
The group did not start well with the owner. Colin Hanton, the Quarrymen’s drummer, offered his memories of that day to Leigh, “We did some skiffle numbers to start off with at the Cavern but we also did rock ‘n roll. John was passed a note and he said to the audience, ‘We’ve had a request.’ He opened it up and it was Alan saying, ‘Cut out the bloody rock ‘n roll.’”
Several phases may describe the Cavern: From 1957 to 1961, the period jazz and blues ruled the pub; from 1961 to 1973, rock ‘n roll dominated its scene; from 1984 to date, it’s now used primarily to celebrate the music of The Beatles and Merseyside music. It was torn down in 1973 only to reemerge as an exact replica of the original on the opposite side of the street in 1984.
The Beatles came to the Cavern in one of the lowest points of their career. The group’s stay in Hamburg was said to be abbreviated after a breach of contract with Bruno Koschmider, owner of Indica Gallery and Kaisserkeller where the group played every night for long hours and honed their performing skills. George was tipped off to the police as underage and Paul and Pete were accused of setting their room on fire — all three were deported towards the end of 1960. For a while, no one was interested to reform the group except for some gig at the Casbah, owned by Pete’s mother, Mona.
Paul tried to opt out of music and landed a job as a yard sweeper in Massey and Coggins. But this proved short-lived. Paul recalled, “One day John and George showed up in the yard I should have been sweeping and told me we had a gig at the Cavern. I said, ‘No, I’ve got a steady job here and it pays £7 14s a week. They are training me here... But then... I thought, ‘Sod it. I can’t stick this lot.’ I bunked over the wall and was never seen again by Massey and Coggins.”
There was no looking back when the group hit the stage lunchtime on Feb. 9, 1961. George recollected, “We got a gig. Allan Williams (former Beatles manager) put us in touch with a guy called Bob Wooler, a compere on the dance-hall circuit. He tried us out one night and put an ad in the paper: ‘Direct from Hamburg: The Beatles.’ And we probably looked German, too; very different from all other groups, with our leather jackets. We looked funny and we played differently. We went down a bomb.”
“Suddenly, we were a wow,” recalled John. “Mind you 70 percent of the audience thought we were a German wow... Even in Liverpool, people didn’t know we were from Liverpool... They said, ‘Christ, they speak good English!’...”
Pete summed it up best when he explained the interest in fans and the electricity they generated onstage. He thought The Beatles simply compressed into one hour all the energy they put in seven-hour gigs they had in Hamburg, something that the Liverpool kids have never seen before. The response from fans was immediate and most likely appeared as threatening to established acts at the Cavern. A month later on March 21, The Beatles started playing in the cellar for evening shows as well.
Part of the unspoken resentment by other resident artists with The Beatles may have had something to do with the group’s seemingly carefree attitude in contrast with their effort to perfect their craft. John admitted to this: “In those old Cavern days, half the thing was just ad lib; what you’d call comedy. We just used to mess about, jump into the audience, do anything.”
“The Beatles were difficult and so unprofessional onstage — smoking, swearing, eating, talking with one another. They considered themselves lords unto themselves,” noted Bob.
Paul added, “We’d go onstage with a cheese roll and a cigarette and we felt we really had something going in that place. The amps used to fuse and we’d stop and sing a Sunblest bread commercial while they were being repaired. We used to do skits...”
This uneasiness was, however, in full contrast with the reaction of the audience; the informality of The Beatles endeared the four lads to them. Singer Beryl Marsden, who was there at the Cavern at the time, recalled in a TV special titled I Was There When The Beatles Played The Cavern shown on Feb. 9, 2011 that the interaction of the group with the fans was so close that The Beatles knew everyone’s names. In the same documentary, Freda Kelley, secretary of The Beatles Fans Club who also saw The Beatles at the Cavern, described the atmosphere to be “very, very relaxed, because you could shout up to them to play different numbers and they mess about us.”
This was reason enough for fans to come over and over again to the Cavern and watch the group. Carol Haigh, another fan featured in the documentary, admitted to having watched The Beatles 100 to 150 times when they played the pub. Fans felt some kind of ownership of the group. This is why when The Beatles released their first single Love Me Do, the fans felt reluctant to buy it because “(i)f they get famous, they’ll leave the Cavern. What do we do then?” explained Bernadette Byrne, another Cavern frequenter.
But no one could stop the course of history and the time came when The Beatles could no longer be confined to a full-capacity audience of 600. The Beatles ended their Cavern days in a full-packed concert on Aug. 3, 1963 after having played there almost 300 times stretched over two years. They still owed the place at least six more dates, but that commitment was never to be fulfilled. One highlight of the night was when the lights went out and John and Paul sang When I’m 64, which they would record some four years later as pointed out by Tony Crane of The Merseybeats.
Too bad no recorded audio performance of The Beatles at the Cavern was ever made to provide testimony to the energy they produced onstage. But there was one video footage made of The Beatles singing Some Other Guy. That was Aug. 22, 1962, incidentally the first appearance of Ringo as a Beatle. Feeling for Pete, many fans came to articulate this sentiment with slogans like “Pete Forever, Ringo Never.” At the start of the footage, fans could be heard shouting, “We want Pete!”
Ringo agreed with this observation, saying, “The first gig in the Cavern after I’d joined was pretty violent. There was a lot of fighting and shouting, half of them hated me, half of them loved me. George got a black eye, and I haven’t looked back.”
It was good, however, that John Cochrane, drummer with the Wump and Werbles, made a listing of The Beatles’ repertoire at the Cavern. Though most likely incomplete, the list provides enthusiasts the staples The Beatles used to play during those early days at the Cavern. Rock ‘n roll is represented by C’mon Everybody and Twenty Flight Rock, both by Eddie Cochran; Mean Woman Blues by Jerry Lee Lewis; Lucille by Little Richard; New Orleans by Gary U.S. Bonds; and Crying, Waiting, Hoping and Mailman Bring Me No More Blues, both by Buddy Holly.
Two songs from Ray Charles stood for the Rhythm and Blues genre — Hallelujah I Love Her So and What I’d Say. For country music, Hank William’s Hey Good Lookin’ and Bill Monroe’s Blue Moon of Kentucky were the standard.
For ballads, The Beatles performed Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender and Wooden Heart; the oldie Red Sails In The Sunset; Gene Vincent’s version of Over The Rainbow; Corrina, Corrina which was sung by Ray Peterson; Don’t Forbid Me from Pat Boone; Will You Love Me Tomorrow by the Shirelles; and Till There Was You.
Many of those interviewed for Spencer’s book felt bad The Beatles never recorded a studio version of Over The Rainbow. “It would have gone down great,” according to Owen Clayton. Dave Williams agreed, “…They could have done it as a single.” Paul had the lead vocals on it.
Unlike in the late ’70s and early ’80s when tourists couldn’t locate where the Cavern was, today many Beatles fans have the opportunity to sort of relive, or experience what they missed some 50 years ago. The Cavern operation has been thriving since 1984, mainly celebrating the music of The Beatles and that era. Adjacent to the Cavern is the A Hard Day’s Night Hotel with The Beatles Shop.
The Mersey Beatles, the resident Cavern tribute band playing Beatles songs, are fast becoming in demand especially for tourists. They play lunchtime sessions from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. to be followed by Two Of Us, a tribute group playing Lennon and McCartney songs, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. From 4:30 to 7 p.m., Marcus Cahill, a John Lennon lookalike, takes center stage for his regular gig dubbed Imagine The Tribute.
Many years from now, the Cavern will continue to be associated with the birth of The Beatles, where it all began. For many Beatles fans, to be at the Cavern is to fulfill a part of a pilgrimage, a dream. As Beatle fan Alex McKechnie puts it, “The Cavern is the place that will always be the place.” It can’t be any truer than that.
Paul worked at Massey and Coggins for £7.75P per week - training to be an electric motor winder (an apprentice) and then work his way up. That was excellent for an 18 year old in 1960. Neil Aspinall was on £2.50 in 1962 as a trainee accountant. Paul started as a sweeper but did not sweep the floors. The school he went to and his qualifications would have alerted them that Paul was management material and put him a training programme. In those days you started at the bottom to get to know the company and its ways from bottom up and that includes the practical side.
Massey and Coggins were in Spofforth Road in Wavertree backing onto the Edge Hill rail sidings. They were not a factory as such, but a reconditioner of motors and serviced them - mainly big motors. Ships engineers would send motors to them. They would take large motors and rewind them, etc. They may have made big specialist motors to order.
Paul would have got the 86 bus to Smithdown Rd and walked up Webster Rd which ran onto Spofforth Rd. John Coggins was one of the owners who was a nice guy. They closed for good in 1982.
Spofforth Rd just before the area was redone - it still has the Victorian cobbles in the street surface which would have been there in 1960/61. Massey and Coggins are on the left, out of sight, opposite the metal radio tower of the Gas Corporation. I worked in the Gas Corporation at one time opposite Massey and Coggins.
Massey and Coggins were here at this site - now demolished. A new housing complex is next to the site as the area is being regenerated.
Paul's last pay slip from Massey and Coggins. They obviously sent him his due wages to his home. When leaving a company they usually gave these to you in your hand when leaving. He walked out without them knowing.
great info john from liverpool
Great rare info from John from Liverpool. Of all Beatle books I have, not one mentions WHERE Massey & Coggins was, and even PM in interviews never went into that kind of detail - - considered ephemera, but fascinating as an alternative future for PM. Books do suggest either Lennon or Harrison or both sprung him over the wall with an ultimatum for a lunchtime Cavern gig. But Neil Aspinall said that when PM showed up for the gig, he heard JL say to PM words to the effect of, "Right, you're quitting your fking job!" So JL cannot have gone to Massey & Coggins to spring him over the wall. It's hard to distinguish the apocryphal from what is historically true.
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