It was 50 years ago today (almost)
Jan 12 2007
by Mike Chapple, Liverpool Daily Post
LIVERPOOL’S Cavern Club celebrates its 50th anniversary next week. And the club, which became the launchpad for The Beatles’ incredible success story and Merseybeat in general, is promising a year-long series of surprises.
"We’re currently negotiating with some of the biggest names to appear at a massive gig that we’ve got planned for May – but it’s one of those that if we give out a whiff of information beforehand they will pull the plug on us,” said Cavern director Bill Heckle, who hopes that a full itinerary of events will be confirmed on its birthday next Tuesday, January 16.
There are also plans for the release of a DVD, book, TV documentary and an album compilation featuring some of the most famous bands who have played there over the past half a century.
The day itself will be marked by a special invitation-only 13-hour party at the club, with an open bar and over 30 bands playing.
But Mr Heckle scotched any rumours that Sir Paul McCartney would be propping up the free bar.
“Macca was invited, but with everything that’s going on in his personal life at the moment there’s no chance at all of him turning up,” explained Mr Heckle, who said that nevertheless he was expecting to see several famous musicians scattered among the family and friends.
He added: “When we held the 40th anniversary we found that all of the original Quarrymen – barring John Lennon of course – were in the same room for the first time in 40 years. After a few drinks they got up on the stage to play – and they haven’t been off the road these past 10 years.”
Also on the day, but outside on Mathew Street, a mystery will finally be cleared up for all avid Beatles fans – the unveiling of the exact site of the doorway to the original Cavern where the 18 stone steps led down into the basement club. The site has been worked out by analysing photographs from the private collection of the club’s late DJ, Bob Wooler.
“I could tell you where it is – but that would be another surprise that is best left saving for the day itself,” said Mr Heckle.
Number 10 Mathew Street was an innocuous address.
In previous incarnations, it had been an egg-packing station, a wines and spirits store, and even a makeshift air raid shelter during the war- time Blitz on Liverpool.
But on January 16, 1957, Number 10 took its first step into becoming one of the most famous destinations in the world when it first opened its doors as the Cavern Club. Bought by local doctor’s son Alan Sytner, who envisioned it as the Scouse version of the Parisian nightclub Le Cavais Francais, its first night featuring the Merseysippi jazz band drew a crowd of over 1,000 – though only 600 were allowed in.
Its jazz-only policy, however, soon began to be eroded by the burgeoning popularity of skiffle and rock ’n’ roll.
In fact, it was on August 7 in the same year that a young John Lennon and the skiffle band The Quarrymen first graced the stage of the Cavern.
The Beatles played the club a total of 274 times, from February 21, 1961, when they were paid a fiver, to August 3, 1963, when they commanded a fee of £300.
But the “Best of Cellars” as Bob Wooler dubbed it, was a subterranean showcase for many other Liverpool bands.
Author and publisher Ron Jones – who wrote The Complete Liverpool Beatles Guide just reissued in its third edition – was a 19-year-old city council employee when he paid his first visit to the Cavern in 1961.
He was primarily a follower of the Remo Four, who were admired by The Beatles and especially George Harrison, who looked up to their lead guitarist Colin Manley because he could play like the ace country guitar picker Chet Atkins.
“It wasn’t just The Beatles who got a good reaction – The Remo Four, The Big Three, the Swingin’ Blue Jeans, Gerry and the Pacemakers ... they were all really popular,” said Ron, who regularly went to the Cavern in the evening with his mates, work preventing him from going to the legendary lunchtime sessions.
“You never really thought about the conditions in there. The smell of carbolic and sweat, the cigarette smoke – because everyone smoked in those days – the darkness and the dankness. It was all about the excitement of the bands and the music. And like all things in retrospect, at the time you don’t really realise what’s happening or its significance.
“You’d be watching The Beatles after paying literally coppers, sometimes standing inches away from them, just saying hello and stuff in between songs.”
With The Beatles and Merseybeat explosion the club became the centre of media attention worldwide.
It even had its own weekly show Sunday Night at The Cavern broadcast on Radio Luxembourg.
But it hit problems in the mid- 60s when its latest owner, Ray McFall, declared himself bankrupt. The club was closed but following massive protest it was finally reopened by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson on January 23, 1966.
BUT the writing was already on the wall for the original club as the city bureaucrats had never been fans of it or the Beatles legacy. In 1973 it was forced to close again, this time because the city council decided the space was needed to fit an extraction duct for the underground rail network, and the bulldozers moved in.
The Cavern was resurrected in 1984 as part of the Cavern Walks development, in which bricks from the old club were used to refurbish the new.
Mr Jones, who has been invited to next Tuesday’s all-day event, is philosophical about its demise.
“People are still saying now that it’s a tragedy that the most famous rock ’n’ roll club in the world should be demolished. It certainly wouldn’t be allowed now, and from today’s perspective it was an act of lunacy. But Liverpool in those days wasn’t a tourist city and so what is there today in its place is better than nothing at all.”
Another guest invited to next week’s bash is historian Mark Lewisohn, regarded as the world’s leading expert on The Beatles – McCartney says he knows more about them than the band did themselves.
“There were other great rock ’n’ roll clubs – Hamburg had the Star Club, in New York it was CBGBs, and there was the Fillmore in San Francisco, but there’s no doubting how important the Cavern was in the formation of a whole new music scene,” said Mark who, at 48, was just a toddler when the original club was in its pomp.
He is currently researching a 15-year project to write an enormous three-volume definitive history of The Beatles, including the Cavern itself.
“It would have been absolutely fascinating to have been there for one of their all-nighter sessions in late 1961 watching The Beatles with Rory (Storm) if he had been there, King Size Taylor and the Dominoes, the Big Three, the Swinging Blue Jeans . . .
“But those times are gone. My motive and purpose is to record what happened in those times as accurately as possible. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that what happened at The Cavern was something truly extraordinary.”#
MARK LEWISOHN would like to interview anyone with genuine eyewitness information that may be included in the definitive history. Send contact details via firstname.lastname@example.org