Join Date: Oct 05, 2000
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.