The Cavern Club

cavern

The Cavern Club is a rock and roll club in Liverpool, England. Opened in 1957, the club had their first performance by The Beatles in 1961. Alan Sytner opened the club having been inspired by the Jazz district in Paris, where there were a number of clubs in cellars.

Sytner returned to Liverpool and wanted to open a club similar to Le Caveau in Paris. He eventually found a perfect cellar for his club — which had been used as an air raid shelter during the war. The first act to open the club was the Merseysippi Jazz Band.

What started as a jazz club eventually became a hangout for skiffle groups. Whilst playing golf with Sytner’s father, Dr. Joseph Sytner, Nigel Walley — who had left school at 15 to become an apprentice golf professional at the Lee Park Golf Club — asked Dr. Sytner if his son could book The Quarrymen at The Cavern, which was one of three jazz clubs he managed. Dr. Sytner suggested that the band should play at the golf club first, so as to assess their talent, which they did. Sytner phoned Walley a week later and offered the band an interlude spot playing skiffle between the performances of two jazz bands at The Cavern in the summer of 1957.

Before the performance, the Quarrymen argued amongst themselves about the set list, as rock ‘n roll songs were definitely not allowed at the club, but skiffle was tolerated. After beginning with a skiffle song, John Lennon called for the others to start playing ‘Don’t Be Cruel.’ Davis warned Lennon that the audience would ‘eat you alive,’ but Lennon ignored his advice and started playing the song himself, forcing the others to join in. Halfway through, Sytner pushed his way through the audience and handed Lennon a note which read, ‘Cut out the bloody rock ‘n roll.’ The Quarrymen played at The Cavern again the following year, including this time Paul McCartney (George Harrison first played there at a lunchtime session 1961).

Sytner ended up selling the Cavern Club to Ray McFall in 1959, after moving to London. Blues bands and Beat groups began to appear at the club on a regular basis in the early 1960s. The first Beat night was held in 1960 and featured a performance by Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (which included Ringo Starr as drummer). By early 1961, Bob Wooler had become the full-time compère and organizer of the lunchtime sessions.

The Beatles made their first lunchtime appearance at the club on Tuesday 9 February 1961. They had returned to Liverpool from Hamburg, Germany, where they had been playing at the Indra and the Kaiserkeller. Their stage show had been through a lot of changes and some in the audience thought they were watching a German band. From 1961 to 1963 The Beatles made 292 appearances at the club, with their last occurring in August 1963, a month after the band recorded ‘She Loves You’ and just six months before the Beatles’ first trip to the U.S. Brian Epstein promised the club’s owners that the Beatles would return someday, but it was a promise that was never fulfilled.

By this time, ‘Beatlemania’ was sprouting across England, and the small club could no longer satisfy audience demand for the group. During 1962, The Hollies took The Beatles’ slot at the Cavern Club. The Beatles had graduated from the club and had been signed to EMI’s Parlophone label by producer George Martin. The amount of musical activity in Liverpool and Manchester caused record producers who had previously never ventured very far from London to start looking to the north.

In the decade that followed, a wide variety of popular acts appeared at the club, including The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Kinks, Elton John, Queen, The Who and John Lee Hooker. Future star Cilla Black worked as the hat-check girl at The Cavern in her pre-fame days. A recording studio, ‘Cavern Sound’ opened in the basement of an adjoining building, run by Nigel Greenberg and Peter Hepworth. The club closed in 1973, and was filled in during construction work on the Merseyrail underground rail loop.

In 1984 the club was taken over by Liverpool F.C. player Tommy Smith in association with Royal Life. Occupying almost 50% of the original site, it was re-built with many of the same bricks that had been used in the original club. The new design was to resemble the original as closely as possible. This was a difficult period of massive economic and political change in and around Liverpool and the club only survived until 1989, when it came under financial pressures and closed.

In 1991, two friends — school teacher Bill Heckle and Liverpool cabbie Dave Jones — reopened The Cavern. They still run the club today and are now the longest-running owners in its history. Despite being a world-famous tourist spot, the club continues to function primarily as a live music venue, although it does employ a DJ on a Friday and Saturday night. The music policy varies from ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s classic pop music to indie, rock and modern chart music.

Paul McCartney returned to the New Cavern Club stage to play his last gig of 1999 publicizing his new album, ‘Run Devil Run.’ The back room of the Cavern is the most frequently used location for live bands and this mainly plays host to young up-and-coming groups playing original material. The Cavern is also used as a tour warm-up venue with semi-secret gigs announced at the last moment by artists like The Arctic Monkeys, Thomas Bohane, Travis, and Oasis.

The Cavern features a wall of fame. In 2008 a campaign to have Gary Glitter’s brick removed from the wall was successful, but was noted by a brass plaque erected near where it was. The plaque informs the reader that the bricks of two former Cavern Club performers (Glitter and Jonathan King) have been removed.

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