The Cavern Club
The original Cavern Club entrance in 1963.
|Location||Mathew Street, Liverpool, England, United Kingdom|
|Owner||Alan Sytner, Bob Wooler, Ray McFall, Tommy Smith, Bill Heckle, Dave Jones|
|Opened||1957, reopened 1984 and 1991|
|Closed||1 March 1973, and 1989|
The Cavern Club opened on 16 January 1957 as a jazz club, later becoming a centre of the rock and roll scene in Liverpool in the early 1960s. The club became closely associated with the Merseybeat music genre and, famously, regularly played host to The Beatles in their early years.
The Cavern Club closed and opened in a new site on March 1973 and was filled in during construction work on the Merseyrail underground rail loop. It would later be excavated and reopened on 26 April 1984.
Alan Sytner opened The Cavern Club, having been inspired by the jazz district in Paris, where there were a number of clubs in cellars. Sytner returned to Liverpool and strove to open a club similar to the Le Caveau de la Huchette jazz club in Paris. He eventually found a fruit warehouse where people were leasing the cellar; before this, it was used as an air raid shelter in World War II. The club was opened on 16 January 1957. The first act to perform at the opening of the club was the Merseysippi Jazz Band. Local commercial artist Tony Booth created the poster artwork for the opening night, who shortly after became the original poster artist for The Beatles.
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. After performing at the golf club 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, on Wednesday, 7 August 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 opening with a skiffle song, John Lennon called for the others to start playing an Elvis Presley song, "Don't Be Cruel". Rod Davis warned Lennon that the audience would "eat you alive", but Lennon ignored this 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". Paul McCartney's first appearance at The Cavern was with The Quarrymen on 24 January 1958. (George Harrison first played at The Cavern during a lunchtime session on 9 February 1961.)
Sytner sold The Cavern Club to Ray McFall in 1959 and moved 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 on 25 May 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 organiser of the lunchtime sessions.
The club hosted its first performance by The Beatles on Thursday 9 February 1961. Brian Epstein, The Beatles manager who secured the groups' first recording contract, first saw the group perform at the club on 9 November 1961. Inspired by the group Epstein made moves to take over their management.
The Beatles and others
The Beatles made their first appearance at the club on 9 February 1961 after returning to Liverpool from Hamburg, Germany where they had been playing at the Indra and the Kaiserkeller clubs. Their stage show had been through a lot of changes, with some in the audience thinking they were watching a German band as they were billed from Hamburg. From 1961 to 1963 The Beatles made 292 appearances at the club, with their last occurring on 3 August 1963, a month after the band recorded "She Loves You" and just six months before the Beatles' first trip to the U.S. By this time "Beatlemania" was sprouting across England, and with girls demanding to see the Beatles and screaming just to get a glimpse of them, the group had to hide or sneak into concerts, and the small club could no longer satisfy audience demand. After the Beatles' farewell gig on 3 August 1963, Bob Wooler gave their future dates to The Mastersounds, a local R & B band, led by Mal Jefferson. 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 1963, young local band The Hideaways were signed up to the newly founded Cavern Club agency and became the resident group, often stepping in for last minute artist cancellations; they also became the first pop group to appear on a nationwide television commercial for Timex Watch Company filmed by the Rank Organisation at the Cavern Club. The band also performed at the Cavern the night prior to the club's closure, making them the last group to perform on stage along with disc jockey Billy Butler and doorman Paddy Delaney, who—with fans—barricaded themselves into the club prior to the authorities' arrival the next morning to gain access. The Hideaways were also proactive along with local MP Bessie Braddock to reopen the Cavern, as a result they were the first group back on stage when club re-opened on 23 July 1966 with local MP Bessie Braddock and the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The Hideaways also hold the official record of over 400 Cavern Club appearances at both old and new venues and are now recognised and named on the wall of fame!
In the decade that followed, a wide variety of popular acts appeared at the club, including The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Hollies, The Kinks, Elton John, Black Sabbath, Queen, The Who and John Lee Hooker.
Future star Cilla Black worked as the hat-check girl there.
The club closed in March 1973, and was filled in during construction work on the Merseyrail underground rail loop.
Soon after the Cavern club closed in 1973, a new Cavern club re-opened at 7 Mathew Street, later re-named the Revolution Club. This club would later shut down and be reopened as Erics, which itself became a notable local music venue in the late 1970s.
On 7 December 1981 plans were revealed to excavate the buried remains of the Cavern Club cellar. It would form part of a £7-million redevelopment project of the former warehouse site of 8-12 Mathew Street which had housed the Cavern Club up until its closure in 1973. However, on 23 June 1982 it was announced by the project architect David Backhouse, that the plans to excavate and re-open the Cavern Club in its original form would be impossible for structural reasons. Tests had revealed that the arches of the old cellar had been too badly damaged during the demolition of the ground floor of the Cavern Club and the warehouses above.
Thousands of bricks from the damaged archways of the original cellar area of the Cavern Club went on sale at £5 each, complete with an authentication plate signed by former Cavern Club owner Ray McFall. Proceeds from the sale of the 5,000 bricks went to Strawberry Field Children's home.
Prior to the Cavern Club's opening ceremony, over 100 musicians from the 1960s Mersey Beat era were invited to sign the wall at the back of the Cavern's stage, a tradition which began in the early days of the Jazz bands in the 1950s and continued through the '60s and '70s. A further 15,000 bricks from the Cavern site were used on the authentic reconstruction of the Cavern Club within the redevelopment.
The club was taken over by former Liverpool F.C. player Tommy Smith. The new design was to resemble the original as closely as possible. This coincided with a 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 for 18 months. In 1991, two friends—schoolteacher Bill Heckle and taxi driver Dave Jones—reopened it, along with George Guinness. They still run the club today and are now the longest-running owners in its history. The club continues to function primarily as a live music venue. The music policy varies from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s classic pop music to indie, rock and modern chart music.
On 14 December 1999, former Beatle Paul McCartney played the New Cavern Club, publicising his new album, Run Devil Run. It has around 40 live bands performing every week; both tribute and original bands, although most perform their own material. The back room of the Cavern is the most frequently used location for touring acts and ticketed events, in more recent times playing host to The Wanted, Adele and Jessie J. The Cavern is also used as a tour warm-up venue with semi-secret gigs announced at the last moment. The Arctic Monkeys did this in October 2005, Jake Bugg in November 2013, as well as Travis and Oasis.
The front room is the main tourist attraction, where people come to have their photograph taken on the stage, with the names of the bands who played there written on the back wall. This room hosts live music from noon to midnight Monday to Thursday, and noon to close on Fridays and weekend. Between November 2005 and September 2007, the front room played host to the Cavern Showcase, an organisation and event started by 1960s star Kingsize Taylor, his wife Marga, and best friend Wes Paul. The night took place every Sunday and featured original 1960s bands such as The Mojos and The Undertakers.
In November 2008, a campaign to have Gary Glitter's brick removed from the wall of fame was successful, a brass plaque near where it was notes that the bricks of two former Cavern Club performers - Glitter and Jonathan King have also been removed.
In 2017, the Cavern commissioned Tony Booth, the artist who designed all the original posters and signage for the original club, to produce 60th anniversary artwork which portrays bands and musicians who performed there. Also in 2017, a statue of Cilla Black commissioned by her sons was unveiled outside the Cavern's original entrance.
In June 2018, Paul McCartney came back to the Cavern Club. During a Facebook Live Q&A session in the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, Paul McCartney hinted that he would perform a secret gig the following day. At 9 a.m. on 26 June it was announced via his Facebook page and The Cavern Club's Facebook page that Paul would be returning to the club. Tickets were sold from The Echo Arena box office, leaving people who had camped overnight on Mathew Street disappointed. Paul McCartney was expected to only play a 45-minute set but performed for two hours. He opened the show saying "Liverpool! Cavern! These are words that go together well!" and then played a mixed set featuring songs from his upcoming album, Egypt Station.
Tribute clubs exist in Dallas, Buenos Aires, Wellington, Exeter, Costa Teguise in Lanzarote, and formerly in Tokyo and Adelaide. A similar looking club was also featured in the opening sequence of the film Across the Universe, in homage to The Beatles' beginnings, though the club's name was never mentioned. The footage for this scene was actually shot in The Cavern Club itself. The Cavern Club is the first playable location in The Beatles: Rock Band.
The Hard Rock Cafe restaurant and hotel chain owns the trademark to the "Cavern Club" name in the US. When the Hard Rock Cafe was built in Boston in 1991, it included a brick Cavern Club cellar that was a reproduction of the Liverpool club, including a stage for local bands. In 2006, the Boston restaurant moved to a new location, and although the new restaurant still has a "Cavern Club" performing area, it bears no resemblance to the Liverpool cellar. In 2014, a lawsuit was filed to revoke Hard Rock's trademark on the Cavern Club name.
The poet Roger McGough also mentioned the club in his poem "Let Me Die A Youngman's Death": "Or when I'm 104 / and banned from the Cavern / may my mistress / catching me in bed with her daughter / and fearing for her son / cut me up into little pieces and throw away every piece but one." Norwegian Cruise Lines have Cavern Clubs on two of their liners, the Norwegian Bliss and the Norwegian Epic, which showcase Beatles tribute bands.<ref><The Cavern teams up with Norwegian Cruise Lines for a 2nd time, June 1, 2018, https://www.cavernclub.org/latest-news/the-cavern-teams-up-with-norwegian-cruise-lines-for-a-2nd-time/ ref>
- Note on first Beatles appearance, The Cavern Club.
- Spitz (2005) The Beatles, p. 59.
- Spitz (2005) The Beatles, p. 61.
- Spitz (2005) The Beatles, p. 65.
- Spitz (2005) The Beatles, p. 125.
- Where it all began..., The Cavern Club, archived from the original on 6 January 2009, retrieved 9 January 2009.
- "History: 1990s". Cavern Club. Cavern City Tours Limited.
11 July 1991 Cavern City Tours re-opened the Cavern Club and continued to provide the disco music which had been so successful under the previous owner. / Within a month the Cavern was open six days and three nights to cater for the growing visitor and tourist market. / The new owner’s aim to bring back live music to the Cavern didn’t happen immediately.
- Cavern Showcase, retrieved 31 December 2008.
- Cavern club removes Glitter brick, BBC News, 15 November 2008, retrieved 31 March 2009.
- "CELEBRATE 60 YEARS OF THE CAVERN!". Cavern Club. 4 October 2016. Retrieved 4 November 2016.
- "Cilla Black statue unveiled as Cavern Club celebrates 60 years". BBC News. 16 January 2017. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
- "Cilla Black statue unveiled at Cavern Club's 60th anniversary". Sky News. 16 January 2017. Retrieved 18 January 2017.
- "The Cavern Buenos Aires". The Carvern. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
- "Cavern Club, Wellington NZ". cavern. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
- "HOME". exetercavern.com. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
- "Cavern Club fights Hard Rock Cafe over US naming rights". BBC News. BBC. 14 May 2014. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
- Spencer Leigh, The Cavern: The Most Famous Club in the World, The Story of the Cavern Club, SAF Publishing, 2008, 224 pp. ISBN 978-0946719907
- Phil Thompson, The Best of Cellars : The Story of the World famous Cavern Club, The Bluecoat Press, 1994, 208 pp. ISBN 978-1872568164. Rev. & upd. ed. by NPI Media Group, 2007, 192 pp, ISBN 978-0752442020
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