The Cavern Club
Mathew Street, Liverpool, England
1957, reopened 1984 and 1999
1973 and 1989
Alan Sytner, Bob Wooler, Ray McFall; Tommy Smith; Bill Heckle and Dave Jones
The Cavern Club is a rock and roll club in Liverpool, England. Opened on Wednesday 16 January 1957, the club had their first performance by The Beatles on 9 February 1961, and where Brian Epstein first saw The Beatles performing on 9 November 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 — and opened it on 16 January 1957. 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, 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 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 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". The Quarrymen played at The Cavern again on 24 January 1958, which was Paul McCartney's first appearance there. (George Harrison first played there at a lunchtime session on 9 February 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 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 Beatles and others
The sculpture of John Lennon outside The Cavern was unveiled on 16 January 1997
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 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. At the time, 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 March 1973, and was filled in during construction work on the Merseyrail underground rail loop. Jan Akkerman with Dutch group Focus were the last to play The Cavern a few days before the club was shut down in May 1973.
The Cavern Club today
External view of the 'New' Cavern Club, January 2006
In April 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 for 18 months. 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. The music policy varies from '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s classic pop music to indie, rock and modern chart music.
On 14 December 1999, former Beatle Paul McCartney returned to the New Cavern Club stage to play his last gig of 1999 publicising his new album, Run Devil Run. The Cavern Club is still open as one of the UK's most famous venues. It has around 40 live bands performing every week; both tribute and original bands, although the majority perform their own material. The back room of the Cavern is the most frequently used location for touring acts and ticketed events, recently playing host to The Wanted, Adele and Jessie J. The venue also plays host to young up-and-coming groups playing original material. The venue has recently outsourced its new music promotions to Jar Music.
The front room of the Cavern is the main tourist attraction, where people come to have their photograph taken on the famous Cavern stage, with the names of the bands who played there written on the back wall. This room hosts live music from 4pm to midnight Monday to Thursday, 12pm to close on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with various acts playing famous songs from the past and present. Between November 2005 and September 2007, the Cavern front room played host to the Cavern Showcase, an organisation and event started by 60s star Kingsize Taylor, his wife Marga, and best friend Wes Paul. The night took place every Sunday and featured original 60s bands such as The Mojos and The Undertakers. 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 is in October 2005, as well as many others before them, such as Travis and Oasis.
In November 2008 a campaign to have Gary Glitter's brick removed from the wall of fame 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.