The Cavern and The Beatles go hand in hand, together in music history. Without the Cavern maybe the Beatles would’ve taken a different path, who knows, but the club played a significant role in their development. It was where their future manager Brian Epstein first saw The Beatles performing.
The Cavern Club opened on 16 January 1957 in a warehouse cellar at 10 Mathew Street, Liverpool (it had been used as an air raid shelter during the war). Owner Alan Sytner named the club after the Paris jazz club, Le Caveau De La Huchette, and planned for it to become the top jazz venue outside London. Top of the bill on the opening night was the Merseysippi Jazz Band; 600 jazz fans crammed inside and hundreds more queued in Mathew Street, hoping to get into the club.
What started as a jazz club eventually became a hangout for skiffle groups. Richard Starkey (later known as Ringo Starr) made his debut at the Cavern Club, playing drums with the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group in August 1957. John Lennon made his first appearance at the club a week later with The Quarry Men Skiffle Group. Paul McCartney made his first appearance in January 1958 with The Quarry Men.
The Beatles appeared at The Cavern for the very first time (as The Beatles) on 9 February 1961, with the lineup of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Pete Best on drums. George Harrison arrived in blue jeans, which were banned from the club, but the bouncer, whom he knew, let him in. The fab four went on to make a total of 292 performances at the club.
In October 1968, Paul McCartney made an unannounced afternoon visit to the club with his new girlfriend, Linda Eastman. The band Curiosity Shop were rehearsing and Paul joined them for a jam playing the drums. Before getting on stage with the band Paul got behind the piano in the lounge and treated everyone to a solo performance of “Hey Jude”. McCartney returned in 1999 to play his final gig of the century – he played a set of rock ‘n’ roll covers from his newly released Run Devil Run album.
During the ’60s and ’70s, The Cavern was a stop-off point for many an up and coming band. The Hollies, The Who, The Kinks, the Yardbirds, Queen, Status Quo, all appeared and in the ’90s when The Cavern re-opened, a young Manchester group named Oasis appeared at the club. Other modern acts who’ve appeared included Arctic Monkeys, Travis, Adele and Embrace.
During the ’70s, The Cavern changed its name to the Revolution Club and hosted a music appreciation club called Eric’s. Eric’s greatest influence was on local groups. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, and Wah! Heat all played their first gigs there. Big in Japan were an Eric’s success story; band members later had links with the Lightning Seeds, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the KLF, and the Cream nightclub.
The early ’80s saw the re-opening of the Cavern Club and Cavern Walks shopping centre. The new development was now significantly larger with the Abbey Road pub at ground level. The authentic reconstruction of the Cavern Club is below ground level and includes a bar, restaurant, and memorabilia shop. If you find yourself in Liverpool you must visit The Cavern. You walk down two flights of stairs and there it is before you – the arched ceilings and red brick walls, you can almost feel the history of the club.
By coincidence, it was also on this day in 1974 that John Lennon made his last ever concert appearance when he joined Elton John on stage at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Lennon performed three songs: “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.”
Along with CBGB in New York and London’s Marquee Club, The Cavern is the most famous club in the world. I wonder if John had lived he would have returned to The Cavern like his bandmate did, maybe for a show, maybe just to visit. I would like to think he would.
The following fans’ accounts of seeing The Beatles at The Cavern Club are taken from the This Day in Music book – The Beatles – I Was There.
I Was There: Irene Edwards
As our youth-club band became more proficient they joined up with Billy Jones and renamed themselves The Ravens. They would then be on the opposite half of the evening at The Cavern. I went a lot then to the Mardis Gras and to The Cavern. I went with my girlfriend who I went to Queen Mary High School with. I was just going to see whoever performed. I never went at lunchtime. It was always night time. It was rock ’n’ roll. There were other groups in Liverpool whose music I liked better at the time. Cilla Black of course was the cloakroom attendant who then went on to sing with the groups. My Cavern days slowed down in autumn 1961 because I was then studying for A-levels and the amount of homework clipped my wings. It was then only at weekends.
I Was There: Ron Watson
I remember when Brian Epstein came down to see them. When you’re 16 or 17, the guy who’s 24 or 25 who comes down wearing a cravat tends to stand out! I can remember him standing at the back, in what were the arches, looking somewhat bewildered. And I think he had Alistair Taylor (Epstein’s personal assistant) with him at the time. And you could tell from the look on Brian’s face that he was mesmerised by this. He’d never seen anything like it. But to him they were a bit scrufy, ill-disciplined. So Epstein made them the offer and the rest, as they say, is history.
I Was There: Jim Finn
I was a teenager in the early Sixties and we used to go to the lunchtime sessions in The Cavern from 12 noon to 2 p.m.. It was two shillings [10p] to get in. The Beatles would be on one day and Gerry and The Pacemakers the next, and it would alternate like that. There was great rivalry between them. One time, when Pete Best was the drummer, The Beatles were belting out a song and Gerry Marsden sneaked into The Cavern and worked his way round to the electrical sockets at the back of the stage and pulled them out. He ran out of The Cavern accompanied by some of the foulest language from John Lennon you have ever heard.
One of the elements of The Beatles’ popular appeal was the contrast between the two frontmen – John Lennon, the rough and ready type, and Paul McCartney, the ever-polite smoothie. George Harrison sometimes looked as though he had just got out of bed and come straight to The Cavern whereas Pete Best, who I knew at school, was always immaculately turned out. When we would leave The Cavern, grown-ups – shoppers and office workers – walking past would look disapprovingly at us teenagers, probably because of the very loud music coming from within and spilling out into Matthew Street, which is very narrow and yet, then, was able to accommodate a two-way traffic system.