Ted Robbins traces the rich and often torrid history of Liverpool's world-renowned Cavern Club, sixty years after it first opened its doors.
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The world famous Cavern Club, the place where the Beatles were
discovered, was opened 60 years ago.
The Beatles would not have been what they were without that club.
It is just a magical place.
It has been closed, reopened, demolished, moved
But today, it's still going strong, an underground shrine
to popular music.
It's legendary venue.
It was the most famous club in the world.
As long as music is played, the Cavern will be here.
I am going on my very own magical mystery
tour and discovering the true story behind
the most famous club in the world.
Welcome to the Cavern!
Hi there, all you cave dwellers.
This is Bob Wooler and welcome to the
# See the girl with the diamond ring
# She knows how to shake that thing, yeah yeah.
# What I say, but what I say...#.
Look straight ahead and what you would
have seen here is the famous Cavern Arch Stage.
That's the image you get, isn't it, from all flickering
This is the Cavern today, an exact replica of
the cellar where the Beatles were discovered in the 1960s.
When the original was demolished in 1973, it
seemed that the Cavern was gone forever.
But here, on the same site, the past lives on, side-by-side with
the present and the future.
We are going into here.
This is like a secret room, it's like Mr Benn.
This is the Cavern Live Lounge Stage.
If's our biggest stage.
Is this where Adele played?
It is, yeah.
This stage itself has its own history.
Importantly, it is where Paul played in 1999.
# I'll never dance with another, since I saw her
# standing there #.
The various incarnations of the venue and all
the signage here have led to a lot of confusion about where the
original cellar was, even here in Liverpool.
Hopefully, we will clear all that up in the next half hour.
The story of the Cavern is a weird and
wonderful one and one which began 60 years ago, in January 1957.
Like many good story, it started over a
few beers in the pub.
Alan Sytner was the son of a Liverpool doctor.
A fairly wealthy young man, with a passion for jazz.
One day, in 1956, he was having a drink with mates.
We used to meet up at the Grapes in Matthew Street.
And he said, do you know, I was in Paris and there is a
jazz club there and it opened early in the evening, so people came
straight from work.
He said, we should have a place like that.
We could even open at lunchtime.
He said he had to find a place like a
basement or something.
We came out of the Grapes and walked up Matthew
Street and there was four of us there and I don't know who it was,
but one of us and said, hey, Alan, what about that place there?
And there was a sign for a basement, for
sale or let.
Anyway, the next day, we met up again at lunchtime and he
said, I've got that place.
I've bought it.
Peter was a keen musician who would end up playing at the
Cavern with his band The Dolphins, so he was happy to volunteer when
Sytner asked for some muscle.
It was actually three rooms.
And there was one big room.
So these walls had to come down.
He said, I will get the sledgehammers and we'll get a barrel
of ale and we will go down one night to knock the walls down.
Which we did.
And I was just thinking afterwards, I mean, the whole thing
could have come down on top of us!
Launch night was set for January the 16th, 1957.
Sytner had promised a VIP to open Liverpool's
I was putting the chairs out and all publicity said that the Earl
of Wharncliffe was going to come and officially open it.
Anyway, I said when is the Earl coming?
He said, well, he in't, I just used his name.
He opened a piece of paper and he said, I have to tell you, folks,
that's because of bereavement, the Earl will not be with
us this evening.
I am sure you will all join with me in sending our condolences.
That was typical Alan.
The headliners that evening were the Merseysippi Jazz Band.
But the bill also included some lads from the
Wirral, who called themselves the Coney Island Skiffle Group.
We went down very well, naturally.
I think we were reasonably good, but
I think another reason was that they had been sitting
there in New Orleans, listening to jazz, which was
great, when all of a sudden, they had something different on.
Somebody singing songs that they knew, songs
you could join in with.
And it was very hot in there.
It was so hot that when it first started, we went
into the dressing room, I actually fainted.
Somebody had to carry me outside to get some fresh air.
So my only claim to fame was the first
person to have fainted in the Cavern.
Sytner clearly realised that jazz wasn't the
only music in town.
He introduced the Liverpool Skiffle Championships.
We would have 20 skiffle groups in one evening,
each going on and on about one number each.
The amazing thing was, each skiffle
group had its own following.
The skiffle bands were tolerated, but in
reality, they were a kind of Trojan Horse
for a new type of music that
would change everything.
One skiffle band were just about ready to
make that change.
The Quarrymen were led by a confident young chap called
At the Cavern, he wanted to do things his way.
John had a couple of rock 'n' roll numbers and
somebody passed a piece of paper and over the he said, oh, we have a
request from the audience.
They opened it and said, do not do any more
rock 'n' roll, signed, the management.
So apparently, we were not the only band that got that kind of note
given to us.
Rock 'n' roll was coming.
It's like King Canute trying to hold back the waves.
It wasn't going to happen.
Eventually, there was more and more rock 'n' roll and
eventually, as you know, it became pretty much
a rock 'n' roll place.
Like most bands, the Quarrymen had a regular change of personnel.
For the last performance at the Cavern,
the line-up was John, Paul, George and...
The more we played rock 'n' roll, the more people got
up and left.
John was quite beside himself.
He kept turning round to me and say, they're all leaving!
Can't believe this,
they are all leaving.
John needn't have worried.
They were not leaving, they were dancing.
Everybody was jiving in the side aisles.
You couldn't jive next to the chairs,
so they're doing it in the aisles.
We couldn't see that, because it was too dark.
The whole place was jiving, it was fantastic.
That was John, Paul, George and myself.
By 1960, there was a new man in charge
of the Cavern.
Ray McFall discovered rock 'n' roll by accident.
The first time rock 'n' roll came to the Cavern was
at Liverpool Jazz Festival in January 1960.
And they had booked Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, thinking
they were skiffle band, and they HAD been a skiffle band, but Rory
thought, let's do rock 'n' roll and he jumped on the piano and sang
Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On.
When Ray McFall realised what was happening, he said, we better
have some of that at the Cavern.
The floodgates opened and then, Ray McFall had his genius idea.
A lunchtime session.
The first bands he invited were the boys who used to
be in the Quarrymen, now calling themselves the Beatles.
And another band called Jerry the Pacemakers.
I said, OK.
He said with Paul McCartney, alternate days.
We tried it the following week, alternate days,
us and them, and never looked back.
They used to be packed.
All the girls would come from the offices and
the lads at lunchtime.
We would queue up in Matthew Street, waiting to get in, and you
could hear the throb, throb, throb of the beat inside.
There was a small doorway to the Cavern and 18
stone steps to go down.
There would be a guy sitting at a wooden table
taking the money as you went in.
And you would pay your shilling to get
in and then you would be part of the excitement.
Because it was a cellar club, there was this
It was a dungeon, really.
It was a smelly place, because there were no drains,
no main drains, just a cesspit
underneath the toilets.
The cleaners used to top it up with disinfectant
And the condensation running down the walls, everybody
would be perspiring, because it was so hot in there.
It was like a steam bath.
But that's what made the Cavern.
The Cavern was run by two people who could not have been less
rock 'n' roll, really.
Ray McFall looked like an accountant and he was
And so he left the booking of the groups with
Bob Wooler was really interested in people like Frank
Sinatra and Dean Martin, that type of thing,
but he quickly attuned to
the rock 'n' roll sound and he loved working with these people.
This is the only footage of the Beatles
playing at the Cavern.
Drummer Pete Best had just been replaced by
The Fab Four were about to become a global phenomenon.
They were special.
They had something you could not put your finger on.
They were apart from all the other groups
and all the other groups were very good, but they had something else.
They were different.
And it was infectious.
It changed my life.
Absolutely changed my life.
I knew, the minute I saw the Beatles playing
in the cavern, that's what I wanted to become,
a professional musician.
And three days later, I left school and became
a professional musician, which I still am!
By that time, all the bands wanted to play the Cavern,
because we realised that this was the place with the best
music in Liverpool.
It was like three bands playing on the lunchtime sessions,
there was the Beatles, the Big Three and Gerry and the Pacemakers.
Three great bands.
The Big Three were huge favourites are the Cavern and even
had a song which celebrated the club's own dance.
Everybody that was a regular, a Cavernite, knew
how to do the Cavern Stomp.
Instead of holding your hands up to jive,
you would hold them lower and your shoulders hunched
and you would swing and sway like this you take
your hands right up and then you both whirled
round and came back again to do
it all over again.
There was no alcohol served at the Cavern and the
girl who worked on the snack bar and in the cloakroom often got on stage
to sing with Gerry and the others.
The rest of the Cilla Black story is history.
She just walked in, said, can I sing?
Yeah, come on, get on.
This is our cellar.
And that was it.
She just got up and did it.
And a star was born.
# Do you love me?
# You love me?#.
Two men immersed in Cavern culture are now presenters on
Billy Butler was in a band called the Tuxedos and
spent years as a DJ in the club.
Frankie Connor played in the Hideaways,
a band who played there
over 300 times.
It was the girls and the music, that's what it was.
No booze, of course, though we were drinking
anyway, but it was about
music and about the girls.
That was what it was about.
He was a great talisman, if you like, for the
Cavern, Bob Wooler, wasn't he?
He was really in the fabric of the place.
He had a great vision, did Bob, as well.
When you look at some of the groups who appeared
here, you know, it took a vision to book some of them.
They booked lots of out-of-town bands, you know?
He really did have his finger
on what was happening, Bob.
Bob was the Cavern.
He was the Cavern.
He was also a natural in front
of the camera.
It's really just a cellar, here in Matthew St.
A tunnel of brick in a cramped and twisted
part of town.
But from this basement, the Mersey Beat boiled over and covered
And it's still turned up high, as we shall
see in just a moment.
The success of the Beatles meant that the Cavern
was THE place to play.
Bands in the UK and America all queued
up to appear.
The Rolling Stones, the Kinks, the young Rod Stewart and an
even younger Stevie Wonder, all performed on the Cavern stage.
Oh, and this lot weren't bad either.
Its international reputation was illustrated in 1965, when a French
TV show broadcast live from the Cavern.
Gene Vincent, Sandie Shaw and Manfred Mann were among those
introduced by a bilingual Petula Clark.
SHE INTRODUCES IN FRENCH
Gerry And The Pacemakers!
# Life goes on day after day.
Despite this global recognition, not all was well in the office.
And in February '66, things reached a head.
It was always precarious at the Cavern.
It was always precarious.
When we got our brown envelope at the end of the week
with the money in, we were never sure whether we would get it.
I turned up at the session on Sunday night and Ray said this will be
the last session at the Cavern.
We are closing after this, the bailiffs are coming in tomorrow.
We were stunned.
That was it.
While the session was in progress, after midnight, they started taking
tables and chairs and putting them up the stairs so people
couldn't get in.
And it remained that way until 12 o'clock the next day.
We played for hours.
The show was removed and in came the bailiffs.
It doesn't matter.
I'm still not sure how they got in, the police.
But they did.
We had a protest march through town, we all had home-made banners
and we all sang I am sad.
The protesters got their way.
Within five months, the Cavern had new owners.
One of them was local businessmen Alf Geoghegan.
Dad came to me and said, I have the chance of buying
the Cavern, what do you think?
Well, you offer a child a key to a sweet shop,
it is not going to say no!
Once again, there was a VIP opening only this time
the VIP actually came.
A new look super look extended Cavern was being
opened by the Premier.
It was all change at the Cavern.
New types of bands were booked, it had a drinks licence
for the first time and finally proper toilets, ventilation
and a fire escape!
In 1968, it also had a surprise visitor.
So, Debbie had her picture taken with Paul McCartney.
He said, I have got my new girlfriend in the car outside
and I would like to bring her back and show her where it all began.
And it was girlfriend Linda who took the picture.
In 1970, Alf Geoghegan decided to sell up.
One of the new owners was former wrestler and body-builder Roy Adams.
He extended it, he made the ground floor into northern soul disco
which was the thing.
So, downstairs was the original Cavern and northern soul
so it was effectively two nightclubs which was great.
For Roy, it was perfect.
Neither the northern soul nor the heavy rock in the cellar
downstairs appealed to the one man who had seen and heard it all.
Paddy Delaney had been the Cavern's dorrman since 1959 but by 1971,
he was pining for the good old days of Mersey beats.
The old atmosphere seemed so magical at the time, electric.
Everything was happening, people coming and going,
you don't see it now.
It is like a graveyard at the moment.
But my firm belief is at the resurrection happen again.
But those dreams turned out to be pie in the sky.
Liverpool was changing.
A new underground rail system was being built,
British Rail decided the best place for a ventilation shaft
was Matthew street.
So, they slapped a compulsory purchase order on the Cavern.
My dad had no idea there was a compulsory purchase order on it.
So, he was really shocked.
He lobbied everyone, the local MP, the council,
British Rail and said all this and they just went, no, the truck
was rolling so no stopping it.
That was it.
I don't think the right people to save the Cavern were running
the council at the time.
The people running the council were of my parents age group
so the Cavern didn't mean very much to them.
It was just another club, why shouldn't it go, it doesn't matter.
Nobody saw the historical importance of it.
So, on the 5th of June 1973, the wrecking ball swung into action
and the Cavern was demolished.
Roy Adams opened a new venue on the other side of Mathew street
and took the Cavern name with him.
They said he could have saved the Cavern.
There was no truth in that at all.
If he opened the new Cavern opposite and it would've been cheaper to keep
the original and have it as it is.
Rather than take the chance of opening over the road.
When it went over the road, it was to be the same music scene,
more of the same, really.
But it wasn't the same.
It just wasn't.
The new Cavern simply didn't work and was eventually split into two
clubs with new names.
One of them became Eric's itself a legendary venue
for a different generation.
The original Cavern sign hung up on the wall here for years
which is why so many people thought this was the site
of the original Cavern.
Across the road, they never built the ventilation shaft.
Instead, it became a car park.
The Cavern story was over, so people thought.
In 1980, everything changed.
Both sides of the Atlantic, to the murder of the former
Beatle, John Lennon.
He was shot dead outside his home in New York.
One of the people deeply affected by John Lennon's death was Liverpool
architect and former Cavern regular David Backhouse.
The next morning, I got up at eight o'clock and started drawing
and I drew for 12 hours and at the end of that 12 hours,
I designed the embryonic Cavern Walks with the Cavern
in the basement.
And that is how it started.
And so Cavern Walks, a designer shopping centre was built
in Mathew Street on the site of the original Cavern.
The cellar was dug out and incorporated into the development.
What would you say to some people who say, it is not
the original Cavern?
Well, it isn't.
It is slightly away from the original one but the size is
and the bricks are from the original Cavern.
It is as near as we could possibly get because the foundations,
when you put the building up 11 floors like this, you have
to go down a long way.
We scraped the site and the arches were there.
So, we know the size of the Cavern is exactly the same
size as the old one.
So, in 1984, the Cavern was born again.
It was rebuilt using many of the same bricks,
had the same address as the original and the entrance was right
here on the same spot created by Alf Geoghegan in 1966 but anyone
who thought the old magic would instantly return was sadly mistaken.
Several owners tried and failed to make a success of the Cavern
and it even closed again for a while.
Then, in 1991 a new team took over.
It wasn't really until Bill and Dave Jones got
hold of the Cavern that things change dramatically.
They had been running Cavern city tours, they knew about tourism
in the area and they realised the Cavern should both be for older
people who wanted a reminder of what the Cavern's heritage
was and new people who wanted to hear new music and new bands.
And there were different audiences.
Today, the Cavern is once again all about live music.
During the day, the traditional arch stage rings out
with musical memories.
My passion was Liverpool, I have always been proud of the city
I live in and I knew it could be turned around one day
and the Cavern, the Beatles, the Beatles's industry has been
a major factor in Liverpool becoming a global destination today.
It is not just the Cavern, it is part of that destination.
Where have you come from?
Adelaide, South Australia.
I am from Tennessee in the United States.
Antonio and Francesca from Milan.
I moved to Liverpool because of the Beatles.
What do you say to people who say it isn't the original Cavern?
I just cringe.
We know it is not the original Cavern.
We don't pretend that it is.
But where we are sitting now, is where the original Cavern was.
In hindsight, you could say we ended up with a better venue anyway
on the same site so rarely did we lose anything.
One thing the new Cavern did have was more room,
including this larger stage which was ideal for the bigger acts.
As the 20th century drew to a close, it was to play host to the biggest
act of all, one of the Cavern's favourite sons had decided
it was time to come home.
This one isn't from the 50s or the 90s.
# She was just 17!
# You know what I mean.
# And the way she looked, was way beyond compare...
And another Beatles connection was reinforced in 2004
when John Lennon's half sister became a part owner
of the new Cavern.
How do you think he would feel about his little sister
being a co-owner of this?
I think he would think it was hysterical as I do.
It was a huge risk but I did not see it at the time.
I was just so, I thought it was a privilege to be
invited to join in.
And it has been the best thing I have done.
Bands like Travis, Elbow and the Arctic Monkeys have
all played here and Adele launched her album 21
on the Cavern's stage.
Since Adele's appearance, the names have kept coming.
The Wanted, Jesse J, even Yoko Ono and then one
of the UK's hottest new talents chose the Cavern
to play a secret gig.
It is a legendary venue.
I think you just need to read a bit of the history to realise
what an amazing place it is.
It was great to play acoustic because you can hear that sound
reflecting back of the venue walls and I'm sure those walls have seen
a lot of things in its past.
It is about the atmosphere and the energy the place creates
and when I had a show there, I had a great time and it is
something I will always remember.
The Cavern is holding a 60th birthday party to celebrate the day
it was opened as a jazz club.
There is a new statue of Cilla to mark the occasion,
a full on party in both bars, and '70s star entertaining on main
stage and even a turn from those quarrymen who did not go
on to become Beatles.
It is like no other place, you play big stadiums all over
the world but coming back to the Cavern is like coming home.
We would never have dreamt 60 years ago this would become
such a phenomenal thing.
It has done.
Even now it is still grabbing you as you come in.
You cannot go into the Cavern without tapping your foot
or fingers or something.
You are in the moment.
There was a great deal of passion and heart goes into this place.
It is almost like we are holding the baby, the Cavern
belongs to the world.
It means everything to everyone.
But at the heart of it is the music.
It is a major tourist attraction, of course, but importantly
it is a thriving live music venue.
That is the key.
I think without question the Cavern is the most
famous club in the world.
You think of any other clubs and they just don't
match up to the Cavern.
Popular music would not have been the same without the Beatles,
not without the Cavern and there are not many clubs you can
say have changed popular music in such a major way.
It seems to me everyone who has been involved with the Cavern,
the old or the new club, have formed an emotional
attachment to it.
They have done it with real love which is quite extraordinary.
And whatever happens to the club, it always kept bouncing back.
As long as there is live music, there will always
be the Cavern club.
Looking good, baby!
Let's see you move.
MUSIC: Ebony by Young Fathers
# Young, unassuming Eucalyptus blooming
Can be wonderful, can be terrifying.
What did you say?
It's something that drags you in and crushes you to nothing.
Ted Robbins traces the history of Liverpool's legendary Cavern Club, sixty years after it first opened its doors. Controversially closed, demolished and reopened, the place that put The Beatles on the road to global superstardom has a rich and often torrid history.