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May 2019. It was early evening on Mathew Street and I was about to tick off another holy grail sight on what had already been an amazing bucket list year for me and my little blog. Finally, over thirty-four years since I first heard a Beatles record (I think it was Rubber Soul), I was heading into the world-famous Cavern Club where that rock ‘n’ roll band made two hundred and ninety-two appearances between 1961 and 1963.
May 2019. Dubbed “The most famous club in the world”, The Cavern Club is a venue steeped in musical history, even if you were to remove The Beatles from its narrative. It first opened its doors in January 1957 by a dude called Alan Sytner who wanted it to be Liverpool’s premier Jazz club.
May 2019. It was a special feeling descending those steps into the underground lair that is The Cavern Club. Everyone who comes here wants to get a photo with the sign on the way down, but it’s really tricky as a queue forms on one side of the steps and on the other you’ve got impatient foot traffic scurrying up and down.
May 2019. When Steppers and I finally came out into the Cavern Club’s main chamber we were met by just the scene I’d expected from all those photos and documentaries over the years. Teeming with people, we ducked under one of the signature stone arches towards the bar, while nearby dozens of people joyously group-danced to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline.
John Lennon was the first Beatle to play at The Cavern Club. He came here in August 1957, just six months after the place opened to perform with his band The Quarry Men. It was their first gig and they’d been given special permission to play skiffle at the club, rather than standard jazz. But the band famously defied the rules by knocking out a cover of Elvis Presley’s Don’t Be Cruel mid-set. Apparently it was club owner Sytner himself who ordered Lennon to “cut out the rock ‘n’ roll!” Needless to say The Cavern Club has its own glass case in tribute to The Quarry Men featuring signed memorabilia from the original members.
Five months after The Quarry Men made their Cavern Club debut they were back again, this time with new member Paul McCartney, who’d joined the group following his famous meeting with Lennon at St. Peter’s Church Garden Fete in Woolton. By the early 1960s beat bands and rock n’ roll outfits were regularly playing The Cavern, including Rory Storm and the Hurricanes with Ringo Starr on drums. The Beatles’ first ever Cavern gig was on the 9th of February 1961 and the lineup that day was John Lennon, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. It was exactly nine months later that Brian Epstein wandered in to catch the boys, setting off a remarkable chain of events that would see the group shoot to global superstardom. Today The Cavern Club displays a cluster of framed black and white photographs showing The Beatles performing those early shows. Simply magical.
No matter what time of day you come to The Cavern club, there’s usually a singer up on stage belting out classic tunes in tribute to the artists who’ve played here. The performer that night knocked out a mix of Beatles songs, including Lady Madonna, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and Here Comes The Sun. The atmosphere was infectiously positive, with people clapping, dancing and singing along, seemingly high from just being at this special venue.
It would be criminal to provide an overview of The Cavern Club and not mention Cilla Black, a local girl who worked here as a cloakroom attendant just as The Beatles were starting to gather momentum. A talented singer herself, who was friends with both Ringo and John, Cilla also began performing at The Cavern before Epstein snapped her up too with a management contract. Cilla went on to enjoy a fantastic career as a singer with eleven top ten hits, including the number one singles Anyone Who Had A Heart and You’re My World. And all of that was before she became Britain’s most popular TV star as presenter of the shows Blind Date and Surprise, Surprise. Both programs were staples of my TV-watching childhood.
You can also check out Cilla Black’s lovely memorial statue outside The Cavern Club on Mathew Street. It was added in 2017 as part of The Cavern’s 60th anniversary celebrations. For those wanting to find out more about Cilla Black, I highly recommend the excellent TV series Cilla, starring Sheridan Smith.
As much as Steppers and I were loving The Cavern Club vibe that night, it was just too hellishly busy to explore at leisure. So we ended up slipping out and returning the next morning for the free guided tour. Yes that’s right, The Cavern offers visitors a free 45-minute tour every weekday (except Wednesdays) starting at 10:30 outside the main entrance. Our guide that day was a local guy called Dale Roberts: Beatles expert, Liverpool City tour guide and The Cavern Club’s social media manger to boot. And it took just a few minutes in Dale’s company to see that he adores The Beatles and loves his job showing people around The Cavern.
Dale did an excellent job giving us a clear overview of The Cavern Club’s complicated history. He was also very keen to dispel the myth that today’s Cavern Club is not at the original site, as many people mistakenly believe. There is so much confusion out there regarding The Cavern and its current location, thankfully they have themselves produced this very clear overview of what’s happened with the iconic building over the years.
The free tour also gets you into The Cavern Live Lounge, where some legendary gigs have been played over the years including the likes of Oasis, Travis, The Arctic Monkeys and Adele. You can also book tickets to see The Cavern Club Beatles here! Dale will get you right up onto the stage and regale you with some great stories.
But the most legendary Cavern Live Lounge gigs of all have to be the two occasions Paul McCartney himself took to the stage. The first was back on December the 14th 1999, when three hundred people squeezed in to see his first gig here in over 46 years. Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour and Deep Purple’s Ian Paice joined him onstage that night.
Paul’s second appearance was in July 2018 when he did a secret gig for two hundred and fifty people, one hundred and seventy five of which raced across the city to collect free tickets from The Echo Arena Box Office. Macca did an impressive twenty eight songs that evening, including Beatles tracks, Wings numbers and some solo stuff.
With the free tour over, Steppers and I headed back up to the Cavern’s front room where this time things were much quieter. Exploring at my own pace, I was able to have my photo taken in front of the stage and investigate all the amazing cases of memorabilia.
At some point the afternoon performer came on and we were treated to one last Beatles medley before we went back out onto Mathew Street. My visit to Liverpool’s Cavern Club was a magical, magical experience that ranks right up there in the Leighton Literature hall of fame. Not that I’ve actually made one yet, but y’know… one day.
Interested in finding out more about The Cavern Club? Take a look at their official website here.
For more on the greatest rock band in history, check out my other articles on The Beatles In Liverpool. Alternatively, have a read about my visit to Abbey Road in London, or check out my review of The White Album.
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