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The Cavern Club Mathew Street

The Cavern Club Mathew Street, Liverpool

The original Cavern Club opened on Wednesday 16 January 1957 as a jazz club, later becoming a centre of the rock and roll scene in Liverpool in the 1960s. 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 jazz club in Paris. He eventually found a perfect cellar for his club with similar tunnels and arches.  Sytner owned two other nightclubs in Liverpool, the West Coast Jazz Club and 21 Jazz Club. The Cavern was to continue Sytner’s musical preference, and in his eyes, the dank warehouse basement which was used in the Second World War as an air raid shelter, was the perfect setting The first act to perform at the opening of the club was the Merseysippi Jazz Band.

The Quarrymen 1957
Having acquired the club he converted the tunnels beneath Matthew Street into a Liverpuldian equivalent of the Le Caveau jazz club, he named it the Cavern Club. John Lennon, the teenage leader of a skiffle group called The Quarrymen, met Sytner when the band played at Childwall golf club. Alan Sytner booked the Quarrymen to perform at the Cavern Club for an evening performance billed as ‘a skiffle session’. Alan Sytner would not allow rock 'n roll at the club, so they opened with a skiffle song, however, John Lennon called for the others to start playing an Elvis Presley song, "Don't Be Cruel". Rod Davis, the group's then banjo player 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". Although a member of The Quarrymen at this time, Paul McCartney was away at scout camp on this day and so did not play.

Rory Storm and Johnny Guitar Byrne were the first members of Merseybeat to play at The Cavern. They got the gig as a skiffle band and played a few times before others got on to the club. They were also the first band to be kicked off for playing Rock and Roll songs. When the club did turn to Rock and Roll it was them as the Hurricanes who hit the first allowed chord on that very first night. They also played that final night in 1966 when the club closed. Although it opened for a short time later, it was never the Merseybeat club that it had been. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes played a major part in what the Cavern became and as a result contributed to the Cavern being the tourism attraction that it is.

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. 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. 

Alan 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.

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. Cilla Black worked as the hat-check girl there. A recording studio, "Cavern Sound" opened in the basement of an adjoining building, 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 site was left dormant until it was bought in the early 1980s for redevelopment. Liverpool football player Tommy Smith, along a business partner, signed the new lease on the club and a replica club was built on the site in 1984, the same time the Cavern Walks shopping centre opened. The new club, built the opposite way around and deeper underground than the original,  because of the buildings above,occupies 75 per cent of the original site. It was rebuilt using 15,000 bricks saved from the demolition. So the new Cavern is not entirely in the same location.

This photograph shows the original entrance in the foreground (left) and the new Cavern further along Mathew Street.

In an interview in 1998 Alan Sytner said: "Without me, no Cavern: without me, no Beatles: without me, none of those bloody things". Obviously Lennon and McCartney became geniuses and great artists, but answer me this – would they have flourished without the Cavern? If the Beatles had only been playing church halls in Maghull, would anyone have taken any notice?”

Alan Sytner died in France on January 11, 2006 aged 70. The club closed due to financial pressures in 1989, but was reopened in 1991 by Dave Jones and Bill Heckle, Today's acts  have included Adele, Jessie J and The Wanted who have played there in recent years.

With thanks to Anthony Hogan for additional information
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