The Cavern Club, which was to become world-famous after The Beatles performed there nearly 200 times, opened its doors for the first time on the night of 16 January 1957.
The opening bill featured the Merseysippi Jazz Band, the Wall City Jazzmen, the Ralph Watmough Jazz Band and the Coney Island Skiffle Group, and was to be headlined by an act fronted by a drummer known as the Earl of Wharncliffe. On the night, however, the Earl failed to show up.
I was a member of Liverpool Press Club and one of the boys suggested the Earl of Wharncliffe and said they would write about it. In the end, he didn’t show up because he was at Cirencester Agricultural College and he’d had an ultimatum – ‘Stop doing gigs and get back to college or be expelled.’ He was hauled back but he didn’t bother to inform me. Eventually I got a call when everybody was in the club. I had to announce that he wasn’t coming, but nobody was the least bit bothered because everybody was thrilled to be in the Cavern on its opening night. We had good bands on and everybody had a great time. The fact that the Earl never showed up was a much better story than if he had. He did gigs all over the place and so his not showing was a national story.
The Cavern was originally intended to be a jazz and blues venue. It was run by Alan Sytner, who had the idea after visiting Le Caveau de la Huchette at 5 Rue de la Huchette in Paris, France. Prior to it opening, the Cavern was mentioned in various newspapers including the Liverpool Echo and the Melody Maker. Sytner heavily advertised the opening night, which helped ensure it was a success.
The maximum ticket sale that we had was 652, and that was on the opening night where we turned more away than we let in. Only a third of the people got in. We had mounted police to control the queue which stretched for half a mile, but, unlike today, there was no trouble when they told people to go home. We got very close to 652 on several other occasions, but it got very heavy when it got to 600. It’s good to say ‘Sorry, we’re full’ when you’re in the entertainment business. We didn’t get to 600 that often, but when we did, we would say, ‘That’s enough’.
Sytner arranged for the premises at 10 Mathew Street, Liverpool to be converted to a music venue. It had formerly been used as a cellar, air raid shelter and warehouse. The basement was 58 feet by 39 feet, and was 11 feet below street level.
I didn’t like rock ‘n’ roll but the initial plan was to launch Bill Haley and his Comets’ UK tour at the Cavern. They were coming over on a liner and the Daily Mirror thought it would be a good idea if their first appearance was at the Cavern. It was a mad scheme that never happened. There would have been no point in putting on rock ‘n’ roll at the Cavern. There were no local rock ‘n’ roll bands to speak of and hardly any in London.
The building had been reinforced to act as a shelter during World War Two, so the extra bricks had to be dislodged with sledgehammers.
We did it by hand and we were left with a lot of rubble. That was the ideal foundation for the stage, which was made of wood and just went over the bricks. It did a great job of balancing the acoustics, and the acoustics in the Cavern were terrific, absolutely brilliant.
The stage was built by two local carpenters, Harry Harris and his son Ian. Harry was Paul McCartney’s uncle. They also altered the staircase and created a women’s toilet.
We played on the opening night of the Cavern. The Cavern was an old bonded warehouse and someone had lime washed the walls. The unexpected din from the musicians caused the lime wash to flake off. The Wall City Jazz Band from Chester played the first set and they came off looking like snowmen. They were covered from head to foot and Alan Sytner had to do something to stop it happening again. The Cavern must have been a fire officer’s nightmare. There was one entrance and exit combined and it was down a very narrow steep flight of steps. There were no toilets to speak of and conditions like that never exist these days.
The Cavern, Spencer Leigh
The doors to the Cavern opened at 7pm on this first night.
We went into Mathew Street at 6.45pm and there was a queue from the Cavern entrance down to Whitechapel. We managed to get in with our instruments and we made our way to the band room at the side of the stage. It was already full of musical instruments which belonged to the other bands. At one stage I thought that there must be a leak in the premises above as water was pouring down the walls but it was caused by 600 bodies in close confinement. Roger Baskerfield [of the Coney Island Skiffle Group] passed out at one stage and he had to be carried over heads to the door to recover. We performed pretty well and we received £4 between us for our efforts. As it was impossible to get out before the last train to the Wirral, it was all blown on a taxi.
The Cavern, Spencer Leigh
Also on this day...
- 2021: Phil Spector dies
- 1981: UK single release: Woman by John Lennon
- 1980: Paul McCartney is arrested in Japan for marijuana possession
- 1970: John Lennon’s Bag One exhibition is raided by police
- 1969: Get Back/Let It Be sessions: day 10
- 1967: Joe Orton begins writing a script for The Beatles’ third film
- 1965: Live: Another Beatles Christmas Show
- 1964: The Beatles reach number one in America
- 1964: Live: Olympia Theatre, Paris
- 1963: Radio: Here We Go
- 1963: Television: People And Places
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.