Liverpool’s Cavern Club is the cradle of British pop music. Impressively, 55 years after its foundation, it survives and thrives as a contemporary music venue. Through seven eventful decades, before, during and after The Beatles this legendary cellar has seen its share of setbacks yet has played a role in each epoch of music, from 1950s jazz to 21st century indie rock.
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 de la Huchettejazz club in Paris. He eventually found a fruit warehouse where people were leasing the cellar, before this it was used as an air raid shelter in WWII The club was opened on 16 January 1957. The first act to perform at the opening of the club was the Merseysippi Jazz Band.
What started as a jazz club eventually became a hangout for skiffle groups. Whilst playing golf with Sytner’s father, Dr. Joseph Sytner, Nigel Walley—who had left school at 15 to become an apprentice golf professional at the Lee Park Golf Club—asked Dr. Sytner if his son could book The Quarrymen at The Cavern, which was one of three jazz clubs he managed. Dr. Sytner suggested that the band should play at the golf club first, so as to assess their talent. After performing at the golf club Sytner phoned Walley a week later and offered the band an interlude spot playing skiffle between the performances of two jazz bands at The Cavern, on Wednesday, 7 August 1957.
Before the performance, the Quarrymen argued amongst themselves about the set list, as rock ‘n roll songs were definitely not allowed at the club, but skiffle was tolerated. After opening with a skiffle song, John Lennon called for the others to start playing an Elvis Presley song, “Don’t Be Cruel“. Rod Davis 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”. 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.)
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.
The club hosted its first performance by The Beatles on Thursday 9 February 1961. 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.