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Registration date : 2007-06-27

PostSubject: CAVERN DAYS   Sun 16 Aug 2015, 12:58


I entered my teens in 1960, and the Sixties were a great time to be a teenager. Growing up in the Fifties was lots of fun too. Some writers have slated the Fifties as a dull decade to be a teenager, but it was a great time to be a kid. Me and my mates played, ran, bikes, told tales, built bonfires, and swam during the seemingly endless summers of the fifties. Then came the Sixties.
Much of British pop music was dire; Brylcreemed brothers warbling cover versions of American hits, and saccharine sisters simpering through cute ditties. Rock and Roll was making inroads, but much was subverted by the “Tin Pan Alley” machine. The exceptions were “Move It” by Cliff Richard, and “Shakin’ All Over” by Johnny Kidd and The Pirates; both of which rank alongside any US hits of the time.
In 1960 Cliff’s backing group The Shadows released an instrumental called “Apache” and I really started noticing music.

I spent much of the summer of 1960 as an exchange student in Cologne, and I took a copy of Apache as a present for my German pen-pal.
Cliff and The Shadows had broad appeal. The lads liked the guitars and the girls liked Cliff. Before long everyone and his dog was playing the guitar, and instrumental groups were everywhere. Not all were as cool as the Shadows, check this out:

In 1962 the Shadows appeared at the Empire in Liverpool, and I was given a ticket by my folks. Great show.

It was sometime in 1962 that a schoolmate showed us a copy of “The Merseybeat” with a group called “The Beatles” on the cover.

This group seemed the antithesis to the instrumental bands. The Shadows portrayed uniformity and precision, The Beatles projected rebellion and non-conformity. Strangely, what struck me about that Beatles photo was the strange Violin-shaped bass-guitar, which I later discovered was a Hofner, bought by Paul during their Hamburg days.
I found that Liverpool had its own musical sub-culture, completely divorced from the mainstream British scene, and based in a club called “The Cavern.” Eventually I made my way down there, and my life changed.

The Cavern was located in a side street, which was the centre of the fruit and veg trade. As you descended the narrow stairs the first thing you noticed was the smell; a combination of hot-dog onions, Jeyes Fuid disinfectant and sweat. As the club got crowded the sweat literally ran down the walls. That distinctive smell clung to your clothing for hours afterwards. After a lunchtime session I went to the central library to do some studying and a girl at the next table asked me if I’d just been to the Cavern; she could smell the place on my jacket.

The next thing that hit you was the sound. The club was a set of three brick archways, with the central area in front of the stage with seating, while the side areas were for dancing. The brickwork channelled the sound, and it hit you like a punch. I can’t remember what group was onstage when I first walked in, but I do remember they were playing “Memphis Tennessee” by Chuck Berry, and I’d never heard anything like it. The Merseybeat groups were not technically brilliant, like The Shadows, but they were raw and loud. They used as much amplification in that small, brick cellar as The Shads had used to fill the full size auditorium of The Empire theatre!  Some bands, including The Beatles, had even bigger “coffin amps” made by a guy called Adrian Barber. The Merseybeat sound was literally visceral; the bass beat pounded your belly.

[Fans in the Cavern. Den standing at back]

The guys usually credited the original artist when introducing a song, so I started to hear names like Smokey Robinson, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Barret Strong and Martha Reeves. We never heard these artists on the radio at the time.
Although "Merseybeat" was coined to describe this Liverpool sound it’s fair to say that Hamburg had a fair share of the credit. Since 1960 Liverpool groups had been going over to the German seaport to play in the clubs over there. At the time German pop music [called Shlage] was even more dire that British Tin pan alley offerings, and Hamburg teens loved the raw Liverpool sound. Playing six hours per night they really learned the business. Club managers exhorted the tired musicians to mach shau [put on a show] so the lads also learned how to entertain an audience.
The long sessions encouraged the groups to expand their playlists, adding music from many sources. The Beatles used their own material too. Even at this early stage they were writing their own songs, and some which were later bit hits were actually penned during the Hamburg days.
In 1963 the Cavern linked up with the BBC to make a program in Hamburg. Called Wacker mach shau the program took a group of Cavern regulars, together with the management, including DJ Bob Wooler, over to Hamburg. I was fortunate to get a free place on the trip. We flew by Starways charter Dakota aircraft from Speke Airport [now Liverpool John Lennon Airport] to Hamburg.

[This is the aircraft we flew in. I flew in that same aircraft again in 2006]

On arrival we were told that President Kennedy had been assassinated, so that fixes the dates of the trip in my mind forever.

We were taken to our hotel, which was on the Reeperbahn, the main street in the famous St Pauli red-light area. Just around the corner was Grosse Feiheit, the side street where the Star Club was located. We wandered down there and were given membership cards and badges. The Star Club was totally different to the Cavern. A former cinema it had a proper stage, with excellent amplification. Stage manager was Adrian Barber, of “coffin amp” fame.

Liverpool groups were still favoured, and the great Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, who I'd previously seen on the Cavern, were doing a residency.
St Pauli was a revelation, another world. Walking round at the streets were thronged, clubs booming. At that time everything in Liverpool closed at 10.30pm, and soon after the city was deserted. In St Pauli it was all night action, with countless  strip clubs trying to entice you inside. Because we were wearing Star Club lapel pins we were not pestered by the pimps and prostitutes, because Manfred Weissleder, who owned the Star Club was the most feared “businessman” in the town.

[Star Club lapel pin]

I walked round in amazement, but to me the most strange thing was that you could buy a curry-wurst snack in the middle of the night!

[Gretel & Alfons, a favourite cafe of The Beatles]

In 1964 Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins appeared at a show in Liverpool. It was superb. The venue was the Odeon cinema, and the place rocked as Chuck Berry, backed by Liverpool and Hamburg favourites Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes pounded out a stream of classics. Another great act on the bill was the Animals, and they premiered their “House of the Rising Sun” in the show.

I also got to see Little Richard, but that was many, many years later, when I was working at a large complex that had a nightclub and a theatre. I popped into the theatre to watch a couple of numbers before my stint began on the club, and, despite being over 70 Little Richard was belting out his hits.
In 1965 I was doing Judo in the same place that we now use for training with the Gutterfighters, when a chap came in to put up a poster advertising a Karate exhibition at St Georges Hall. I went to the show, featuring Masters Kase, Kanazawa, Enoeda and Shirai, and the following Sunday enrolled at the Red Triangle Karate Club. I noticed one of the seniors was a guy who worked on the Cavern door, and the next time I went to the Cavern I introduced myself to the doorman, whose name was Terry O’Neill, and the rest is history.

[Terry on the Cavern door]


In 2013 I returned to Hamburg, and visited all the sites relevant to the Beatles/Merseybeat story. Here is a video presentation of that trip….

Click to play video

Recommended reading
These books by Spencer Leigh are extremely well researched:

Cavern, The: The Most Famous Club in the World

The Beatles in Hamburg:

Cross reference this thread


Check Six,
Dennis Martin
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