Macca at the Cavern

Macca at the Cavern

Daily Mail, July 2018

The place won’t have looked the same, that’s for sure. Not the way it did when Paul made his debut at the Cavern with the Beatles at lunchtime on February 21, 1961. It can’t, because it isn’t the same. It isn’t even in the same place – the original Cavern having been demolished in a fit of Liverpool lunacy back in the Seventies.

The club that Paul McCartney played in yesterday, though it’s in the same Mathew Street, and has been a tourist focal point for thirty years, is a heritage rebuild, like a tutti-frutti Globe Theatre, close to the sacred spot of legend, if not actually on it.

It doesn’t matter. The fans who attended, or who will view the film when it’s shown, won’t mind. Paul isn’t the same as that 18 year old youth who first went there, and nor are the fans who saw him there then.

How many can actually remember how the Cavern was in those days? I don’t mean the Cavern of legend, the fabled spring from which the river of the Sixties spouted, bringing with it that tidal wave of colourful teenage fashion, youthful optimism, mini-skirts, the Pill, drugs and rock and roll.

That wasn’t the Cavern– a place that until then had been a jazz club. All that came later in the Sixties, when it seemed that the world gone into Technicolor.

The Cavern that the Beatles knew was a monochrome world in a then unfashionable city that owed more to the Fifties than the Sixties – just a doorway in a warehouse in a cobbled alleyway.

Not far from the Pier Head, the club’s entrance was surrounded for much of the day by trucks and vans disgorging, or picking up, boxes of fresh produce, the essence of which would lace the surrounding atmosphere with the cloying aroma of ripening fruit.
Inside, seventeen steps led to three airless, barrel-shaped cellars, with a couple of smaller ones to the sides, where, in the days before anyone worried too much about ventilators or air conditioning, the walls would quickly become damp with teenage

Paul’s father used to think the place was a health hazard with all that sweat and electricity locked in there together.

Although, over the couple of years that the Beatles played in the Cavern and their local fame grew, students would start to attend, most of their first audiences were made up of working class young people in their first jobs from offices and shops in the surrounding district.

They called themselves Cavernites, and they only got into the club if they adhered to some strict rules. While the Beatles were allowed to wear the black leather stage suits they’d brought back from Hamburg where they’d recently been playing, the fans had to be much more circumspect in their dress.

For instance, jeans weren’t allowed. Boys in denim, it was believed by the management, were the ‘rougher types’, and therefore not welcome.

The girls who might attend at lunchtime sessions would mainly be typists, shopworkers or hairdressers’ assistants and they would have to be appropriately dressed, too, in their sensible, if drab, skirts, and back­combed beehive hair.

Sometimes a girl would have a scarf around her head to hide the curlers in her hair, if she was going on a date that night. At other times, the scarf might be removed just as the Beatle came on the little stage, where the four would joke and tease, eating while they gooned about between songs, all the time keeping a conversation going with the fans who would shout out requests.

Somehow, the Beatles had developed the gift of turning the audience into friends. When something went wrong with an amp or a microphone, as it often did, they didn’t panic and wonder what to say next. Instead they would simply amuse the fans and maybe have a communal singsong until the problem was mended.

For this the Beatles, who would often play two other gigs in other Liverpool venues on the same day, earned a total of £5 for a two­hour session – just over a pound each, with their fans paying a shilling (5p) to get in, where they could swop their Luncheon Vouchers, often given to them by their employers, for a Cavern cob (a roll) and a bowl of soup.

Obviously, there was no alcohol on sale, but a cup of tea cost fivepence (about 2p). As for drugs, they hadn’t yet reached Liverpool. Not even the Beatle had tried them – other than for the amphetamines they’d been given in Germany.

Part of the myth of the Cavern is that the Beatles tried out their early hits for the Cavern audiences. They did, but not often. Lennon and McCartney never thought their own songs were as good as those by Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly that they liked to play, and the audiences really wanted to hear stomping hits they already knew, not songs that might become hits in the future.

That it would be from this modest, cheap chrysalis of a former wine cellar that the Beatles would emerge, fully formed, less than two years later, seems ever more unlikely the further away in time we get from it. Yet it happened.

Was Paul thinking that yesterday?