Cavern

'The Beginning'

Liverpool in the 1950s, like so many other cities in Britain, was recovering from the effects of the second world war. Liverpool had been, for over a century, the centre for merchant shipping and the area around the docks was the heart of a vast industry, employing thousands of Liverpudlians. From shipbuilding to commerce, Liverpool was a buzzing hive of activity where, similar to much of the country, young people were beginning to find a new identity. The post-war boom had seen incomes expand with jobs in plentiful supply and more disposable income in people's pockets. For the youth of the Fifties the new-found freedom from the harshness of war would soon manifest itself in a new culture. The youngsters of Liverpool were to become passionate about a different and exciting form of music from America called Rock 'n' Roll and a certain young singing truck driver called Elvis Presley. Very soon, the clubs around Liverpool, which had previously moved to the beat of music from the Big Band sounds of the Forties to the emergence of Jazz, would begin to take an interest in this wild, new-found sound from the U.S.A. Many were of the opinion that Rock 'n' Roll was just a passing phase, but they were so very wrong.

The best of cellars
Inside the 'best of cellars'
In Liverpool, one such club would soon be known the world over as the birthplace of the greatest musical revolution in history - The Cavern. The club can nowadays be found in a former basement cellar at number 10 Mathew Street, Liverpool 2, which is situated just off Liverpoolís city centre, but during the 1950ís no shopper would ever have wandered down this narrow byway. It was then little more than two rows of seven-storey warehouses where, throughout the day, lorry loads of fruit and vegetables were off-loaded.
During the war the basement at 10 Mathew Street had been used as an air raid shelter and was later utilised to store wines and spirits. In 1956 the main building was in use as a storage area for electrical goods, but the downstairs cellar was vacant. . . .
Mathew Street 1930s
A rare picture of Mathew Street taken during the 1930s

The man who created The Cavern club was called Alan Sytner. Prior to The Cavern, Alan had owned two other nightclubs in Liverpool - the West Coast Jazz Club and the 21 Jazz Club. These were fairly successful, but Alan wanted to open a new and much more innovative establishment. He desperately needed an unusual idea for the new venture and, while on a holiday in France, he found it on a visit to Paris's Jazz district on the West Bank where many clubs were actually built into caves. Alan decided that the design for the new club would be based on one of the Paris clubs he particularly liked called 'Le Caveau'. The club resembled a series of caves, each small and damp but amazingly atmospheric. Sound travelled around the club beautifully, especially the sound of the jazz trumpet of which Alan was a great fan. Back in Liverpool, Alan began his search for a similar venue in the city centre, eventually setting his sights on a group of cellars in Mathew Street which seemed to be perfect. With their small archways and lengthy vaults, the cellars hugely resembled the caves of Paris and Alan had found his venue.

Cavern card 1961               Cavern card 1964

'The Doors Open'

On 16th January 1957 the 'Cavern' club opened its doors for the first time. On the opening bill that night were 'The Merseysippi Jazz Band' - little did they know it, but they were playing the opening night of the 20th century's most famous nightclub. 2000 people queued up to get into the club on that opening night, with only 600 people being allowed in. The Cavern was an instant success - within 3 years membership totalled an unparalleled 20,000 people, bands came to play there from all over the world and the club became a national focal point in the UK Jazz scene. History was, in 1959, already being made. A single white bulb lighted the doorway into The Cavern and eighteen stone steps led you down into the cellar which was divided by archways into three long, dimly-lit tunnels.

The walls were painted black and there were no curtains or decorations. The first tunnel area was used to collect money and was also utilised as a cloakroom, with a room at the end which adjoined the stage that served as the bands' dressing room. The middle tunnel was the largest and contained the stage itself and rows of wooden chairs. All the lighting was concentrated onto the stage and, again, consisted of white bulbs. The third tunnel area was used for dancing.

Inside the club temperatures were high and during 1957 the local council sent public health inspectors into the club to obtain air samples. Outside it was a modest 52 degrees Fahrenheit, but inside the club it was 82 degrees - a marked difference considering that the club had no heating! Itís also amazing that the club was such a success as The Cavern did not have a licence to sell any alcohol. Only soft drinks were sold inside the club, but many teenagers would smuggle in alcohol in small hip flasks. The place to go for a drink was just across the narrow street at 'The Grapes' pub, where the bands that had just finished their stint at The Cavern would often join other performers and their fans in a cooling drink or two.