The Cavern

'The Skiffle Era'

While mainstream Jazz played centre stage at The Cavern in its early days, another musical genre called 'Skiffle' was forcing its way onto The Cavern's play list. "A type of folk music with Jazz and Blues influence", Skiffle music was a true home-grown form of music played on homemade instruments comprising of a washboard, a tea chest bass, an acoustic guitar and, if you were lucky enough to know someone who had some, a set of drums.

Though well-established in the US since the 1940's, Skiffle only really became popular in the UK during the late 50's. One such young Skiffle band who performed there on 7th August 1957 were The Quarrymen, whose leader was 17-year old John Lennon from Woolton. The band had just recently acquired a new member, 15-year old Paul McCartney from Allerton, but Paul did not perform with them on this particular night as he was away at scout camp!

Paul had met the band on 6th July that year at the Woolton Church garden fete. Bandleader John Lennon was impressed by the young McCartney’s knowledge of song lyrics and his talent on the guitar and asked him to join a few days later.

The Famous Grapes
Famous watering hole of the Sixties Cavernites and still serves a great pint today.

The Quarrymen’s set list on this night consisted of a number of standard Skiffle songs such as ‘Come Go With Me’, originally recorded by the Del-Vikings. However, Lennon’s attempt to throw in songs such as ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ by the young emerging American singer Elvis Presley were greeted by a note sent to the stage by Alan Sytner which read ”Cut out the bloody rock!”. The Quarrymen returned to the club in 1958 on the 24th January, this time with Paul McCartney performing guitar duties.
The following month the Quarrymen had another new member - 14-year old George Harrison from Speke, a school friend of Paul’s.

The Quarrymen would soon disband and out of the nucleus of that band would be formed a new group containing John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, a band that was at the time without a drummer. That was until the three met up with 18-year old Peter Best from West Derby. The embryo Beatles were born.

Beatles 1961
George, Pete, John and Paul, outside the Cavern 1961
Skiffle grew and grew at the club until it was decided to use the Skiffle bands as a launching pad for a new lunchtime opening. The lunchtime sessions were created to target city centre workers who would, during the night time, prefer to socialise in their own respective areas outside the city centre. The sessions proved a huge success and even attracted school children due to its daytime opening and no-alcohol policies.

'Beat is Born'

In 1959 Alan Sytner decided to sell The Cavern after moving to London with his new wife. The buyer was a man called Ray McFall, an accountant and an avid Jazz fan, but notably a person who hated 'Beat' music - the very music that was about to take the world by storm. By 1960 The Cavern was losing a lot of new customers to its competitors around the city - competitors who mainly played Beat music.

McFall had a major dilemma on his hands. Should he continue to keep The Cavern as a predominantly Jazz club and lose custom or adopt the Beat phenomenon and attract a younger crowd with more money to spend?

Cavern queue - Mathew Street 1961

The latter was the decision, but initially only as an experiment. Beat was allocated one night a week (Wednesdays) while Jazz continued to be played every other night. The first Beat night on the 25th May 1960 was headlined by 'Rory Storm and the Hurricanes' whose drummer was a young man from the Dingle area of Liverpool called Richard Starkey, know to his friends as Ringo Starr. The night was a huge success, even though the event was boycotted by the club's older members. Ray McFall realised that a new era was taking shape and he put into operation plans to convert The Cavern into a full-time Beat club.