The Cavern – a view from 1964

Found in Arrows 87 (Summer 1964, edited by Roger Ebbatson) this amusing piece about 'Beat Music.' The magazine was produced by Sheffield University Union and had poems articles, graphics etc., This article was by Peter Roche a poet who was affiliated with the Liverpool Scene. He edited a 1960s anthology Love, Love, Love (The New Love Poetry) and is to be found in various poetry collections and anthologies. He was also a friend of John Peel and Cream lyricist Pete Brown.The article shows how, at the time, The Cavern (the club where the Beatles played and were discovered) was not universally loved...

Beat City by Peter Roche

Let me tell you all  a fairy story. Once upon a time, in a  city far away across the hills to the west, there was an old warehouse, in an alley off a side street. And underneath this warehouse was a cellar, where the local groups used to play their music far into the night. And people who lived on the banks of the river used to go to this cellar, because it was somewhere to go when the pubs had kicked out and you were half cut and there was nowhere else to go, and anyway there was a fair old chance of picking up a judy there. And everyone was fairly happy, minding their own business and having the occasional punch-up.

Until one day the place became famous, and people came from miles around just to look at it (although there was nothing much worth seeing), and they put a big sign up outside telling everybody what it was called (as if we hadn't known its name for years), and they raised the price of admission. So the people who lived on the banks of the river said sod this for a lark, it's cheaper at the Iron Door or the Mardi or the Sink, and the groups are better, and any what you don't get a lot of bloody foreigners gawping at you as though you were in a bloody zoo or something. So they all stopped going there.

And that's why it's no good asking me what the Cavern's like these days, because I haven't been near the place for a year and a half; you'll just have to believe what the glossy weeklies tell you: "The people of Bootle are shy, retiring… the Cavern is a crumbling mansion on the outskirts of town". And for my next trick I will die laughing. Or you could always go and see the place for yourself, of course, but don't blame me it you're disappointed. As I say, the locals don't go there much anymore, and they've even got Southern groups playing there now, as if the place hadn't gone down the nick enough as it was. Of course, if you happen to like the Dave Clark Five… as a mate of mine once said, I wonder how much they pay the bloke that winds them up? According to our kid, who went there about a month back, they've got this character there called Bob Wooler, who introduces the groups and claims to have personally discovered the Beatles. Will all those who personally discovered the Beatles kindly form a line reaching from Lewis's corner to the Pier Head? Thank you, and get lost…

Full of bloody comedians, Liverpool. And groups. There were over three hundred and fifty, last time someone took the trouble to count…

They form a sort of shifting population. When the Merseybeats changed their bass guitarist a while back, the Mirror reported it as though it was a national disaster. But the groups change members and equipment faster than they change their socks. Look at the classifieds in 'Mersey Beat':
Experienced rhythm and blues signer wishes to join professional group.

For sale: Fender Stratocaster, good condition.

Good L/R guitarist (own equip) seeks to join R & B group.

And so on, for a couple of columns. The signs are there alright; if you started in five years ago with Rock, three chords and three quid guitar and hang around for a couple of years while they changed the name to R & B, chances are that today you're a good L/R guitarist (own equip) with a single in the charts and the judies tearing their hair out (or yours) at the Iron Door, the Rumblin Tum, the Mardi Gras. Chances are. The again, you might be knocking off a cool thirty bob a night, playing the fringe clubs, waiting for the Big Break to come along…

Liverpool isn't the place where the Big Beat was born; it's the place where it never died out. When Haley faded into obscurity and Presley switched labels and started recording rubbish, when Tin Pan Alley's A & R boys started peddling watered-down Rock by way of such rugged individualists as Richard, Fury, Steele Faith (Hope? Charity?), the Merseyside groups went right on playing Rock 'n' Roll. Oh alright, so now they call it Rhythm 'n' Blues, but basically it's early Rock. Look at some of the titles - not so much the ones they put on record, but the ones they sings in the clubs - 'Lucille', 'Roll Over Beethoven', 'Good Golly Miss Molly', 'Monkey Business', 'Ready Teddy', 'Memphis': the old Chuck Berry, Little Richard numbers. This current reawakening of interest in the Big Beat is the best thing since the sliced loaf as far as the groups are concerned, but what made it so popular again all of a sudden? Don't ask me; when you've lived in the middle of something for a few years it's difficult to look at it objectively. Perhaps if you go to Liverpool yourself you might find the answer somewhere among the grimy buildings and the narrow back entries, the ferryboats on the river and the drunks signing on the last bus home, the dockside pubs and the dance-hall punch-ups, the ten Woodies and the draught Guinness (More pubs than mugs, an' there's plenty of those), the crowds on the terraces at Anfield or Goodison, the wide boys in the market on a Wednesday - "This is all knock-off stuff, y'know; this carpet was originally intended for the Japanese Ambassador to Bootle, but a mate of ours nicked it. Now am not asking' five quid…" Full of bloody comedians, Liverpool. And groups, of course.

Oh, and if you do find the answer, you might let me know. I could use a couple of quid, y'know worra I mean like?

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