The Bouncer Who
Bought the Cavern
By Bill Harry
Roy relates that when the club began to open at lunchtimes and afternoons, an art school teacher Arthur Ballard often dropped in. "He'd bring some of the students in with him, including a lad called John Lennon. There was an old wreck of a piano which had half of the keys missing. People would occasionally mess about with it. One day there was the most horrendous racket from it and Yankel went through to see what was causing the noise. It was John Lennon making the row - he was unknown at the time - and Yank told him to pack it in; he gave Yankel a mouthful, whereupon he told the young Lennon to get out. As he left muttering abuse he twirled round a bunch of keys catching one of Yankel's own paintings which was on the wall, making a score mark along it."
In 1962 Roy opened his own club Chequers and used to run Country Music nights on Tuesdays with groups such as the Hillsiders, the Ranchers, the Blue Mountain Boys and the Miller Brothers.
Roy developed his club business and took over the Iron Door club, which had been renamed the Pyramid. Then, in 1969 he heard that Alf Geoghegan, the current Cavern owner was thinking of selling the club. Roy bought it off him.
He writes, "Taking it over was quite daunting. It was licensed for four hundred people and when it got eight hundred in, it was packed! But we used to get sixteen hundred in and it was always impossible. We had twelve doormen: we kept a row of chairs in the entrance to sit girls on when they passed out."
The club was proving exceptionally successful for Roy, but then: "I received a letter from the council informing me that I had eight weeks to vacate the premises as British Rail were taking it over. I got on to them and they informed me that they had written to the Cavern several times with the notifications. I presume mail had gone to the previous owner who kept stum! I managed to get a bit of a delay on the order and wrote to various celebrities like Cilla Black, the Beatles and others, and heard nothing."
He adds, "The final night of the Cavern would be on Sunday May 27 1973. In the days before the Cavern's last night, I was quoted in the Echo: 'It's going to be a sad and nostalgic occasion. I would like to see part of the cellar preserved as a tourist attraction. I think it could be done and would be worth the effort.' But that plea too would fall on deaf ears."
Editor's Note: The destruction of the Cavern to make way for an air vent for the underground railway was an act of vandalism by the council of the time who not only didn't have any concept of the potential value of the Cavern for Liverpool's heritage, but they also disliked the Beatles.
Yankel held an exhibition of his paintings in London in 2003 and the painting which John had scored was exhibited, although Yankel refused to sell it,
despite offers of up to £20,000.
There is not a great deal about the actual music scene in the book, but it is an atmospheric voyage through the tough side of Liverpool's clubland, journeying with the
various bouncers through violent episodes among the numerous clubs which sprang up during the 1960s. Also, don't expect any photographs of the Mersey music scene as the majority of illustrations depict muscle men and beauty queens.
Roy's adventures continued after the Cavern closed, with him opening the New Cavern club in Matthew street, opposite the old one, which later became Eric's, the home of a new wave of Mersey bands.