The Jacaranda
By Bill Harry  

Terry Sharrock and Mary Larkin with Gene Vincent, 1960Originally a coffee bar, opened by Allan Williams in September 1958, situated at 23 Slater Street, Liverpool L1.

At the time coffee bars were very fashionable and this particular area of Liverpool was honeycombed with them. Quite close to the ‘Jac’ was a coffee bar called the Studio, frequented by the models and students from Liverpool College of Art; local painter Yankel Feather ran the Basement, directly to the rear of Mount Pleasant Register Office where John and Cynthia were married (also John’s mum and dad); 50 yards from the Jac, in Duke Street, were the Zodiac and Boomerang Coffee Bars; in Mount Pleasant was Streates, where poetry readings were held – and there were many more.

Allan saw an advertisement in the Liverpool Echo which read “suitable premises for a club” and went to Slater Street. The premises to let were formerly occupied by Owens Watch Repair Shop and the lease was owned by a man in the sweetshop next door who demanded an extra £150 for ‘goodwill and fittings.’

Allan raised the money and managed to engage a group of West Indians to play in a steel band by offering them ten shillings (fifty pence) each. They were called Lord Woodbine and His All-Steel Caribbean Band. Steel bands were scarce in Britain at the time and they proved to be a popular attraction at the club.

Shortly before opening the club, Allan had been trying to think of a suitable name. He eventually decided he’d call it the Samurai, because he’d recently seen the film ‘Seven Samurai’, when a friend, Bill Coward, who’d just read a book called ‘The Jacaranda Tree’, suggested Jacaranda.

The clientele was mixed – solicitors, doctors, art students, musicians – and two of the girls who served there as waitresses, Mary Larkin and Terry Sharrock, found themselves on the cover of the first issue of Mersey Beat after their photograph had been taken with the rock ‘n’ roll star Gene Vincent. 

The ground floor had a large glass window looking out onto Slater Street and there were small padded benches and coffee tables, a tiny kitchen, an outside loo for Gents and steps leading to the tiny basement where the steel band played and steps leading upstairs to the Ladies loo.

Among the art students who went there were John Lennon, Stuart Sutcliffe, Rod Murray, Rod Jones and myself while among the musicians were Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Gerry Marsden, Casey Jones, Adrian Barber, Rory Storm and Johnny Guitar.

At one time Allan asked Stuart to paint some murals, which he did, together with Rod Murray. Stuart and Rod had already painted a mural on the walls of Ye Cracke pub in Rice Street – a dock scene with cranes, and also a wall at the Territorial Army rooms in Norris Green. They received a little help from Rod Jones. Rod Murray tells me that they didn’t receive any money, but Allan gave them a bottle of Vodka. Years later, when the murals were rediscovered during a refitting of the premises, Allan Williams claimed that they were painted by John Lennon and Stu, but this wasn’t so. John and I watched them painting but didn’t participate.

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