Recalling the Cavern
By Marilyn Dease Johnson  

Mandy in Skerry’s College uniformDescribed by Brian Epstein as a ‘Cellar Full Of Noise’ for us local kids Mathew Street’s Cavern Club certainly was the forbidden territory made all the more attractive by the convenience of the lunch time sessions. From around eleven until after two in the afternoon the best music to be found in the world was played live and completely unadorned!

In retrospect, The Cavern was a rough looking place in no way as chic or upscale as many of the local clubs were at the time. It was a definite fire hazard, with no visible way out in an emergency which in itself was somewhat frightening because it was always overcrowded. Yet the place still managed like a magnet to draw kids who loved music, wanted to dance and simply appreciate the best entertainment in Merseyside despite dank walls that literally oozed with vile black slime caused by years of use as a warehouse cellar. 

Long before it was discovered by the world in the Swingin’ Sixties the Cavern jazz club, as it was known in 1957, was owned by Alan Sytner. After its sale to Ray McFall a few years later it maintained an offbeat reputation as a jazz and skiffle venue. In due course, this dark, cold and slimy cellar labeled ‘out of bounds’ for many of the privately educated teenagers in the city became the ultimate gathering place for those who wanted to hear more of the Mersey Sound.

For me, as a soon to be a somewhat radical student, the Cavern was a refuge from academic hell. For many Liverpool teenagers it was a sort of mythical rite of passage in 1963…both a mixed blessing in terms of entertainment and a fearful encroachment of adult territory. First and foremost it was illegal for anyone under the age of seventeen to enter the Cavern, making it a virtual ‘must’ for anyone who was over four foot ten who could pass muster. We were, after all, the record buying public which gave us the right by our own admission to enter, worship and adore anyone with a guitar, set of drums and hair. 

One had to queue for at least ten minutes to get thorough the sometimes violent encounters and severe interrogational techniques by the Cavern’s bouncers. Some of whom were obsessed with violating the Geneva Convention. These men were always huge, tough and all looked liked ex-boxers or SAS rejects and they were not above putting “a wellie in’ if the situation called for it. Kids had no rights in those days. We gave them suitable nicknames from World War II like Hitler or Goebels and suffice it to say while guardians of the Cavern these bouncers were never derelict in their duties. 

Identification without a current Membership Card was acceptable only by showing a birth certificate. In my case such ‘provenance’ was leased from a professional ‘borrower’ being the brother of a girl who was actually seventeen and clueless as to the amount of money her brother was raking in as a result.

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