Recalling the Cavern
Cavern cards were not easily accessible and treated as spun gold once obtained. Using the flash and pass back technique your friends could enter as well. Never to the one directly behind you but generally passed back to someone further down in the queue. Bouncers though not illiterate, were frequently not up to the high standards of fourteen year old rock ‘n’ roll desperadoes which made actually entering the Cavern more of an art form! Any student from my alma mater, Skerry’s College or any one of the Catholic High Schools was more than equipped to handle them at least psychologically as we were already the scourge of authority figures.
After the ‘scrutiny of the bouncers’ walking into the Cavern was in itself a life skill never to be forgotten. The place had a narrow passage and steep stairs drowning in the odour of decay mixed with disinfectant. It was not for the weak or claustrophobic. I cannot recall ever sitting at the sides of the walls, seeing tables or even using the W.C.
I remember a small food and soft drinks bar brightly lit but unaffordable to younger Cavernites or perhaps inaccessible because of the sheer volume of people standing around it.
Having changed from my school uniform while legging to Mathew Street from Rodney Street I wore the standard Cavern fashion ensemble for girls. This usually consisted of baggy black or dark coloured poloneck (over school blouse), black bell bottoms, with Esso men blatantly dangling from the zip to intentionally horrify parents and scholastic autocrats together with black boots or tee bar shoes and the unforgettable black stockings often with diamond patterns! All of which had been carefully placed in standard green plaid fringed bag or any dark coloured duffle bag of epic proportions to carry school blazers, pleated skirts and shoes.
Cavern clothes would in turn be hidden by standard black duffle or rain coats and topped off with a school and/or older relative’s university scarf. Pale almost white lipstick, black eyeliner and gallons of ‘Tabu’ perfume completed the total look which now seems almost gothic by today’s standards.
Boys usually wore polo necks under leather jackets, again with black or navy jeans. The entire Cavern Uniform was a valiant attempt at looking like a rather provincial beatnik. It was however somewhat ‘avon garde’ and later much enhanced by the unisex Beatle haircut brought lovingly to us by Astrid Kirchherr’s influence on the Beatles while they were in Hamburg.
After the Beatles rose to fame followed by the first run of the film ‘Tom Jones’, fashionable Liverpudlian icons wore Edwardian suits, colourful frilly shirts and velvet Beatle Jackets. Cavern illuminati remained true to form in black on black and as such, to this day polo necks, black leather mingled with the smell of tobacco always brings to mind John Lennon and The Cavern.
Once inside the cellar the noise was positively overwhelming. DJ Bob Wooler’s velvety voice would blare over the loudspeakers announcing the lunchtime session had begun. Wooler’s bizarre taste in music and vast record collection not to mention the format in which he used to play them was one of the highlights of the lunchtime session.
Liverpool’s then King of DJ’s would play, for example, the ever so bland ‘You Don’t Have To Be A Baby to Cry’ by The Caravelles and follow it with the flipside of ‘Who Told You’ by Freddie Starr and The Midnighter’s, the very bump and grind ‘Peter Gunn Locomotion’ before blasting in to the Crystal’s ‘He’s A Rebel’ after which he’d throw in Gerry and the Pacemaker’s ‘How Do You Do It’ often ending the set with the Four Seasons ‘Ronnie’.
There was hardly ever any rhyme or reason to his music selection just Wooler doing what he did best taking requests from the kids and substituting their wants with his own eclectic brand of popular music. If Bob Wooler played your music, you had a hit!
Often he would introduce an unknown record to Merseyside kids like ‘Baby Workout’ by Jackie Wilson which he’d play back to back with Sugar Pie De Santo’s ‘I Don’t Want To Fuss’ or ‘Bumble Bee’ by Laverne Baker (a song later given the Liverpool treatment by the Searchers).
Wooler, while always showing preference to Liverpool performers always tried to play, somewhere in a session, the original version of many of the songs culled by local groups at that time. His favourites included Marvin Gaye’s ‘You’re A Wonderful One’ or the Temptations ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’ followed by Ben E. King’s classic ‘Stand By Me’. When The Beatles remade somewhat more successfully the Isley Brother’s ‘Twist and Shout’ Wooler would intentionally violate Scouse decorum by playing Brian Poole and The Tremeloes watered down version which, albeit popular at the time, lacked the driving sexuality of the Isley’s version and sparkle of the Beatles cover.
We Cavernites would dance, dance, dance non-stop for the entire set because he would manage to play them all back to back. Bobby Comstock’s ‘The Cavern Stomp’ was a miraculous tribute to local choreography. Mastering the stomp was an amazing feat (no pun intended) of accomplishment. A little like Irish stepdancing with more arm movement, sometimes loud floor stomping with whirls and turns, arms held high in the air or close under the breastbone at an angle.