Spencer Leigh

The Cavern Club – Rise of the Beatles and Merseybeat


A day by day history of the Cavern.

The book has been issued in Kindle form and is available from Amazon.

Product Description

Foreword by Sir Paul McCartney.

The official history of the Cavern, originally published in 2008 by SAF and now published in a new 2016 edition by McNidder and Grace. It is also available on Kindle.

Over 300 performers and Cavern staff have been interviewed for the book and much original research is included in the text.

“We came down from Newcastle to Liverpool in a little van in 1963 and we carried our own gear into the Cavern for a lunchtime session. We were very nervous about playing there and I said to a girl in a duffle coat who was watching us, ‘Do you think they’ll like rhythm and blues here?’ ‘Like it?’ she said, ‘We invented it.’”(Alan Price of the Animals)

It’s the dream of my life to be here in Liverpool and playing the Cavern because this music got me through my childhood.”(Billy  Bob Thornton)

“Just when you think there can be nothing new to say about the Fab Four, Spencer Leigh delivers The Cavern – The Most Famous Club In The World. Though obviously Beatles-heavy, the author conjures up a vivid picture of that most famous of cellars including walk-on parts for Jimmy Page, Elton John and Bill Clinton.” (Patrick Humphreys, Music Week)

“Spencer Leigh confirms his reputation as rock’s leading oral historian with another fascinating compendium of eye-witness memories.” (Alan Lewis, Record Collector)

Sample Text

Thursday 9 November 1961

How did Raymond Jones come to be talking to Brian Epstein? “I used to go to NEMS every Saturday and I would be buying records by Carl Perkins and Fats Domino because I heard the Beatles playing their songs. My sister’s ex-husband, who played with Mark Peters and the Cyclones, told me that the Beatles had made a record and so I went to NEMS to get it. Brian Epstein said to me, ‘Who are they?’ and I said, ‘They are the most fantastic group you will ever hear.’ No one will take away from me that it was me who spoke to Brian Epstein and then he went to the Cavern to see for himself. I didn’t make them famous, Brian Epstein made them famous, but things might have been different without me.”                                                                   

Bob Wooler: “Brian Epstein learnt that the Beatles were playing close to his shop in Whitechapel. He was intrigued to see what they were like and he phoned Bill Harry at Mersey Beat and asked him to smooth his entrance into the Cavern. Bill arranged this with Ray McFall and with Paddy Delaney on the door. On 9 November 1961, Brian took his PA, Alistair Taylor, along for support and they stood at the back of the crowd and heard John, Paul, George and Pete on stage, although they can’t have seen much. Nevertheless, Brian was bowled over by them. It was fortunate that Brian saw a good performance when he came down to the Cavern that lunchtime. He also liked how they behaved, and he found them very animalistic. They were unkempt, they didn’t comb their hair – and, most importantly, they were lithe and physically attractive.” And Bob summed it up thus, “If B.E. hadn’t been feeling that way that day, it never would have happened, OK?”

Brian Epstein’s personal assistant at NEMS, Alistair Taylor, remembers: “One day Brian asked me to join him for lunch but he wanted to look in at the Cavern first to catch one of the Beatles’ lunchtime sessions. I recognised the Beatles from their visits to NEMS, though I don’t remember them buying many records, and we looked out of place in white shirts and dark, business suits. The Beatles were playing ‘A Taste Of Honey’ and ‘Twist And Shout’ but we were particularly impressed that they included original songs. The one that sticks in my mind is ‘Hello Little Girl’.”

 John Booker: “Wearing a suit was not unusual at the Cavern. I worked in Water Street and I would see people walking out of the station with bowler hats and striped suits and furled umbrellas. Our auditor used to wear a morning suit so it looked as though he had come from the Bank of England. When I went to NEMS, I would see Brian Epstein dressed like a city businessman but he was in a record shop and this didn’t quite fit with that. He had an air of a prosperous stockbroker and it was like he was doing you a favour by condescending to do business with you. About half the audience in the Cavern would be wearing suits and the girls would be typists who were handbag dancing and I certainly wore a suit and tie.”

 David Backhouse: “I first went to the Cavern in the lunchtime sessions in 1959. I was an office boy in an architect’s office in Tower Buildings and the bosses didn’t like us going down there. We would be drenched and we come back wringing our shirts out and putting our ties back on. We would dance and jive and watch the Beatles and it was pretty exhilarating.”

 Mike Byrne: “I was working round the corner at my dad’s shop, who had a tailor and outfitters in Century Buildings. I had a very smart, single-breasted two piece suit, and I had to wear starched collars as my dad had come from an even posher tailors, Geeves and Hawkes, the tailors to the military. He was a dapper gentlemen. The starched collars were terrible to wear and I must have looked overdressed at the Cavern.”

 David Backhouse: “I would go and see the Big Three and the Beatles when I could as they had both got good drummers and were very beaty. I was there when Brian Epstein came to the Cavern. He was a beautifully-suited, elegant man and he looked totally incongruous. I knew who he was, although I had never spoken to him.”

 Ray Ennis: “I’d met Brian Epstein before and I asked him what he was doing in the Cavern. He said, ‘I’ve come to watch the Beatles. I believe they are very good.’ He didn’t say anything about signing them.”

 Paddy Delaney: “Brian Epstein was well-groomed in a smart, dark blue suit and looked out of place. When it was all over, he was still hanging about, so I approached him and said, ‘It’s all over now, sir.’ He said, ‘It’s all right, I’m going to meet the Beatles.’”

An American jazz legend, Zoot Sims, headlined the evening session, while the Beatles played for what was to be their last time at Litherland Town Hall. Geoff Davies: “The modern jazz nights were always poorly attended and there were only about 30 people for Zoot Sims. He was one of those people whom I should have loved but I was not crazy about him that night.” So, all in all, a great day for the Beatles but a dreadful one for Ray McFall’s finances.

Saturday 3 August 1963

The Beatles made their final appearance at the Cavern, bringing their total number of appearances to 275: no one is totally sure and it also depends on how you’re counting. Bob Wooler: “That August appearance only came about because Brian Epstein couldn’t pull them out of an appearance at the Grafton the night before. Les Ackerley said ‘I’ve got them under contract’, and Epstein was furious because, by then, he had other things in mind for them. He was calling Ackerley all sorts of names, but he didn’t use four-letter words as he never did that. Ackerley had a barring clause preventing the Beatles appearing in Liverpool before but not after that appearance, so Brian asked us to take the Beatles for the Cavern on the following night, which was a Saturday. I resented this as he was only doing it to get at Ackerley, and anyway, I had booked all the groups for Saturday 3 August. If I’d said no, he would have gone to Ray McFall, who would have said, ‘Of course we’ll take them.’ The Beatles were paid £300, which was quite a bit of money then, and Brian restricted the audience to 500. I can’t blame Brian as he had seen how crowded the Cavern got and he had to think of the Beatles’ safety. The admission price was 10 shillings and so that meant that we collected only £250 on the door. All the staff had to be paid, and the other groups on the bill too, so we made no profit that night.” Wooler is mistaken as the Grafton concert was for Albert Kinder, but the fee of £100 for August 2 was agreed on 14 January, 1963.                                                                              

Brian Farrell: “There was no way I could get in but the crowds in Mathew Street were phenomenal. It was like a high pressure hose coming out of the door. God knows what it was like inside. About three nights later the Beatles were doing a cinema in Conway Street in Birkenhead and I could get in there.”

 Paddy Delaney was on the door. “The crowds outside were going mad. By the time John Lennon had got through the cordon of girls, his mohair jacket had lost a sleeve. I grabbed it to stop a girl getting away with a souvenir. John stitched it back on. They may have altered their style elsewhere, but they didn’t do it at the Cavern. They were the same old Beatles, with John saying, ‘Okay, tatty-head, we’re going to play a number for you.’ There was never anything elaborate about his introductions.”

 Faron: “I was on the bill for the last show that the Beatles did at the Cavern. I was performing in a pool of water and it was so crowded that two members of my band collapsed and had to be carried outside.”

The seats at the front of the stage were invariably filled by girls. A brave lad got a seat on the front row and when the girls frowned at him, he offered them his knees and remained seated. At the end of the evening one girl asked how his knees were. He said, “What knees?”

Because a full evening’s entertainment had already been booked for that night, the show went from 6pm to 11.30pm. Bob Wooler: “It was more Mercenary Beat than Mersey Beat that night. The Escorts and the Merseybeats still wanted paying for the night: the kudos of being on with the Beatles wasn’t enough for them. When I told them that we would be starting the evening an hour earlier, the first thing they said was, ‘We’re still getting paid, aren’t we, Bob?’ The Beatles were very professional: there was no larking around and they got on with it. We all felt it was their swan song and that we would never have them at the Cavern again. Brian Epstein still owes the Cavern six dates for the Beatles as he kept pulling them out of bookings by saying, ‘You wouldn’t stand in the boys’ way, would you, Bob?’”

The Beatles were hampered by a loss of power and light, but they gave a memorable performance. Bob McGrae: “The reaction was incredible. I didn’t think at the time that it was going to be their last night, but now I look back on it, it’s obvious. The Cavern could never have afforded them.”

 Tony Crane: “It surprised us that the Beatles had decided to come back for a show at the Cavern in August 1963 and we had just recorded ‘It’s Love That Really Counts’. We were on just before the Beatles and we were delighted with our reception as everybody was cheering and going mad. The Beatles all had long faces and John Lennon was saying, ‘We never should have come back here.’ Everything was sweaty and wet and we told them to make sure that they didn’t slip on stage. Once the walls got wet, all that condensation came down onto the stage and it was dangerous. This was proved as they fused the electrics and the lights went out. Normally, John Lennon would have cracked jokes while somebody got it right but he was in such a bad mood that he came off stage.”

 Billy Kinsley: “John and Paul were singing ‘When I’m 64’ while they were waiting for the electricity to come back on and they didn’t record it for another four years.”

Tuesday 14 December 1999

Get back to where you once belonged. Paul McCartney announced his show at the Cavern on ITV’s Parkinson on December 3. “I am going back for just one night as a nod to the music that has always and will ever thrill me. I can’t think of a better way to rock out the end of the century than with a rock’n’roll party at the Cavern.” Soon it was being touted as the gig of the century.                

Bill Heckle: “Paul McCartney was looking for a promotional opportunity with Run Devil Run in 1999 and we had just done the Yellow Submarine day which impressed everybody at Apple. Paul’s PR, Geoff Baker asked us to go round to Gambier Terrace, where John used to live with Stu, and negotiate a fee for filming. They didn’t want to do it themselves as fees would quadruple if they knew McCartney was involved. They thought of Gambier Terrace for a promo video because at the time the Beatles would have been listening to the music on Run Devil Run. We bandied a few figures around and then Geoff said, ‘How would you feel if we did it at the Cavern instead?’ Paul had some reservations as he thought the Cavern was on the wrong side of the road. He was told that it was 50% on the same site and had the same address, albeit it is eight foot deeper than the original Cavern. The plans of the back stage were within twelve feet of where they used to play, so it was more relevant to play the back stage than the front. There was also talk of Paul playing a theatre in London. Geoff knew that if he put Paul together with the Cavern, it would be an explosive news story. Stick him in Gambier Terrace; it’s a cute angle. Stick him in a theatre in London; it’s just another gig. They only agreed to the Cavern three weeks before it happened. We were told not to tell anybody and Paul would announce in on Parkinson.”

Half of the tickets, that is 150, were raffled and even the raffle forms at HMV were limited. Bill Heckle: “There was a lottery for tickets with EMI and there were problems for every Beatle related business including EMI, MPL, Apple, Abbey Road Studios, the Beatles Shop and the Beatles Story as they were being inundated with requests for tickets. Geoff put out that there had been over a million enquiries which could have been true. We were on the phones from seven in the morning right the way through until midnight. There was worldwide attention for these tickets.”

Sexual favours were even offered to the Cavern’s directors for tickets. Or were they? Bill Heckle: “Oh, that caused fun and games at home with my wife. Geoff Baker rang me up and said that he had a real good scam. He said, ‘I’ve just told the press that you as the owner have been offered sex for tickets.’ He knew how to tickle the press and manipulate them.”

 The rehearsals in the afternoon were in front of about ten people. There was Bill Heckle, David Moores and Neil Aspinall. David and Neil thought that they did not know each other, but they did as David Moores ran the sixth form entertainment when he was at Stowe, and had persuaded his father to book the Beatles in April 1963.

Bill Heckle: “We told Paul that Bob Wooler was over the road and he said, ‘Bring him over’, as he would love to see him again. He was in the Grapes with Ray McFall, and they came over and they met up. Paul gave Bob this huge bear hug. I respectfully moved about ten feet away as it was their own special moment. There was a lot of bonhomie. Paul called me over and said, ‘Bob is going to bring me on one more time and that will be great.’ Bob was delighted but also very daunted. He made the mistake, which is very Boblike, of going back to the Grapes. Unfortunately he drank too much and the word came over at seven o’clock that he just wasn’t up to it. Paul was genuinely disappointed as he could see it would have been really fitting.” Paul did give him a name check early in the concert.

 McCartney played a storming set, backed by the band from his album of rock’n’roll covers, Run Devil Run: that is, Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour and Deep Purple’s Ian Paice plus Mick Green and Pete Wingfield. They performed thiteen songs in 40 minutes and only one song from the Beatles repertoire, “I Saw Her Standing There”. His version of Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town” was prefaced with the words, “This is dedicated to loved ones: past, present and future”, the sole reference to Linda.

As well as the audience in the Cavern itself, thousands of fans gathered on Chevasse Park in the city centre to watch it on a huge screen: brave people as it was a bitterly cold night. The concert had the world’s largest netcast up to that point and it was also broadcast on BBC Radio One and, the following night, on television. The concert was a huge success and was subsequently issued on DVD as Paul McCartney Live At The Cavern Club.

The best comment on the night came from Neil Aspinall who muttered on the way out, “I’ve seen better.” Of course he had: he’d seen the Beatles live at the Cavern. Dave Jones: “I was living on my nerves that day and hoping that everything was working right. The greatest moment for me was at the end when I knew it had all gone well. Because I own the place, I know all the things that can go wrong: the drains could cause a flood: the fire alarm could go off: the power could pack up: somebody could collapse, and it was all live on TV. There were scores of potential problems; things that don’t even happen on a yearly basis but it could have happened that night. I was very relieved that it went off well and it was a huge success. The show itself was sensational.”

 After the show, there was a party in the adjoining De Coubertin’s Sports Bar. Bill Heckle: “Paul walked up the ramp to Harrington Street and into the Sports Bar. Five hundred people were there and he spent half an hour posing for photographs. He was in a great mood and very upbeat and he put on a policeman’s hat and was conducting everybody with his truncheon. He was singing war songs, typically Liverpool working class Irish environment.”

The event marked a turning point in McCartney’s relationship with the city. Perhaps because of LIPA, perhaps because of his family connections, perhaps because of the Cavern, McCartney has become more and more interested in the city. He includes Liverpool in whatever he is doing: performances at King’s Dock, Liverpool Cathedral for his Liverpool Oratorio, the Everyman for his poetry, the Philharmonic Hall for his tribute to Linda, and the Walker Art Gallery for his art. McCartney has become more at ease with his back catalogue and since the mid-eighties, has increasingly included more Beatle songs in his sets: now his live concerts can be as high as two-thirds Beatles.


There are thousands of musicians and bands mentioned in the text and a full index would cover 30 pages. This index concentrates on acts which played the Cavern and group members are usually only listed when they are speaking about something other than their group. So for example, the Swinging Blue Jeans references incorporate all the comments from individual members and the entry for lead singer Ray Ennis are for when he is talking about something else.