Saturday, 20 December 2014

THE CASBAH COFFE CLUB YESTERDAY AND TODAY



I grew up in a leafy suburb of Liverpool called West Derby. About 3miles from the city centre, it was a green and pleasant place. The village was like stepping back into the early part of the 20th century with Olde Worlde pubs, a blacksmith shop, and lots of interesting historical stuff. Even today it still retains much of that feel. As I began to get interested in Rock ‘n’ Roll the local church club (St Pauls) started to have a Friday night dance. So at the age of 12 I saw an electric guitar live for the first time and I was hooked. Not far away, was a very swanky secluded road around which had been built a number of grand houses, in all probability, for merchants during the great Liverpool marine business boom of the nineteenth century. One particular house strangely had a coffee bar in the cellar, and I remember popping in a couple of times to see what was happening. At the time I had no idea that a band called the Quarrymen had played there and it wasn’t until I overheard Tony Bramwell (Later to become The Beatles Road Manager) talking about the band at our school (Hillfoot Hey Grammar circa 1960) that I was introduced to the sound of the Beatles.
It must have been 1959 when talking to my Mum about visiting the “Casbah” she revealed that her long-time boyfriend in the late 30s Johnny Best the Liverpool boxing promoter lived there. How she knew he was then living in Haymans Green is still somewhat of a mystery to me, as I believe when she was going out with him, he lived down the road in a place called Tuebrook. But back to history; Johnny was called up in 1941 and became a fitness instructor in the Army and was posted to India. There he met a trainee Doctor by the name of Mona Shaw, they fell in love and got married in 1944 at St. Thomas’s Cathedral, Bombay. Returning to Liverpool, they lived for a time in a small semi-detached house. In 1954, the story goes that Mona put some money on a horse which came in and with the money she and Johnny purchased an old run down 15 bedroom Mansion in Haymans Green, West Derby, Liverpool.
The Casbah Coffee Club was Mona’s idea She commented at the time “My home was beginning to resemble a railway station, there was always someone passing through. My original idea had been to start a little exclusive club for Pete and his friends, and thus put an end to all this trooping in and out of the living quarters.” The idea was an instant success and soon hundreds of teenagers were queuing up to join the club. The Quarrymen were the first to play there on August 29 1959. The cellar need some decorating and “The Quarrymen” helped out with painting. Much of the work they did back then including murals, stars on the ceiling, dragons and rainbows is still there. Cynthia Powell, John’s Girlfriend (and later wife) also got involved and painted a silhouette of him on the wall which remains to this day. The band were paid 15 shillings for their appearance at the club, where membership was 2/6 per annum.
On the opening night more than 300 teenagers crammed into the club and with no air conditioning and everyone dancing it must have like being in a furnace. After the success of the first night The Quarrymen were given a residency with John, Paul, George and Ken Brown playing without a drummer. Uniquely the club was the first in Liverpool to have an Expresso machine which had become all the rage in London with success of places like the 2 I’s coffee bar in Soho.
It became a regular hangout for the “soon to be” Beatles and surrounded by musos, Pete Best soon began to tinker with the drums. Pete’s skills progressed quickly and John invited Pete for a try-out with the band. John wrote in his autobiography “We played for about twenty minutes in all and at the end they all reached the same conclusion: Yeh! You’re in Pete”… and so the legend of the Casbah club would be forever etched in the history of the Beatles.
Around 1960 the club was becoming extremely popular and many of the top Liverpool artists including The Remo 4, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, Earl Preston & the TTs, The Searchers and Cilla Black played there.

I recently talked to Harry Prytherch the drummer with The Remo 4 who meticulously kept a diary of every gig the band did. He recalled that the first time the band played the Casbah was 27th March 1960. For two half hour spots they were paid the princely sum of £3. They returned to the club on 15th May 1960, which was a Sunday night. In those days, the big TV show was “Sunday Night at the Palladium” and that night Bobby Rydell, the latest US singing sensation, was booked to appear. The Band were big fans and they asked Mona if they could watch the show on her TV. Unfortunately the time he was due to appear clashed with their set downstairs in the cellar. Mona however, came up with a solution and told Harry, “If you play for half an hour you can break, go and watch the show upstairs and come back down and finish the act.” Crazy days….
“I think it’s a good idea to let people know about The Casbah. They know about The Cavern, they know about some of those things, but The Casbah was the place where all that started. We helped paint it and stuff. We looked upon it as our personal club.”
Paul McCartney

The Casbah Today

The Beatles Stage at The Casbah
The club survives in a remarkably well-preserved condition following its closure in 1962, with wall and ceiling paintings of spiders, dragons, rainbows and stars painted by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete himself, along with 1960’s musical equipment, amplifiers and original chairs.

Re-opened a few years back, it is now an important destination on the Liverpool Beatles tourist track. The club also features some excellent live music nights and each year Pete Best and his band along with Pete’s half-brother Roag Best put on a live show during Beatles week (Last week in August). This coming year’s show (August 2015) is entitled “Merseybeat & the Beatles” and features, in addition to Pete, one of the original Liverpool legends The Merseybeats. Each year Roag asks me to design the poster for the annual event and you can see my latest work of art with all the details of the show here and book online.
In 2006 the Casbah was given a Grade II listing and was awarded the much sort after Blue Plaque from English Heritage.

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