Tuesday, 9 February 2016

THE BEATLES WERE PAID ONLY £5 FOR THEIR FIRST GIG AT CAVERN CLUB

It was announced in February 2016 that The Beatles are still bringing in £82 million a year to the Liverpool economy. This report about The Beatles and the iconic Cavern Club was first published in February 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of their first gig there.

The first concert by The Beatles at The Cavern Club, over a lunchtime on February 9, 1961,  was hardly an auspicious affair. They were paid £5 for the appearance, a concert that wasn't advertised, and George Harrison was nearly denied admission to play because he was wearing jeans. 
The small, basement club wasn't full, customers were munching sandwiches and hot dogs and not all the clientele knew what to expect at a venue that had traditionally played host since its 1957 opening to jazz stars such as George Melly and Acker Bilk. 
The Cavern had originally been based on a French jazz club, Le Caveau de la Huchette, but by 1961 the venue's music policy was changing. Skiffle and rock 'n' roll were in (Elvis Presley's Are You Lonesome Tonight? was top of the record charts on 9th February) and bands such as The Swinging Blue Jeans, Gerry And The Pacemakers and newcomers The Beatles - who were just back from Hamburg - were being given their chance. 
On that landmark lunchtime, the Beatles played the first of 292 concerts at The Cavern until their final appearance on 3 August 1963. Some of the Beatles had played the club before – as The Quarrymen – but for this concert in 1961 it was the first time George and John and the band had been together as The Beatles at the Cavern. 


George, then only 17, arrived in blue jeans, which were banned from the club, but he managed to convince the bouncer, Paddy Delaney, that he was one of the performers and was allowed in. 
Ray McFall, Cavern Club owner, later recalled: "The Beatles were different and they were very well rehearsed because they had come back from three months of torture in Hamburg. However, I didn't like them wearing jeans which were taboo in the Cavern. Our doormen would stop anyone wearing jeans. I felt that if people were wearing good, clean clothes they would be more likely to behave themselves as they wouldn't want them getting dirty and damaged."
Jon Keats, of the Cavern Club, said: “The appearance on February 9 was an unadvertised session, and their first advertised lunchtime appearance was on February 21. Their first evening show was March 21."
Alex McKechnie, who was a booking manager for the Cavern Club in the 1990s and who was a 16-year-old printing mechanic at the time of the first gig, said: "It was atmospheric though not very crowded."
The Beatles first played The Cavern Club in February 1961
The Beatles first played The Cavern Club in February 1961

He remembers joking and banter being a big part of the Beatles’ routine in those early Cavern days. The band members took the mickey out of each other and sang skits on adverts and children’s programmes such as Torchy the battery boy. 
John Lennon was usually at the centre of the larking around, and the late Beatle recounted: “In those old Cavern days, half the thing was just ad lib, what you’d call comedy. We just used to mess about, jump into the audience, do anything.” 


Liverpudlian playwright Willy Russell said: "The nearest I ever got was standing at a coffee bar and John Lennon was there ordering a coke and a hot dog – because there was no alcohol in the Cavern. And I remember he opened his coke and it spilled over me and apologised . . . If you heard the Beatles at the Cavern, you knew they were the greatest kickass band ever, with a raw, Southern, joyously angry, black vein."
The club itself, in the basement of an old warehouse in Mathew Street, was never a favourite of musicians themselves - and it used to get very hot and smoke-filled. "The back of the Cavern was known as the Deep End as the toilets flowed down there," says Ray Ennis of The Swinging Blue Jeans. "The busier the place got, the more it overflowed. It could be six inches deep."
Their debut was a success and they were immediately given four lunchtime slots per week as well as weekend gigs. In a matter of weeks the club had to introduce pre-purchased tickets because of the appeal of the band. 
The rest is musical history. 

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