The Cavern: Rise Of The Beatles And Merseybeat, by Spencer Leigh
This book has a striking and unusual format that deserves some commentary before one discusses the book itself. This book is not told in a narrative form, for the most part, as much as it is told in a diary-like form that briefly discusses the groups that performed in what shows at the Cavern over a long period of years. Some of these shows have very brief comments, others are much longer and filled with reminisces from a variety of people who performed and who attended shows at the legendary Liverpool basement concert venue, some of whom later ended up becoming famous people themselves. Towards the end of the book there is a switch from a diary format to a discussion of some of the more notable acts that performed at the Cavern after it became a much busier club in the 90’s and beyond, given that the author thought that the book would be too long if the period after 1990 received the same sort of detailed treatment that was given to the heyday of the club during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. This seems a fair decision in retrospect, as the book is mainly focused not on how the Cavern serves as a major part of the contemporary music world in encouraging new acts but how it served that role before and during the first British Invasion.
This book is a sizable one at more than 300 pages, and it is divided into parts based on who owned the club at a given time. In addition, most of the contents are themselves the reminisces of people who visited the club or performed there as well as a notation of which bands performed on a given day, along with some notes about their behavior and sometimes the music that they performed. The book begins with information about the author, acknowledgements, a short foreword by Paul McCartney, and an introduction of the Cavern’s importance as a venue. After that the book begins with an opening chapter about the building (1), and then a discussion of the Cavern as a jazz club between 1957 and 1959 (2). This is followed by a look at the R&B focus that took place in Ray McFall’s ownership (3) and then the rock and roll focus that took over after that (4) in 1962, a key year in the history of the club, and then the rise and fall of McFall with a lack of profits from 1963 to 1966 (5). After that there is a look at owners who took over the club to continue the rock and roll focus that had made the club famous (6), as well as a look at the first half of the 70’s when the club changed ownership again (7). There is a chapter about the period where the Cavern was a blank place, its building destroyed (8), and then the attempt to build up the Cavern walks (9), before the troubled times in the late 80’s when some owners tried to rebuild the club (10). The book then ends with a chapter in different structure under the current ownership since 1990 (11) along with a lengthy list of contributors.
One of the most striking aspects of the Cavern is the sheer massive number of shows that some acts ended up performing at this venue. The Beatles, for example, performed some 250 shows, the last one being performed in order to avoid a non-compete clause that would have prevented them from performing anywhere else in the city until they performed relatively inexpensively one more time. The account told here here shows that the Cavern was both a place for house bands to perform in the afternoons and evenings throughout the week as well as a place where foreign artists and artists who had some success who were from other parts of the British isles would come and perform to crowds of about 600 people or less, meaning they couldn’t be that big of acts with a high demand. A great many of the acts who performed at the show were relatively local and relatively obscure acts, but there were definitely some famous artists who performed at the show and it is clear that performances as well as education were going on, and that the club itself had a differing personality depending in part on who owned it and how they operated.