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Remembering The Quarrymen's first show at The Cavern Club

Today marks the 64th anniversary of one of the most important gigs of all time. Whilst not as esteemed or well known as Woodstock ’69 or Simon and Garfunkel’s massive 1982 return in Central Park, this show kicked off the most iconic association between a band and a venue of all time. This partnership is, of course, The Beatles and Liverpool’s iconic venue, The Cavern Club.

However, this hallowed show was not by The Beatles, who in 1957 did not exist. Rather, it was on this day, August 7th, when John Lennon’s teenage motley crew, the skiffle act The Quarrymen, first performed at the now-iconic Liverpool club. This introduction of the young John Lennon to the venue would go on to define the band that, in the not too distant future, would change the face of music and culture forever.

The Cavern Club was owned by the young Alan Synter, who opened the club on January 16th 1957. He was inspired by the jazz clubs of Paris and wanted to replicate that magic amongst the industrial smog of post-war Liverpool. How did the young Quarrymen get booked for the show? It turns out that Nigel Walley, bass player and manager of The Quarrymen, was also a teenage prodigy at golf.

At the Chidwall Golf Club in Liverpool, Walley would become aware of the newly opened venue after playing a round against Synter’s father, Dr. Joseph Synter. It was actually at the golf club that the younger Synter would first hear the Quarrymen play, and before too long, they were booked to play his new venue. The other acts who performed on this significant night were Ron McKay’s Skiffle Group, Dark Town Skiffle Group and The Deltones Skiffle Group.

In Spencer Leigh’s 2008 book on the club, The Cavern, Synter remembered the time, and the now-infamous character of John Lennon: “Skiffle was a breeding ground for musicians – one or two of them became jazz musicians, but more ended up doing rock ‘n’ roll. I knew John Lennon quite well as we lived in the same area: he lived 400 yards up the road from me. He was 16 and arrogant and hadn’t got a clue, but that was John Lennon.” 

It turns out Lennon’s cocksure attitude didn’t match The Quarrymen’s skill. By all accounts, their set wasn’t warmly received. They played the classics of the day, which included ‘Come Go With Me’ by The Dell-Vikings and rock ‘n’ roll staples ‘Hound Dog’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’.

Drummer of the Quarrymen, Colin Hanton recalled in The Cavern: “We did some skiffle numbers to start off with at the Cavern, but we also did rock ‘n’ roll. John Lennon was passed a note, and he said to the audience, ‘We’ve had a request’. He opened it up, and it was Alan Sytner saying, ‘Cut out the bloody rock ‘n’ roll.'”  

Another interesting point about this show is that Lennon’s future partner in crime, Paul McCartney, was missing. Macca was, by this point, a member of the Quarrymen after meeting them at a church fete that July. However, as he was only 15, he was away at the now-outdated “scout camp”, so he couldn’t make the important show.

This performance is also made infamous as it is the source of fierce debate. During an interview with local BBC Radio Merseyside’s programme On The Beat in 2011the Quarrymen’s banjo player, Rod Davis, questioned if the show even happened in August at all.

He explained that he thinks the show, along with its successors, took place before August 1957: “The general compilations unashamedly say they’ve gone by the adverts in the (Liverpool) Echo. But there were things called the “Skiffle Sessions”, on which only the leading group was named like the Swinging Blue Jeans and people like that. And no question about it, I played three or four times at the Cavern, and it was definitely before August. Because in August, I was in France. And I’ve got a passport to prove it.” 

Regardless of the validity of the assertions, today is widely hailed as the day that kicked off the relationship between John Lennon, The Beatles and the Cavern Club. The impact of this relationship cannot be understated. For those of you wondering, The Cavern Club still exists today. It has survived a handful of closures and is still an integral part of Liverpool’s live music scene. So if you ever find yourself on that bank of the Mersey, why not give it a visit?

Watch a colourised version of the Beatles play at the Cavern Club in 1962, below.