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Credit: Harry Benson

When The Beatles played their final show at The Cavern Club

There are many notable moments in the illustrious career of The Beatles. Such was their unquestionable impact, not just on music, but on popular culture as a whole, that most of those moments have been endlessly pawed over since they came to pass. One such moment feels more poignant than most, however. The final time The Beatles would perform at their cherished venue, The Cavern Club.

In the early days of the group, The Beatles became de facto residents at the murky club in Liverpool. By August 1963, The Beatles had far outgrown their dingy little home, and the band’s success was increasing by the minute, and with no end in sight, the idea of the group ever returning to the Cavern Club in any real sense was drifting into the ether. However, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr would make sure to give it one last night it would never forget.

It can feel strange to note The Beatles as a former garage band, but that’s exactly what they were. Just like any other group, the Fab Four had to scramble for rehearsal space and lower themselves to matinee performances just so they could feel the stage beneath their feet. But if there was one club that can claim to have given the band its first real break, it has to be The Cavern Club. Across the years, The Beatles, in all their forms, landed at the small club and gave the 300 attendees a range of performances they would never match. By the time they returned in 1963, things had changed immeasurably.

“The crowds outside were going mad,” remembered the club’s doorman Paddy Delaney. “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.” The tickets for the show had sold out in 30 minutes, and the audience were ready for their final taste of Liverpool’s Beatles; after this moment, they would become an international commodity.

In truth, Brian Epstein had already been planning to take the group to be heights and was annoyed about being contracted to a Liverpool performance. The venue “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,” remembered Bob Wooler for Spencer Leigh’s The Cavern. “I resented this as he was only doing it to get at Ackerley [the other venue’s owner], 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,” he continued, “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 crowds had begun to hit delirium when the Fab Four took to the stage at any show, let alone a homecoming gig at an intimate venue. Epstein clearly saw the headlines: “Promising band ripped to shreds by hysterical teens” and rightly put the provisions in place.

The heat in the venue was so intense that members of the opening bands were carried off to the hospital following a collapse. The heat may have also contributed to perhaps one of the most seen experiences in Beatles history. As the set reached fever pitch, a temporary power cut hit, and their instruments stopped working, the lights went out, and the venue was plunged into darkness. While The Cavern was showing why it could no longer handle The Beatles, the group members were still the same lads as before. Faced with no electricity and no lights, Lennon and McCartney launched into an acoustic performance of ‘When I’m Sixty-Four‘, a song they wouldn’t release for another four years.

The performance ranks, officially, as The Beatles’ 292nd performance at The Cavern Club, though many have disputed that number. Only Paul McCartney would return to (a version of) The Cavern Club, accompanied by David Gilmour and a few Beatles songs for the crowd. So, that sweaty, hot and uncontrollable show on August 3rd, 1963, remains The Beatles final performance at their unofficial home.

Watch Paul McCartney play ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ at The Cavern Club with David Gilmour below.

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