We’ve all dreamt of being in The Cavern Club with The Beatles twisting, shouting and mop-wobbling the place into a Cilla-quivering frenzy, but only the more imaginative business studies student has ever dreamed of what it might be like to run the club after they’d graduated to Shea Stadium. Until now. A new book, 'Cavern Club: The Inside Story', tells the story of Debbie Greenberg, a Beatles-era Cavern regular whose family bought the legendary club in 1966, nursed it into a second golden era and who wants to set the record straight on why the original Cavern was demolished in 1973.
What was it like being at The Cavern in the ’50s?
“When I first started to go there, there was quite a bit of jazz being played, then it moved into a bit of skiffle and they very slowly started to introduce rock’n’roll, which the owners of the club were against at the time. But of course the kids went wild when they played rock’n’roll so gradually the rock’n’roll took over. It made for a very different vibe, it was vibrant and exciting. Every time, you got that tingle, your feet started to tap and you couldn’t wait to get down into the cellar and take part in it. It was addictive, we couldn’t get enough of it. It was smelly because they didn’t have any drains, it was just a cess pit, but once you were inside you forgot about it.”
Did you see the first Beatles gig there?
“Absolutely. It was exciting, a new group and we’d never heard them before and their music was amazing. We couldn’t wait to see them again, they were fabulous. About 1962, after The Beatles had come back from Hamburg the second time, that really changed everything because their whole appearance and the way they played, their whole vibe was infectious. The Beatles were raunchy and sexy and in black leather, they were different somehow, they were more professional when they came back from Hamburg. One of my favourites was ‘When I Saw Her Standing There’, that really got the joint jumping, and the normal ones like ‘Twist And Shout’ and ‘Boys’, that was another very popular one at the Cavern. We used to do the Cavern Stomp to it.”
That was the in-house dance move?
“I don’t know how it originated but everybody did it. It was like an inverted jive, a peculiar dance.”
What were the most memorable of The Beatles’ 292 performances at the Cavern?
“The one performance that stands out for me is their last performance in August of ’63, when they had ‘Please Please Me’ in the charts. The Cavern was absolutely packed, you couldn’t move, but the atmosphere was tremendous. But they were magical at every single performance, the minute you got down into the club the beats were pounding off the walls, you couldn’t wait to get in. The Beatles were polished, they were really excellent and of course Gerry & The Pacemakers were another very good group that often accompanied The Beatles – it didn’t matter who was on, they all had that Merseybeat sound, just some had the edge on others, and of course The Beatles did.”
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When they stopped playing the Cavern, the Cavern closed just a few years later – had the buzz died?
“It changed slightly. All the Liverpool groups still appeared at the Cavern, the only ingredient missing was The Beatles, which to us at the time was the main ingredient. But we still frequented the club and went to see all the Liverpool groups, who were absolutely amazing. Of course we missed them, they were ours and they’d gone.”
What were the highlights of running the club until the early 70s?
“The best moment ever was the day Paul McCartney returned in 1968 with Linda Eastman. Dad was stocking the top bar, I’d been to the hairdressers, came back and he said ‘we’ve had a visitor, he said he’ll be back in an hour’. He was taking a record player over to his step-sister on the Wirral. When Paul did come back, we closed the doors immediately because we were always inundated with tourists coming in all day long. The condition was that he would come back to see us so long as the press weren’t brought in but he allowed us to take photographs. We went downstairs to the Cavern proper and there was a piano on the left hand side of the stage, Paul went over to the piano, lifted the lid and started to play ‘Hey Jude’ and sang to it. It was the most magical moment, it seemed as if it was all in slow motion.”
How did you deal with the Beatles fans turning up?
“We got used to it. There were streams of people wandering in all day long, looking round the club, touching the band room and the stage and asking questions. In the beginning we let people take what they wanted from The Cavern, but it prompted my father to design souvenirs because they were asking for an old beermat or anything they could take away to say that they’d been to The Cavern. We opened a souvenir shop in the end, from the smallest item right up to guitar cases.”
You sold the club at its second peak in 1970, shortly before the new owners allowed it to be demolished for an underground metro link. How did you feel about that?
“We were absolutely distraught when the bulldozers went in. It was a travesty, it should never have happened in a million years. If we’d have still owned the club it wouldn’t have happened. [The new Cavern Club] is an excellent replica – when you get down into the Cavern it’s practically identical and the buzz and atmosphere down there is very close to what it was.”
Cavern Club: The Inside Story by Debbie Greenberg is published by Jorvik Press and is out now, priced at £17.25.