Step back into the early 1960s to uncover the emerging Liverpool music scene, Merseybeat. Visit the clubs, venues, and shops that became important meeting places for ideas and music to be shared and where bands were formed and inspired. Some of these spaces are long gone, while others continue to play a part in Liverpool’s long musical heritage.
In 2021 the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project digitised three radio documentary series made by music journalist and broadcaster Spencer Leigh for BBC Radio Merseyside. These documentaries form part of a larger collection of Spencer Leigh’s work held at Liverpool Record Office. ‘Let’s Go Down The Cavern’ was a weekly series of twelve episodes, first broadcast in 1981. ‘Soup & Sweat & Rock & Roll’ was an 8-part series made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Cavern club in Mathew Street, Liverpool, broadcast in 2007. Audio from these two collections have been used for the Merseybeat Liverpool sound walk, available here and on the Echoes app. Many thanks to Spencer Leigh for permission, audio clips are copyright BBC.
This walk can be enjoyed virtually from the comfort of your home or in person. You can follow the suggested route, starting at the Blue Angel and ending at the Downbeat, via the Cavern or customise your experience by visiting the locations in any order you choose.
Accessibility note – This walk will take participants across Liverpool city centre, along roads and pedestrianised areas. After the Radio Merseyside stop participants will need to plan their route to Whitechapel. Please be aware that there are steps at the end of College Lane before the junction with Paradise Street. An alternative, sloping route is available via Manesty’s Lane.
The Echoes / Stops
The Blue Angel – 106-108 Seel Street
Spencer Leigh introduces clip of Johnny Guitar recalling a meeting with Brian Epstein in the Blue Angel which led to a recording session in London, produced by Brian Epstein. (780-LEI-7_e01)
Joe Butler recalls a conversation he had with Paul McCartney in the Blue Angel about music in America, after the clip Spencer Leigh names the speaker and the bands he played in. (780-LEI-10_e03)
The venue was originally known as the Wyvern Social Club. It was bought by Allan Williams and renamed The Blue Angel in 1960 as a jazz club. In May 1960 the Silver Beetles auditioned for a support slot on an upcoming Billy Fury tour for impresario Larry Parnes. They did not secure this, but were offered their first tour outside Liverpool, supporting singer Johnny Gentle on a tour of Scotland. Later that same year, on 12 August, Pete Best auditions to join the Silver Beetles in the Blue Angel. After Brian Epstein saw Cilla Black performing at the Blue Angel on 6 September 1963, he signed her; she would be his only female client.
In the 1980s the Blue Angel became the Razamataz, giving it the long surviving nickname, The Raz. The club became popular with students due to the cheap drinks on sale and range of music played. In 2008 DJ equipment was seized from the club and a noise complaint made from flats at the back of the venue, where a smoking area had been created following the recent smoking ban. There was a campaign to ‘Save the Raz’. In 2010 the venue won the court battle to open and operate as normal.
The Jacaranda – 23 Slater Street
Spencer Leigh introduces clip of Allan Williams talking about how a holiday to Hamburg led to the Kaiserkeller, Bruno Koschmider and Liverpool bands playing there. (780-LEI-2_e02)
The Jacaranda Coffee Bar was opened in September 1958 by Allan Williams. The venue served coffee and food during the day and at night the basement became a private members bar with live music. The Royal Caribbean Steel Band, a group of West Indian musicians from Toxteth, had a residency there. The band were led by Lord Woodbine, real name Harold Philips, who returned to England on the Empire Windrush following his RAF wartime service. Lord Woodbine was a Trinidadian calypso singer and musician, and also a music promoter. One of the bands he promoted was the Silver Beetles. Their first gig at the Jacaranda was on 30 May 1960. Allan Williams was said to have made the band work at the club before he would let them play there. John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe painted murals on the walls. The band played here several times before their first shows in Hamburg, accompanied by Lord Woodbine and Williams.
The Jacaranda continues to be a key part of Liverpool’s live music scene today with new developments from a record shop and cafe on the first floor to the creation of an independent record label Jacaranda Records. In 2018 Jacaranda Phase One was opened, a sister venue, with capacity for live music, a record shop and café bar at 40 Seel Street. The following year the top floor of the Jacaranda was converted into a studio space.
BBC Radio Merseyside – corner of Hanover Street and College Lane
This is the third building used by BBC Radio Merseyside in the city centre. In November 1967 the station started broadcasting from council owned offices in Commerce House on Sir Thomas Street. By the end of 1981 purpose-built studios at 55 Paradise Street became the new home of BBC Radio Merseyside and broadcasting continued there for the next 25 years.
In 2006 BBC Radio Merseyside moved again, to a new location and a new purpose-built studio, on the corner of Hanover Street and College Lane, with 2 studios and a performance space area. Here Spencer Leigh conducted several interviews for his documentary ‘Soup & Sweat & Rock & Roll’ celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Cavern club on Mathew Street.
Accessibility note – if you take the route down Manesty’s Lane to avoid the steps at the end of College Lane, when you turn right on to Paradise Street to walk to Whitechapel you will pass the location of the former BBC Radio Merseyside studio on the left, now part of Liverpool One retail and leisure complex.
NEMS –12-14 Whitechapel
Spencer Leigh introduces clip of Joe Flannery recalling a meeting with Brian Epstein at NEMS on the morning the Beatles returned from their American tour. (780-LEI-10_e02)
Spencer Leigh introduces clip from Bob Wooler on DJing at the Cavern and buying his records from NEMS on Whitechapel. (780-LEI-23_e02)
NEMS (North End Music Store) began as a furniture shop on Great Charlotte Street, established by Brian Epstein’s family. It also sold musical instruments and records and in 1957 Brian became the manager of the record department. Due to its success a larger branch was opened on Whitechapel. It was here, according to legend, that Brian first heard about the Beatles. From late October 1961 customers were starting to ask for a record by the group and he did not have it in stock. Days later Brian went to the Cavern to hear the Beatles play a lunchtime slot. Throughout December they met Brian at his offices at NEMS and would sign their management contract with him there in January 1962. Brian started a separate company here called NEMS Enterprises, which would move to Moorfields.
NEMS grew to become one of the biggest music retail outlets with branches across the north west. Selling tickets for concerts and music publications, as well as the records themselves, NEMS quickly became a popular hangout for young fans and musicians.
As of June 2021 the location is a branch of Next.
Kardomah Coffee House – corner of Whitechapel and Stanley Street
Spencer Leigh introduces clip of Brian Jones from the Undertakers talking about their first gig at the Cavern and the queue that went down Mathew Street and round to the Kardomah cafe. (780-LEI-7_e03)
Kardomah Cafés were a chain of coffee shops across England and Wales, first established around 1900. The Kardomah name was first used by the Vey Brothers, who were tea dealers and grocers in Liverpool from 1844. They were bought out by the Liverpool China and India Tea Company, who created a range of teas and coffees using the name, later expanding into coffee houses. The parent company became Kardomah Limited in 1938 and would change hands several times before becoming part of Premier Foods.
In Liverpool, the Kardomah offices were at 42 Dale Street. Over the years there were a number of Kardomah cafés opened across the city centre with locations at: 23 Basnett Street, 30 Bold Street, 37 Castle Street, 20 Chapel Street, 40 Dale Street, 14 Redcross Street, and 1-3 Rumford Place. By 1960 there were also larger Kardomah coffee houses at 21 Church Street [see archive image above for exterior of Kardomah exhibition café ], 17 North John Street and at 19 Whitechapel. The latter was possibly one of the later branches, opening around 1950. This particular café became a busy spot on the Merseybeat scene due to its close proximity to NEMS record shop and Hessy’s Music Store, as well as with the groups who played at the nearby Cavern Club on Mathew Street.
The site is now occupied by Wong’s Jewellers. (June 2021)
Hessy’s Music Stores – 62 Stanley Street
Spencer Leigh introduces clip of Jim Gretty talking about selling guitars and providing free music lessons at Frank Hessy’s shop; he also names some of the bands who came to the shop. (780-LEI-1_e01)
Hessy’s Music Store was a family business run by the Hessy (Hesselberg) family. The location of the original shop, opened in 1934, was in Manchester Street. By 1959 Frank Hessy was manager of the shop, now located on Stanley Street where it operated for many years until its closure in 1996. Archive photograph of Stanley Street shows Hessy’s van and signs above the location of a later showroom specialising in keyboard instruments.
However, Jim Gretty was the man to buy a guitar from, as he would apparently throw in a free lesson showing the three basic chords. Frank was willing to give credit to aspiring, young musicians, enabling them to purchase their first instruments in instalments, something the larger music stores in the city were unwilling to do. Frank also started a magazine publication called ‘Frank Comments’, written by then student Bill Harry on up and coming bands on the Liverpool scene. Bill Harry would go on to found music publication ‘Mersey Beat’.
In July 2017 a blue plaque was unveiled at the site of the shop on Whitechapel, following a long campaign by former employee Tony Bolland.
The Cavern Club – 10 Mathew Street
Spencer Leigh introduces clip of Paddy Delaney recalling the last night of the Cavern. (780-LEI-12_e02)
Spencer Leigh introduces clip of Terry McCusker who was persuaded to attend a lunchtime session at the Cavern by a friend, despite being initially put off by the ‘Cavern smell’. (780-LEI-22_e03)
The Cavern Club was opened on 16 January 1957 by Alan Sytner. The former fruit warehouse was initially an unlicensed jazz club. Skiffle bands also appeared and it became more of a venue for beat groups from October 1959 when Ray McFall took over. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes opened the first beat night. In early 1961 Bob Wooler became the DJ and organised the hugely popular lunchtime sessions. The club is synonymous with the Beatles who made 292 appearances between 1961 and 1963; Pete Best played his last show with the band there in August 1962. However, the club was not financially secure and faced closure as it was unable to comply with health and safety. On the last night, 28 February 1966, fans barricaded themselves inside with staff including doorman Paddy Delaney.
Following a high-profile campaign with support from local MP Bessie Braddock, the venue reopened on 23 July 1966. However, despite a broader music policy and performances by international artists the club was to close again in 1973 resulting from the compulsory purchase of the warehouses by British Rail for an underground railway. Then owner, Roy Adams, opened a new Cavern club opposite the location of the original. But this was short lived and closed soon after. After the murder of John Lennon in 1980 there were plans to reopen and redevelop the Cavern site, but some of the original foundations were unsafe. In 1984 the Cavern Club reopened, occupying approximately ¾ of its original site and utilising many of the original excavated bricks. The venue had mixed fortunes and several different owners, closing again in 1989. Cavern City Tours saw potential and put together a proposal to reopen. In 1991 live music returned to the Cavern.
The Iron Door Club – 13 Temple Street
Spencer Leigh introduces clip of John McNally of the Searchers talking about how seeing the impact of the Liverpool edition of ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ made the band record some tracks at the Iron Door club and send them off to Pye Records. (780-LEI-5_e02)
Spencer Leigh introduces clip of Arthur Johnson who talks about going to the Cavern as a teenager, attending the all-night sessions and preferring the Iron Door club. (780-LEI-22_e02)
The Iron Door Club was opened in April 1960 by Geoff Hogarth and Harry Ormesher. This was one off the larger clubs in the city with a capacity of over 1600. The building had previously been a butter packing factory. In 1963 the warehouse next door became part of the club, creating large spaces on the ground floor and in the basement. Different musical genres were catered for here and the venue’s name changed to the Liverpool Jazz Society in 1961 and the Storyville Jazz Club the following year, before reverting to the Iron Door Club by the end of 1962.
Promoter Sam Leach organised an all-nighter at the club, billed as “12 groups – 12-hours – Rock-Around the Clock – 8pm to 8am”. Some of the bands who performed that night include The Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Big Three, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, The Searchers, The Remo Four and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. The Iron Door closed in 1964 and later became the Pyramid Club.
The building is now occupied by a Chartered Accountants and Business Advisor.
Downbeat Club – 77 Victoria Street
Spencer Leigh introduces clip of Les Braid of the Swinging Blue Jeans who talks about working 6 nights a week at the Cavern and the Downbeat as well as working for Liverpool Corporation during the day and shares a story about the time he fell asleep in the Town Hall. (780-LEI-3_e04)
Spencer Leigh introduces clip of Kenny Johnson talking about the venues his band Sonny Web and the Cascades played including the Cavern, the Iron Door and the Downbeat. (780-LEI-3_e03)
In 1960 Jim Ireland opened the Downbeat club on Victoria Street, initially as a jazz venue. As the beat scene grew in the early 1960s the club moved with the times and became primarily a beat club. It was open for live music 4 nights a week and many Liverpool bands played there including the Remo Four and the Swinging Blue Jeans. Archive photograph shows Victoria Street looking westwards, the sign for the Downbeat can just been seen on the right. Jim Ireland was also co-owner of the Mardi Gras club, which opened in 1957. Later the Downbeat club became a venue for soul music. Billy Butler worked at both venues; playing Motown and booking black American artists. Around this time the Downbeat changed its name to the Victoriana.
Liverpool artist Bob Percival designed the interior of the club and painted the murals inside. He also painted murals inside several other jazz clubs in the city centre, including the Mardi Gras.
Location continues to be a venue today (June 2021), currently On Point wine bar.
Merseybeat Liverpool sound walk curated by Vicki Caren, Cataloguing Manager, Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project north west hub, with thanks to Spencer Leigh, BBC and Liverpool Central Library and Archive.
To experience this walk in person, download the Echoes app, find the walk and then either tap on ‘Stream walk’ or the download button (↓). Use the download option if you want to avoid using mobile data. The walk will then open in autoplay mode – the sound clips will trigger when you enter the circles on the map.
To experience these walks remotely, download the Echoes app, find the walk and then either tap on ‘Stream walk’ or the download button (↓). Then click the menu button (≡) at the top right of the map. Then slide the ‘Autoplay’ button at the top to the left to switch it off. Now you can navigate around the map or list and play the sounds.