The Cavern prepares to celebrate 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ first lunchtime session
by Catherine Jones, Liverpool Echo
Feb 1 2011
http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpoo ... z1DHpI1s4g
LUNCHTIME, February 9 1961 – all over Liverpool city centre, thousands of workers were streaming out of offices and shops to enjoy an hour away from the cash till, telephone or desk.
One of them was Alex Mckechnie. But instead of his usual lunchtime routine, on that Thursday he headed straight for nearby Mathew Street where he’d been told a local band just back from Hamburg was making an appearance.
That band was the Beatles, and next week – and half-a-century later – Alex will be among those back in the (current) Cavern to mark the 50th anniversary of John, Paul, George, and Pete Best’s first appearance at the legendary club.
Cavern Club bosses are planning a day of celebrations to mark the date, and they want as many Liverpudlians, particularly original ‘Cavern dwellers’ from the early 1960s to come along and join the free festivities.
“I was working at a printers as a messenger boy, a couple of hundred yards down the street,” says Alex, who was the tender age of 16 at the time.
“I’d seen the Beatles in Litherland Town Hall a couple of months before, and then at Lathom Hall. I went to most of the shows put on by Brian Kelly at the time, and we’d heard there was a band from Germany coming to Litherland.
“So me and my chum went along, and it was the Beatles.
“I wanted to see them again because they were so different to other bands playing the circuit. The Beatles were quite irreverent to the audience, and quite mischievous. They were also quite insulting – they were the first punk band in my opinion.”
Their appearance, in Cuban heels, black leather jackets and trousers, and the sheer level of noise they generated – stamping their feet in time to Pete Best’s drum beat, was also exciting for the teenage Alex and his friend.
And so it was that the youngster decided to spend that particular lunch hour on February 9 at the Cavern.
The band’s first gig wasn’t publicised, and, Alex recalls, the club wasn’t anywhere near as full in the way it soon would be when word got around about the Beatles’ appearances there.
“For the first few times I went to see them at the Cavern it wasn’t really that packed,” he says.
“I think their performance was just as good as it had been at Litherland, but possibly a bit better because the place was so compressed and small, and you could stand in front of them.
“It was an intimate atmosphere.”
And the Beatles also appeared to enjoy the atmosphere of those noon to 2pm sessions.
“We were playing to our own fans who were just like us,” George Harrison would say in later years.
“They would come in at lunchtimes and bring their sandwiches to eat. We would do the same, eating our lunch while we played.”
In fact George, still two weeks shy of his 18th birthday, was almost barred from the club on that first visit after turning up in jeans, which were banned.
It was only after persuading famous Cavern doorman Paddy Delaney that he was actually performing on stage that he was allowed in.
Alex, who later became the booking manager for the club in the 90s, and a director of the Mathew Street Festival, remembers joking and banter being a big part of the Beatles’ routine in those early Cavern days, taking the mickey out of each other and singing skits on adverts and children’s programmes such as Torchy the battery boy.
John Lennon was usually at the centre of the larking around, and the late Beatle recounted: “In those old Cavern days, half the thing was just ad lib, what you’d call comedy. We just used to mess about, jump into the audience, do anything.”
“We were too shy to speak to them,” says Alex. “But they were very approachable.
“John Lennon couldn’t see the audience and he used to glare at them with his eyes half closed, so people didn’t tend to speak to him, they spoke to Paul or Pete.
“But it was only because he couldn’t see without his glasses.”
Two years and 291 performances later, at their last show there in August 1963, their fee would be £300, but the late Bob Wooler remembers the Beatles were paid the princely sum of £5 for that first appearance in February 1961.
And Alex for one never thought the lads who laughed and stomped their way through their set would one day become the biggest band the world had ever seen.
“They were just exciting, and entertaining on a local level,” he says. “If anyone had said I’ll give you a million to one they will get a recording contract in London, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Of course the rest, as they say, is history – and history that is now, amazingly, half-a-century old.
Next week’s anniversary is one of a slew of Beatles ‘50ths’ over the next decade.
Jon Keats, of the Cavern, says: “The appearance on February 9 was an unadvertised session, and their first advertised lunchtime appearance was on February 21. Their first evening show was March 21.