The Casbah Coffee Club, West Derby, Liverpool
The Casbah Coffee Club is often overlooked by many Beatles fans on their pilgrimage to Liverpool yet it played a crucial part in the early history of the band. I visited on a Sunday morning and was surprised to find a large house located in a quiet residential area of suburbia. We waited in the back garden with about six other people for the house to be opened up. We were introduced to our guide who we were told was Vincent “Roag” Best, son of The Beatles road manager Neil Aspinall and Mona Best, mother of the Beatles drummer Pete Best.
The Casbah Club was opened by Mona Best as a member`s only club for her two sons Pete and Rory. Local band The Quarrymen consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ken Brown helped paint the cellar before playing at the venue. In 2006 the cellar was given Grade 2 listed building status and a Blue English Heritage plaque. The club is a small collection of cramped rooms and corridors with many of the original paintings by John, Paul, George and Ken still adorning the walls..
We were shown the main bandstand where The Quarrymen/The Beatles would have performed. The area is incredibly small and I struggled to imagine the club with several hundred noisy teenagers inside. The venue had a capacity of three hundred. The Quarrymen played seven Saturday night concerts in The Casbah for 15s. (75p) each starting on 29 August to October 1959. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Brown performed without a drummer. The opening night was attended by around 300 local teenagers in the cramped hot conditions. There was of course no air-conditioning, so as they began to dance and sing the temperature would have increased and conditions must have been almost unbearable. The Quarrymen were given a residency and were paid £3 a night.
The Saturday gigs proved extremely popular and hundreds of local teenagers queued along the street to get in. The club charged 1s. (5p) admission on top of the annual membership fee. We were told a young amateur guitar player was offered a short set so that The Quarrymen could use his amplifier. Mona Best bought her son Pete a drum kit and he formed his own band The Black Jacks who also played The Casbah along with other Liverpool luminaries such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Searcher and Cilla Black. The Quarrymen cancelled their residency after an argument with Mona Best and The Black Jacks took over the residency.
The Beatles later invited Pete Best to join the band on 12 August 1960 just before they set off for Hamburg in to play their first tour of dates in Germany at the Indra and Kaiserkeller clubs. Although the membership increased to over a thousand the club closed on 24 June 1962 with The Beatles as the last group to perform there. It had been open for just three years.
In 2006 The British Culture Minister announced that the Casbah Club was to be given Grade II listed building status and a blue plaque after being recommended by English Heritage, forty four years after its closure.
It has now been opened as a tourist attraction in Liverpool, along with McCartney and Lennon’s previous homes at 20 Forthlin Road, and 251 Menlove Avenue respectively. The club is 3.5 miles (5.6 km) from the Liverpool city centre, and only booked groups of visitors are accepted.
Paul McCartney is quoted as saying, “I think it’s a good idea to let people know about The Casbah. They know about The Cavern, they know about some of those things, but The Casbah was the place where all that started. We helped paint it and stuff. We looked upon it as our personal club.”
English Heritage’s Head of Heritage Protection in the North of England, Bob Hawkins: “The basement Casbah Club rooms are historically significant because they represent tangible evidence of The Beatles’ formation, their growth in popularity and their enduring cultural influence throughout the world.
The club survives in a remarkably well-preserved condition since its closure in 1962, with wall and ceiling paintings of spiders, dragons, rainbows and stars by original band members along with 1960’s musical equipment, amplifiers and original chairs. We know of no other survival like it in Liverpool or indeed anywhere else.”
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