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Shocking new details about the demolition of the Cavern Club
by Katie Hickox
Dave Jones is co-owner of the Liverpool based Cavern City Tours, and during my current visit to Liverpool to cover the City of Culture celebrations, he told me his story about how he started as a Cavern City tour guide and went on to create the famous Mathew Street Festival.
Dave told me he was one of the "first of 15 blue badge guides" to be appointed in Liverpool in 1980. He said, "I have been involved in the Liverpool tour industry from the very beginning."
Jones joined Cavern City Tours back in 1985, after a group of Liverpool based professional tour guides decided in 1983 to form Cavern City Tours to provide Beatles tour packages. In 1983, Cavern City Tours started the first Liverpool International Beatles Convention, which started out as a two day event. In 1984, Dave and co-owner Bill Heckle expanded it to four days, and has since expanded Beatles Week again to six days. This year, 2008, will be their 25th anniversary of Liverpool Beatles Convention, the biggest Beatles Convention in the world.
Why was the Original Cavern Club demolished in 1973 to became a car park?
Dave talked with me about how interest in the Beatles musical history started in Liverpool, and why the original Cavern Club was demolished in 1973, despite it being the birthplace of the Beatles, where they played 292 times from February 3rd, 1961 to August 3rd, 1963. They were discovered by Manager Brian Epstein at the Cavern on November 9th, 1961. Brian obtained their first recording contract with EMI in June 1962 and then engineered their commerical success.
Dave told me, "The catalyst for the tourism explosion in Liverpool was John Lennon's death in 1980, and people came to Liverpool to find out more about the Beatles and their history. There was a big surge in people coming to Liverpool after John's death in the early 1980's. Unfortunately the Cavern club was closed and demolished in 1973 and became a car park because of a "compulsory purchase order" by the government, to make room for a ventilation shaft for the underground train which was never built.
"Back in 1973, Liverpool was on its knees and the Beatles cultural heritage wasn't a priority, since the Beatles had broken up in 1970. The site of the Cavern Club was still undeveloped in 1981, but in 1984 a new Cavern Club was built nearby using the same bricks from the old Cavern Club."
Unfortunately, the new Cavern Club went bankrupt three times since opening in 1984, and finally closed in 1989. Then in 1991, Cavern City Tours took over the Cavern Club and has been running it ever since. Dave says the most important concert in the nineties given at the Cavern Club was Sir Paul McCartney's historic performance in 1999 at the Cavern Club.
"In 1999 McCartney performed his last concert of the 20th century at the Cavern club and it was recorded and added tremendous credibility to the Cavern. No other pop group has ever had such an impact on Liverpool or any other city. It sealed the individuality of Liverpool as a musical city."
Dave also reveals that he started the first Mathew Street festival which was originally a one day event in 1993 and has since expanded it to 3 days. He explains its exponential success:
"In 1993 Bill Heckle and I changed the Beatles festival. What we decided to do was to create a one day citywide Mathew Street outdoor festival with one sound stage on Mathew Street. It attracted 18,000 people.
"In 1994 we put up two stages, this time North John and Victoria Street, because Mathew Street was too small for 18,000 people, but then we got 42,000 people. In 1995 we put up a third sound stage on Castle street on and got 75,000 people. In 1996, a fourth stage on Dail Street was added and we got 120,000.
"With such large crowds, in 1997 on the 40th anniversary of the Cavern, we needed help from the City of Liverpool with infrastructure, logistics and funding. but the Liverpool Council voted no. So no Matthew Street festival in 1997, but instead we had a birthday party for the Cavern Club on Matthew Street by applying for a permit which was approved for the much smaller street party. Fortunately, in 1998, there was a change in political control with the election of liberal democrats and they voted to approve the funding for the Matthew Street festival.
"The largest crowd so far was in 1999 when over 350,000 attended. In 2000 the Matthew Street got extended from one to two days and in 2003 expanded from two to three days."
When I asked Dave about the future of Beatles Week, he said that the "Beatles heritage will continue forever. I don't want it to become a DisneyWorld or Graceland. It's not just a story about four famous people, it's a story about the city, it's culture and its people. There will never be an ending to the story."
And the story continues with Paul McCartney and Ringo's continued solo work, and Apple's continued releases of remastered Beatles songs and albums, and of course with the Cirque du Soleil's nightly soldout LOVE show in Las Vegas which is attracting a new generation of Beatles fans.
For more information about Liverpool's International Beatles Week in 2008 and the Cavern Club, visit their website.
Published June 6, 2008