The Casbah Coffee Club

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The Casbah Coffee Club
Casbah Coffee Club Liverpool.jpg
Location 8 Hayman's Green, West Derby, Liverpool, England, United Kingdom
Owner Mona Best
Capacity 300
Opened 29 August 1959
Closed 24 June 1962
Website
casbahcoffeeclub.com

The Casbah Coffee Club was a rock and roll music venue in West Derby, Liverpool, started by Mona Best in 1959 in the cellar of the family home.[1] The Casbah, as it became widely known, was planned as a members-only club for Best's sons Pete, his younger brother, Rory, and their friends.[2] Mona came up with the idea of the club after watching a TV report about The 2i's Coffee Bar in London's Soho where several singers had been discovered. She decided to open the club, which was located in her cellar, on 29 August 1959, for her sons, their friends and young people to meet and listen to the popular music of the day.

The QuarrymenJohn Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ken Brown—went to the club to arrange their first booking, to which Mona agreed, but said she needed to finish painting the club first. All four took up brushes and helped Mona to finish painting the walls with spiders, dragons, rainbows and stars. The group often played at The Casbah as other venues, like the The Cavern Club, had a jazz-only policy at that time. The cellar—with its original decoration—still exists.

In 2006, Culture Minister David Lammy announced that the Bests' ex-coal cellar was to be given Grade II listed building status and a blue plaque, after being recommended by English Heritage. It was opened as a tourist attraction in Liverpool, along with McCartney and Lennon's previous homes at 20 Forthlin Road and 251 Menlove Avenue respectively.

History[edit]

Mona Shaw was born on 3 January 1924, in Delhi, and married John Best in India before moving with him and their two children, Pete Best (b. 1941) and Rory Best (b. 1944) back to Liverpool in 1945, where they lived in various houses.[3] After moving to Queenscourt Road in 1948—where the Bests lived for nine years—Mona was told by Rory about a large Victorian house for sale at 8 Hayman's Green, in 1954. The Best family claim that Mona then pawned all her jewellery and placed a bet on a horse that was ridden by Lester Piggott in the 1954 Epsom Derby called, "Never Say Die", which won at 33-1, and used her winnings to buy the house in 1957[4] (to place the bet, Mona would have had to travel more than 220 miles (350 km) from Liverpool to Epsom - as bets were only allowed at race tracks at the time - or placed the bet with an illegal bookmaker in Liverpool).[5] The house (built around 1860 by an unknown architect), had previously been owned by the West Derby Conservative Club, and was unlike many other family dwellings in Liverpool, as it was set back from the road, had 15 bedrooms and 1 acre (4,000 m2) of land.[6] All the rooms were painted dark green or brown, the garden was totally overgrown, and the cellar was used for storing coal.[7][8]

The Casbah[edit]

A youthful McCartney and Lennon perform in a low-ceilinged room with an audience member a few feet away.
McCartney and Lennon playing on the opening night of The Casbah Coffee Club.

Mona came up with the idea of the club after watching a TV report about The 2i's Coffee Bar in London's Soho, where several singers had been discovered. She decided to open the club, which was located in her cellar, on 29 August 1959, for her sons, their friends and young people to meet and listen to the popular music of the day, unlike The Cavern Club, which had a jazz-only policy at that time.[2][9] Mona charged half a crown annually for membership—to "keep out the rough elements"—and served soft drinks, snacks, cakes, and coffee from an espresso machine, which no other club had at that time.[10][11] Records were played on a small Dansette record player, which amplified them through a 3" speaker.[12] Mona had booked the Les Stewart Quartet to play the opening night with Harrison on guitar, but they cancelled the booking after Stewart and Brown had a quarrel. Stewart was angry that Brown had missed a rehearsal, because Brown was helping Mona to decorate the club.[7] As 300 membership cards had already been sold, Harrison said that he had two friends in a band called The Quarrymen who would play instead.[7] Lennon, McCartney and Harrison went to the club to arrange the booking, to which Mona agreed, but said she needed to finish painting the club first. All four took up brushes and helped Mona to finish painting the walls with spiders, dragons, rainbows and stars, but as Lennon was short-sighted, he mistook gloss for emulsion paint, which took a long time to dry in the dark, damp cellar. Cynthia Powell, later the wife of Lennon, painted a silhouette of him on the wall, which is also still there.[13][14][15]

The Quarrymen played a series of seven Saturday night concerts in The Casbah for 15 shillings each, starting on 29 August to October 1959, featuring Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Brown, but without a drummer, and only one microphone connected to the club's small PA system.[16][17] The opening night concert was attended by about 300 local teenagers, but as the cellar had no air-conditioning, and people were dancing, the temperature rose until it became hard to breathe.[18] After the success of the first night, Mona gave The Quarrymen a residency, and paid the whole group £3 a night.[19] Every Saturday thereafter, queues lengthened onto the street, which was financially good for Mona, as she charged one shilling admission on top of the annual membership fee.[20] As there was no amplification, Lennon later persuaded Mona to hire a young amateur guitar player called Harry to play a short set before The Quarrymen, but this was only so they could use his 40-Watt amplifier.[21]

Best was studying at the Collegiate Grammar School when he decided he wanted to be in a music group, so Mona bought him a drum kit from Blackler's music store and Best formed his own band; The Black Jacks, who later played in The Casbah.[7][22][23] Chas Newby joined the group, as did Ken Brown, but only after he had left The Quarrymen.[17][24][25] The reason for Brown's exit from the group was that he turned up on the seventh Saturday night of The Quarrymen residency at The Casbah with the flu, so Mona ordered him upstairs to the Best's living room to rest. This caused a massive quarrel with the rest of the group when Mona came to pay them, as they wanted Brown's money to be shared amongst the three of them, as Brown had not played. Mona refused, so The Quarrymen angrily cancelled their residency and stormed out.[26]

Colin Manley from The Remo Four was also given a booking to play in the club, which was the only venue that young amateur bands could play at the time.[19] Other artists and groups like Cilla Black, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, The Searchers and Gerry & The Pacemakers later played in the club.[27] The Black Jacks became the resident group at The Casbah, although The Quarrymen occasionally played there again and often visited.[18] It was in The Casbah Club that Lennon and McCartney persuaded Stuart Sutcliffe to buy a Höfner 500/5 model—known in Europe as a President bass—with the money he had won in the John Moores art exhibition.[28][29][30] Even though the membership list later spiralled to over a thousand, Mona closed the club on 24 June 1962, with The Beatles as the last group to perform.[31]

Heritage status[edit]

Small area with three black wooden walls; only an amplifer, speaker and guitar can be seen.
The live music area of the club as it looks today.

In 2006, Culture Minister David Lammy announced that the Bests' ex-coal cellar was to be given Grade II listed building status and a blue plaque, after being recommended by English Heritage.[14] 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.[32][33] The club is 3.5 miles (5.6 km) from the Liverpool city centre, and only booked groups of visitors are accepted.[32][34] McCartney was 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."[35]

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."[36]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "8 Hayman’s Green". Google Maps UK. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Egan, Sean (25 October 2002). "New Book Chronicles Pete Best's Beatles Adventures". Nielsen Business Media. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  3. ^ Best & Best 2003, p. 12.
  4. ^ Connolly, Ray (7 April 2007). "Pete Best is a happy man". Daily Mail. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  5. ^ "Cyril Stein". Telegraph Media Group. 23 Feb 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  6. ^ Best & Best 2003, p. 16.
  7. ^ a b c d Spitz 2005, p. 161.
  8. ^ Miles 1997, p. 57.
  9. ^ Holmes, David (22 October 2005). "Best to play in What Cheer". WalrusGumboot Beatle News. Archived from the original on 15 September 2007. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Spitz 2005, p. 160.
  11. ^ Thorpe, Vanessa (25 August 2002). "Beatles' Liverpool cradle will rock once again". Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  12. ^ "Photo of the Dansette record player". casbahcoffeeclub.com. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  13. ^ Lennon 2005, pp. 43-44.
  14. ^ a b "Beatles' club gets listed status". BBC. 15 September 2006. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  15. ^ Matthews, Dick. "Early Photos of The Casbah Club". SamLeach.com. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  16. ^ Miles 1997, p. 51.
  17. ^ a b Hughs, David. "Casbah photos". The Source. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  18. ^ a b Lennon 2005, p. 44.
  19. ^ a b Spitz 2005, p. 162.
  20. ^ Spitz 2005, p. 164.
  21. ^ Spitz 2005, p. 163.
  22. ^ "Liverpool Collegiate - Icons: A Portrait of England". Icons of England. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  23. ^ Ladd, Jim (1 April 1982). "Best of The Beatles - an interview with Pete Best". The Beatles at the Web Spot. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  24. ^ Spitz 2005, pp. 4-5.
  25. ^ "Photo of record cover showing Ken Brown with Harrison, McCartney and Lennon". Ozit Records. Archived from the original on 23 April 2005. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  26. ^ Spitz 2005, pp. 164-165.
  27. ^ "Drinking coffee with The Beatles". BBC. 27 January 2003. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  28. ^ ”The Beatles Anthology” DVD 2003 (Episode 1 - 0:28:02) Harrison and McCartney talking about Sutcliffe’s first bass guitar.
  29. ^ "Sutcliffe's President Bass". Rockmine. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  30. ^ "Sutcliffe's cheque book". Rockmine. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  31. ^ "The end of the club and the performers who played there". casbahcoffeeclub.com. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  32. ^ a b Leopold, Todd (7 July 2003). "The man who was a Beatle". CNN. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  33. ^ "The Casbah Coffee Club homepage". casbahcoffeeclub.com. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  34. ^ "Visitors at The Casbah Coffee Club". casbahcoffeeclub.com. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  35. ^ "McCartney’s comments about The Casbah Coffee Club". casbahcoffeeclub.com. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 
  36. ^ "Minister Bob Hawkins on The Club". Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 6 September 2006. Retrieved 10 June 2011. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°25′55″N 2°54′41″W / 53.431936°N 2.911462°W / 53.431936; -2.911462