The Beatles, The Lightyears & the legendary Cavern
Fifty years ago today, The Beatles released “Love Me Do”… and changed the world.
They changed Liverpool, they changed the music industry, they changed what it meant to be young – they changed everything. Somehow, fifty years doesn’t quite seem long enough ago for an event of that kind of cultural magnitude. The release of “Love Me Do” feels like it should be centuries in the past, an ancient relic, a barely lit memory, but it isn’t. It’s post-war. Post the NHS. My mum could probably tell you exactly where she was when she first heard it.
There’s a terrific documentary on BBC iPlayer at the moment which covers this whole event much better than I could: 1962 – Love Me Do. Well worth a look, if only because it features a minute or two of fantastic footage of The Beatles onstage at The Cavern – the only existing film of its kind. It’s spell-binding to watch. Paul wobbling his head, George lurking like a little boy at the back of the stage, at one point braving an awkward smile at a friend in the crowd, all four members of the band completely unaware that they are teetering on the brink of re-defining modern music. Absolutely amazing stuff.
We’ve been lucky enough to play at The Cavern a couple of times, and the first one in particular was memorable for a number of reasons. I remember arriving at the venue and suddenly feeling very… ahem… posh. We weren’t in Berkshire any more, and I quickly decided that this would be a gig where I would try and keep my increasingly unpredictable mouth shut. More singy singy, less talky talky. As long as I didn’t say anything that exposed us as southern pansies, I reasoned, we’d be OK.
But it didn’t occur to me that I also had to keep a fairly beady eye on Tony. He’s not a floppy-haired fop like me, of course (Tony’s from Croydon, guv’nor), but he does really really love trivia, and is occasionally known to bust out one of his many useless facts live onstage, in-between songs.
Normally this is fine. Normally this is just part of the act, casual banter for the crowd. But on this occasion things would be different. We’d finished our set and, to our surprise, had gone down really well. So well in fact that the crowd wouldn’t stop cheering after we left the stage. The compere reappeared and the audience were shouting for an encore, but we hadn’t prepared one because a) the festival organisers had made it pretty clear that time was too tight for encores, b) we didn’t expect to get one anyway and c) we literally didn’t have any more songs in our repertoire. Behind the curtain, we huddled for a quick conference and Tony pointed out that there was one song we could do. A song we had learned recently for a friend’s wedding.
A Beatles song.
But no. You can’t do that, not in the birthplace of The Beatles. In fact, it’s not just that you shouldn’t cover The Beatles at The Cavern – it’s that you DON’T cover The Beatles at The Cavern, for precisely the same reason that you don’t wear a cardboard Queen Elizabeth mask to Buckingham Palace. Because MI5 will kick your lily ass out of England, and rightly so. But this would be okay, Tony insisted, because the Beatles song we happened to know was ‘You Can’t Do That’ (originally the B-side to ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’), and the in-built irony of this would cover us in the event of a revolt.
Yeah right it would, I thought.
But before I knew it, there we were back onstage, standing in front of an expectant Beatle-mad crowd, about to do the one thing that you must NEVER EVER do at The Cavern Club… particularly if you’re a bunch of posh softies from the Home Counties.
‘I’ve got a fact about The Beatles,’ said Tony suddenly, into the microphone, before I could begin the piano introduction. What was he doing? I looked out at the shadowy sea of faces. You could hear a pin drop. Tony continued…
‘The Beatles’ first gig wasn’t in Liverpool at all.’
Please don’t kill us, northerners. Please don’t smash us in and mail our body parts to Tunbridge Wells.
‘Lennon and McCartney’s first ever gig wasn’t in Liverpool, it was in Reading. Where we live.’
This is it, I thought. This is, without a single shadow of a doubt, how I’m going to die. And while there are worse places to meet your demise than onstage at the Cavern Club, this wasn’t my time – I still had so much to give. ‘Why,’ resonated a voice inside my head, ‘I’d always hoped that one day I might release a charity single with a Midlands-based football team, or sell a truckload of mobile phones through the canny use of a pop song that sounds a bit like a ringtone, or at the very least see my face on the side of a bin in Wandsworth shopping centre – and how will I achieve any of those things if I die now?!’
However, far from finding myself swiftly decapitated by a flying re-mastered vinyl of The White Album, I opened my tightly scrunched eyes to a room full of people sagely nodding their heads in agreement – because it would appear that not only was Tony’s fact watertight (he’d probably claim all his facts are, but I’m not so sure – that one about humans being genetically pre-disposed to vegetarianism is very suspicious), but of course the kind of musos who hang out at the Cavern Club are so knowledgeable about The Beatles that they too knew this to be true. Indeed, far from causing a riot, Tony had in fact played an absolute blinder.
And the rest is history. We threw out a spirited rendition of ‘You Can’t Do That’, and it went down a storm.
At the bar afterwards, we were toasting our success over drinks when our good friend Steve Lally – a born and bred scouser – concluded with raised eyebrows: ‘That was stupid, lads. Really stupid.’
A smile spread across his face.
‘But you absolutely nailed it.’
So here’s to you, John, Paul, George & Ringo. Thanks for starting a band, and for changing the world.
ps. This is just the kind of story that crops up in my Lightyears book ‘Mockstars’, so if you enjoyed this wee anecdote, visit www.ProjectLightyears.com for some novel readings (and maybe leave us some juicy comments on YouTube). Or, you’re feeling really lazy, just press play below: