The Casbah Coffee Club – Birthplace of The Beatles
The Casbah Coffee Club Opens in West Derby 29th August 1959
“Come on down to the Casbah”
Much has been written about the Cavern and its place in Beatles history. However, there is a great chunk of Beatles history that has been overlooked for many years. While The Cavern was entertaining jazz fans, The Casbah became the place to be. Why was it so important? Why was Mona (Mo) Best, Pete Best’s mum, so important?
Roag, Rory and Pete’s book ‘The Beatles – The True Beginnings’ opens with this quote:
“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.”
Sir Paul McCartney
What else can you say? If Paul says it, it must be true.
You may have heard about the Casbah as a club at which the Quarrymen played, but not much else.
So let’s consider the facts about The Casbah:
- The Casbah was the first ‘Beat’ club in Liverpool – all the others (like the Cavern) were still jazz clubs.
- This is where George Harrison and Ken Brown re-formed the Quarrymen after not playing together for months.
- The Casbah was hand-decorated by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best, Ken Brown and Cynthia Powell.
- It was here that John and Paul convinced Stuart to join the band by spending his money on the bass guitar – under duress – as remembered by Paul McCartney and witnessed by Rory Best.
- The Casbah was home to all of the major Merseybeat bands to emerge in the 60s, like The Beatles, The Searchers, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Derry & the Seniors, Billy J Kramer, The Big Three, Faron and the Flamingos, The Undertakers, and so the list goes on (which is why the musicians called Mo the “Mother of Merseybeat.”)
- This was the first place they played outside of Hamburg as ‘The Beatles’.
- The Beatles had to regroup after being thrown out of Hamburg, so they came back together to perform at The Casbah.
- Paul had found a job and the others were disillusioned. John had stayed in Hamburg for a few weeks but eventually returned. It was Mo who got them back together again and let them play at the Casbah. She also took a more pro active role in getting them bookings. Would they have disbanded otherwise?
- It was at the Casbah that The Beatles always played before going to Hamburg and immediately after they returned. They rehearsed there, often in the lounge.
- It was Mo who got The Beatles back into Germany after they had been deported, after contacting Peter Eckhorn, who owned the Top Ten Club.
- It was Mo who got them their first proper rock ‘n’ roll gig at the Cavern after convincing Ray McFall, who took advice from Bob Wooler, to book The Beatles.
- When The Beatles played at the Tower Ballroom, New Brighton, it was the biggest indoor concert The Beatles ever gave in Britain – around 4,500 people. The poster for the night proclaimed The Beatles – “by kind permission of Mrs. Best.”
- Mo bought and let them use the equipment she had bought for the Casbah, and they stored everything there. If The Beatles were playing elsewhere, she would close the Casbah, as everyone would follow the band around the city. Even after Pete was dismissed, they continued to go there. In fact, The Beatles still stored their equipment at the Casbah until the summer of 1963 – which shows the true character of Mo.
- She formed Casbah Promotions and took ‘her’ bands to bigger venues. (Image casbah ticket “Casbah Promotions”)
- The Beatles’ first radio broadcast was in Manchester on 7 March 1962 for a show called ‘Teenager’s Turn (Here We Go).’ As the show was pre-recorded, all but George came to the Casbah the next day to listen to it on the radiogram in the lounge.
- Just as John, Paul and George as the Quarrymen opened the club, it was The Beatles – John, Paul, George and Pete – who closed it on 24 June 1962.
- Ironically, the Casbah marked the birth of The Beatles when they opened it on 29 August 1959, and The Beatles’ last live concert was at Candlestick Park exactly seven years later – 29 August 1966.
Discover More about The Casbah
Any place that has all of that as history should be the focus for all Beatles fans across the world. When fans visit the Casbah they are amazed that such an important place has remained hidden for all these years.
The Quarrymen and The Casbah
The whole story of the Casbah is amazing, yet I was stunned when I realised that I wasn’t aware of it – and I live in Liverpool! I had to find out more. When you read the whole story you too will be ‘gobsmacked’.
Most fans will know of Hunter Davies’ ‘definitive’ first biography and will notice The Casbah hardly gets a mention. Even years later when he had the chance to correct things in his book ‘The Quarrymen’, the Casbah’s only real mention is:
“In August 1959, they had a bit of luck – the Casbah opened. It provided them with regular bookings and also their next drummer, Pete Best.”
If you have only read the early editions, you have missed out. When Hunter Davies later updated his book, he rectified the original omission after meeting Pete, and inserted a chapter of its own for the Casbah, giving it its rightful place.
So, as Mo would say, “Come with me to The Casbah”.
How did Mo buy her house? She decided to take her valuable Indian jewellery to the pawnshop and then took the cash to the betting shop. Mo placed it on a horse that was entered in the 1954 Derby, one of the biggest horse races in Britain. She liked the sound of a horse named ‘Never Say Die’, which was ridden by a young unknown jockey called Lester Piggott – who went on to become one of Britain’s best-known jockeys. The horse wasn’t fancied but won at the juicy odds of 33-1. This win enabled Mo to realise her dream of owning the big house at 8 Haymans Green.
Creating the Casbah Coffee Club
One night, all the friends had gathered at Haymans Green to watch a television show – they were one of a few houses to have a television – when Mona saw the famous club, ‘Two I’s Coffee Bar’, which was based in London on the television. She decided that she should open a coffee club for young people.
Rory Best remembers:
“Mo stood up and declared: ‘I’m going to turn the basement into a little coffee club’. My father turned round and said, ‘Over my dead body!’
John Best apparently just kept repeating the phrase ‘You’re crazy!’ and shaking his head.
What happened next and who said what has not been recorded, but we know they started clearing the basement the next day to prepare for a new coffee club!”
And what about the name, Rory? Why the Casbah?
“Mo had remembered seeing the film Algiers with Charles Boyer, and remembered the line, ‘Come with me to the Casbah’ and so decided to call it the Casbah Coffee Club.”
From a house initially nicknamed Dracula’s Castle by Pete and Rory, and eventually renamed Shangri-La, it was about to be transformed. And that was that. On 29 August 1959, the Casbah Coffee Club opened.
However, The Casbah was more than just a club.
Birthplace of The Beatles
The Best family claims that The Casbah was actually the birthplace of The Beatles – with some justification.
The Quarrymen were effectively reborn on 29 August 1959 when they opened The Casbah. By the time The Beatles closed the club in June 1962, they had played there at least 44 times.
As there was still a lot of work to do to get the club ready for opening, they were all asked to help out – John, Paul, George, Cynthia, Ken and Pete, Rory and Mo Best.
This is the amazing thing about the Casbah. There is nothing else like it in the world. Still untouched after more than 40 years, you can see the work carried out by them all: a club that was hand painted by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Cynthia Powell…not a bad firm of interior decorators!
The first room you enter is the Aztec Room, painted by John. Rory remembers what happened. “Originally, John painted his now famous three-legged pot-bellied caricatures, but when Mo saw what he’d done she went mad! She hated what John had done, so she told him to change it. John then painted over them with green gloss paint – he should have used matt emulsion but, not wearing his glasses, he used the wrong paint. Mo also hated the colour green, so she told him to get rid of it. He then produced something with a more Aztec feel, which is what Mo wanted.
To leave his mark, John started to engrave his name into the wooded wall paneling and got as far as ‘John’ before Mo caught him and stopped him. She slapped him across the back of the head and his glasses fell off. He then trod on his glasses and so had to borrow Mo’s mother’s glasses to finish the job – we still possess both pairs of glasses! The scratched name is still there, standing out in Mo’s beautiful new woodwork.”
Paul Paints a Rainbow
Rory continues: “Not to be outdone, Paul painted a rainbow ceiling, with stripes for each colour.”
With George Harrison, Pete Best, Stuart Sutcliffe and Cynthia Powell also lending a hand, The Casbah is the only club that, as well as being the Birthplace of The Beatles, is the only club hand-painted by The Beatles!!
if you come to Liverpool, make sure you visit The Casbah Coffee Club!
Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles (Softback)
Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles, the first book by David Bedford, the definitive book on The Beatles and Liverpool: the stories, the history, the guide.
Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles
Liddypool: Birthplace of The Beatles, the first book by David Bedford, first published in 2009, now in its third edition.