“The Day we bought the cavern”
When the Cavern closed on 28th February 1966, it looked as though the club’s days were over. However, in stepped Joe Davey and Alf Geoghegan. Alf’s daughter, Debbie Greenberg, recalls the day they got the keys!
Despite his training as an accountant, Ray (McFall) was notoriously bad at keeping records both for Mersey Beat and the Cavern. The Official Receiver asked for offers for the lease and our offer of £5,500 was the highest bid received. Finally, on Monday April 18th 1966, my parents and Joe and Kath Davey took over the Cavern.
What Have We Done?
I will never forget that day and the mixed emotions among my family. I was ecstatic and couldn’t contain my excitement. My mother, however, did not share my enthusiasm and faith in the project, but I knew Dad was quietly excited about what lay ahead.
“What have we done? We have poured all our life’s savings into an empty old cellar,” Mum moaned.
I could tell she was already regretting it. Dad was fifty-six years old when he embarked on this new venture, yet he had the determination and energy of an eighteen-year-old.
Once negotiations with the Official Receiver to take over the lease were concluded – and the cheque had cleared – Dad and Joe collected the keys. Now we were in business. This was the point at which dreams came face to face with reality.
With some trepidation, we opened up the door on the ground floor of No. 8 Mathew Street to find a reception desk area, several offices and a very dark and dusty space.
Dark, Cold, Musty and Damp
A corridor at the rear of the reception area led to four offices to the right. We were equipped with torches, as we didn’t know where the light switches were. Dad found a switch in the corridor and tried turning it on but nothing happened. It was possible, we thought, that the electricity had been switched off at the mains but it was also possible that it had been cut off for non-payment. It was dark, cold, musty and damp.
We continued cautiously, one behind the other with out torches, and at the rear of the large empty space we discovered a wooden staircase which led down to the the studio once owned by Cavern Sound Ltd.
On ground level at the rear was a large metal door which, after several attempts to find the right key, we finally managed to open. Behind it was an external light-well, no bigger than six by four feet, surrounded on three sides by sixty-foot-high walls.
To the left was a huge sheet of metal about ten feet high which, on closer inspection of the plans, revealed a concealed iron gate. This led down a 100-yrad passageway to a T-junction with alleyways leading right to Harrington Street and left to Mathew Street, where metal gates secured the exits.
The Smell of Dead Birds
The smell of dead birds and bird droppings in this enclosed space was overpowering. Art the risk of the smell following us, we left the door to the light-well ajar to throw some light into the rear of the building, as we continued our trek of discovery.
Descending the wooden staircase to the recording studio, we could immediately see that a lot of money had been spent to create a professional soundproof studio where many of the Liverpool groups had come to record demo discs.
A Secret and Wondrous Place
Daylight hit us as we emerged from No. 8 on to Mathew Street. We then walked several yards down the street and Dad opened the roller shutter to No. 10 the main entrance to the club. Still by torchlight we descended the eighteen stone steps into the Cavern. For me it was re-entering a secret and wondrous place, a spine-tingling moment.
To actually own the Cavern was both magical and breath-taking. I had only been in the Cavern when it was full to bursting with people and pulsating with music. But even though it was eerie, empty and very smelly, this hallowed ground retained its mystique.
Tapping Our Feet to the Beat
At the top of the stone steps I paused to remember how we would wait there, impatiently tapping our feet to the beat of the Mersey Sound, eager to reach the bottom and be part of this action. As we slowly descended, I was amazed to see that the small wooden table and chair that functioned as the pay desk were still in place, covered in dust.
The rows of wooden chairs in the central aisle facing the stage had been haphazardly replaced in untidy rows, probably after being used to barricade the main entrance the night the cavern was closed down.
Either side of the central aisle were arched tunnels where, if you were lucky enough and early enough to grab a centre row seat, you could get a fabulous close-up view of the group on stage. You could practically touch them and also talk to them and make requests, with every performance like a private party.
The empty stage looked slightly eerie but in my mind’s eye it was alive with a group rocking and bouncing around to the unmistakeable Mersey beat. Visions of the Beatles in their leather gear danced in my head.
Dad, not so overwhelmed by nostalgia, was eager to throw some light on our inspection. “Stay here while I see if I can locate the main switchboard.” He looked in cupboards behind the coffee bar but found nothing. He then found another cupboard under the stairwell.
“This looks promising.” He opened it up.
“Yes, got it! Fingers crossed the electric hasn’t been cut off.”
We held our breath as he pulled the heavy metal lever down and cheered when the lights came on.
Owning the Cavern
Pad and pen in hand, Dad was already working out what had to be done to make this place a success again. My mother followed us around in total disbelief, tut-tutting that he had been crazy enough to put their money into some dirty smelly old cellar. I had to smile inwardly at the look of utter disdain on her face as she struggled to come to terms with owning the Cavern.
It did stink after being locked up for over a month with no disinfectant added to the toilets to mask the stench, but after a few swift inhalations you got used to it. I watched Mum’s nose wrinkle in disgust at the smell. Nobody needed a closer look to actually check on the toilets – and anyway there was no going going back now.
Joe and Kath Davey followed us around, taking everything in but not saying much. Kath looked just as bewildered as Mum. Joe, who couldn’t write and who used to sign his cheques with a cross, relied totally on Dad to make notes and draw plans of the club.
No. 8, No. 10 and No.12
It transpired that they had bought the lease of not just No. 10 Mathew Street, the original Cavern Club, but also No. 8 and No. 12. The site was enormous, stretching almost as far as The Grapes on the opposite side of the street, the pub where the Beatles ad most of the Liverpool groups used to drink.
No. 12 Mathew Street was bricked up between the arches of the far left wall of the Cavern. We wouldn’t have known that it existed but for the fact that we had a copy of the building plans We decided to leave No. 12 sealed up for now. If we needed room to expand in the future, we had extra space available next to the old Cavern premises.
The small coffee bar at the front of the club was still in place, tired and dusty with plastic cups on the serving counter and litter strewn on the floor – remnants of the final marathon session on 28th February. Rodents had long since seen off any discarded food.
We made our way down the left tunnel to the band-room where, outside the door, was an upright piano. The bailiffs had either missed it or deemed it worthless. My sense of breathless anticipation returned. We followed Dad into the band room.
Had Dad really Bought the Cavern?
“Wow!” I was covered in goose bumps. This is where the Beatles and all those great groups had sat and joked with one another and changed into their stage clothes before climbing the two wooden steps through the arch on to the stage.
This was a first for me – I had never been in the band room, just sneaked an occasional peek from the tunnel. This tiny space, no bigger than eight by ten feet, oozed pure excitement. The walls were covered in signatures and quips from the Beatles, Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Mersey Beats, the Searchers, the Hideaways, the Fourmost, the Big Three, the Undertakers and many more. I was mesmerized by this scrawled record of rock history, which gave me hope that we could rekindle the spirit. Was this actually happening? Had Dad really bought the Cavern?
The turntable and microphone Bob Wooler used for announcements were still in place, under s dust blanket, to the right of the steps that led on to the stage. I couldn’t resist climbing on stage. Looking out into the dimly lit tunnel where I had often been packed in with hundreds of other fans, I finally experienced the band’s eye view of the Cavern.
The old cloakroom to the right of the stage, where Cilla Black used to take the coats, was still intact but Dad already had plans to relocate it upstairs in No. 8.
With all the light switches now working, we breathed a sigh of relief that we now had power in both buildings. Mum immediately contacted Merseyside and North Wales Electricity Board and asked them to send an inspector to read the meters to ensure we would only be liable for power consumed from that date.
Ventilation and Emergency Exit
Liverpool Corporation imposed strict conditions for building improvements. Most important was the provision of new toilets connected to the main drains and improved air extraction and ventilation so that it would no longer feel like a sauna when the club was full. Also crucial was a new emergency exit so patrons could be rapidly evacuated.
Cavern Club: The Inside Story
Cavern Club – The Inside Story
This first-hand account of Debbie’s teen years frequenting and eventually helping to run the original Cavern Club is the authentic inside story of the Beatles launch pad, full of triumphs and failures – and surprise celebrity encounters.