The Cavern Quarter

The Beatles grace a construction barrier outside Liverpool's Cavern Quarter

When you mention the name Liverpool to a non-Brit, they are likely to think of one of two things: Liverpool Football Club, whose worldwide brand power is second only to their Premiership rivals Manchester United, or The Beatles (indeed, mention the city’s name to a typical North American and they will likely only make a connection with the latter).

Liverpool, the perennial underdog of British cities and the butt of many jokes from Londoners, is this year’s European Capital of Culture — far from being just a city of football and youth gangs. Large-scale redevelopment projects carrying designs by such ‘Starchitects’ as Norman Foster and Cesar Pelli are flowering up all along its UNESCO World Heritage Site-designated waterfront. Liverpool is hoping that its cultural coronation by the EU will shake the image that many hold of the city — that of a rough-and-tumble, crumbling port town where the locals speak a perplexing dialect, Scouse, which can be best described as a cross between Gaelic and Swedish.

Today’s Liverpool is more akin to the boomtown of the 19th century, when the steamship lines and related merchant industries held great sway in the city. However, despite the attention that Liverpool has recently been receiving for its cultural and economic revitalization, the city will perhaps always be umbilically tied to the fab name of its most famous export.

Today's Cavern Club

The nebula for the storied career of the Beatles was the Cavern Club, which opened only a couple of years before the band’s first concerts and last year celebrated its fiftieth birthday. The nightclub, located in the cellar of a building in the old pedestrianized centre of the city, was modelled after similar clubs in the jazz district of Paris. Its unremarkable beginnings were turned on their head when the Beatles gained worldwide fame in 1963. The band made 292 appearances at the club between 1961 and 1963, and fans from around the world began making pilgrimages to Liverpool to visit the site of their genesis. This popularity in turn attracted some of the biggest rock bands of the 1960s to the club’s stage; The Who, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks are among the names to have played the Cavern after the the Beatles left the Liverpudlian music scene.

There is no shortage of kitsch in the Cavern Quarter

The end of the 1960s and the split of the Beatles signalled an end to Britrock. Like the band which it famously spawned, the Cavern Club did not make it far into the following decade; in 1973, the club shut its doors and was soon afterwards demolished to make way for an underground loop of the local rail transit system, Merseyrail. The current incarnation of the club was reopened in 1984, when Liverpool FC star Tommy Smith funded a meticulous reconstruction of the club nearto its original site using bricks from the original structure. Having closed and reopened once more, the club is today the fulcrum point of what is graciously referred to on directional signs scattered throughout the city as the “Cavern Quarter”, a disorienting maze of pedestrian streets that house numerous cafés, bars, and shoppes, many of which are geared towards the packaging and sales of Liverpool’s most famous product.

None of the members of the Beatles have lived in Liverpool since the earliest glory days of their band, and any visit to the city by a former band member has always made international headlines. No wonder, then, that when Ringo Starr came to town at the dawn of 2008 to launch Livepool’s year-long reign as the European Capital of Culture, thoughts immediately turned to the glory days of the Fab Four and the brief period during the 1960s when Liverpool was at the centre of the British music scene. Indeed, the city might attribute much of its current success to the band: the EU cultural designation, which has attracted millions of Pounds’ worth of construction capital, curiously coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles’ formation. Perhaps a more plausible linkage is the extent to which Liverpool has benefitted from a Beatles-centred tourist industry. In Liverpool, Beatletourism means guided day tours, museums, monuments, memorabilia, and, of course, the Cavern Quarter, where one can, if only for the sake of artifice, reenact the rocking days of the 1960s Merseybeat, when Liverpool was the gritty dockside cradle of a burgeoning pop phenomenon, and a city far from any Starchitect’s radar screen.

Even on the gritty streets of Liverpool, the '60s live on

This entry was written by Ken Gildner , posted on Monday February 04 2008at 07:02 pm , filed under Europe, Music and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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