Alan Sytner

Founder of the Cavern Club


Alan Lionel Sytner, club owner and car dealer: born Liverpool 10 February 1935; twice married; died Cannes, France 11 January 2006.

In 1957 Alan Sytner became the founding owner of the Cavern Club in Liverpool and, although he sold his interest two years later, his contribution to the ensuing beat boom could not be overlooked. Certainly not by Sytner himself. He told me in 1998,

Without me, no Cavern: without me, no Beatles: without me, none of those bloody things really. Oh, obviously Lennon and McCartney became geniuses and great artists, but answer me this - would they have flourished without the Cavern? If the Beatles had only been playing church halls in Maghull, would anyone have taken any notice?

Alan Sytner, who was born in Liverpool in 1935, was the son of the noted docklands GP Joe Sytner, but the medical profession was not for him. From the age of 14, he spent his school holidays in Paris and he soaked up the music and ambience of the Bohemian night-clubs, in particular the cellar club Le Caveau.

When Sytner was 21, an insurance policy on his life matured and he had £400. He started the 21 jazz club in Croxteth Road, close to the city centre. It proved popular and he knew that the way to go was a purpose-built jazz club in the centre itself. An estate agent showed him a dingy old cellar among the warehouses in Mathew Street. It was a replica of Le Caveau and, as the narrow streets reminded him of the Latin Quarter in Paris, Sytner felt he could bring the Left Bank to Liverpool. Helped by his father, he bought the premises and he took the bold step of not having a drinks licence, which made administration easier and the club safer. There were pubs nearby but the implication was that you came for the music.

Missing the Christmas trade as it was not ready in time, the Cavern opened on 16 January 1957 with the Merseysippi Jazz Band, the Wall City Jazzmen, the Ralph Watmough Jazz Band and the Coney Island Skiffle Group. Over 2,000 people turned up, although only 600 could enter. Sytner, quite rightly, regarded this as magnificent publicity.

Because of the musical polarity of the time, Sytner devoted different nights to traditional and modern jazz and to skiffle, but rock'n'roll was vetoed. On 7 August 1957, John Lennon's group, the Quarry Men, were featured:

I knew John Lennon quite well as he lived in the same road as me. He was 16 or 17 when they did a skiffle night and they couldn't play to save their lives.

Their drummer Colin Hanton recalled,

We did some skiffle numbers to start off with but we also did rock'n'roll. John Lennon was passed a note and, very pleased, he said to the audience, "We've had a request." He opened it up and it was from Alan Sytner saying, "Cut out the bloody rock'n'roll."

Many years later Paul McCartney referred to Sytner as "an odious little man", but Sytner was nonplussed:

I don't care. That talent night was a "no talent night" when they were around.

An entertaining, ebullient speaker, Sytner dismissed what he read about the Beatles:

This story of Brian Epstein having to discover where the Cavern was so that he could see the Beatles is absolute crap. I knew Brian well and he had often been at the club to see jazz.

Unfortunately for Sytner, the Cavern's appalling ventilation fell short of legal requirements and it was expensive to fix. He also lost money on riverboat shuffles on the Mersey. By 1959, the Cavern, despite its membership of 25,000, was in financial difficulties, although Sytner maintained that it was not his fault. "I had terrible advice. There wasn't anyone telling me not to buy another sports car or go to Paris." Ironically, he was to sell the club in October 1959 to one of the auditors, a 32-year-old clerk, Ray McFall. McFall realised that jazz was losing its popularity and he must embrace rock'n'roll.

Sytner moved to London and managed the Marquee jazz club. Ronnie Scott tried to interest him in a new jazz club, but it was not big enough to give both a living.

Eventually, Sytner went into a BMW dealership with his brother, Frank, a former racing driver, in Nottingham. He still promoted jazz concerts from time to time, by visiting American artists.

Spencer Leigh

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner / Caretaker / Storeman

£15500 - £17680 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A position has become available...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Sales - SaaS B2B

£60000 - £120000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This conference call startup i...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital and print design a...

Day In a Page

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

RuPaul interview

The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

Secrets of comedy couples

What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

The best swimwear for men

From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

Mark Hix goes summer foraging

 A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

Aaron Ramsey interview

Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms