Eye witness: In the gloom of the latterday Cavern Club, Liverpool pays its respects to the Quiet Beatle

Locals usually avoid the tourist trap of the Beatles' birthplace. But yesterday, with George Harrison gone, it was different...
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The Independent Online

The tiny, spotlit stage of the Cavern felt like a shrine. People wandered into the reconstructed club yesterday and stood in silence, looking at the space where George and the others used to play.

The real Cavern was closed in 1966, but was rebuilt a short stagger up Matthews Street, and yesterday drew those wanting to pay respects to the Quiet Beatle.

The sticky tables, and the smell of disinfectant after a heavy night were the same as in the 60s. So were the arched ceiling and candles. "This feels right," said one man, quietly in the gloom.

Lots of tourists visit the Cavern Quarter, as it is now called, but yesterday it was full of Liverpudlians who had not been that way for years. A sigh, a reflective comment, and a quip were enough for most of them.

"I don't remember there being this many stairs," said Lynne Helliwell of St Anne's near Blackpool, as she stepped down into the new Cavern. "I haven't been here for 35 years, more I suppose," she said. "We were coming into the City to shop so we decided to have a nosy around where we saw them play."

Only the bottles of alcopops in the chilling cabinets were different from the days when office juniors crammed into the place during their lunch hours to watch one band that would revolutionise popular music and a lot of others that would not. Few people know, or care, what happened to Cliff Roberts and the Rockers, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, or most of the other beat bands whose names were written on the back wall alongside that of the Beatles. Their former members may even have been among those who returned this weekend.

"Until yesterday our visitors' book was full of people from abroad, as far as Chile, Paraguay, and Japan," said Steve Barnes, owner of a gift shop called From Me To You in the arcade that now occupies the original site of The Cavern.

"Since Friday night, when they finished work, it has been people from Liverpool coming here to sign."

Outside the shop stood Paul Wharton, a large man with a ginger beard, who had been there for two hours, waiting for the day's special edition of the Liverpool Echo to arrive. "I have to buy it from here, as close as possible to where the stage used to be, because this is where it all started," said the 38-year-old photographer from St Helens who had promised to send copies to friends abroad.

"When John Lennon died, I only had four people to talk to who understood what the Beatles meant to me," he said. "This time it is different. I was up until four this morning on the net, chatting with hundreds of people from around the world who feel the sadness I feel."

He talked as though he had lost a friend, but surely the multi-millionaire, semi-reclusive Harrison had lived a life very different from his own? "When you have listened to the lyrics of every song and know someone's life story, even what size shoes they take, you do feel you know them and their death is a loss."

Such devoted fans apart, one Beatles lyric seemed to sum up the City's attitude yesterday. It came to mind in Matthew Street, under gold discs on a wall representing the number one hits enjoyed by local performers. Sixteen for the Beatles, a couple each for Paul and John, and one for My Sweet Lord by George Harrison in 1971. And two for Atomic Kitten. In the Famous Grapes – where the band used to go for a drink between sets – the sound system was playing Bob the Builder. And back in the Cavern, Ms Helliwell and her friend were laughing as they remembered past adventures. It was not their way to weep for George: "Well, what you've got to do, is to celebrate his life."

As she spoke, the Beatles were singing Ob-la-di with the hook line Liverpool knows so well: "Life goes on."

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