Founder of the Cavern, who gave the Beatles their break, dies

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There was nothing terribly appealing about Liverpool's subterranean tunnels - used as air raid shelters during the war - when the jazz enthusiast Alan Sytner first stepped inside them in the late 1950s.

But despite their damp brick walls and narrow archways, they were to inspire Mr Sytner - whose death on holiday in France was announced yesterday - to establish the club that helped to propel the Beatles to fame. His concept for the club came when he visited the jazz district in Paris and stumbled upon Le Caveau, a warren of interconnecting cellars which were small, damp but atmospheric by virtue of the way that the sound of a trumpet resonated around the walls.

He decided to convert the tunnels beneath 8-10 Mathew Street into a Liverpudlian equivalent, and named it the Cavern Club.

John Lennon, the teenage leader of a Liverpool skiffle group called the Quarrymen, met Mr Sytner when the band played at his golf club. Soon afterwards, on 7 August 1957, the Quarrymen were booked at the Cavern Club for an evening performance billed as a "skiffle session". The band began with "Come Go With Me" but Lennon then launched into "Hound Dog", followed by "Blue Suede Shoes". Mr Sytner famously sent a note on stage reading "Cut out the bloody rock!" (Paul McCartney missed this session as he was at a scout camp.)

Mr Sytner already owned two jazz clubs and wanted to see more of the same within the Cavern's three 10ft-wide parallel vaults, which were joined by 6ft archways. He painted the brickwork black to keep a cave-like atmosphere, bought a number of wooden chairs and was soon pulling in 600 people a night, with twice as many waiting outside, even if, in the words of one Gerry Marsden, the place "stank of disinfectant and stale onions and was hot, sweaty and oppressive".

Perhaps aware that beat music was about to end the ascendancy of jazz, he sold the club in 1959, got married and moved to London. He went into business with his brother, Frank, a motor racing driver. Their car company became today's Sytner Group.

John Wilson, a jazz musician who played at the Cavern, remembered Mr Sytner as "kind, reserved and rather self-effacing". He said: "We'll never know if Merseybeat would have been born if Alan Sytner had not opened the Cavern.

But we do know that thousands of musicians and millions of music lovers all over the world owe a great deal to his initiative and his love of jazz."