When did The Beatles last play The Cavern?
The Beatles played 292 times at the Cavern Club in Liverpool in just two years. Their last performance was on Saturday, August 3rd, 1963.
The speed at of The Beatles national rise to fame caught the Cavern Club management by surprise. They had intended to use the The Beatles national growing reputation as a showcase for other local talent, adding five support bands to the bill. But in the few months since their last appearance Beatlemania had swept the nation.
It quickly became apparent that The Beatles were now far too big for the venue, which had a legal capacity of around 200. This barely covered the band’s new entourage and the 500 tickets that went on sale in late July sold-out in less than half an hour.
The concert was scheduled to start at six, with Beatles appearing at the end of a long evening. By mid afternoon a large crowd of young girls had gathered outside the tiny venue in Matthew Street.
The crowds outside were going mad. By the time John Lennon had got through the cordon of girls, his mohair jacket had lost a sleeve. I grabbed it to stop a girl getting away with a souvenir. John stitched it back on.
Inside the venue, Lennon’s mood darkened further as the band struggled with the primitive concert facilities.
The Beatles all had long faces and John Lennon was saying, ‘We never should have come back here.’ Everything was sweaty and wet and we told them to make sure that they didn’t slip on stage. Once the walls got wet, all that condensation came down onto the stage and it was dangerous.
The warning proved accurate. Condensation fused the electrics, silencing their instruments and plunging the cellar into darkness. Lennon immediately left the stage, a difficult moment in a tense evening.
Another potential flashpoint was the inclusion of Bob Wooler as compere. Wooler had been instrumental in initially hiring The Beatles, but had been at allegedly assaulted by a very drunk John Lennon at Paul McCartney’s 21st birthday party, just two months before. The details of what happened are much contested — the wildly different recollections of eyewitnesses take up an entire chapter of Craig Brown’s One-Two-Three-Four — but apparently centred on the insinuation that there had been homsexual liaison between Brian Epstein and John Lennon.
Despite all the difficulties, The Beatles were still very sensitive about their local reputation in Liverpool. John quickly calmed down, returning to the join Paul in an impromptu acoustic version of When I’m 64, as they waited for the power to return.
Bitter sweet farewell
The choice of When I’m 64 (three years before it appeared on Sergeant Pepper) was perhaps an unconscious tribute to their local fans. Paul had written the song in his teens and The Beatles had performed times at The Cavern. Other songs on the setlist are unconfirmed but would have included other Lennon & McCartney originals including ‘Love Me Do’ (an old Cavern favourite) ‘Boys’ (Ringo’s party piece) and the recently released ‘She Loves You’. These would have been combined with rock and soul standards like ‘Kansas City’ and ‘Twist and Shout’.
The Beatles never returned The Cavern — though Paul McCartney did give live performances at its reincarnation at in 1999 and 2018. Perhaps surprisingly John Lennon lobbied hard for The Beatles to play the venue on their final 1965 UK tour. This was never a realistic option, even if Bob Woolmer half-jokingly claimed that Brian Epstein had promised to fulfil six extra session agreed before they were famous.
From this point on, The Beatles would be performing short sets in large venues against a backdrop of incessant screaming. Once the thrill had worn off became an increasingly dispiriting experience. By 1965 Lennon and Harrison wanted to retire as a touring band: the others more reluctantly agreed. One key factor in this decision was their inability to reproduce their earlier energy and excitement.
In his post-Beatles interviews John Lennon waxed lyrical about their pre-fame gigs (‘nobody could touch us’). The intimacy of sweat-filled cellars venues like Cavern provided sweeter memories than packed stadiums.