Liverpool was chosen to host the Eurovision Song Contest in May 2023 on behalf of Ukraine following the Russian invasion of their country.
It won the right to host the event ahead of other competing cities from across the UK. A key part of this decision was surely the recognition that, as a UNESCO Music City, music is woven through Liverpool’s very fabric.
You can trace our history through the places and venues where people have come together to experience music.
The Beatles and Merseybeat
This short tour of venues has to begin at ‘the Cavern’, arguably the most famous club in music history. It is a place that will forever be associated with The Beatles and the rise of Merseybeat.
The Cavern Club opened in 1957 in a Mathew Street cellar, beginning its famous existence as a jazz venue before skiffle and then ‘beat’ music took over.
The Beatles first played there in February 1961. It was the first of almost 300 times they graced the stage of what was a cramped, hot and alcohol free venue.
In 1973, British Rail enforced the closure of the Cavern as part of its works on the city’s underground rail system. The old warehouses above the club were demolished, and the cellar was closed and filled with rubble.
In the early 1980s, plans were announced to excavate and re-open the Cavern. However, it became clear that the demolition of the buildings above the club had caused irreparable damage to the original arches and that this wouldn’t be possible.
Instead, an authentic below ground level reconstruction of the Cavern took place, using 15,000 bricks from the original venue.
The Cavern Club re-opened in 1984. Cavern City Tours took on the ownership in 1991 and, under their tenure, the venue has boomed.
You can see artists doing Beatles covers every day at the club, but it’s also a place where up and coming artists and big names can showcase their talents.
There are venues associated with the Beatles all over the city, with some like the Jacaranda still offering regular live music.
The Cavern and the Jacaranda clubs hosted the Music Venues Trust and the National Lottery’s ‘United By Music’ tour gigs in the week of Eurovision 2023.
But Beatles obsessives on a visit to the city should always make sure they sign up for a visit to the Casbah Club.
This large, Victorian villa was owned by Mona Best, mother of the Beatles’ original drummer Pete Best. After seeing a programme about coffee and music bars in London, Mona decided to open the ‘Casbah Coffee Club’ in the cellars and coal stores of the house at 8 Hayman’s Green, West Derby.
Skiffle group, the Quarrymen, featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, played the opening night of the ‘Casbah’ in August 1959 and became the venue’s resident band.
After Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best joined, the group eventually became the Beatles. As their popularity grew, additional rooms in the cellar were knocked through and converted into larger dance and stage spaces.
The former club has undergone little alteration since its closure in 1962. It contains a series of rooms that were linked to create extra space as the Beatles’ popularity grew.
Numerous ceilings and walls depict images and designs painted by each member of the original Beatles line-up, along with images painted by Mona Best and Cynthia Lennon.
The reason beat music took off so quickly in Liverpool is arguably down to the city’s port status. Local sailors who went to the US and came back with American clothes and fake US accents were known locally as ‘Cunard Yanks’ (after the Cunard shipping line).
Crucially, the argument goes, these sailors also brought back records that influenced local musicians who got these records before anyone else.
The Sink Club and early R&B venues
Merseybeat wasn’t the only movement taking place in the city in the 1960s.
As a port city, the diverse cultures of Liverpool have always been reflected through music. Liverpool’s large black communities had their own clubs largely around the L8 postal code area.
Less well known was ‘The Sink’, a club on Hardman Street, on the fringes of the city centre and L8.
It operated out of the cellar of the ‘Rumblin’ Tum’ coffee bar and featured DJs who played a mix of soul, jazz, R&B and blues. The membership ‘card’ for the club was in fact a plug on a chain with your membership number on the bottom of the plug.
The venue is also significant as the place where apparently Freddie Mercury was first joined on stage by future Queen bandmates Roger Taylor and Bryan May.
Eric’s: Punk and Indie
I wasn’t born until 1963, so Merseybeat was over before I’d even begun to take an interest in music.
My cathedral of music gloried in the unglamorous name ‘Eric’s’. As chance would have it, this small, sweaty basement venue was directly opposite the site of the original ‘Cavern’.
By the mid 1970s, Mathew Street was a largely neglected area and a physical reminder of the city’s economic decline. The cheaply available space led to the development of what we would now call a ‘creative quarter’.
Like the Cavern, Eric’s was another basement venue. It had a low ceiling and a resulting wall of heat that hit you as soon as you entered.
Amazing bands like the Clash, Joy Division, the Slits, Wire, and Buzzcocks all regularly played there.
Local legends such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Pete Wylie, Teardrop Explodes, OMD, and the brilliantly anarchic Big In Japan all began their musical careers there.
The backstory to the Euroclub venues
In Liverpool, as with many other cities, gentrification and regeneration has forced venues to look outside of the city centre.
The Baltic Triangle, an old industrial area just to the south of the city centre, is now often cited as one of the most exciting places in the UK to live in.
However, a decade ago, it was an area that only housed a handful of old traditional industries in dilapidated warehouses or industrial sheds. A creative-led regeneration of the area began around 2010, providing an alternative to steep city centre rents.
A number of venues add to the rich mix of the area now, including ’24 Kitchen Street’ (probably my favourite venue of the last few years with an always exciting and diverse programme).
Former musicians Tim and Paul Speed were part of the initial regeneration of the area. They went on to expand their portfolio by taking on two more conjoined warehouse spaces glorying in the name of ‘Camp and Furnace’.
Each of these warehouses has a capacity of over 1000 each, providing a unique space to experience gigs, club nights or festivals.
And yes, there is an actual furnace in one of the warehouses from its previous industrial use.
During the two weeks of the Eurovision festival, Camp and Furnace was home to the EuroClub, where Eurovision fanatics danced the night away to hours of Eurovision tunes, past and present.
At the other end of the docks is the latest area to undergo regeneration. The North Docks or Ten Streets area was similarly neglected until fairly recently, when culture and music once again led the successful revamp of an area.
There are a host of bars and live music venues, including ‘Meraki’, ‘Quarry’ and ‘Invisible Wind Factory’, which was the first mover in this area.
The ‘Wind Factory’ ‘is close to the Stanley Dock Tobacco Warehouse, which is currently being developed and stands alone as the world’s largest brick warehouse. ‘Invisible Wind Factory’ is so named because it used to house a wind turbine factory.
One of these warehouses is now used as a live music and electronic music venue that doubles up as a roller rink at certain times.
It is run by the Kazimier Group, locally based creatives who were commissioned to deliver the Blue and Yellow Submarine Parade: a huge outdoor underwater sea disco that formed part of the opening event of the Eurovision festival.
Electronic and dance music
Displacement of venues can also take place outside of the city centre.
‘Circus’ is a massive electronic music night in the city headed up by local DJ superstar Yousef.
For a number of years, ‘Circus’ was based out of the Bramley Moore warehouses on the dock of the same name. It became globally famous when they hosted the first mask-free club night with no social distancing as part of a limited number of test events in Liverpool in May 2021.
They are now in another sizeable industrial warehouse pretty much opposite Bramley Moore. The Blackstone Street warehouse has a capacity of 10,000 and has proved once again how these industrial-era warehouses have found an exciting new life.
Celebrating shared musical memories
As this piece sets out, and in the words of Echo and the Bunnymen, ‘Nothing Ever Lasts Forever’.
It’s inevitable in the natural cycle of things that venues will come and go for a whole variety of reasons. The best venues are made special by the people who run them, the audiences that frequent them and those characters that hold a scene together.
We need to remember and celebrate those places that shaped our shared musical memories, while also cherishing and supporting those that continue to enrich our lives today.
Listen to my Liverpool musical heritage playlist below and share your Liverpool music memories in the comments.
- Liverpool’s Musical Landscapes
- Modculture: Sinking Back into the Past with Liverpool’s Sink Club
- McManus, Kevin, Nashville of the North: Country Music in Liverpool Institute of Popular Music (University of Liverpool 1994)
- McManus, Kevin, Ceilis, Jigs and Ballads Irish Music: Irish Music in Liverpool Institute of Popular Music (University of Liverpool 1994)