Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Cavern Club Owner Ray McFall Passes On

Ray McFall, the one time owner of the Cavern Club in Liverpool who booked The Beatles there, died on 8 January 2015 at the age of 88.

Ray McFall was born on 14 November 1926 in Gartson, Lancashire (now Merseyside), in the southern part of Liverpool. His family eventually moved to the town of Maghull, Lancashire (now Merseyside) just north of Liverpool. He attended  St Mary’s Roman Catholic College in Crosby, Lancashire (now Merseyside). During World War II he served as a Bevin Boy at the Clock Face Colliery in St. Helens, Lancashire (now Merseyside). He later went to work as a clerk at an accountancy firm.

It was on 16 January 1957 that stock broker and jazz aficionado Alan Sytner opened the Cavern Club at 10, Mathew Street in Liverpool. Mr. Synter drew inspiration from the jazz club Le Caveau De La Huchette in Paris and planned for the Cavern Club to become the premiere jazz club outside of London. While the Cavern Club was a jazz club under Alan Sytner, skiffle groups did play at the venue as well. Among these groups were the Eddie Clayton Skiffle Group, with whom Ringo Starr is believed to made his debut at the Cavern Club in 1957. The Quarry Men, the skiffle/rock 'n' roll group that would evolve into The Beatles, also played at the Cavern Club while it was owned by Alan Sytner.

Unfortunately, Alan Sytner could not make the Cavern Club turn a profit, despite booking such acts as blues legend Big Bill Broonzy, saxophonist Ronnie Scott, and Acker Bilk and his band. At the time Ray McFall handled the Cavern Club's finances and also worked part time as a cashier there. Ray McFall then bought the Cavern Club from Alan Synter for  £2,750. Mr. Sytner then left to manage yhe Marquee Jazz Club in London. The first night with Mr. McFall as owner featured blues legends Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee on the bill.

Ray McFall continued to regularly book jazz acts at the Cavern Club, but soon realised that if the club was going to make any money he would have to take advantage of the "Beat Boom" that had swept the Mersey area in the late Fifties and early Sixties. It was then on 20 November 1959 that Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, with Ringo Starr on drums, first played the Cavern Club. While the Cavern Club hosted Liverpool's first jazz festival on 6 January 1960, then, it held its first "beat night" on  25 May 1960 (featuring Rory Storm and the Hurricanes again). It was on 9 February 1961 that The Beatles first performed at the Cavern Club.

Ray McFall was very impressed by The Beatles, although he did not approve of the way they dressed. Fresh from their performances in Hamburg, The Beatles still dressed in leather jackets and blue jeans, and blue jeans were not allowed in the Cavern Club. Mr. McFall said, "I felt that if people were wearing good, clean clothes, they would be more likely to behave themselves, as they wouldn’t want them getting dirty and damaged." Fortunately the dress code was not an insurmountable obstacle for The Beatles and they would return to the Cavern Club. It was on 21 February 1961 that they played their first lunch time gig at the Cavern Club. By 3 August 1963, the date of their last performance at the club, The Beatles had performed there 292 times.

Not only would the Cavern Club help establish The Beatles as the Liverpool beat band, it was on  9 November 1961 that Brian Epstein visited the club to see the band about which he had heard so much. Mr. Epstein would become the band's manager and would eventually get them a recording contract with Parlophone  Records, a division of EMI. It was on 19 August 1962 that Granada Television filmed The Beatles' lunchtime performance at the Cavern Club. It would be The Beatles' first appearance on television.

Ray McFall's eye for talent extended beyond The Beatles, so that he booked many other soon to be famous Liverpool bands at the Cavern Club. The Searchers, Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Swinging Blue Jeans, Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, and The Scaffold all played at the Cavern Club. Ray McFall also booked some legendary acts from beyond the Mersey area, including Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated, The Hollies, The Kinks, and The Who.

At the height of its success the Cavern Club even had its own weekly show broadcast live from the club on Radio Luxembourg. Ray McFall would even found his own short lived recording label, Cavern Sound Recording, with a recording studio installed in the club.

In the wake of Beatlemania, The Beatles became too popular for the Cavern Club. It was after their last performance on 3 August 1963 that the club's fortunes began to falter. While the Cavern Club was still extremely popular, it was also increasingly in debt. Ray McFall declared bankruptcy and the Cavern Club closed on 28 February 1966. It would reopen under new management on 25 October 1966 and remained open until March 1973. It would later be reopened as the Cavern Club on 26 April 1984. It would close again in 1989, but was reopened in 1991 by its current owners.

After having owned the Cavern Club Ray McFall and his family moved to Balham in South London. He sold insurance and later adding machines. He eventually went to work for a home furnishings company. In 1999 he retired.

There can be no doubt that Ray McFall played a pivotal role in rock music history. He certainly played a pivotal role in the history of The Beatles. In signing them to play the Cavern Club the gave The Beatles exposure that they might not otherwise have. It was at the Cavern Club that their soon to be manager Brian Epstein first saw The Beatles and at the Cavern Club that their first ever television appearance was recorded. While The Beatles' success at the Cavern Club certainly added fuel to the Beat Boom in the United Kingdom, Ray McFall would further help the Beat Boom by showcasing other bands at the Cavern Club.
The Searchers, Gerry and The Pacemakers, Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders, and other Liverpool area Beat groups all performed at the Cavern Club. Still later such bands as The Kinks and The Who would also play at the Club. The Cavern Club then played a major role in the Beat Boom beyond being The Beatles' regular venue. Of course, the Beat Boom would eventually lead to the British Invasion of America. The rest, as they say, is history. In the end, then,  Ray McFall would be one of the most influential club owners of all time.

1 comment:

Carley Johnson said...

Wow, what an incredible life. RIP, Ray.