Music Hall origins began in Harmonic Rooms and in song taverns attached to local inns. The Music Hall’s main period of success went from the 1860’s to the 1960’s and this is most evident in Liverpool. Music Halls were established in local churches, the Cathedrals, St George’s Hall Concert Room, Picton Hall and various Assembly Rooms.
The Government Act, 1843, for licensing of all theatres meant more were built in Liverpool. Some of these theatres emerged, for short periods of time, into Music Halls or Theatres of Variety as they grew in popularity in the late 19th Century.
1840’s PARTHENON MUSIC HALL, Great Charlotte Street
1840’s-1930’s ROYAL AMPHITHEATRE (Later the Royal Court), Queen Square
1850-1890 BIJOU OPERA HOUSE, Bold Street
1860’s-1900’s THEATRE ROYAL ADELPHI, Christian Street
1866-1924 ALEXANDRA THEATRE (Later the Empire), Lime Street
1870-1872 THEATRE ROYAL PALACE, Williamson Square
1890’s THE STAR (later the Playhouse), Williamson Square
1960’s THE SHAKESPEARE
1969 THE ROTUNDA
1969 THE NEPTUNE
Also many theatres were established in the Liverpool suburbs, e.g. Garston, Wavertree, Dingle, Bootle, Everton.
Music Halls were places of fun and entertainment. They provided a wide variety of performances from Opera, concerti, oratorios, religious musical festivals, choral societies, classicals, chamber music, orchestrals.
They were also major employers (stage-door hands, firemen, usherettes, booking-office staff, managers, cleaners, orchestras, backstage staff etc.)
The present entertainment scene in Liverpool is a lot different to the age of the Music Hall. Clubs have replaced many theatres and halls. Some of the tradition of the Music Hall survives though through the present and future pub and club entertainers of Liverpool.
The Philharmonic Hall
First opened in 1849 at a cost of £30,000
The LIVERPOOL PHILHARMONIC SOCIETY began as an orchestra and a chorus of 50 in Mr Lassell’s Saloon, a dancing academy in Great Richmond Street. They then moved to Liverpool College (the Collegiate) in Shaw Street. Plans were drawn up for a new Concert Hall in Hope Street designed by John Cunningham.
At the opening on 27th August 1849, were 96 players (violins, violas, cellos and double-basses) and an audience capacity of 2,100. However attendance at the opening concert was disappointing for three specific reasons:
The concert was to have been commissioned by Felix Mendelssohn, but he died in 1847. Rumours had spread that the roof might collapse because no columns could be seen supporting it. The ticket price of one guinea was too expensive for many.
As nobody was hurt and the roof did not collapsed, the second concert was better attended by the gentry and professional classes. It flourished from thereon.
However on 5th July 1933 the Hall was tragically destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt and reopened on 19th June 1939 and fortunately survived the bombings of World War II intact.
The Liverpool Philharmonic Society became the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in 1957. They are one of the oldest concert orchestras in Europe. The Philharmonic Hall flourishes today continuing its high reputation of bringing the finest musicians and singers to Liverpool as great performers. Entertaining mixtures of classical, operatic, choral, recitals, plays, films [the Hall has one of the only surviving cinema screens which rises up out of the main stage!], jazz, pop, rhythm ‘n’ blues, rock ‘n’ roll.
Irish Music in Liverpool
During the early 1800’s, Irish Immigrants had been slowly moving to Liverpool. Then in the 1840’s the Great Famine, which devastated the lives of the rural population of Ireland, saw the influx of Irish into the City in epic proportions..
The large Irish Community in Liverpool eventually set up its own organisations and a meeting held in 1929 provides the first evidence that a musical society was one of these. The Gaelic League set up Céilis. To adapt their music for the dance halls, musicians had to become louder with a heavier rhythmic backing. Thus the classic line-up of a Céili band included fiddle, flute, accordion, piano and drums.
(The word CÉILI refers to the practice of gathering in a neighbour’s house for chats, storytelling and sometimes dancing).
Comhaltas (Association of Irish Musicians) was founded in Ireland in 1951 to save traditional Irish music from dying out and to promote Irish music, singing and dancing. The Liverpool branch formed in 1957 was one of the oldest. Two well-known céili bands were the SHANNON STAR BAND and PEGGY PEAKIN and the BRIAN BORU BAND. Before the opening of the Liverpool Irish Centre, Comhaltas held céilis in St Cuthbert’s, off Prescot Road, St James’ and St Monica’s in Bootle and often in people’s houses, as was the very old tradition in Ireland. Today the Liverpool branch of Comhaltas is one of the biggest in the country, keeping Irish traditional music alive in Liverpool by training young musicians to a high standard.
The Céili Band made two records:
1965 Champions Twice
1966 We’re Off to Dublin
P J McCarthy from Cream of the Barley started off a session in the early 1980’s in a pub called PATRICK’S (also known as The Dart), and this served to inspire other musicians. Other musicians who went to these sessions eventually ended up in bands playing Irish music around the pubs of Liverpool (e.g. Flanagan’s, Kitty O’Shea’s); such bands doing this were Cream of the Barley, Black Velvet, The Hooleys, and Blarney Stone.
There are a number of reasons why the Irish pub scene has taken off , particularly doing so well in Liverpool: Nuala O’Connor in “Brining It All Back Home” cites the success of bands like The Pogues, The Waterboys and Van Morrison in bringing Irish music to the young mass audiences of the 1980’s. Most bands playing in Flanagan’s typically include “Leaving of Liverpool”, “Wild Rover”, Whisky in the Jar”, “Black Velvet Band” and “Seven Drunken Nights”. The boom in Irish pub music in Liverpool demonstrates the strong “Irishness” that is deeply engrained in the history of the city.
Dance Band Memories – 1930’s Liverpool
In the summer of 1921, British Pianist Jack Hylton began recording with the Queen’s Dance Orchestra. Their work proved to the British public that dance arrangements for popular foxtrots and quick-steps were not solely the domain of US-American dance band leaders. For the next two decades Britain produced dance music of the very highest quality.
In the 1930’s Liverpool had many dance halls like the GRAFTON, the RIALTO and the STATE BALLROOM as numerous local smaller halls. Even swimming pools, like GARSTON Baths and QUEEN’S DRIVE Baths could be drained and boarded over for dancing.
There were afternoon tea dances, dinner dances, dancing competitions, dancing schools and cellar parties. There may have been a lot of poverty in Liverpool in the Thirties but there was also an awful lot of dancing!
The Dance Halls provided an environment that was more interesting compared to the ordinary, drab streets of the 1930’s; they were also a place for romance and to meet people.
The city of Liverpool boasts of a wealth of local musicians and bands, varying in size from trios to 15 piece ensembles. Much of the music played in Liverpool dance halls during the Thirties was based around arrangements of the popular melodies of the day. By this time the BBC was broadcasting programmes of popular bandleaders, e.g. Ambrose, Lew Stone and Henry Hall. Gramophone records were also available, but too expensive for many so the “wireless” was the main source of broadcasting entertainment.
Some bands played “HOT” which was jazz or swing, including trumpet or clarinet solos. Other bands played “SWEET” where the melody predominated, with solos on violin or guitar.
To remain popular, the bands had to play the music their public wanted. Many were compelled to “Keep it Sweet”; those who wanted to play Hot music often went to rhythm clubs and jam sessions which became the starting point for the “TRAD & DIXIELAND” jazz scenes of the 1940’s and 50’s.
When people talked of the Dance Band Days they are talking about the period of the 1930’s. When war came in 1939 the whole scene changed and the glorious Dance Hall days never came back. The war altered many people’s ideas about dancing and music. Liverpool still managed to keep on dancing during the war but there was an increase sense of urgency attached to the dancing, especially with bombs falling on the city.
the war years also brought the American GI’s to Liverpool, changing people’s listening habits as they came. The Black American servicemen based at Burtonwood began to attend certain Liverpool venues that had previously been the domain of whites only. Their distinctive style of music and dancing were to leave an indelible imprint on Liverpool for the next 30 years.
During the 1950’s jazz was very big on the club scene in Liverpool. In those days it was impossible to put a rock ‘n’ roll show at a venue controlled by Liverpool Council. They feared it! The older gentlemen associated the new music craze with violence and promiscuity. Instead jazz clubs were used to bring in rock ‘n’ roll bands later in the evening. Ray McFall of the Cavern, although initially very suspicious, co-operated once thousands of poster had been distributed around Liverpool.[Anything for publicity!]
Bill Hayley and the Comets had started it all. By the time they released “Rock Around the Clock” in 1955, there was an epidemic of Teddy Boys with their special haircuts and their lust for ripping out cinema seats…. Fearing more violence, establishments censored the new sound, but it proved to be an impossible task. From huge ballrooms to village halls, rock ‘n’ roll was everywhere.
Bill Hayley was quickly followed by Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, James Brown, the Everley Brothers and dozens more. The protests of politicians, priests and parents only boosted teenage determination to be all the more a part of it.
Nowhere in Britain was the craze more popular than here in Liverpool. Merchant seamen on the regular Liverpool to New York run, were responsible for bringing back the latest American records to the city. Many aspiring musicians (including Lennon and McCartney) flocked to hear these latest imports.
Another influencing sound appeared in January 1956 when Lonnie Donegan released “Rock Island Line” and gave birth tot the skiffle era. Lonnie recreated the music of the Louisiana cotton fields. The youth of Liverpool were inspired and utilising their mothers’ washboards and tea-chests they formed skiffle groups. All Merseyside began to reverberate to the racket of some 600 practising teenage groups from which dozens of ‘wannabe’ Liverpool musicians would take off.
Various clubs in Liverpool, especially the Cassanova, the Iron Door and later the Cavern, became the inspirational venues for the new Merseybeat groups: Gerry and the Pacemakers, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, The Bluegenes (later The Swinging Blue Jeans), The Four Jays (The Fourmost), Johnny Sandon and the Searchers, Billy J Kramer and the Coasters (later the Dakotas), Dale Roberts and the Jaywalkers, The Big Three, The Creoles and, of courseTHE BEATLES!!
The story of Merseybeat is a unique one. What happened in Liverpool in 196l set in motion a sequence of events that eventually led to the city storming the charts in 1963 and 1964 and beyond.
The Cavern Club
Original Address: 10 Mathew Street
In the late 50’s and early 60’s, the BEAT scene in Liverpool was an underground one as young people gathered in dim dark cellars to hear the raucous beat music that was sweeping the globe. Once such cellar in Liverpool was the CAVERN CLUB. It was opened on 16th January 1957 by Alan Sytner in the basement of a warehouse, previously used as a wine store, an egg packing station and an air-raid shelter during the war years. To begin with the Cavern was strictly a jazz club, with the occasional skiffle, but no rock ‘n’ roll.
In 1958 Sytner moved to London and his Liverpool accountant, Ray McFall, bought the Cavern for £2,750 on 1st October 1959. As first Ray resisted the tide of the Merseybeat for as long as his finances allowed. Then on 25th May 1960 Rory Storm and the Hurricanes appeared as the first beat group to play at the club. The Cavern became increasingly popular with lunchtime and all-night sessions featuring important Liverpool bands.
[It is a popular misconception that the Beatles and the Merseybeat sound came out of the Cavern. In fact the unique Mersey sound was up and running long before the Cavern ever got wind of it!]
The Beatles made their debut on a “Swinging Bluejeans Guest Night”, Tuesday 21st March 1961. They were to make a total of 274 appearances at the Cavern, ending on 3rd August 1963. When Brian Epstein (later to become the Beatles’ manager) attended a Beatles’ lunchtime concert in November 1961, he described the Cavern as “dark, damp and smelly”. In fact the celalr was so damp that the cheap amplifiers were constantly short-circuiting and it was so stuffy that members of the audience regularly fainted.
As the big London recording companies lured more and more beat bands away from Liverpool, the Cavern Club found it increasingly difficult to draw either artists or audiences. The original stage was broken up and pieces were sold to Beatles fans. On 28th February 1966, heavily in debt, the Cavern Club was closed.
The original Cavern Club was pulled down during the construction of a new subway line and today there is a parking lot were 10 Mathew Street once stood.