Tony O’Keeffe is well known around Liverpool for being the drummer of The Shakers, resident band at the Cavern Club, and lovers of all things Beat. Tony has a long history of involvement with the Mersey Sound and is passionate about what Beat music means to Liverpool.
Much to my delight, Tony has written an article which he wanted to share with us Cavern Bloggers. Here, our very special Guest Blogger, explains the importance of ‘raw’…..
Liverpool, 1961. A world in black and white. Grey skies hover over the soot-blackened Liver Building as the majestic Liver Birds look out across the murky Mersey, with its ferries criss-crossing their way over the water from the Pier Head. Somewhere in the distance there is the faint rumbling of beat music emanating from a smelly, dank cellar in the heart of the city.
Mathew Street, a small, cobbled street of fruit and vegetable warehouses connecting the busy thoroughfares of North John St and Stanley St, throbs to this new sound as the street’s workers mingle with the young office workers on their lunch-break as they soak up the heady atmosphere in this most inhospitable of underground settings…
This was the birth of the music that literally changed the world, thanks to four lads from Liverpool.
There are many Beatles tribute bands around the world today dedicated to keeping their name alive but not many actually capture the hot, sweaty, raw sound that made The Beatles and the Cavern legendary. I have a passion for that period and that sound, the Mersey Sound as it was known then and later, after Bill Harry’s local music paper, Mersey Beat.
There is something primal and fierce about the music that was played in the beat clubs of Liverpool at that time. Something other cities never quite captured and something that I believe was one of the most important ingredients of The Beatles’ and the other local beat groups’ success – Liverpool itself. A tough, uncompromising attitude with a sentimental underbelly, a leftover from a rich Maritime heritage, that made the music unique for the period and gave them the edge over their rivals from other towns and cities.
No wonder Liverpool and Hamburg enjoyed such a close relationship, being very similar in outlook and location (a lot of the beat musicians say they were born in Liverpool but grew up in Hamburg and their hard rocking sound was honed to perfection as a result). However, as the Mersey Sound became popular and exploded nationally, a fair amount of ‘smoothing out’ was required for the hit groups of the day to be acceptable to the great British public at large and the showbiz world they now inhabited.
As music moved on through the years the sound changed, as it must in the name of progress, and the technology gradually improved until it almost took over from the human element in the music. Even the musicians that were around all those years ago embraced these new techniques and changed accordingly with the times, upgrading their sound, giving their old material a new sheen and a more ‘today’ feel.
This, however, in my opinion, is where the magic stopped. The earthy, raw sound of that early sixties period is what made the music so exciting to listen to and, more importantly, feel. The way the guitars clanked and the bass boomed as the drums thinly clattered underneath a hoarse vocal, as it teetered at the top of its range, bellowing out Scouse-tinged, rough–hewn R&B and rock ‘n’ roll like their lives depended on it, which they probably did!
THIS is the sound I love and the sound that The Shakers, bring back to the best of cellars –The Cavern Club. A replica it may be, but it can still provide the sweaty atmosphere that was once legendary down Beat Street, when the mood is right. Our ‘Swingin’ Saturday’ ‘lunchtime session’ and ‘Shakin’ Sunday’ evening beat show are now established favourites in the beat calendar and a must for those wanting to experience the Mersey Sound just as it used to be; up close and personal, raw, sweaty and loud! So, turn up the collar on your leather jacket, sharpen those winkle-pickers and let’s go down the Cavern!
All images courtesy of Tony O’Keeffe
Check out The Shakers on Facebook