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Interview with Cavern Club owner Ray McFall - who has died aged 88 - by his granddaughter on legendary venue's 50th anniversary


RAY McFall, who helped launch the careers of The Beatles as owner of Liverpool's legendary Cavern Club, has died aged 88. After being declared bankrupt in 1966, McFall closed the club and lived the rest of his life in and around Croydon. On the venue's 50th anniversary in January 2007, Sally McFall – Ray's granddaughter – interviewed him while on work experience at the Advertiser. Today we reprint that interview in his memory.

Ray McFall could tell the Beatles were something special the first time he met them.

As owner of the Cavern Club during its heyday from 1959 to 1966, Ray was responsible for booking some of the UK's brightest bands as the Mersey Beat phenomenon swept the country.

But the mop-topped band – then a five-piece – stood out when they made their Cavern debut.

Ray, 80, now lives in Hooley with wife Shirley.

He recalled: "The Beatles swept me off my feet. I had never actually heard them perform before we booked them at The Cavern.

"They had played at a town hall in Liverpool and it was a sell-out, so I thought they must be good.

"We booked them to perform the following day at The Cavern and we had a full house that night.

"They had to be regulars, because I would never have problems filling the place if they were there."

Before finding himself at the hub of the Liverpool music scene, Ray was a clerk at an accountancy firm. It was his number-crunching skills and a meeting with a client that eventually changed his life.

Dr Joe Sytner had asked Ray to work with his son, Alan, as he started up a new business - a jazz club – in Mathew Street, Liverpool.

Inspired by jazz "caves" in Paris, Alan wanted to create the same thing in Liverpool.

An empty factory basement was the closest he could find and, in January 1957, The Cavern was born.

Two years later, when Alan left Liverpool, his father asked Ray to run the club.

Ray said: "I was interested in listening to traditional jazz. But I could see that music was moving away from this and so I had to change the way The Cavern worked."

When Ray took over, The Cavern was open from Thursdays to Sundays, with jazz gigs.

Ray decided to scrap the less popular Thursday gigs and also opened the club at lunchtimes during the week. It was a masterstroke.

Mathew Street was in the heart of the business and shopping districts, so Ray took a chance and decided to put on a two-hour afternoon show from Monday to Friday.

Ray kept the weekend shows for jazz music, as this was still in demand.

However, the lunchtime shows became more popular with the young fans of skiffle and beat music which began to dominate the scene.

As this was a difficult slot to fill with local bands that had other jobs, Ray had to find professionals.

One group who played in the early lunchtime slot was The Quarrymen, led by John Lennon and later featuring Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

It was February 1961, after honing their live act during a gruelling tour of Hamburg nightclubs that Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe (who quit the band weeks later) and Pete Best (later replaced by Ringo Starr) made their debut at The Cavern as The Beatles.

Ray said: "They were your typical young, Scouse lads. They were not refined at all. The best way I can describe them is like rough diamonds. They were very talented – a bit rough around the edges, but they knew what they were doing.

"What impressed me most about them was how different they were from other bands.

"With The Beatles you got three lead singers, and from time-to-time Pete Best, and later Ringo Starr, would sing lead.

"It was refreshing to see their unique style. John and Paul were also itching to write their own music.

"I once spoke to John at The Cavern and asked him how many songs had he written. He just shrugged and said: 'I dunno, hundreds maybe!'

"Before long they were a success. They were clearly the best group in Merseyside at the time, if not the country."

With rising stars like The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers pulling in the punters, Liverpool became the centre of the British pop music scene and Ray's family were seeing the benefits of The Cavern's success.

Ray's wife Shirley, who worked at The Cavern snack bar while her children were at school, said: "I was one of the very few in Liverpool to have a proper washing machine. That's why I ended up washing shirts for Little Richard."

During their holidays, the children – Peter, Stephen, Susan, Valerie and Trisha – would go to the lunchtime shows and meet the bands after the shows.

Unfortunately for Ray, by 1963 The Beatles' chart success mean the band had outgrown The Cavern.

Without the Fab Four, attendance figures dropped, but Ray had already decided to extend the club and add a recording studio.

There was not enough capital to pay for everything and, by 1966, Ray decided to end his career at The Cavern and leave the music scene.

Ray, Shirley and the children moved down to Balham and stayed with Shirley's mother until their house was sold.

Ray worked in insurance and retail, and the family moved to a flat in Melfort Road, Thornton Heath, where their sixth child, Richard, was born.

A chance meeting with a member of a housing association led to the McFalls being the first family to move to new houses in Rutherwick Rise, Coulsdon.

Ray finally settled into an office furnishings business, Flexi-form, and worked there until he retired in 1999. He and Shirley, who have 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, then moved to Hooley.

He said: "At first I didn't like to talk about The Cavern because it was a sore subject.

"But, after a while, when people asked me what I used to do, I said 'I owned The Cavern'.

"I worked with some amazing people and will never forget them." 

Interview with Cavern Club owner Ray McFall - who has died aged 88 - by his granddaughter on legendary venue's 50th anniversary

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