Thursday, 30 April 2015

A Storm in a B-Cup



The Morgue Skiffle Cellar
"Balgownie"
25 Oak Hill Park,
Broadgreen,
L13







Historically part of Lancashire, Broad Green is a small, primarily residential district on the eastern edge of Liverpool, covering an area of just over a square mile and today close to the start of the M62 Motorway. It is bordered by Old Swan to the north west, Knotty Ash to the north east, Childwall to the south and, further east, Bowring Park where I grew up. 

Despite its size it is home to both Broad Green Hospital and Broad Green International School and is served by its own railway station where regular trains depart for Liverpool City centre, Manchester, Wigan and St. Helens. Along with some other stations on the same line, Broad Green is the joint oldest used railway station site in the world being a part of the original 1830 Liverpool and Manchester passenger railway. 

Walking in a north westerly direction up Broad Green Road you will shortly come to an area on the left called Oak Hill Park. 



Map showing position of the villas in Oak Hill Park 1906

In 1904 there were some 25 villas in this area owned by well to do merchants and other businessmen. Whilst the majority have since been demolished to make way for modern flats and houses a few examples of some very fine properties remain.

Three of the large houses remaining have been occupied by religious orders. Temperley (no. 84) is now called Bon Secours and was taken over by a Catholic Order of Sisters of that name in 1957.  Spekelands was, until 1991, the premises of the Convent of the Daughters of the Heart Mary who took over the property in 1949.

St. Martins nursing home presently occupies the site of Grange House, in 1904 the home of Peter Carroll and Owen Traynor, proprietors of a firm of oyster merchants. Grange House was subsequently taken over by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition who had used it as a postulate house. Since moving from Manchester in 1932 they had been established in the adjacent house called Roseyln next door. However, war damage and deterioration to the latter property led to the Sisters buying a third house, Thornwood which is now in use as a convent with the former site of Roseyln now occupied by a residential home.
With regards to the quality of the former villas in Oak Hill Park the author Eddie Barker writes: One cannot fail to be impressed by the large rooms, the many bedrooms, splendid marble or mahogany fireplaces....many of them would have had a billiard room where the gentlemen would retire to have a cigar and a game on the foolside table.

Fern Lea, well hidden from the road by trees and bushes is privately owned. The property still has some of the old stables and an original cobbled area.






Directly opposite Fern Lea at 25a Oak Hill park is the former site of Balgownie.  The house was demolished in the 1960s and St. Agnes Secondary Modern School for Girls (latterly the St. Agnes Wing of the Broughton High School) was built on the site as seen above. The school too has now been demolished and today the land is occupied by a private house. I'd made several unsuccessful visits trying to find the site until a friend told me he'd noticed that the gates were still in situ whilst walking his dog around Oak Hill. 


So, what’s the connection to the fabulous foursome then?

Rory Storm was born Alan Caldwell and lived at 54 Broad Green Road near to the southern entrance to Oak Hill Park. He was an "extrovert entertainer" despite his serious stammer (which disappeared as soon as he started singing) and at the start of the 1960s his group The Hurricanes were considered to be one of the best in Liverpool, performing regularly in the Cavern and elsewhere. Ringo Starr would join the Hurricanes in late 1958.




Al’s sister Iris found her first boyfriend when she was thirteen, a fourteen year old lad from Speke called George Harrison. She met him after agreeing to accompany her friend, Ann Harvey on a double date at the Palace Ice Rink on Prescot Road in Kensington. Ann’s boyfriend was Arthur Kelly and he brought his friend George with him.


Palace Ice Rink, Prescot Road, Kensington

George definitely saw her as his first girlfriend, but was unsure how she saw the relationship. "My first girlfriend was Rory Storm's sister, Iris Caldwell. She was really nice and had cotton wool in her bra. She probably didn't ever think she was my girlfriend. You never know when you're young; you just fancy somebody, or someone's in the same room as you, and you end up thinking they're your girlfriend. ...I'd met Iris a couple of times and went round to her house and hung out".


George went on a couple more dates with Iris before being invited to her home in Broad Green Road to meet her parents, beginning a friendship with them that would last longer than his brief teenage romance with their daughter. Their mother, Vi Caldwell recalled that "George used to come and watch TV three times a week. He and Iris used to sit there holding hands. It was the first time either of them had ever taken any interest in someone of the opposite sex. At Iris' fourteenth birthday party, I remember George turned up in a brand new Italian-style suit covered with buttons. As in most teenage parties, they kept on playing kissing games and somehow or other, George and Iris always ended up together." 


During the course of his visits to the Caldwells, George became aware of the music club Al and his friend Johnny Byrne were planning to open. George later recalled that "they had a little basement that they were trying to turn into a coffee club. That seemed to be the craze in the Fifties". It was the second such venue in Liverpool. Two and a half miles away Lowlands, a similar club in the cellar of a large Victorian House opened a week earlier in Hayman's Green, West Derby.

The club, which they decided to call the Morgue Skiffle Cellar was in the cellar of Balgownie a big house six doors along from where Johnny Byrne lived and just around the corner from Alan. It was a nurses' home, owned by Mrs Thompson and it was she who allowed her nephew Alan and his friends to use the cellar as a teenagers’ music venue, to the delight of the area's excitable teenagers.  They promptly painted the club entirely in black and with the help of a couple of girls from the art college added some luminous skeletons which glowed in the light of an ultra-violet bulb. Hung over the entrance was a sign THE MORGUE which gave visitors the impression of a crypt.

The club was open for business twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. As the boys never obtained a license the Morgue was illegal. Mindful of this they didn't provide the club's address in the Evening Express advertisement for the opening session on 13 March 1958 which meant that few, if any, knew where it was.

Advertising handbills typed on coloured paper were handed out to local teenagers, individually signed by the clubs manager (a certain Al Caldwell) who also had his own skiffle group. 

Formed around January 1957 the Alan Caldwell Skiffle Group comprised of the eponymous vocalist and acoustic guitar player, John “Johnny” Byrne on vocals and guitar, Reginald “Reg” Hales on washboard and Jim Turner on tea-chest bass.  A year on and co-inciding with the opening of the Morgue, Al decided to rename his group the Texans.  

Keen to join them was fourteen going on fifteen years old George Harrison, demonstrating his not unsubstantial talents on the guitar in Al’s presence whenever the opportunity presented itself. Caldwell remained unimpressed. Perhaps put off by their age difference, he advised George to “Come back in a few years, son”.

George never bothered because shortly afterwards Paul got him into the Quarrymen. 

Some years before he passed away, Johnny Byrne handed former Mersey Beat editor Bill Harry the diaries he had kept for the years 1958 to 1963, together with permission for Bill to use them in a planned Mersey Beat project. As Bill writes on his website, the diaries provide an intriguing insight into the everyday life of a teenage musician growing up in Liverpool during the birth of the Mersey Sound and a mine of information for authors and historians of this particular era.

Using Johnny’s diary for 1958 we know that the club was active on the following Tuesday/Thursday nights:

March 13, 1958. As noted in the entry for Stanley Abattoir, Broad Green was miles away from where the Quarrymen lived in South Liverpool but they heard about the club through George and secured an engagement on this, the opening night, performing on the makeshift stage in rotation with Al Caldwell’s Texans.  Whatever fee they received was collected by passing an old metal teapot around the club in which the patrons would deposit coins.

March 20, 1958
March 25, 1958
March 27, 1958 – with the Bluegenes (later the Swinging Blue Jeans)

Ray Ennis of the Bluegenes: “The Morgue was just round the corner from Rory’s house. There was a mother and her daughter and she had persuaded her mother to let Rory and Johnny have a club there. They couldn’t charge for entry but they did pass a teapot round and collected donations in it. I doubt if there were more than 30 there when we played.”


It is uncertain who performed alongside the Texans on the other nights as we are relying on Byrne’s diary and he doesn’t always list the second group. The Quarrymen are likely to have performed several times, reportedly once as a trio of guitarists and at least once with Colin Hanton on drums. When they weren’t playing, John and Paul accompanied George to the Morgue, (after all, it was full of nurses) and they too struck up a lasting friendship with the Caldwell’s, especially Vi, mother of Al and Iris.  Remarkably they were at the Morgue on March 20 rather than at the Philharmonic Hall where Buddy Holly and the Crickets were performing. Why the Quarrymen, Holly fanatics all, chose not to go will never be explained.


Clearly Al was looking to improve the club because for the entry April 2, Byrne writes “bought new neck (?) for cellar. Alan’s dad broke it” followed a day later with “Bought fan for cellar, £9. Alan removed boards. Leaves more room”

By April word of mouth had spread the news of the club and on April 8, the next time the Morgue was open Alan’s alterations enabled 100 to squeeze in.  Another good crowd were dying to get in on April 15. By buying a bottle of Coca-Cola at the door you gained entrance.

Unfortunately the more people turned up at the club, the more unwelcome attention it attracted from the Oak Hill residents, to the point that on April 17, Mrs Thompson announced that they would have to close for five weeks. 

The club was open for a further two nights, on April 19 and 22 1958 at which point the pressure from the neighbours had led to talk of closing the cellar until 19 June. It was all over for good the following night, Byrne writing on April 23, that "Mr Brown and Co came round to Mrs Thompson's to say that the cellar must end.” Apparently Brown was unhappy with teenagers “frolicking”and chucking empty coke bottles in his garden.

George’s memory of cotton wool probably stems from the night Al decided to embarrass Iris. She recalls that "they had the Beatles on there for 30 bob (£1.50), but George Harrison wasn’t with them then. George was my boyfriend: we were kids but we were seeing each other. I was 13 and desperately wanted to go and Rory did let me go one night. I was not well developed and so I got a lot of cotton wool and shoved it down my bra and thought I looked older and off I went. Just as big brothers do, Rory announced that Iris was at the back and had cotton wool down her bra, and that broke my heart. I ran out of there sobbing and George chased me right round Oak Hill Park and gave me my very first kiss when he caught me. The only thing between us was cotton wool.”

Their brief teenage romance was not to last but all of the Caldwells remained very friendly with George, who loved Vi like a second Mum. This was something he would have in common with a lot of Iris’s boyfriends including Paul McCartney whom she dated in 1961 when she was (just) seventeen. "They were a great family and were very friendly to all of us. Later - after we'd come back from Hamburg and done loads of gigs in Liverpool and the North of England - we used Rory's house as a place to hang out when we got back to town after shows. His mother Vi would make endless pots of tea and toast for us all."(George Harrison – Anthology) 

Alan Caldwell - Rory Storm, and his mother Vi with Iris pictured on the wall 
Tragically Al's father died in 1972 and later that year both he and his mother Vi committed suicide. It must have been a terribly sad time for Iris who was living in a house opposite "Balgownie" at the time.

Having dated two Beatles, Iris Caldwell went on to marry Bernard Jewry, known in the sixties as Shane Fenton but probably better known now as seventies superstar Alvin Stardust.

Note:


Some Beatles Books state that George auditioned for the Quarry Men either at the Morgue or on the top deck of a bus after a night at the club. Whilst the timescales are about right, two facts puncture this myth: One, a week before the Morgue opened Mike McCartney had taken a photograph of George playing with John and Paul on Saturday 8 March 1958, and two, with Broad Green being so far from where John and Paul lived it's very unlikely they would have even known about the club, never mind played on the opening night had they not had George's insider information. 
Sources:

Web:


http://sentstarr.tripod.com/beatgirls/caldwell.html
You could spend hours in Billy Harry's Merseybeat site:
http://www.triumphpc.com/mersey-beat/a-z/johnnyguitar-diaries.shtml


Book: 

"In And Around Broad Green, Liverpool" by Eddie Barker (1991)

"Tune In" by Mark Lewisohn
"Anthology" - The Beatles

Photos:


"John, Paul, George and Dennis" (the colour photo of the Quarrymen used above) by Mike McCartney

"Rory Storm" by Astrid Kirchherr.

No comments:

Post a Comment