The Beginnings Of Scouser Rock
The Warehouse That Rocked Around The Clock
by Peter R. McCormack

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" Ringing In 1963"
Performers for December 31, 1963 Show
Photo courtesy of Chris Huston (1963)

In The Beginning ... There Was A Warehouse

Hidden beneath Liverpool's labyrinth of narrow roadways, at 13 Temple Street - District 2, was a music venue known as the "Iron Door." Today it is a car park, however, during the early and mid 1960s, a steady stream of "Mods and Rockers" poured into the door of this five storey warehouse, scurrying down the 10 wooden steps to the basement. These fans of British Rock had little elbow room in a congested cellar that rivaled the renowned "Cavern." Isolated from the views and tastes of conventional older surface dwellers, an underground rennaisance emerged. Rising from the stairwells, a musical swell of staggering proportion would send ripples to the Albert Dock that ultimately created a British tidal wave in the Americas. In record time this novel sound, dismissed as a fad by older generations, would become a 20th century musical watershed. This article attempts to research what is known about the Iron Door with emphasis on its history, its performers and its nexus with the development of British Rock. Every attempt has been made to contact those persons who had direct contact with this club.

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" Looking South to Victoria Street"
Temple Street Scape In 1966
1966 Liverpool City Council

Sam Leach Promotes Scouser Rock

Although opening its doors to the public a few years later than the now legendary "Cavern", the Iron Door would make a substantial contribution to the social fabric of Liverpool and set the stage for the development of the Merseybeat sound. While the Cavern was well established as a jazz club, the Iron Door was first to offer evening sessions that focused exclusively on Rock and Roll. It was larger and entertained more fans at one time which made it more desirable for bigger events than the Cavern. Moreover, it offered healthy competition and an alternative for aspiring groups. Finally, it was not structured to the same extent as the Cavern which allowed the musicians to promote themselves as opposed to relying on an announcer.

That the Iron Door was perhaps the only musical forum of its day that encouraged and promoted Scouser Rock through rivalry among emerging groups is underscored by Prem Willis-Pitts. Willis-Pitts grew up in Liverpool during the 1960s and had the good fortune to play on stage at the Iron Door. Mr. Willis-Pitts remembered -

"The Iron Door is the only club that openly promoted jamming between bands and also allowed new and experimental bands to play there. This wasnt the policy at the Cavern as it passed from a "no rock we are a jazz club" snobbery to realizing rock was where the money was at. At the Iron Door, bands would jam together after hours - the first mingling of the different strands at an "open" stage venue where experimentation could take place. Freddie Starr cut his teeth there as did Cilla Black, Beryl Marsden, The Searchers, The Detours and many more. In fact Geoff Hogarth was the first manager for Freddie Starr. I believe The Searchers wanted him to manage them too but he was too busy and turned them down. In many ways Merseybeat formed and was moulded down the Iron Door in a way it never was in the Cavern."(July 2002).

The Club was originally named as The Iron Door Club in 1958 by Geoffrey Hogarth and his partner Harry Ormesher. Mr. Hogarth confirmed -

"after some work the business opened two years later. It got its name from a big iron door that was in the warehouse. It became the Liverool Jazz Society sometime later and then the Storeyville Jazz Club.

The frequent name changes were associated with a business that was struggling to some extent. Indeed, it seems that the Club would be known as the Pyramid Club for a period before it finally closed its doors. At one point the club was closed in November 1960 following facilities fines. In spite of these minor setbacks the demand was such that it was able to open under another name. Sam Leach recalled

"Although it was officially The Liverpool Jazz Society when I hired it to promote my Merseybeat shows and all night sessions with The Beatles, etc, we always called it The Iron Door. It was managed by Les Ackerly who, for a brief period of time, was the manager for The Searchers."

It was the introduction of Mr. Sam Leach to the Iron Door Club that would quickly put this venue on the Liverpool map and through his promotions many music promoters and popular clubs sat up and took notice. Sam Leach recalls that

"The Cavern was a jazz club when I commenced at the Iron Door. They did lunchtime sessions but never booked rock bands at night. Ray McFall and Bill Harry were both jazz freaks. Shortly after I started at the Iron Door, doing three and four sessions a week, I put on my first all nighter on March 11, 1961 and drew almost 2000 fans for a 12 hour session with 12 bands. That night the Cavern had a total of 50. I continued big nightly sessions at the Iron Door and also the Cassanova Club. Finally, on March 21, 1961 the Cavern succumbed and was dragged - no doubt kicking and screaming - into the Rock'n'Roll age."

Chis Huston, lead guitarist for the Undertakers and close friend to Beatle - John Lennon, was able to provide many insightful comments about the climate and "goings on" at the Iron Door. In comparing the Iron Door to the Cavern Huston commented

"They also had lunch time sessions to compete with the Cavern. They actually got a good crowd, but that observation could be tempered by remembering that the Cavern had a very limited occupancy! Then again, by 1962, music was a way of life in Liverpool and lunch time sessions at either place drew a full house. I'm searching for words to describe the difference between the two places - The Cavern and the Iron Door. It all came down to the magic that the Cavern seemed to have. As if it was guaranteed that something special was going on. Whereas, at the Iron Door, it was more up to the customer to get things happening. It just didn't have that 'built-in' excitement that the cavern had."

Warehouse Rock Around The Clock

One of the most talked about concerts at the Iron Door was the "Rock Around the Clock" all night 12 hour event created by Sam Leach, Liverpool's promoter extraordinaire. This event began at 8:00 pm Saturday March 11, 1961 and continued non-stop until 8:00 am Sunday March 12th with a new band performing each hour. While there is some discepancy among music historians who the artists were, it would seem that there is agreement with respect to the following: The Beatles, Kingsize Taylor and The Dominoes, Gerry and the Pacemakers, The Remo Four, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and The Big Three. Depending on the source consulted the remaining six groups included: Dale Roberts and The Jaywalkers, Derry and The Seniors, The Del Renas, The Pressmen, Johnny Rocco and The Jets and The Tempest Tornadoes OR The Four Jays, The Searchers, Howard Casey and the Seniors, Ian and The Zodiacs, Faron and The Flamingoes and Karl Terry and The Cruisers. Who played aside, it is agreed by all acounts that this was a big and most successful event. Geoffrey Hogarth recalls that an estimated 2,400 fans attended.

The newspaper clipping portrayed above certainly indicates that many others successful groups performed at the Iron Door. The New Year's Eve party ringing in 1963 included: The Undertakers; The Blue Mountain Boys; Sonny and The Cascades; Rory Storm and The Hurricanes; Mark Peters and The Cyclones; Billy Kramer and The Coasters; and Ian and The Zodiacs.

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" Jamin' At The Door"
Prem Willis-Pitts (left) on stage
2000 Prem Willis-Pitts

Submitted on March 27, 2001 - Revised October 14, 2008
2001-2008 Peter McCormack. All rights reserved.

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