Chapter Five

 

THE JAC - THE JACARANDA CLUB

During the day the 'Jac' was the hangout for all the more intellectual types of teenager. In those times they were called 'Beatniks'. The JAC was also the hangout of the musicians. They were the forerunners of the famous Mersey sound, THE BEATLES, THE SEARCHERS, THE ROADRUNNERS, BILLY J. KRAMER, CILLA BLACK, BERYL MARSDEN, there's many more, and many of them have died. This was the place where it all really started.

The 'Jac' was converted from a small shop and the decoration was Spartan. During the day the window shutters would be taken off so that passers-by could look in and see the strange array of loosely-fitted-sweatered people. During the day the Jac looked like a really crummy place, almost squalid, like some stale tired waiting room at Victorian railway station. It had a feeling about it during the day, a sort of a vacuum. John Lennon converted the basement of the Jac into a rehearsal room, so all day the throbbing disarray of painful, practised sound came seeping up through the floorboards.

It took three girls to run the Jac during the day, the speciality of the house being Kona Coffee and bacon butties. It was those b bs that kept the Bealtes alive in the first few years of their career. At night Allan and Beryl would take control of running the place. Tommy Hartley, the bouncer and doorman would carry the large wooden shutters from the adjoining alleyway, and with the aid of large pieces of angle iron, he would bolt the shutters to the windows and the doors. The Jacaranda was now fortified, and ready to open as a night-club.  All those customers that remained there were asked to leave as Beryl gave the place a quick sweep out. The Jac now took on the air of exclusivity, for to enter one had to be a member, or be accompanied by a member.

The cellar of the Jacaranda was open to the customers six nights a week. They had an all steel band, a West Indian type of calypso band, squashed in amongst the hundreds of human sweaty bodies all pulsating to that throbbing oil drum beat. The floor and walls of the Jac consisted of crumbling red brick, with the occasional decorative mural painted by John Lennon. One had to be very careful not to brush against the walls as the human sweat mixed with the disintegrating bricks left a permanent stain on the clothing. The stains, for some of the Bohemian types, became a sort of secret sign that they were also part of the In Crowd of Liverpool.

It was quite impossible to jive or be-bop, that being the dance of the 60's, because the floor of the cellar was so lumpy. Consequently the JAC had its own type of dance called the 'Snake-hips', which was done by a couple facing each other, moving their heads from side to side in a sexy snaky-type movement and on a mutual signal the couple would jump and turn and continue the movement. On the seventh night the all-steel band known as 'Woody Woodbines' Royal Caribbean Steel Band, would be replaced by the Beatles or one of the other numerous rock and roll bands.

To be able to enter the Jacaranda one had to be put through a sort of third degree of questioning. This usually took place in the street at the door of the Jac. The sporadic questioning took place amidst the confusion of regular members entering or leaving, and most of the gang members were recognisable, by either Tommy Hartley, or by the members who were coming and going at the same time. So if a person trying to enter were recognised as a troublemaker then he would be quickly and efficiently dispatched.

Tommy, the doorman, was previously Liverpool's heavyweight boxing champion, and I think he'd come up through the street-fighting level of gang warfare. He knew all the gangs and troublemakers by sight and name. He was a formidable giant of a man. His hands were always covered in black leather gloves. It was generally known that if he refused entry once, that was enough. To persist would invite a quick hook to the jaw, followed by a battering ram punch to the guts.

When a person was accepted as a member, they would pay a membership fee of 10 shillings. This would entitle them to one year, and a small membership card would be issued to them. On top of this they had to pay an entrance fee each time they went. In those days it was easy to open an unlicensed club, provided that it was for members and their guests only. It was common practice to take a bottle of whiskey in your back pocket and then you'd just buy a coke and pour it in.

The people at the Jac intrigued me. There was camaraderie about the place. Everybody knew everybody else, more or less by sight. When they closed the place at night, it was about the time that the last night-owl was nodding off over his coffee; dawn was often breaking as the last person trundled out into the grey morning streets.

It was-in the Jac that I first got to know the Beatles, and from Paul I first learned humility, as my newly found girlfriend dropped me in preference for him. John Lennon was the obvious leader and central figure of the group of layabouts and dreamers, the forerunners of the hippie trend. At that time they occupied flats in Percy Street and Gambia Terrace. These flats had no furniture because they burned the table and chairs in the middle of the floor when the weather got too cold.

Their flats were packed with all sorts of street junk, roadwork lights, boxes, road signs, heaps of ragged clothing, from somewhere they'd acquired a coffin, which is where John slept in silken lining, providing a comfortable if not morbid bed.

Liverpool was full of characters in those days and the Beatles were only a few of many. I got to know Allan quite well as he was not only the owner of the Jacaranda, but also the manager of the Beatles, and was responsible for promoting many rock concerts in and around Liverpool. We'd a lot in common as Allan had also worked as a demolisher of old property, as I had. He actually knew my previous employer back in Manchester. So I began to live half my time with him and his Chinese wife Beryl. They had a big terraced house in the old part of Liverpool known as Liverpool 8. This was the area where all the rich Liverpudlians used to live back in the slave-trading days

I told them one night that I wanted to open a club like the Jacaranda but as I was only eighteen years old, he did not take me seriously. However he did say that maybe in the future, if we found a suitable site, he would be my partner. In the mean time I could work for him to gain experience. At that time he was in the process of opening Liverpool's first strip club so I went to work on the conversion job of changing a dirty dingy cellar in the basement of a terraced house. Every other house in the street was either a shebeen or a brothel. This was the Upper Parliament Street area, free and easy. Blacks and Whites lived side by side in almost perfect harmony. There was no talk of Black or White Trash or Niggers & Whiteys in those days. It was more of a 'let's survive together' situation.

I find it very sad indeed as I had many friends there and since I've returned to visit them, in the area where Allan has his house, I've only succeeded in having my car windows broken by missiles aimed at my white.

The New Cabaret and Artistes Club was the name given to that unusual dingy cellar club. Allan had a black West Indian partner in the venture, and from him I learned a lot about how to quell a club fight. As he was the first West Indian I really came to know, I also learned a lot about that race in general. 'Lord Woodbine' had been a calypso singer back home. He always smoked Woodbines as the cheapest cigarette, hence the title 'Woodbine'. We referred to him by the name 'Woody', as did all his other new friends.  Woody was and is a nice guy. Intelligent and happy-go-lucky. Allan taught me to like West Indians, always full of fun, friendly until they were riled. Woody had been on the shebeen scene for a long time and often worked as barman. He was so popular that many customers followed him around to whatever bar he moved too. He possessed a large First World War cutlass, which he kept under the counter. If a customer looked as if he was out for trouble, Woody would produce the cutlass, and wave it about threateningly under the guy's nose. Hence, the troublemaker usually calmed down. The cutlass was all for show, but it was some show, and very effective.

The strip club opened, and from the word go it did good business. The tired and not-so-tired businessmen came; they had been waiting for just this sort of place to open. One had to pay 10 bob membership fee, or as we called it, the wankers' fee. There was a cloakroom just inside the entrance but the customers mainly preferred to keep their coats on. Strange, I thought, considering that the cellar had no air conditioning system and the temperature inside was always hot and sticky. However they had good reasons to retain their wraps. Most of the customers were of the dirty raincoat brigade - the types who go into parks and flash their Hamptons at little girls. There were also quite a few big spenders who came to the city on business, and were totally frustrated by their strict life-style. These types would get a hard-on watching the strippers, then go home and with closed eyes and fertile imagination, run amok. They would attack their wives or simply go out into the streets and find a prostitute. The dirty raincoat mob got their pleasure by jerking themselves off while the show was in progress.

The girls (if you could call them that) were usually ex-shop girls out of work, or housewives trying to earn a few bob on the side for the extra treat or simply to be able to pay the grocery bill. There was also, on occasion, a professional stripper from Manchester or London. For a time I enjoyed watching the wankers at their treat. I could see the raincoats bobbing up and down as their-hands battered their meat beneath. I stared fascinated at the frustrated sexpots their faces tensely illuminated by a single red light above the stage, the Beatles playing in the background.

The girls slowly stripped to the music of the group, or of a well-dilapidated record player. Many of the men postponed their climaxes until the very last moment when the girl removed the final G-string. When the girl removed the final G-string the audience, in harmony, would give an explosive gasp as they all ejaculated together. Then with their sticky moist hands, now out from under their Macs, they would give the girls a big hand. Sometimes, in the glow of the red lights, I could see the drops of sperm flashing off in all the different directions as their hands clapped together. Nauseating, yet it was all part of life, such types being created by the system we live in.

The stage where the girls stripped was roughly seven feet by seven feet, so they had to take great care not to fall off. From time to time a drunk would make a quick grab at the girls, and if he stepped too close Woody would be there in a flash with cutlass in hand. But most of the audience preferred the girls to stay at a distance untouchable. That way they could endorse their sexual fantasies in their own way.

After a while, I began to get bored with that same old scene, night after night. I told Allan I wanted a change. Maybe I could go and work at the Jac. Well Allan told me, "No, come on man" he said, "Stay on, there's a professional stripper coming down from London". He told me her name was Shirley. When she arrived she told Allan she wouldn't strip unless she had a good live band to back her up.

Early that evening, the Beatles arrived to set up their equipment. Paul, John and George were not too pleased that Stuart was not going to arrive until after the setting up was done. Stuart was part of the band that was now dead. He'd arrive late because he'd had to take a job as a dustbin man. Consequently he couldn't join them straight from work as his new job left him so smelly that he had to go home and soak himself in a hot bath. That meant he couldn't help the group set up the equipment. On top of that, they had just lost their drummer, Tommy Moore. He had decided to settle down to a steady respectable life. He had got a job working nights at the Garston Bottle Works.

When Stuart arrived and they finally got tuned up, they all seemed quite happy again. Shirley took an instant liking to George and she asked him for his full name. I remember Allan's reply. He said that the boy was called George Harrison but he was a nice innocent boy and much too young for her. He added that she should not lead George astray. She replied, tantalisingly that George looked gorgeous enough to eat as she made a smacking noise with her lips.

Allan repeated, "He's too young."

She replied, eyeing George who was by now embarrassingly aware of her stares, "If they're big enough, they're old enough".

I missed the rest of the conversation, as I had to go and move a car. On my return the show was under way.

Shirley went on twice a night. You could hardly see the Beatles for her. The boys' eyes were popping out of their sockets. So Shirley danced around in front of them, her big fat bum jiggling past their noses continually. They were obviously under strain, if you understand my meaning.

The show went on. A few nights later, Woody had thrown a guy out for jumping on stage. The guy left as Woody flashed his famous cutlass. Later that night the guy returned with a gun. I heard Allan shout out, "look out Woody, he's back with a gun". There were several shots as Woody ran out the back door. Nobody was hurt but the police put pressure on Allan to close the club.

I went to work at the Jacaranda. My new job was that of bouncer. I had to work on the door with Tommy. Allan gave me a police truncheon and told me to use it if it ever looked like Tom needed any help. One day we had a visit from the local health authorities. They were appalled by the state of the ladies loo [toilet]. The walls were full of graffiti and remarks about the sizes of the groups' organs, mainly remarks about the Beatles. Things like 'Paul McCartney sucks cock' or 'John Lennon has the biggest in town'. The health officials took photos of the toilet walls and threatened to prosecute the owner for allowing such indecent writings to be on public display.

At that particular time, Allan & Beryl had gone to Hamburg in Germany to arrange bookings for the group. John, Paul & George were in the Jac at the time and so they decided to outwit the official.

Audrey, the girl who was left in charge of the cash, gave the boys enough money to go and buy paints and brushes to redecorate the loo. I suppose looking back now, the Beatles only offered to paint the toilet so that the photos regarding their sexual appendages would not hit the headlines. They painted beautiful rock & roll scenes on the walls. The murals had tremendous impact on the customers and the girls certainly remembered the Beatles for their art after that.

A few weeks later, Allan told me that he was going to open a new type of club in Seel Street. He said it was going to be extremely high class with a concert pianist and only the very best cabaret acts. The membership would be limited to only the top people as the fee would be so high. He rented the property and I helped with the decoration. It was in fact a very plush club. I worked there for a week or two in the beginning but soon tired of that sort of bull. I had by now saved a few pounds so I told Allan that I was now ready to open my own place. It was 1959. I had just reached nineteen years of age.