Project Description

Artefacts from the Casbah Coffee Club

Photographed by Sandro Sodano

The Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool needs no introduction to Beatles aficonados. The club was set up by Pete Best’s mother, Mona, and on Saturday 29 August 1959, The Quarrymen (with a line-up at the time consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ken Brown) played at the club’s opening night. They helped to paint the basement club in the run up to the opening night, and were the resident band until October, playing eight times at the Casbah in 1959.

“It was great to be involved in the birth of a coffee bar—they were such important places then. The concrete and wood in the basement had been stripped and we painted each part a different colour. All of us lent a hand—John and George and all the others. And after we painted it up, it was our club.” Paul McCartney

When John, Paul, George and Pete Best returned from The Beatles’ first trip to Hamburg in December 1960, they found themselves back in Liverpool with nowhere to play, no equipment and no bass guitarist—as Stuart Sutcliffe had stayed behind in Hamburg with Astrid Kirchherr. Mo Best was their saviour – she offered them a gig at the Casbah on 17 December 1960.  The Beatles continued to play at the Casbah in 1961, and their final Casbah show took place in  June 1962.

In 2002 professional photographer Sandro Sodano visited the Casbah Coffee Club to photograph the interiors, and a collection of objects at the club’s premises belonging to the Best family. The photographs document a rich variety of objects—and include original clothing and instruments from those very early days, along with later items such as the strip of medals worn by John Lennon for the Sgt Pepper cover shoot in 1967, and a huge doll that appeared in the “All You Need is Love” TV screening. Sandro photographed the leather jacket and trousers that Pete Best wore in Hamburg, along with a pink “twat hat”—as the Beatles would refer to them–from that period. While black and white images of The Beatles in these hats exist, it is a rare treat to see one in colour.

For the first time, Sandro is offering collectors the chance to purchase signed limited edition photographs in a choice of sizes, including a small physical size deliberately chosen to allow collectors to display a number of pieces together on the wall.

The limited edition photographs

Pink hat

Pink hat

“We all had little pink caps we used to call ‘twat hats’ that we’d bought in Liverpool. So that became our band uniform: cowboy boots, twat hats and black leather suits.” – George Harrison

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Leather jacket

Leather jacket

The leather jacket worn by Pete Best during The Beatles’ time in Hamburg

“Leather Jackets were ten a penny in Hamburg. We had sweated so much into our other clothes on stage they were falling apart. We needed something we could play in and walk around in, live in. So we just thought, Leather is what Gene Vincent wears, that’s a good hard image and that was it. But when we got back to Liverpool people really started looking at us.” – Pete Best

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Leather trousers

Leather trousers

“We had a bit more money the second time [in Hamburg] so we bought leather pants and we looked like four Gene Vincents–only a bit younger.” – John Lennon

“The way they looked–the black leathers, collars up, sunglasses–what a powerful image. That was rock ‘n’ roll.” – Johnny Gustafson

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Direct from Hamburg

Direct from Hamburg

A poster billing a Beatles performance at the Casbah on their return from Hamburg.

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Guitar strings

Guitar strings

Spare guitar strings found in Pete Best’s drum case.

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The rainbow room

The rainbow room

When The Quarrymen played at the Casbah’s opening night on Saturday 29 August 1959, they played in the rainbow room. The rainbow ceiling above the stage, which gave this room its name, was painted by a teenage Paul McCartney.

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The rainbow ceiling

Paul’s rainbow ceiling

“I was thinking, ‘Wow they’ve got a club in the basement of this house.‘ So we started helping out, actually helping in the building of the club.” – Paul McCartney

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Dansette

Dansette

The dansette record player featured in the rainbow room.

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Harmonica

Harmonica

John Lennon gave this harmonica to Mona Best after The Beatles’ first US tour.

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Glasses worn by John Lennon

Glasses worn by John Lennon

John Lennon borrowed these glasses when painting the Casbah ceiling after stepping on his own.

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John’s signature

John

John chose to work on the dance-room ceiling, and carved his name into the ceiling. It was too late to start pulling wood off the walls so it stayed.

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Microphone I

Microphone I

The club’s equipment was basic. This microphone was used by Paul McCartney on opening night, Saturday 29 August 1959.

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Microphone II

Microphone II

This is one of the  microphones used for performances at the Casbah.

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Star room

Star room

This is the interior of the star room, with a ceiling painted by George Harrison, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

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Painted stars

A close-up of the star room ceiling, which was hand-painted by John, Paul and George.
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Stardust

Stardust

A broken star from the ceiling of the star room.

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Rory Best’s Futurama

Rory Best’s Futurama

George Harrison owned a Futurama guitar, but a problem that developed with the neck could only be fixed by the manufacturer in Yugoslavia. He borrowed this Futurama in the meantime, which was in pristine condition at the time, and owned by Rory Best. It came back after twelve months, and was no longer pristine.

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The guitar case for Rory’s Futurama

The guitar case for Rory’s Futurama

“We’d all seen these pictures of Americans with these posh guitars, Fenders and Stratocasters, but really none of us could afford them and anyway they just weren’t around. But this guitar came out called the Futurama that really looked like the posh guitars so then it was the bee’s knees. I remember George upstairs in the front parlour, opening up the guitar case–it was like a moment of pure magic. He opened it and there it was, like the holy grail.” – Paul McCartney

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Pete’s drum

Pete’s drum

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The “Fabulous” Beatles

The “Fabulous” Beatles

A poster used to promote a 1961 Beatles performance at the Casbah.

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Mo’s Diary

Mo’s Diary

Mona Best’s 1961 diary entry shows The Beatles’ fee of £7.

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My Bonnie

My Bonnie

‘My Bonnie’ was the first ever record on which The Beatles made an appearance. The Beatles’ second trip to Hamburg began in March 1961, where they started backing for singer Tony Sheridan. It was during one of these performances that they caught the attention of record producer and household name in Germany, Bert Kaempfert. The Beatles subsequently recorded six songs for Polydor’.

At the end of September 1961, ‘My Bonnie’ was released in Germany. The record was credited to Tony Sheridan and The Beat Brothers’, not ‘The Beatles’.

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Ain’t She Sweet

Ain’t She Sweet

The Beatles’s rock and roll arrangement of “Ain’t She Sweet” was recorded by the group with John Lennon on lead vocals while recording as Tony Sheridan’s backup band on 22 June 1961 in Hamburg, with Pete Best on drums, produced by Bert Kaempfert.

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Sgt. Pepper medals

Medals worn by John Lennon at the Sgt Pepper LP photoshoot.

Although Pete Best cut ties with his former band mates as soon as he left the band, the Beatles stayed in touch with his mother Mona. Mona even lent these medals, which were her father’s war medals, to John Lennon for the Sgt. Pepper album cover in 1967.

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All You Need Is Love doll

All You Need Is Love doll

This doll appeared on the  ‘All You Need Is Love’ TV shoot. In real life it is huge, around five feet long.

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Beetle stamps

Beetle stamps

Ink stamps of beetles made by Pete Best in 1959. These stamps later became the symbol of the club.

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The logo

The logo

The Casbah Coffee Club logo was painted on the wall inside the entrance of the club.

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The spider room

The spider room

The Beatles frequently played in this room on their return from Hamburg.

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Spider’s web

Spider’s web
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Spider room speaker

Spider room speaker
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Brown Hat

Brown hat

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Vox amplifier from the Casbah (front)

Vox amplifier from the Casbah (front)
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Vox amplifier from the Casbah (back)

Vox amplifier from the Casbah (back)
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The initial sketches

The initial sketches drawn up for the proposed coffee cellar club in 1959.

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The Beatles: The True Beginnings

First edition hardcover with photographs by Sandro Sodano

One of my favourite Beatles books, now long out-of-print, is The Beatles: The True Beginnings, a lavishly designed volume published back in 2002 focusing on the story of the Casbah. It’s a beautiful book, and the story is brought to life by the images of the interiors and items of historical Beatles interest taken by photographer Sandro Sodano: clothes, instruments, objects and other memorabilia which he shot for the book.

Published by Screenpress Publishing, first edition hardcover copies came with a special ‘chinese fold’ cover which opened up to reveal a poster image of Paul, John and George performing at the Casbah.

Now here’s the exciting thing.We have secured an incredible cache of first edition hardcovers, all in immaculate condition, and all still in their original shrinkwrap. They have been in storage since 2002.

Finds like this don’t come up every day—and supplies are limited.

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The Beatles: The True Beginnings

Installation photographs

A selection of photographs from the gallery installation, October 2019.