I?ve said before that if you?re a Beatles fan, it really behooves you to make a pilgrimage to Liverpool at least once in your life.
If you go during Beatles Week, you can sign up for a full-scale tour via www.liverpooltours.com, but it?s still fun visiting the city at other times.
It wasn?t until my second visit that I made it out to the Casbah Club, though, and we were allowed to walk around the basement, which largely looked the same as it had back when the Beatles played there.
Since then, the experience has changed a bit. During Beatles Week, the club hosts bands, and you now can schedule your own tour and even record at the venue (casbahcoffeeclub.com for details).
There?s also a book out about the club?s history ? ?The Beatles: True Beginnings,? written by Roag Best, with assistance from his brothers, Pete and Rory.
The book first came out in the U.K. in 2002 (in hardcover); stateside, it?s available through Thomas Dunne Books (in paperback). The book?s filled with rare photographs (including pictures of musical equipment and stage clothes), along with stories and anecdotes from club attendees.
There are plenty of Beatles stories, but unlike Pete Best?s own books, ?True Beginnings? also discusses the history of the club and pays homage to the Best boys? mother, Mona.
Roag not only grew up at 8 Hayman?s Green, where the Casbah was located in the basement, he also was born in the house, with its wealth of history surrounding him.
?It wasn?t something that I could escape from,? he says. ?It was always part of my life.?
By the time Roag was a teenager, he?d become a drummer himself, and Liverpool was undergoing another musical renaissance with groups like the Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Roag?s band, the Watt 4, found success locally, but it never broke through in a big way. He says he has no regrets.
?We were having a great time, but we were really out of control,? he notes with a chuckle. ?If success had come along at that time, I think there would?ve been severe casualties in that group!?
Throughout the ?80s, Beatles tourism in Liverpool became increasingly big business. But initially, at least, the Casbah?s role in the Beatles story was overlooked.
?It started to eat away at me, get under my skin,? Roag admits, ??cause I was thinking, everyone?s flocking to these other places thinking that that?s where the Beatles began. And they weren?t! It actually started here, at the Casbah. We were getting lost in the history. It reached a point for me where I thought, ?This is insane that people don?t realize the biggest music phenomenon of our time started at this venue.??
That began to change in 1988, when Pete was persuaded to put together a band for what he thought would be a one-off show at that year?s Beatle Week festival.
?It was a fantastic night,? Roag recalls, ?and everything that we?ve done now sort of rolled on from there.?
As fate would have it, a Canadian concert promoter was in attendance and offered the group (which has both Pete and Roag playing drums) a tour, the first of many for the band, along with a string of album releases.
The Casbah also gradually was being re-opened, initially for events at Beatle Week, and now all year around, though advance reservations are required for a visit.
The ?True Beginnings? book came about as Roag was busy archiving his family?s history. A friend to whom he mentioned the project happened to have contacts in publishing, and Roag soon found himself with a book contract.