Musical sounds that are off the map

A magazine article with the title Rock Routes and illustrated with a photograph of Paul McCartney and a map of Liverpool

1972 map of Liverpool rock venues,
courtesy of the Institute of Popular Music

Portrayals of music in cities tend to be selective. For instance, maps of the musical life of cities selectively focus on certain music sites and sounds and exclude or conceal many others.

There are many reasons for this but one of them is that many music events take place out of sight or earshot from the general public and without their knowledge. Some are literally hidden in that they take place underground and below street level. Some are also hidden in the sense that they are known only to certain groups of people, and are associated with the musical and metaphorical 'underground' as opposed to the 'mainstream'.

The map featured here can help to illustrate this point. It is a 1972 map of Liverpool rock venues from the journal 'Let it Rock'. Number 12 on the map is the Top Rank Suite, which opened in 1971 and hosted performances by David Bowie and other well-known musicians. The Top Rank was part of the St John's Precinct development, a large indoor shopping complex incorporating a market, hotel, car park and leisure facilities.

Absent from the map however are three pubs that were situated in the basement of St John's Precinct. They are thus hidden from this and other accounts of Liverpool music, yet all three functioned as purpose-built venues for rock music performance from their launch in 1971 until the mid 1980s when they were turned into shop storage. During the early to mid 1970s all three featured regular performances by local rock bands that played to packed audiences. Together they made the precinct basement a musical space and a hangout for many musicians.

Each of the three pubs had a distinctive character. The Moonstone, for example, was considered dark and gritty by some musicians. It was on two floors, with the performance room on the lower floor down some windy stairs. The room was long and narrow with dark, maroon-coloured walls. On the small stage at the end were live performances by progressive and folk rock bands such as Wildlife, Skyfall, Superstride and Colonel Bagshot.

One of the musicians who performed there described the Moonstone as having "an alternative, different vibe". Another described the Moonstone as place for hippies like himself who were at that time not welcome in most Liverpool pubs and clubs.

"It was a hippy hangout... a trog emporium. They'd burn incense and people would be wearing a lot of musk - that trog oil smell ... The Moonstone was a watering hole for people who would otherwise be persecuted. Liverpool could be a hateful place for anyone who was a bit different."

The alternative sounds of The Moonstone helped to associate the venue with the musical underground, as did the dress, behaviour and collective identity of those who frequented it. These associations were reinforced by the dark walls and musky smells of the venue in addition to its location literally underground.

Similarly, the dank, subterranean atmosphere of Liverpool's Cavern Club has become an important part of its notoriety. The club first opened as a jazz venue in the empty cellar of an old storage warehouse. The owner had been inspired by a visit to the Paris Jazz club Le Caveau Français on the Left Bank, and he chose the venue not only for its affordability but also because of its low, barrel-vaulted ceilings. He enhanced the bohemian feel of the venue by painting the walls black. The club's literal underground location and associated smells and atmosphere were likewise associated with an underground sense of insiderness connected to the music performed there.