Performance venues

Entrance of a large concert hall with 'Stadium' in large letters on the wall

Liverpool Stadium, courtesy of Liverpool Record Office

Venues that host live public music performances on a regular basis play an important part in many music scenes. They may be venues devoted to music such as music clubs and concert halls but there are also a broad range of other venues, including pubs, schools, community centres, even disused buildings. In the late 1950s for example, the Beatles performed in Liverpool clubs and ballrooms but also at a local abattoir, bus station and church fete.

Performance venues are important for both musicians and audiences. They provide an opportunity for musicians to develop their style in front of an audience and to form relationships with that audience. For both musicians and audience there is also the opportunity to meet like-minded people. The writer Barry Shank (1994) argues that within local music scenes performance venues and events also provide a context or space for the exploration and creation of new identities. Focusing on the post-punk scene of Austin, Texas, in the 1980s, he describes how performance events brought scene participants together in one place, allowing them to see and be seen.

Shank shows how the physical experience that performance provokes amongst musicians and audience members generates strong feelings and a sense of immediacy - of being together in the moment:

"I'd come home and my hips would be bruised from being shoved up against the stage and I'd be all sweaty and hot and my mascara would be in my eyes... You'd get caught up in it, the physical expression of having a good time. I didn't like the music, I don't think, but I sure did feel cool being there." (scene member cited in Shank, 1994: 125)

These ideas may help to explain why performance venues have played such a central and legendary role in many music scenes. In New York the club CBGBs is famous for its part in the 1970s New Wave scene, whilst in the 1940s jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse helped to create a new modern jazz scene and style known as be-bop.

In Liverpool, the club Cream has been closely associated with the dance and rave scene of the 1990s, the club Eric's with the post-punk scene of the early 1980s, and the Cavern Club with the so-called Merseybeat scene of the early 1960s.

The Cavern club opened as a jazz venue in January 1957. The owner did not have a licence to sell alcohol but the club was popular with an audience of young music fans. To remain attractive to that audience skiffle was introduced, even though the owner himself was not a fan. Skiffle was a type of jazz and blues-influenced folk music usually made using homemade or improvised instruments, such as a tea chest, washboard and comb, as well as more conventional instruments like the acoustic guitar. As a result of skiffle the Cavern became home to the electric 'beat groups' and the beat scene that developed out of it.

The Liverpool Stadium is a good example of a venue reaching out to a new audience. Originally a boxing and wrestling venue, the Stadium began to hold rock concerts in 1970. Very quickly it became established in the city as the place to see the new heavy and progressive rock groups. It therefore became a focus for audiences involved with Liverpool's hippy scene.