Photograph of a sign for Cavern Walks

© National Museums Liverpool

When cities experience severe economic problems leading to the decay and dereliction of buildings and neighbourhoods, this tends to provoke efforts towards renewal and regeneration. In some cases, popular music has provided a starting point for the re-building process.

Music and dance clubs provide a good example. Liverpool's Mathew Street is a short narrow street situated towards the north end of the city centre, linking the city's financial and shopping districts. It was at the Cavern Club on Mathew Street that the Beatles performed regularly between 1961 and 1963, making the club famous around the world.

The Cavern Club was demolished in 1973 but was rebuilt during the 1980s in connection with a new shopping development named Cavern Walks. Other parts of the street and its surrounding area remained run-down, however, so in the early 1990s a group of business people and professionals with an interest in the area got together to discuss ways of improving it. They decided that the way forward was to create a distinctive and cohesive image through which the area could be marketed and they launched the Cavern Quarter Initiative (CQI).

Through this initiative, efforts were made to improve the appearance of the Mathew Street area, giving it a physical identity and coherence in order to attract visitors and further investment and make the area more upmarket. In this way the initiative, as its name suggests, aimed to capitalize on Mathew Street's musical and bohemian past and its associations with a youthful vibrancy. According to the chairman of the initiative, all of those involved with it "see the area branded with the musical tradition". A CQI newsletter explained how the name of the initiative was decided upon:

"In the end the answer was obvious. The area included the world's most famous club, the Cavern, mecca for hundreds of thousands of Beatles fans every year; Beatles connections abound, and are the area's most high-profile assets."

At the same time efforts were also being made to renew another area of Liverpool city centre known for its vibrant and youthful music and arts activity, and to categorise it as an official 'cultural quarter'. During the 1990s Wolstenholme Square, lying at the centre of the area, was home to the dance club Cream hence one of the many plans for the area involved the establishment of a 'Cream Zone' featuring a 'kiddies Cream' and a Cream hotel in addition to the Cream club and shop. Also in the 1990s, Manchester's Hacienda dance club closed down and lent its name to a regeneration initiative involving the construction of residential luxury flats.

Initiatives like these provoked one Liverpool music entrepreneur to describe musicians as the 'foot-soldiers' of urban regeneration, but they have both positive and negative implications for local music activity. Music-makers in Liverpool and Manchester have commonly complained that whilst such initiatives take music as their starting point, they often end up excluding certain kinds of music activity. This is illustrated by Sharon Zukin's study of New York's Soho area (1989). The area once provided cheap accommodation for artists but following commercial investment and redevelopment the artists could no longer afford to be based there.