Friday, 21 December 2012

the jacaranda club: lennon and sutcliffe's mural

Now here's a thing. A genuine piece of rock and roll archaeology.
Obviously one look at the photo above and you can see with the image of the Beatles painted on the sign board it has a link to the fab four, but more accurately it is a link with the pre-fab four and it's not the Sgt Pepper period which the frontage sign depicts.
The Jacaranda Club, a name by the way of an exotic fruit and sounds rather a little ironic with the actual street name and it's location of Slater St, Liverpool. In 1958 it was a meeting place for local musicians and a general hang out for art students and assorted bohemians and immigrants probably mostly West Indian who had frequented and lived in that area of Liverpool during the 1950's.
Upstairs the club served coffee and food, and downstairs in the basement it was the place to dance the night out to a local band. In the day it probably had all the atmosphere and aromas of the coffee bar culture of the late 1950's and at night the hot and smoke filled dance floor of any similar basement club.
One of the local groups who frequented the Jacaranda in 1958 were the Quarry Men. The pre-Beatle group with John, George, and Paul who were later joined by Lennon's friend and fellow art student Stuart Sutcliffe changing the name of the group to The Silver Beetles in 1960 before eventually changing it again to The Beatles before performing in Hamburg. The musical history of that little collective needs no telling here.
"The Silver Beetles performed around a dozen times at manager Allan William's cafe in Liverpool's city centre.
Alan Williams asked them to play (The Jacaranda) on Monday nights when the normal house band, The Royal Caribbean Steel Band, had a night off. The Silver Beetles were paid with beans on toast and Coca-Cola."
Paul McCartney. Anthology.

This new photo and never before published shows The Jacaranda or 'The Jac' in the early 1980's and as can be seen it's in a pretty poor state of repair. The clubs original owner had pulled out of the business around 1970 and the club was then said to have then been taken over by a succession of owners until it was left closed and empty in the dilapidated state pictured. Windows now collapsing, empty inside rooms with what looks like shelving stacked against them, the outside wall half painted in an obvious attempt to improve the appearance but then abandoned.
You can still see the Membership boards in the window, on the left one declaring the admission prices to the club
Monday - Wednesday 50p
Thursday - Saturday £1
A hand written Members notice on the white board on the right now faded and illegible.
The building's appearance declined even further in the following years with graffitti appearing on the outside walls, the inside in a poor condition with the basement in possibly the worst condition with damage to something that really should amount to a cultural treasure of Liverpool and those early rock and roll days at the Jacaranda. There on the plaster walls were hand painted murals created by the 18 year old John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe.
They depict taut mask like faces painted in a limited palette of colours reminiscent of Paul Gaugin paintings and Polynesian art with the sculptural shapes and style of African tribal masks. Although the main face portraits are not African in appearance but look like young white people.
Could the main mural painted as a backdrop for the stage been the imagined faces of the audience?
Or could they even be the stylised self portraits of Lennon and Sutcliffe themselves?
It makes for irresistible conjecture.
The painting style itself is not immediately reflective of either Lennon's later published fine lined pen and ink cartoon drawings or the later fine art painting style we see of Stuart Sutcliffe's.
At the time these young men were painting the walls of the Jacaranda basement they were at or had just left the Liverpool College of Art and the murals have a distinctive experimental feel that is often encouraged in such colleges.
Certainly in 1950's art education they were quite likely to have been aware of both Gaugin and African art. Whatever, they are a fascinating and thought provoking insight of their artistic ideas at the time.
One thing can be certain though, Sutcliffe himself was a serious artist and Lennon would always be attracted to the people who were similarly artistic, inevitably it would be an artist who would become the perfect partner for him.
You can just imagine Sutcliffe and Lennon talking the idea over of the murals in the basement and one of them making some bold sketches on the plaster wall and the other making alterations, reshaping or filling in the colour of the faces with paint quite likely bought from a local shop.
It's a scenario that's been enacted by many an art student with a desire to produce a show of some nature.

Fortunately in 1995 the Jacaranda and the murals were saved from complete devastation when the club was taken over once more, this time with a new building facade and interior renovated it did lose the look of it's original appearance, but part of that renovation was the Sutcliffe and Lennon murals that were carefully repainted by local art students bringing there badly faded colours to life once more.
The Jacaranda's more recent years saw it become more of a tourist attraction and they held what seems like 'open mike nights' where a few young musicians made a sort of personal pilgrimage to the club from overseas. Their own particular tentative moments were filmed at the club by their friends and posted on YouTube where you can see and hear they battled to be heard against the background of a constantly chattering audience.
It's rather poignant that no matter how simple these videos are they now represent the last views of the inside of The Jacaranda Club. The club was to close again in 2011, and there must be some doubt as to whether it will ever be in business in the future.
So now John Lennon's and Stuart Sutcliffe's 55 year old (in 2013) mural paintings are once more in the dark and may fade from view for good this time.
Here is the large mural created in the stage area followed by one of The Quarry Men's very first recordings in 1958 and a song they would no doubt have played in the Jacaranda basement with it's hand painted mural as the backdrop.