The Beatles 60 Years Ago - May 1962.
Bert Kaempfert Produktion
On June 19, 1961, three days before the “My Bonnie” recording sessions, the four members of The Beatles (John, Paul, George, and Pete) entered into an agreement with Bert Kaempfert Produktion. The contract was six pages long and not a standardized form. It was written up specifically for the purpose of contracting The Beatles to record songs. It was completely in German, and there was no translation to be found, so our boys signed without having any idea what it actually said. Paul would say in 1964, “We signed all sorts of contracts when we were about 18, because we had no manager and we didn’t know what we were doing.” As Mark Lewisohn would point out, they were very lucky that Bert Kaempfert was fundamentally an ethical person. Though the contract was, as you might expect, a somewhat better deal for the record company than the group, it was “not villainous.”
A fascinating rundown of the details of the terms of the contract can be found on pages 915 and 916 of the Mark Lewisohn book cited below. As for the basics: The contract was to run for one full year beginning on July 1, 1961 and then automatically renew. The renewal could be terminated by either side with three months’ notice. They were to record no fewer than four songs per year, not including any songs for which they were backing musicians. The songs would be decided upon by mutual agreement. If no consensus was reached, they would be chosen by BKP (Bert Kaempfert Produktion). They would basically be paid 4.5% of the wholesale proceeds for all domestic records sold. Less for imports. They would be expected to play their recorded songs live, and not make any tour, TV, or film arrangements without consulting BKP. Tony Sheridan did not sign a contract at this point. In fact, he never signed a contract with BKP at all. In September, he signed directly with DGC (Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft), the parent company of Polydor Records, which had a separate agreement with BKP.
Interestingly, since the recording sessions that had already been completed had taken place before the start date of the contract, it is unclear if they counted as part of the four songs they would be required to record. As we talked about last week, they had been paid £20 each when they took part in the June recording session, and it would appear that Polydor considered those recordings to be completely separate, considering that a few years later the label released the recordings without making any royalty payments to The Beatles. No 4.5% or anything. Bert Kaempfert himself apparently believed that there was an agreement for The Beatles to record in Hamburg in February of 1962, and that may have been when he thought he’d be getting his four songs. They didn’t actually return to Hamburg until April of 1962 and by then, other things were happening that would complicate the whole BKP contract situation. We’ll get to that next year!
A couple more amusing aspects of the contract: BKP retained the right to choose a pseudonym for The Beatles. The word “Beatles” sounded a lot like the German word, “piedels,” which was not a word for polite conversation. Their audiences found it funny, but it was not for national release on a record. Mark Lewisohn also suggests that Kaempfert chose the name “Beat Brothers” because it was generic sounding enough that it could be used for any group of session musicians who he could have backing Tony Sheridan at any time. Also, no publicity photos were taken, so in order to have something by the way of press coverage, Kaempfert had The Beatles hand-write biographies. John laid out very plainly what he wanted most. He listed his ambition as: “TO BE RICH.”
The Other Contract
On June 28, 1961, less than a week after the recording sessions, John and George were required to sign an additional contract, this one with Alfred Schacht. You may remember that Schacht was one the people who had seen The Beatles play at The Top Ten Club and convinced Bert Kaempfert to come have a listen. Schacht was a lawyer who led a music-publishing company called Tonika, which partnered with BKP and DGC. The contract covered the authorship rights to “Beatle Bop,” which would now forever more be known as “Cry For a Shadow.” This time, the contract was a standard form that just needed some blanks filled and signatures. As with the BKP contract, it was completely in German, so John and George had no idea what they were signing. Tony Sheridan had also written one of the songs recorded during the June sessions, “Why?” So he must have also had to sign a publishing contract, but I am not absolutely sure about those details.
Just as a little aside here, there is something that strikes me as interesting. Just a little thought to run around in your head to make of it what you will. I find it interesting that though, obviously, John and Paul would go down in history as the great songwriting team, George did get his hand in early. Back in 1958, when The Quarrymen recorded “In Spite of All the Danger,” George had a songwriting credit along with Paul. The first original song recorded by those who would become Beatles. And now, the first original song recorded under a professional contract was written by George and John. So there’s that.
Next week we’ll be talking about the end of the second Hamburg residency and the trip back to Liverpool without Stu. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
The BKP contract
How Many Sessions?
Interestingly, there are seemingly no documents in existence that actually lay out the exact details of what was recorded when or even what exact days the recordings were done. There seems to be a lot of agreement that recording commenced on June 22, 1961, but from there it gets hazy. Several sources state that there was also a session on June 23. To throw even more uncertainty into the mix, the 1984 CD release of the material recorded at this time says that one song was recorded on June 24 at Studio Rahlstedt in Hamburg. There doesn’t seem to be much of a way of pinning down what actually happened, but Mark Lewisohn has come to conclusions the best that he could.
Lewisohn states, first off, that the June 24 idea is “particularly unlikely” and cites that there is other information included in the 1984 CD release that “is clearly wrong.” He also suggests that it is possible that June 23 may have simply been the day that the songs recorded on the 22nd were mixed, and that The Beatles and Tony Sheridan were not present. He ultimately seems to believe that the most likely event was that the recordings themselves were done in one day, on June 22, 1961.
What Songs Were Recorded?
Probably the most famous song associated with these recording sessions is “My Bonnie.” A rocking version of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” with Tony Sheridan on lead vocals and taking the lead guitar solo. It was the one single that Polydor decided to release, and took its place in Beatles Legend when, in late October 1961, Raymond Jones showed up at Brian Epstein’s Liverpool Nems store and requested the single. The B-side of that single was “The Saints,” again, a more rocking version of a well-known song, “When The Saints Go Marching In,” and once again with Tony Sheridan on the lead vocals.
Also well known to early Beatles fans are the two songs that were recorded without Tony Sheridan. The first was to be chosen and sung by John. For an unknown reason, possibly because most of the songs they were recording were old classics, he didn’t pick an original, such as “One After 909,” but instead chose “Ain’t She Sweet,” which he had been singing for years by this time. The most interesting song, though, was the original instrumental, written by George and John, that was initially known as “Beatle Bop.” They regularly played the song in Hamburg and according to Pete, Kaempfert had requested that they record it. As we’ll see next week, the fact that it was an original meant that John and George had an additional contract to sign. By the time any of the recordings saw the light of day, the song found itself with a new title, “Cry For a Shadow.”
Three other songs were recorded and can be heard on many versions of these recordings that are available. There was “Nobody’s Child,” best known as a Hank Snow song from 1949, and Jimmy Reed’s 1959 song, “Take Out Some Insurance on Me, Baby.” The last one, possibly most notable among these, is “Why,” which is a Tony Sheridan original.
It Just Didn’t Sound Like The Beatles
We talked last week about how Bert Kaempfert had Pete’s bass drum and tom removed from his set and how that fundamentally changed how The Beatles sounded, since they were known for their “stomping.” beat. But that’s not all that was changed. The Beatles were well-known for their harmonies. That is something that is obviously notable in all of the recordings they would ever do. Pete has said that the harmonies were what attracted Bert Kaempfert to them in the first place. So it was particularly surprising what Kaempfert had them do. Instead of their usual harmonies, Kaempfert had them do a low, humming, Mills Brothers-like background. As Mark Lewisohn would say, “while it’s not bad, it’s also not The Beatles.” It was almost as if, in the end, Kaempfert didn’t really care as much about the quality of these recordings as how long it took to do them. In addition to really changing how The Beatles sounded, he at one point refused to allow the band to record an additional two-minute take of “Take Out Some Insurance on Me, Baby,” after Sheridan muffed the guitar introduction. Kaempfert said, “No, no, we’ll leave it. It sounds like jazz.”
It seemed that no one was ultimately impressed by the quality of the recordings. The Polydor release of “My Bonnie” as a single, with “The Saints” as the B-side, didn’t happen in Germany until October 23, 1961. It reached #32 on the German national chart. Most of the other songs, including “Cry For a Shadow,” wouldn’t be heard by the public until The Beatles became famous. After the initial excitement over having their record played anywhere, John and Paul cooled quite a bit on “My Bonnie.” In 1964, Paul would say, “We hated it, we thought it was a terrible record.” John would add that he didn’t believe that Kaempfert like them at all: “He preferred Sheridan. [He told us to] stop playing the rock and blues and concentrate on the other stuff.”
A last interesting little piece of information. From a financial standpoint, it would have made no difference to The Beatles if “My Bonnie” had become a sensation all over Europe. Pete would say, “We were simply used as session men on the record and each received a flat fee of £20 with no royalty clause attached. We spent the money getting drunk that same night.” Of course, with what would happen in late October in Liverpool with Raymond Jones and Brian Epstein, you’re likely to make the argument that “My Bonnie” still had an important part to play in The Beatles’ story. And we’ll get to that soon!
Next week we’ll talk about the actual details of The Beatles’ contracts with Bert Kaempfert and Alfred Schacht. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition) as well as for his The Complete Beatles Chronicle. Thanks to Philip Norman for his Shout! And special thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Various members of The Beatles did have some experience with having their music recorded in one way or another. Unfortunately, not all of the recordings still exist. First was John on July 6, 1957, as a member of The Quarrymen, before Paul and George joined. A young man named Bob Molyneux brought his Grundig tape recorder to the Woolton fête on the day that John and Paul first met. Quite a coincidence. Bits and pieces of that tape are available online and on bootlegs, but it has never been released officially.
John, Paul, and George, as members of The Quarrymen, made two recordings at the Percy Phillips Studio, in the living room of a house in Liverpool, paying for them out of their own pockets. The first is well known. On July 12, 1958, they recorded Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day” and an original, “In Spite of All the Danger,” both of which appear on The Beatles Anthology. The story is that in early 1960, John, Paul, and George, just the three of them this time, returned to the Percy Phillips Studio to record “One After 909.” Unfortunately, that recording apparently does not exist anymore in any form.
During the first half of 1960, John, Paul, George, and Stu recorded themselves at least twice at Paul’s house at 20 Forthlin Road in Liverpool, resulting in what is known as The Forthlin Road Tapes, which we talked about at length last year. The full recordings can only be found on bootlegs, but several songs recorded there did make it on to The Beatles Anthology.
Finally, in October of 1960, at the tiny Akustic Studio in Hamburg, John, Paul, and George joined Rory Storm and the Hurricanes members Lu Walters and some guy named Ringo and recorded a version of “Summertime,” with Walters on the lead vocals. This recording also apparently no longer exists in any form, which is a tremendous shame since it documented the first time John, Paul, George, and Ringo ever played together.
Friedrich-Ebert Halle, Harburg
Harburg is about 20 miles south of Hamburg. On June 22, 1961, John, Paul, George, Pete, and Tony Sheridan were picked up at 8am to head to the studio. They were freshly signed to a recording contract by Bert Kaempfert, and Kaempfert had plans for his new star, Tony Sheridan, and the backing group. Stu also came along to lend moral support. There was no question of him playing. He was leaving The Beatles and Paul was going to be much better on the recordings anyway. Friedrich-Ebert-Halle was a secondary recording location that was generally used when the main studio in Hamburg, The Musikhalle, was occupied. There was some surprise that the location was really just a school hall. Pete would say, “Surely this couldn’t be the place where Bert made his own smoochy bestsellers. It was, and he was perfectly satisfied with the conditions.”
It was extremely early for the boys. So early that they had decided to just not go to sleep. All except for Pete were staying awake with the help of their “prellies.” Tony Sheridan remembered, “We did the recordings on a Preludin high. There was no other way we could have done it.” Sheridan, incidentally, did have some real professional experience in London with EMI. He had played guitar on Cherry Wainer’s 1959 hit, “The Happy Organ,” and had backed both Gene Vincent and Conway Twitty.
The recordings were done “live,” That is, there were no overdubs or adding any additional instruments later. The sound was captured on a two-track Telefunken recorder, manned by engineer Karl Hinze. The Beatles and Sheridan had their own instruments, but Kaempfert had brought in amplifiers for the session. Since our boys were unfamiliar with them, it was completely up to Hinze and Kaempfert to make sure that the sound was perfect. It was during this process that they ran into their first “problem.”
A Limited Drum Set
Hinze needed to set all of the proper levels, so our boys began to play for him. Bert Kaempfert wasn’t happy. As Tony Sheridan remembered, “Kaempfert suggested Pete not play his bass drum, because he used to get too fast…the tempo was a problem.” Though it’s hard to say what the actual details are of the story, it seems to me that Kaempfert wasn’t just unhappy with the drums, he was willing to be quite cruel. He had the bass drum along with Pete’s floor tom removed from the set to take away any chance that Pete might use them. Our drummer went ahead with just a snare drum, a hi-hat, and a ride cymbal.
You may remember that one of The Beatles’ signatures, something that provided a foundation for the incredible energy that set them apart from other groups was their “stomping.” And no small part of that stomping was provided by Pete’s “four in the bar” bass drum playing. Now that was gone. And it wouldn’t be the only signature Beatles quality that would be lost during these recordings…
Next week, Part Two of the story of the recording sessions with Bert Kaempfert. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
George, John, and Tony Sheridan
Stu Staying in Hamburg
As we talked about last month, Stu had finalized his long-talked about decision not to return to Liverpool by accepting two grants to study with Scottish sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi at the Hamburg College of Fine Arts. He was to start right away, on June 1, 1961. This, along with his recurring headaches and “grumbling appendix,” caused him to often miss performances at The Top Ten Club. During those absences, The Beatles had a choice. They could either do without or else Paul could move from piano to bass guitar. So that was the way it was. Paul would borrow Stu’s Hofner 333 and play it upside down so that the strings would still be in place when Stu returned.
That temporary fix, though, only served to remind them of the problem they knew they would be facing once they got back home. They were either going to have to once again find a bass player or one of John, Paul, or George was going to have to move to bass permanently. George would remember that the decision kind of worked itself out: “I said…one of the three of us is going to be the bass player, and it’s not going to be me.” John said, “I’m not doing it either.” So it was up to Paul. He told Mark Lewisohn, “I doubt I would have picked up the bass if Stuart hadn’t left. I certainly didn’t start playing it by choice. I got lumbered with it.”
The Paul/Stu Relationship
We’ve talked a bit before about Paul’s feelings about Stu. He didn’t want an inexperienced musician in the band in the first place, and may have been jealous of Stu’s close friendship with John, a relationship that he wanted for himself. Paul also felt as though he had been put in the position by the other members of the group to be the one to give Stu a hard time, trying to get him to practice more, to make fun of him for his clothes and hair, etc. For the most part, Stu just took it. As Cynthia would say, “Stuart, being a very sensitive and peace-loving soul, restrained himself…
Well, except for that one time… Sometime during this period (Pete says it may have been as early as mid-May), while Tony Sheridan was singing one of his songs with The Beatles backing him, Paul said something to Stu from his seat at the piano. Though it is unclear exactly what was said, there seems to be agreement that it was something about Astrid. Stu put down his bass guitar, and stormed Paul at the piano and gave him “such a wallop that it knocked him off his stool,” according to Pete.
It certainly gave Paul a shock: “I’d assumed I’d win because he wasn’t that big, but the strength of love or something entered into him…” George would say, “Stuart suddenly had this amazing strength that Paul hadn’t bargained for.” Klaus Voormann added that Stu “picked Paul up and put him on the piano.” It would seem that basically there was just a lot of wrestling and rolling around on the floor in the end. Paul said “you just stay locked for about an hour with nobody doing anything. All the old German gangsters were laughing…” As for the rest of the group, Pete says that they just continued playing the song, for about five minutes: “the number ended and we pried them apart to applause from the audience.”
The damage was done, though. It was just another reason for Stu to leave the band as soon as possible. Mark Lewisohn describes the rest of Stu’s time being around Paul as “awkward.” Cynthia said that “Paul and Stuart were bickering increasingly.” Pete, however, would say that despite the tension, Stu’s “friendship with us continued…and the break, when it came, was clean and friendly and completely devoid of recrimination.”
The Decision Made
There was no more doubt that Paul would switch to bass guitar. For an unknown reason, Paul did not buy Stu’s bass. You could speculate that Stu didn’t want to sell it, that Paul didn’t want to deal with Stu, or he just didn’t like it because it was so heavy. Whatever the reason, sometime in the first half of June Paul went to Steinway and Sons in Hamburg and chose the light, relatively inexpensive Hofner 500/1. Hofner was a German manufacturer, so it was easy to make the special order that meant that Paul was finally getting an actual left-handed instrument. No one could ever have guessed that at that one moment in time, with one decision about which instrument to choose, possibly the most iconic image of a musical instrument in any rock band in history was being made. Though there were those mid-sixties to mid-seventies years that Paul played a Rickenbacker bass that many people remember, it is a violin-shaped Hofner that Paul was playing when The Beatles became famous and that he still plays today.
Paul’s broken down Rosetti, which he hadn’t played in a while, preferring to play the house piano at The Top Ten Club, got a royal sendoff. As Paul would remember, “George, Stu, Pete, and John – especially John – had a great time smashing it to bits by jumping up and down on it.” Interestingly, as you can see in the photo, there were a couple of pictures taken during this time in which Paul and Stu are both holding their Hofner basses. The Beatles with two bass players! How about that!
For the next three weeks we’ll be talking about the extremely important events of the end of June: The Beatles first professional recording session and first recording and publishing contracts. Part One next week. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And special thanks to Cynthia Lennon for her John. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Two bass guitars!
A Bit of Background
Cynthia’s story is obviously pretty well known to Beatles fans. She was born into a somewhat higher class family than any of The Beatles. She attended Liverpool College of Art, where she met John. They began dating in 1959 and she would ultimately go on to marry him in 1962 after discovering that she was pregnant with their only child, Julian Lennon. The marriage would last about six years. She eventually wrote two books about her relationship with John. Much less has been written about (and nothing by) Dot Rhone.
Dorothy Rhone was from Childwall, Liverpool, and was 16 years old when she met 17 year old Paul at The Casbah Coffee Club during the Fall of 1959, when The Quarrymen were playing there every week. She liked John the best at first, but soon discovered that he had a girlfriend, namely Cynthia. Dot became close friends with Cyn and turned her romantic attention towards Paul. It would be the first real long-term relationship for either of them, and would last for about the next three years.
A Vacation to See John and Paul
In May of 1961, Cynthia and Dot took a trip to Hamburg to see their boyfriends. It was the first time either of them had travelled abroad. Cynthia had finished her fourth-year exams at Liverpool College of Art and was therefore free to take a break. She was 21, and though her mother, Lil, didn’t approve of John, no effort was made to stop Cynthia from going and Lil even saw the ladies off on their trip. Dot, on the other hand, who was three years or so younger, was defying her parents’ wishes by taking time off of work to travel to Germany. It was Paul’s father, Jim, who came to see her off on her adventure.
John and Paul had arranged to meet their girlfriends upon their arrival, and showed up not long after finishing their nightly performance at The Top Ten Club, sweating, wearing leather, and full of energy from the prellies they had been taking that evening. According to Mark Lewisohn, the ladies were disappointed by their reception, not to mention hungry, but settled down a bit after they set off to the British Sailor’s Society for breakfast.
Accommodations had been carefully worked out as well. John and Paul had no intention of having their girlfriends stay with the whole crew in the room above The Top Ten Club. John had arranged that Cynthia would stay at Astrid’s house and Paul had made his own arrangements. The restroom attendant at The Top Ten Club was a kindly, 60-year old woman named Rosa Hoffman, She was known to The Beatles as “Mutti” (Mom in German). Mutti was not only nice to The Beatles, especially Paul, she was also their main preludin supplier. She offered Dot lodgings on her houseboat for the duration of her stay.
Memories of Hamburg
Cynthia was initially daunted by the prospect of meeting and staying with Astrid, after hearing her described as “confident and glamorous.” But they got along very well. They would get ready together and head to The Top Ten Club every evening. Along with Dot, the three ladies would sit at a front table to watch the boys play and wait to see them when they had their breaks. There are stories of John and Paul along with their waiter/bodyguard friends having to protect Cynthia and Dot from drunk, overzealous men in the club. Pete suggested that once the men discovered that the ladies were the girlfriends of John and Paul, they were very apologetic. They “were Beatles fans and would never think of trying to upset us.” Overall, Cynthia remembered that it was a “happy, carefree time…without [John’s Aunt] Mimi or Mum hovering over us.” She described John’s satisfaction with how her “jaw dropped” upon seeing the women of the Herbertstrasse sitting in their windows waiting for clients. In order to keep up with the hours at The Top Ten while still trying to do some visiting, shopping, and sightseeing during the day, Cynthia and Dot joined the rest of the crew in taking prellies to stay awake.
As much as it made John’s and Paul’s lives quite different from the wild ways they were used to in Hamburg, they all seemed to have a great time. Astrid and Stu took John and Cynthia to Scharbeutz, the Baltic resort to where the Kirchherr family had been evacuated during the war. On another occasion, all three couples climbed the tower at Hauptkirche St. Michaelis, where, according to John, they carved into a wooden handrail: “John + Cyn, Paul + Dot, Stu + Astrid.”
The trip lasted a few weeks. According to Cynthia, they were in Hamburg until sometime towards the end of June. That would only be a matter of days before The Beatles finished their Top Ten Club residency. Big changes were on the horizon. We’ll be talking about them soon!
Next week we’ll be talking about the beginnings of Paul’s transition to bass guitar. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And special thanks to Cynthia Lennon for her John. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Cynthia and Dot
In addition to being a live music centre that so many British bands would come to, Hamburg was also the base for Germany’s recording industry. A not-so-small player in that was Deutsche Grammophon, who had opened an office in Hamburg in 1951. The popular music recorded by the company was often released on their Polydor Records label. A tremendously fortunate happenstance for Tony Sheridan and The Beatles was that Polydor producers as well as artists would often visit The Top Ten Club to enjoy some live music. One of the first Polydor producers to see The Beatles play was Jimmy Bowien, who had been with Polydor for about two years.
Bowien had first seen Tony Sheridan and The Beatles play sometime in late April of 1961. He would remember that, “I liked The Beatles’ new attitude and the wild way they presented themselves. I…really wanted to do something with them.” Incidentally, around the same time in late April, Brian Epstein was in Hamburg as a guest of Deutsche Grammophon, who had brought in English record retailers for a visit. The story is that he may have actually spent a little time in The Top Ten Club, but had no idea that a band from Liverpool was on stage. Now Bowien soon afterwards returned to The Top Ten Club with an eighteen year old singer named Guntram Kühbeck.
Kühbeck was a popular, up and coming singer in Germany who was better known, in an effort to be marketable to English speaking countries, as Tommy Kent. There was at least one Beatle who was very excited about meeting Kent. Paul wrote a letter, dated May 4, in which he told a couple of Liverpool fans with whom he corresponded that, “one of Germany’s biggest rock and roll stars came into the club (he’s as well known here as Cliff is in England). He said we were the best group he ever heard. Hope he meant it!” Within a few more days, Bowien again returned to The Top Ten Club and had a conversation with George about doing some recordings. George told him that he was too late, “another man wants to sign us…”
Bert Kaempfert (pictured)
Bert Kaempfert was a big deal. That is no exaggeration. Around the same time that he was about to meet The Beatles, the Bert Kaempfert Orchestra had the #1 album in the UK as well as the #1 single in both the UK and the US, all of which were entitled “Wonderland By Night.” In the US, the song had knocked Elvis himself out of the top spot. But he was also one of Polydor’s most well-established producers. Kaempfert had heard from both Tommy Kent and music publisher Alfred Schacht (with whom he often worked) that he should go to The Top Ten Club to see the band playing there. Schacht had even heard that Tony Sheridan actually wrote songs.
Kaempfert, along with an impressive entourage, sat in the VIP seats, stage side, to get a taste of the house band. George, upon hearing that Kaempfert was in the audience, commented succinctly, “Oh, shit, we’d better play good then.” As you can probably see coming, Kaempfert was suitably impressed. He was initially most interested in Tony Sheridan, since he saw in Sheridan a possible singing star, and the singer was always more important than the backing group. Even so, there was another intriguing idea about this group of musicians. As Mark Lewisohn would put it, Kaempfert saw The Beatles as “a backing group worthy of signing, and perhaps featuring separately, but second fiddle to the singer.” The obvious comparison would be Cliff Richard and The Shadows.
Tony Sheridan and The Beatles were all invited to a meeting with Kaempfert and Alfred Schacht at Schacht’s office. The language barrier was substantial but it was established that the boys had no recording contract. As Schacht would remember, “We discussed the recording contract and they said yes. There wasn’t much discussion, really. They were happy to have a recording contract, and they were very happy to have a publishing contract, and that was it.”
Mark Lewisohn relates that Schacht’s story may not be exactly accurate. He says that Kaempfert made several visits to The Top Ten Club and instead of signing Sheridan and The Beatles to the Polydor label directly, that he intended to sign them to his own company, Bert Kaempfert Produktion, who had a licensing arrangement with Polydor. Of course, that level of detail would be of no interest whatsoever to The Beatles. At this point, they would simply wait for the producer to contact them to tell them when the recording session would be and which songs they would be playing. That would happen in another month, and we’ll obviously be talking about it in detail at that point.
Next week we’ll be talking about the visit to Hamburg made by John’s and Paul’s girlfriends, Cynthia Powell and Dot Rhone. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
A Little Refresher
Jürgen Vollmer was born in Hamburg on July 11, 1939. His father was a German officer who died during World War II. Jürgen attended the Hamburg Institute of Fashion and in the Fall of 1960 was working alongside Astrid Kirchherr as an assistant to photographer Reinhart Wolf. Astrid’s then-boyfriend, Klaus Voormann, had seen The Beatles play at The Kaiserkeller around October 20, 1960 and had visited Astrid at her place of work in order to convince her to come with him to see the band the following evening. Jürgen decided that he wanted to come along. The three of them soon became fast friends with The Beatles, with Astrid, as must be clear by now, soon becoming engaged to Stuart Sutcliffe.
Among the three “Exis,” (existentialists) as The Beatles called them (when they weren’t calling them “the Krauts”, Jürgen was actually the most adventurous with his fashion and his lifestyle. He frequently travelled to Paris and bought his clothes at flea markets. He said, “The Paris flea market was huge and they had new stuff, not just rubbish.” He cut his own hair into a “Caesar haircut,” combed down to the side. His way of life was to perform “acts of rebellion against the squares.” It could be said that The Beatles’ haircut actually started with Jürgen.
Taking Over Photo Duties
As we’ve mentioned before, though Astrid took a substantial number of photographs of The Beatles in 1960, she did not carry on into 1961. She had not even taken photos while visiting Stu in Liverpool in early 1961. The collection entitled Astrid Kirchherr and The Beatles is a remarkable presentation of her abilities, but it is striking how the photos go basically straight from 1960 to 1962. Fortunately, once The Beatles were back in Hamburg, Jürgen came to the rescue.
Around mid-April of 1961, Jürgen invited George out for a photo shoot. He would say, “I liked George the most. He was very quiet and shy, just like me, and also a dreamer.” In a similar way in which George’s relationship with poet Royston Ellis the previous year did not go entirely how Ellis had hoped, Jürgen settled for becoming good friends with young Mr. Harrison. The photoshoot included the photos shown here, and they are some of around twenty taken that day. George’s high hair was the star of the show! Ha! The photographer remembered that after returning to The Top Ten Club after the photo session, George very simply told the others, “Jürgen is fab.”
The next photo shoot idea was to have the whole group performing at The Top Ten Club. Jürgen didn’t want to draw attention to himself taking pictures, so the shoot was done in the afternoon. Pete didn’t stay very long, and appears in only a few of the resulting photos. A particularly interesting thing about the photo set is that since it was in the afternoon, our boys had basically just gotten up and had not fixed up their hair yet. George’s is particularly combed down, but it is an interesting view of the future.
The Second Part of the Shoot
After taking a few rolls of performance shots, Jürgen took John, Paul, George, and Stu to a location that he had scouted out in order to try a photographic experiment. Jäger-Passage was an enclosed courtyard off of the main street, perfect for some uninterrupted photographs. As Mark Lewisohn described it, “through the lens it looked like a busy street, but hardly anyone would pass by all afternoon.” Jürgen had an idea in mind. He would say, “I wanted to experiment with long exposure time. I put John in the doorway…and made him stand still. Then I got the other three [Paul, George, and Stu] to pass by. I put the camera on a tripod and set a long exposure so their bodies were out of focus.” The resulting photographs were stunning. The most famous of them was used by John in 1975 for the cover of his Rock ‘N’ Roll album.
We’ll have more to say about Jürgen in the future, but just to kind of finish out his biography: In August of 1961 he moved to Paris, where he always seemed to fit in better than in Hamburg. John and Paul would meet up with him there in the Fall of 1961, a meeting that would have an lasting effect on the visual image of The Beatles. We’ll talk about then when we get there! In the 1970s, he moved to New York, continuing his work as a photographer, and then ended up in Hollywood, where he worked on several films as a set photographer. Of the 92 photographs he ultimately took of The Beatles, there are very many that he has not published to this day, basically explaining that quantity should not prevail over what would actually be considered art.
Next week we’ll be talking about the interest that some German record producers were beginning to have in The Beatles. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Spring 1961 – Hamburg
Stu’s time with The Beatles was coming to a close. They all knew it and Stu was beginning to act more and more like he wasn’t really a member of the group. He lived in Astrid’s house, so he didn’t have to deal with the accommodations to which the rest of the group was assigned. For the most part, he would show up to play their nightly shows and then go back home with his fiancée. Since Pete and Tony Sheridan had girlfriends of their own, the golden trio of John, Paul, and George continued to solidify their bond.
According to Stuart’s sister, Pauline Sutcliffe, Stuart basically hung on as long as he did because of John. John had fought for Stu becoming a member of the group. They were best friends and Stu felt a great deal of loyalty. During the first Hamburg residency in the Fall of 1960, Pauline Sutcliffe describes Stu’s letters home as being “full of information about the music and the audience reaction…his gossipy life, in his letters, revolved around the group and what was happening with them.” But that wouldn’t be the case during the Spring of 1961. At this point, his letters “rarely mentioned The Beatles or anything about them. Psychologically, he had [already] left the group.”
It is fairly well known (and we’ll be getting more into it in a few weeks) that Paul and Stu had an extremely stormy relationship. What I believe is less known or talked about was the relationship between Stu and George. George said that they bickered and fought just as all of The Beatles did, but that in the end he “really liked him.” He was quite thoughtful about Stu’s place in the band: “He was in the band because John had conned him into buying a bass. He was like our Art Director. In a mysterious way, Stuart, in conjunction with the German crowd, not just Astrid, was really responsible for that certain look we had.”
That Certain Look
Astrid commonly wore leather. And as she at Stu were basically the same size, he would often wear her clothes. Pete would say that “Astrid and he must have been one of the earliest unisex couples on the fashion scene.” It wasn’t long before the rest of The Beatles were in leather trousers and long leather coats. Pete was the first to buy the long coat and Paul was the last to agree to spend the money.
As we talked about a little a few weeks ago, Stu showed up at The Top Ten Club one night with his hair combed forward. The ribbing that he took from the rest of the group was merciless. Pete said that they called out Stu’s hairstyle “as though it were something that had afflicted him during the night, like a rash.” The next night Stu showed up with his hair back in the Elvis style they were used to. But he was persistent. It wasn’t long before he showed up sporting the “fringe” again. The persistence paid off. Before long, George had adopted the new hairstyle for a short time. According to Pete, it wasn’t until October, in Paris, that John and Paul gave in. Stu, though no longer a member of the band, had at least won that battle.
Continuing His Education
With The Beatles not the top priority on Stu’s mind, he began to turn his attention back to his art. His failure to be allowed to complete a fifth year and receive his Art Teacher Diploma at Liverpool College of Art didn’t stop his intention to return to what had been his passion before rock and roll. Astrid’s mother, Nielsa, bought him supplies and her brother made Stu an easel. He wrote to his mother in late May of 1961 that he was hopeful of getting a grant to spend a year at Hamburg College of Fine Arts. He had every reason to be excited.
In late May, the college would be joined by Eduardo Paolozzi, a renowned sculptor from Edinburgh, who had accepted a one-year position as a visiting professor. Stu had decided to apply to the school as a sculptor instead of as a painter, and it would be a great bonus to be able to study under a famous professor who also happened to speak English. The assistant director of the college had told Stu that he was welcome to attend some classes and to meet with Paolozzi upon his arrival.
Stu’s application was warmly received, and he was given grants to attend the summer session beginning on June 1, which meant that he would be studying during the day and playing at night. In 1967, Paolozzi would remember about Stu, “He had so much energy and was so very inventive. The feeling of potential splashed out from him. He had the right kind of sensibility and arrogance to succeed.” Stu had found a welcoming home in every way he wanted.
Next week we’ll be talking about Jürgen Vollmer’s role in The Beatles’ lives in Hamburg. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Pete Best and Peter Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And special thanks to Pauline Sutcliffe and Douglas Thompson for their The Beatles’ Shadow: Stuart Sutcliffe and His Lonely Hearts Club. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
A Barmy Old Codger Update and Introduction
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that we occasionally take a one week break from talking about The Beatles 60 years ago in order to talk about ourselves for one post. The last time we did it was actually one year ago, on our post from May 1, 2020. So I guess it’s time to do it again, since we kind of like to do it and because we actually have some big things coming up! First off, for those who don’t know, and that’s likely most of you reading this, my name is Andrew Martin Adamson. Though I like to point out my English ancestry, the fact is that I am an American. For almost thirteen years I’ve lived in Nashville, where if you’re not somehow in the music industry people wonder what you’re doing here 😉. I was born on the day that The Beatles played in America for the first time, on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. So maybe that meant something. But in any case, I am the one who came up with the 60 Years Project idea in the first place, and I’m the one who writes everything you see on social media and in the blog posts. So basically, most people just refer to me as “Barmy,” and some call me “Codge.” And that’s okay! Nice to meet you!
A Bit of History
Barmy Old Codger was originally conceived as a “band.” The initial vision was that we would record our own interpretations of Beatles songs and release them on their 60th anniversaries. That was it. We began the 60 Years Project on July 6, 2017, the 60th anniversary of the day John and Paul met. Over time that idea evolved and expanded. It wasn’t long before we started commenting on Facebook and Twitter about important days in Beatles history, generally still on the 60th anniversaries of when events took place. About a year and a half ago, that idea expanded again, and this blog was started. That way we could go into even more detail about the events of the past. Now things are changing pretty dramatically.
Current Barmy Projects
The Blog and the social media posts remain. There is so much information out there about what The Beatles were doing sixty years ago that we will be able to post daily on Facebook and Twitter (and maybe more on Instagram and others) and weekly on the BarmyBeatleBlog for the next several years. But the one big change that has been on its way for a while and is finally here is that we won’t really, in general, be recording songs written by The Beatles anymore. I mean, we might if we feel like it, but it won’t be a regular thing. If you really want to hear the songs The Beatles wrote before they were famous, you can find them on the internet fairly easily. You don’t really need to hear someone making cover versions of the songs. And we don’t play live, so there is not the excitement you can get (and I do when I can) from seeing a good Beatles tribute band. But that doesn’t mean there will be no music.
So, yes, there are originals. When I started Barmy Old Codger, I thought that I would be putting all of my original music behind me forever, but that doesn’t seem to still be the case. We’ll be doing almost entirely original material, and when we do covers they will not necessarily, or even regularly, be Beatles songs. But I think that it will be a lot of fun putting these songs together, and more information will be out there as we get closer to having something that you can hear.
If you read my post about Fab Fools, Jem Roberts’ new book that you should get right now(!), you may remember that Roberts talked about how important it is to actually have something new to talk about if you plan to write about The Beatles. I have read in the area of 80 books about The Beatles and there are so many more to go if I plan to read them all. Something that struck me is that in Beatles biographies, very often any particular story is told in much the same way in the various books. And when all of these books are added together, that particular telling of the story is often the one that goes down as the official version of what happened. But in reality, though the story appears in several books, the “facts” can very often be traced back to exactly one source, often someone who was interviewed by the first author to put the story out there.
Several more recent authors, very often ones who were actually present when the events happened (such as friends, family, and members of bands such as The Quarrymen), have disputed some of the accepted versions of events, and often they would forcefully have us believe that they are the ones that are telling the real version of the story. The problem, of course, is that memories fade over time and different people may have experienced things in different ways, from different angles. And some sources’ opinions may have been biased in the first place because they had their own agenda of how they wanted things to be remembered.
So. The idea for the book that I am writing is to identify different important events in Beatles history and to gather all of the different memories of the people who were actually present in an effort to shed some light on what the most probable truth is about what really happened. I’m a few chapters in at this point and having a lot of fun with that. I expect it to take a couple of years to complete. Let me know if you think there are any particular stories about The Beatles you think I should look into, they don’t have to be from sixty years ago. The book will not technically be part of the 60 Years Project.
I think that’s about it for now. Thanks for indulging me with this post. We’ll be back to our usual Beatles 60 Years Ago content on our next post. In fact, next week we’ll be talking in more detail about what Stuart Sutcliffe was up to in Hamburg in the Spring of 1961 and about the plans he had for his future. Thanks for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
As we talked about three weeks ago, Peter Eckhorn, the owner of The Top Ten Club in Hamburg, refused to pay The Beatles 40DM each per night, as was stipulated in the contract that Allan Williams had created back in Liverpool, a contract that also called for a weekly £10 commission to be paid to Williams through deductions in their pay packets. The amount Eckhorn was willing to pay was 35DM each per night, as was verbally agreed to back in November, and that was that. The Beatles felt that if the Williams contract was not being used, they didn’t owe him anything. According to Bob Wooler, Paul had told him before they left for Hamburg that the group was planning to cut Williams out no matter what.
The Beatles instructed Peter Eckhorn not to deduct the commission from their wages, and they nominated Stu, who knew Williams best, to write a letter explaining that their one-time manager was no longer going to be receiving anything from them. Williams didn’t take the news well. That’s understandable. On April 20, 1961, he sent a reply to Hamburg.
The letter tore into our boys in no small way. Parts of the letter simply lectured them on their bad behavior. In part, it said, “you are appearing to get more than a little swollen-headed…you would have not even smelled Hamburg if I had not made the contacts.” It ended, “I don’t want to fall out with you, but I can’t abide anybody who does not honour their word or bond, and I could have sworn you were all decent lads, that is why I pushed you when nobody wanted to hear you.” Ouch. But as some young people of my acquaintance like to say, “well, he’s not wrong…”
And legally, he really wasn’t wrong. The letter did lay out the legalities involved. Basically, contract law stated that when a second contract is made through the first, the parties involved in the first contract are entitled to continued involvement. Williams was the one contracted with Peter Eckhorn to bring Liverpool bands such as Gerry and the Pacemakers to Hamburg, and The Beatles were scheduled through that agreement to play in December 1960 as well as in April 1961, so The Beatles couldn’t rightfully just make a deal with Eckhorn themselves (the December 1960 shows didn’t happen because of the deportations of George, Paul, and Pete). But they had done just that.
A couple of threats were contained in the letter. First, he would have them kicked out of Germany. Most ominously, he would report them to the Agency Members Association. This could be troublesome. If the Association were to accept Williams’ claim, The Beatles would not be allowed to play at top level venues throughout Britain. Ignoring this was a risk, but one that they decided to take. They counted on Williams not actually being a member of the Association and therefore not eligible to file a report, or that he would simply not bother to follow through. It would have cost each of the five group members £2 per week to satisfy Williams, but our boys were quite stubborn. Stu apparently did send some money to Williams, but the amount is unknown, and Paul said, “he paid something because he already owed Williams money for other things.”
The extent to which The Beatles were scared by Williams’ threats didn’t really seem to amount to much. Peter Eckhorn extended their Top Ten Club contract two additional months, to the beginning of July, so it didn’t seem that Williams would be able to have them kicked out of Germany. Paul wrote in a May 4 letter to Liverpool fans Dot and Marge, “We’ve had offers to go to Spain and Austria…” As for the Association, Mark Lewisohn said that The Beatles didn’t believe that Williams was a member, and that Liverpool venues didn’t follow Association rules. They just didn’t think it would be a big deal.
A Letter from Paul’s Dad
It would seem that at some point, Williams decided that his next tactic would be to involve the parents. Paul received a letter from his father, Jim, in which he said that a conversation had been had with Williams. Williams had told Jim that he was going to contact his solicitor if the issue couldn’t be cleared up. He agreed to delay that contact as long as Paul would quickly get in touch with Williams to tell him that the boys would reconsider paying a commission. Jim wrote, “Paul, my humble opinion is that the group is in the wrong for taking the view that you are.” Included were phone numbers an instructions for Paul on how to make an international person-to-person call.
It is not precisely known if Williams really did make a particularly strong attempt to take legal action. We'll talk in a couple of months about another letter that he sent through his solicitor after The Beatles' return to Liverpool. But nothing major came of it. This part of the story ends with an angry Allan Williams barring The Beatles from The Jacaranda and from his Blue Angel Club, but that’s about it. Jumping ahead some few months later, a certain Brian Epstein would meet with Williams to make sure that there were no loose ends that needed to be tied up before Epstein took over as The Beatles’ manager. Williams would later tell Mark Lewisohn, “When he told me he wanted to manage The Beatles I said, ‘Brian, don’t touch them with a [expletive deleted] bargepole…’ In the end, as he was leaving, I called out, ‘Just make sure you sign them up, because they’ll let you down.’”
Next week we’ll be talking about what’s up with Barmy Old Codger these days. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Beryl and Allan Williams
An Extra Blog Post!
Yes, it’s an extra post this week because I have something important to say! Enjoy!
The Last Untold Story of The Beatles
A few weeks ago, I received an unexpected and delightful message via this very blog. In it, I was asked if I would care to read an advance copy of a new book about The Beatles that would be offered for wide release on Thursday, April 29, 2021. As someone who has read every legitimate book about The Beatles that I’ve been able to get my hands on, I was thrilled just to be asked. And I accepted wholeheartedly, especially upon learning more about the author of the book.
The book is called Fab Fools: The Last Untold Story of The Beatles. It was written by Jem Roberts. If you’re not familiar with Roberts’ work, take a look at some of these titles: The True History of the Black Adder, Soupy Twists (about Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie), and The Frood: The Authorized and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Upon seeing these titles, I thought to myself, “Does this Jem Roberts write about everything I love?” But there’s something else that you may notice about the titles, and wonder how these topics fit with writing a book about The Beatles.
What More is There to Say?
To quote the Acknowledgements section of Fab Fools, “there wasn’t much Beatle-ish left unsaid, and worth buying a book about, let alone writing one.” But Roberts did ultimately come to the conclusion that there actually was something that had not been thoroughly investigated by earlier Beatles biographers. And that is, approaching the story of the greatest band to ever exist with an emphasis on comedy, on just how funny The Beatles were, and how intertwined with comedy their existence has been starting with their Liverpool origins and continuing throughout their lives.
I mean, we all knew that they were funny. Go to YouTube and you can see all sorts of clips of interviews that include George calling his hairstyle “Arthur” and John saying that the way to find America was to “turn left at Greenland,” and countless others. If you’ve read the main Beatles biographies you are well aware of their teenage fascinations with “The Goon Show” and “Beyond the Fringe,” etc. But if you focus on just the comedy element throughout The Beatles’ story, it may be quite enlightening to see just how much comedy played and continues to play a huge role in how we think about the Fab Four.
So, About This Fab Fools Book…
I am not being paid to say these things (well, I got a free book…). So I promise that everything I say is completely genuine. 😊I have not enjoyed reading a book about The Beatles this much in so long that I can’t put a timeframe on it. I mean, I am constantly doing research for the “60 Years Project” using all of the main biographies, by Lewisohn, Davies, etc., as well as the books written or told by the people who were actually there. But those are like textbooks to me. Fab Fools is simply a joy to read. As someone who writes about comedy, Jem Roberts has picked up quite a bit about how to make a story humorous. So it’s a double-threat. A comedic book about comedy. But at the same time, The Beatles story is, of course, not always the happiest tale. And in those moments of talking about tragedy, Roberts succeeds in being respectfully poignant. On one page I’d be laughing out loud, and on the next tearing up.
I will not go into incredible detail about the contents. You need to get the book and read the stories yourself. Suffice to say that you’ll read about how comedy entered The Beatles’ early lives, how it stayed with them through their films and the TV shows on which they appeared, and how important it was after their break-up. You’ll read about George’s Monty Python connection and how that helped the formation of one of the funniest elements to take its place in The Beatles’ story: The Rutles. The story of the creation and incredible ongoing existence of the parody band started by Eric Idle and Neil Innes takes a front seat for a good portion of the book. Parts read almost as a love letter to Innes, made that much more powerful in the context of his recent passing.
Probably my favorite part of reading Fab Fools was that unlike some other Beatles books written by authors who like to think of themselves as funny, this one doesn’t fall down the rabbit hole of making fun of The Beatles, their associates, and their wives. Instead of trying to get you to laugh AT The Beatles, Jem Roberts invites you to laugh WITH them. It is clearly done out of respect and affection and that is much appreciated by me. Those of us who write and talk about The Beatles as well as those of us who play the songs of The Beatles are made to feel free to rutle on. And to get exactly what I mean by that, you’re going to have to read the book!
Fab Fools: The Last Untold Story of The Beatles should be available in many of the usual places starting on April 29. If it’s hard to find or your local store doesn’t have it, you can always go to http://www.candy-jar.co.uk/books/fabfools.htmland all of the information you need should be located there. Tell them Barmy sent you and they’ll probably just say, “Yeah? So what?” 😉But seriously, get it and I hope you love it as much as I did.
This Friday we’ll be back to normal with another post about the goings on in Hamburg in April of 1961. Thanks very much for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Clothes and Hair
Stu had been the first Beatle to get leather trousers. The others quickly followed suit. When the time came to replace their leather jackets with a longer style, Pete led the way. John wanted one as soon as he saw it, so Pete showed him where to get it. It cost about £15 (that’s around £285 or $390 today). George was quickly onboard, but they had to practically drag Paul into the shop to make him get his. “This is our new image,” he was told. So he finally gave in.
Stu was very much under the influence of Astrid’s sense of style. They lived together in Astrid’s family house and they dressed the same. Very much the same. Since they were about the same size, they would wear each other’s clothes. One night before arriving at The Top Ten Club to play, Astrid combed Stu’s hair forward, out of the Elvis look that our boys generally sported. Stu took a lot of ribbing from the rest of the group, but he stuck with it. George signed on next. It wasn’t until long after this Hamburg residency ended that John and Paul joined the “fringe,” but small steps had started to be made.
Just to be clear, Pete famously never changed his hairstyle. And that has been talked about as one of many reasons that he ended up being forced out and replaced by Ringo. Pete has said that contrary to this belief, and unlike what Paul was told about the long leather jacket, that not a single other group member, and not even Brian Epstein later, ever told him that the combed forward hairstyle was “a must” or part of the group’s image. So he never changed it. Astrid would say that he couldn’t have had the haircut anyway, because his hair was too curly.
Having a bathroom in their accommodations at The Top Ten Club was an improvement over what they had been used to the previous Fall at the Bambi Kino. But they still happily took advantage of what was basically an open invitation to visit Astrid’s house. Well, all but Pete. Astrid would say that she “always invited Pete but he would say, ‘No, I can’t, I’ve got other things to do.’ He was always a little bit out of things.” As for the others, they washed their clothes, took baths, and enjoyed home-cooked meals made by Astrid’s mother, Nielsa.
Pete, meanwhile, was getting himself into his own kind of trouble. He began seeing a young lady who worked at another Grosse Freheit club. And for the same reason that Tony Sheridan’s name doesn’t seem to come up when talking about John, Paul, and George hanging out at Astrid’s house or anywhere else, Sheridan and Pete each had girlfriends and with those girlfriends was how they spent their time. Unfortunately for Pete, one night one of his girlfriend’s co-workers gave him a shocking warning: “She’s married, you know, and her husband’s in jail.” It wasn’t long before the husband was released and began showing up at The Top Ten Club.
As tough as the husband was, he was also generally extremely drunk, so Pete got away without much if any damage. On one occasion, the man simply told Pete to stop seeing his wife and that was it. On a second occasion, he actually made his way onstage during a number and simply collapsed on top of Pete while lifting his hand towards the drummer’s neck. Pete would say, “we staggered together towards the bar, where there was only one thing left to do: buy each other a drink. After that I never saw him again…or his wife.”
We’ve seen stories before of The Beatles using “prellies” to stay awake for their long nights of “mach schau” during their first Hamburg residency. But according to Mark Lewisohn and Pete Best, the widespread use of stimulants didn’t start until around this time. During a particularly hard show, when everyone was extremely tired and it was difficult to move on, Tony Sheridan held out his hand and said, “Here’s something to keep you awake.”
Preludin’s clinical use was as an appetite suppressant. Its primary ingredient was phenmetrazine, which is not technically an amphetamine, but does work as a stimulant, especially if you took several pills. Its intended effect was that you would feel full when you started eating, and therefore eat less. You could technically only get these with a prescription, but there was a thriving black market in Hamburg, and the waiters just about always had a supply. Sheridan told The Beatles to just take one or two. George and Stu apparently stuck to that (Astrid also used them as her mother had a supply gotten from her pharmacist, though she was likely using them for their intended purpose). John, of course, was John. He would take four or five. Paul, who was the last to try them, generally stuck to one per night. In The Beatles Anthology, George said he would lie in bed sweating and thinking, “Why aren’t I sleeping?”
Pete has always maintained that he never took the “prellies” (though he did pose for the accompanying photo). Mark Lewisohn suggests that Pete was strongly against the use of drugs due to his athletic background. Pete himself isn’t quite so strict in his thoughts. He simply says, “It was a habit that I didn’t deliberately try to avoid. As long as a drink pepped me up sufficiently to carry on into the small hours I never thought of using drugs.”
Next week we’ll be talking about what led to Allan Williams sending a letter to The Beatles on April 20, 1961. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And, of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Tubes of preludin
In The Beatles Anthology, George said it was “a really grubby little room.” It was the same room that The Beatles had escaped to at the end of November 1960 as they left Bruno Koschmider’s control. It was also the same room in which Pete had been arrested for arson before they were deported. There were two bunk beds along with a couple of camp cots. It was home for John, Paul, George, Pete, Tony Sheridan, and Sheridan’s girlfriend, Rosi Heitmann. Stu, of course, was living in luxury at Astrid’s house. At least they now had a bathroom. No more washing up in public restrooms like they had to at The Bambi Kino during their first tour of Hamburg. The room itself was upstairs towards the front of The Top Ten Club. They lived and worked in the same building. How convenient!
The commercial part of The Top Ten Club was basically one big room. The bar was in the back. The stage was just very slightly raised on one side of the room with a dance floor in front of it. There was no significant separation between The Beatles and the audience. Fortunately, there was a piano. Paul’s Rosetti Solid 7 was virtually non-existent. It was beaten up and had broken down so many times that it must have been difficult for Paul to use it at all. He would generally either be at the piano or just in front with a microphone, a proper lead singer.
One of our boys’ favorite aspects of playing at The Top Ten Club was the sound system, specifically the way vocals were done. As Mark Lewisohn explains it, the sound was sent from the microphones to a small tape recorder and then sent out from that unit a split second after the original voice came from the PA system. The result? Reverb. It was even better than the sound they used to get on the front porch of Mendips, John’s house, or in Paul’s Forthlin Road bathroom. As is clear from listening to all of The Beatles’ official recordings, they always wanted this kind of echo effect on their voices.
As we’ve talked about a little bit before, The Beatles’ entire run at The Top Ten Club was done in association with Tony Sheridan. Sheridan had been among the first English performers to travel to Hamburg when The Jets were signed by Bruno Koschmider to play at The Kaiserkeller in June of 1960. Though the rest of the band had gone back to England by April of 1961, Sheridan remained and when The Beatles arrived to start their residency, he was living at The Top Ten Club and just kind of casually making appearances there. Now he would have a whole band to back him up again.
And that’s pretty much what happened. Basically, Peter Eckhorn was paying for six musicians to play every night. It really is not that far off to say that The Beatles were effectively a six-piece band with three guitarists and four main singers. The Beatles learned the songs that Sheridan wanted to sing and Sheridan played along while John, Paul, and George took their turns singing. The most common band formation was Sheridan on acoustic guitar, John on rhythm, George on lead, Stu on bass, Pete on drums, and Paul on piano when he wasn’t singing. Paul has said that it was “a terrible old piano.” In addition, the others gave him a hard time for not buying a new guitar, but as Mark Lewisohn would say, “the upside was a great advancement in piano skills.” I would add that things ended up working out well, considering that Paul wasn’t one to spend money, and when the time came a few weeks later when he had no choice but to purchase another instrument, the instrument that was needed was a bass guitar.
Tuesday Amateur Nights
Up to this point in The Beatles’ career, there is not an abundance of photos taken of them playing. The few that exist are cherished by Beatles fans. On one very special evening, Gerd Mingram, a photo-journalist assigned to take photos of dancing and entertainment, was at The Top Ten Club and so there are about a dozen photos available of that night. By incredible coincidence, that night was a Tuesday, and on Tuesdays, The Top Ten Club put on Amateur Night. Much of amateur night was just a bit of fun. People would not only sing but bring their own instruments to play along. As you can probably imagine, the guys would try to throw off the “guests” by playing pranks such as changing keys in the middle of a song, etc. Since Paul wasn’t weighed down by an instrument, he would play the part of the host.
By late in the evening, or more accurately, early in the morning, the crowd would start getting rougher. Drunk gangsters and toughs would come in, and they wanted in on Amateur Night as much as anyone. But it was not best to play pranks on them. Tony Sheridan would take the opportunity to kind of disappear, but Paul would take on his host role with added fervor. Sheridan said that he didn’t respect Paul for that attitude, suggesting that Paul was thinking, “If I’m nice to this guy he’s not going to hurt me.” As for me, I’m not so sure I would disagree with Paul’s opinion.
The fact was that just like it had been at The Indra and The Kaiserkeller, it was a good idea to have these tough guys on your side. As Paul would say, “we played along…because we weren’t great heroes, we needed their protection and this was a life or death country. There were gas guns and murderers amongst us, so you weren’t messing around here.” Just to underline the point, the man singing for Amateur Night in the accompanying photo is Walter Sprenger, who Sheridan described as “a butcher, a hard-punching man with arms like thighs.” By this time, Sprenger had rung up fifteen convictions for grievous bodily harm. Indeed.
Next week we’ll be talking about life outside of The Top Ten Club. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Also, thanks to Barry Miles for his Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now. Special thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And, of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Walter Sprenger with The Beatles!
All About Contracts
April 1961. As much as The Beatles preferred playing, for many reasons, at The Top Ten Club compared to The Indra or The Kaiserkeller, there were actually a few hurdles they had to get through in making their contract work. The original contract with Bruno Koschmider for The Indra had the group on location for 40.5 hours weekly, playing for 30 of them. They played 4.5 hours on Tuesdays through Fridays and six hours on Saturdays and Sundays, with Mondays off. For this, they were paid 30DM each per night (about £60 or $80 today). After moving to The Kaiserkeller and doubling up with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, they still played 30 hours per week, but were required to be on site for 60 hours. Same pay, and still with Mondays off.
When Peter Eckhorn made a casual agreement with The Beatles in November of 1960 to have them start playing at The Top Ten Club, he told them that he would pay 35DM per night, a raise of about £10 or $15 today. In order to make the terms more official, Allan Williams had written up a contract that called for each musician to be paid £40 per night and instructed that a commission would be deducted from their pay and sent to Williams in Liverpool. And here is where the problems started.
Spanners in the Works
First off, Peter Eckhorn refused to pay £40 nightly for each musician. He insisted that the agreement had been for £35 and that was that. What made it “worse” was that Eckhorn actually followed the government rules when paying them. While Bruno Koschmider had simply paid the boys their £30 per night, Eckhorn actually made deductions for Lohnsteuer (income tax) and Kirchensteuer (church tax). The Beatles were able to stop paying the church tax by claiming no church affiliation. By doing so, that amount was waived. They gave up marriage and burial rights, but our boys weren’t that fussed about that. Unfortunately for Allan Williams, there was a third deduction that the group was unhappy with.
As we’ve talked about before, The Beatles were tired of having to pay a commission to Allan Williams. Paul had earlier told Bob Wooler that they weren’t going to pay the commission no matter how much they were being paid. They were cutting him out. The Beatles instructed Eckhorn not to deduct the commission amount from their wages. Stu, having the closest relationship with Williams, was chosen to send a letter informing their one-time manager that he was not to expect any payment from them. We’ll be seeing more about that in the coming weeks. In the end, with just one deduction for income tax taken out of their pay packets, The Beatles were basically back to making about the same amount they were making the previous year from Bruno Koschmider. But there were some big differences.
The Actual Terms of the Contract
Again, The Beatles certainly did prefer playing at The Top Ten Club over The Indra and The Kaiserkeller, for several reasons. The management? Eckhorn’s tight pocketbook notwithstanding, he was a more pleasant person to work with and to work for. The stage? Much nicer. The sound system was excellent and even provided reverb on the microphones. The violence? Fights still happened, but at nothing close to the rate that they occurred at the previous clubs. The accommodations? We’ll be talking about that in more detail soon, but though it wasn’t The Ritz, it was a vast improvement over The Bambi Kino, and there was even a bathroom.
All of that was well and good, but interestingly, the one thing that may sound unexpectedly harsh was the hours that the contract had them playing. First of all, they did not have Monday nights off as they had in 1960. They played seven nights a week for the entire three month run. They were to be at the club for a total of 51 hours per week, from 7pm until 2am on weekdays and from 8pm until 4am on Saturdays and Sundays. They played 45-minute sets each hour with a 15 minute break, meaning that they were on stage for 38.25 hours per week. That’s 8.25 hours per week more than they had been required to play at The Indra and The Kaiserkeller.
Some issues to get through, but when they were all settled in it would, overall, be a much more pleasant stay in Hamburg than their first one had been. We’ll have fun talking about it for the next three months.
Next week we’ll be talking in more detail about what it was like to play at The Top Ten Club in Hamburg. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
The Top Ten Club