While I was watching the Get Back series, the person who I was watching with was quite annoyed that The Beatles kept on playing covers. “You’ve got a job to do! You need to have 14 songs in two weeks. Concentrate on the task!” There may very well be a point to that, but in looking back to 1962 I made a realization. They couldn’t. It was simply not possible for them to not play other people’s songs, whether it was just for fun or whether they really thought it was important to learn them.
The situation in June of 1962 was not completely dissimilar to 1969. The Beatles had every reason to get new songs ready to go. They had recently completed “Love Me Do,” “Ask Me Why,” “Please Please Me,” and “P.S. I Love You.” But they continued to add songs to their live repertoire just as much as they had when they weren’t really writing their own songs. Gerry Goffin and Carole King were a great source of material, and they began playing both “Don’t Ever Change” and “Sharing You,” which they predictably sang as “Shaving You.” Ha! Arthur Alexander’s “Where Have You Been” along with its B-side, “Soldier of Love” both made it in. There was also this strange B-side by Dr. Feelgood and the Interns, a song that you weren’t likely to hear anyone else playing. “Mr. Moonlight” would eventually make it onto Beatles For Sale in 1964.
Though most Beatles fans are probably most aware of “Mr. Moonlight” from this list of songs, there was another one that would become very important in the study of the early Beatles. As Paul would say in 1984, “John and I both wanted to do it, so we ended up both doing it, like a double-track.” The song was Richie Barrett’s “Some Other Guy.” Its place in history was sealed a couple of months later when Granada Television decided to do a program called Know the North. They set up their cameras in The Cavern Club during The Beatles’ lunchtime show and filmed them singing “Some Other Guy.” The sound quality of the recording was deemed too low for broadcast, so it wasn’t shown at the time, but the footage can be found easily on the internet now.
One thing that makes this historical piece especially interesting is that the filming took place on August 22, 1962, just four days after Ringo took over as The Beatles’ drummer. For the sake of the filming, they performed the song twice. At the end of the second take, you can hear a booming voice yelling, “We want Pete!” So that was a little preview of what’s to come in August…
Stories abound about how The Beatles felt about wearing their new(ish) suits. It is seemingly commonly held that The Beatles started out as Teddy Boys wearing leather and that Brian Epstein forced them into suits. Well, first of all, Teddy Boys didn’t, for the most part, wear that style of leather jackets. And The Beatles didn’t start out wearing leather. That didn’t happen until after they had been in Hamburg for a while. In fact, in a photo taken at The Indra in Hamburg upon their arrival, you can see that while they are not in suits, they are wearing matching jackets with the exception of Pete (and don’t start trying to use that as an example of how Pete wasn’t one of them – he had just barely been brought on and there was no time for him to have gotten the matching jacket yet).
Confusing the matter are the conflicting quotes about the situation from The Beatles themselves about their reaction to the suits. In 1969, John said in an interview with Melody Maker, “In the beginning it was a constant fight between Brian and Paul on one side, and me and George on the other. Brian put us in neat suits and shirts, and Paul was right behind him. I didn’t dig that and I used to try and get George to rebel with me.” George, however, didn’t remember it that way in 1998. “John gladly got into the suits. We made the decision based on the fact that we could get on television and various other concerts if we stopped smoking and drinking on stage and acting like a bunch of weirdos, and put suits on…we all agreed to do that.”
As for Paul’s thoughts, he said in a 1981 interview with The Times, “Yes, I was big on the suits, but we were all quite big on those suits, because in The Beatles we wouldn’t have done it unless we all wanted to do it…If you look at the pictures, you won’t find anyone looking uncomfortable in those suits. They looked very smart and we looked proud of it all.”
Do you begin to see why it’s so hard to write about the history of The Beatles? Not even the boys themselves could get their stories straight! Ha!
Next week we’ll be talking about the other groups that Brian Epstein began managing during 1962. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
The Beginning of The End
Joe Flannery was a childhood friend of Brian Epstein who had recently started managing Lee Curtis and The Detours (soon to be known as Lee Curtis and the All-Stars), a group led by Flannery’s brother, Peter, or well, Lee Curtis. According to Pete, sometime in mid-June of 1962, Flannery asked him, “When are you going to join us, Pete?” Pete answered, “You must be joking. Why would I want to quit The Beatles when we’re about to get our big break with Parlophone?” Flannery mumbled something about rumors going around, and said, “Maybe I’ve jumped the gun…”
Pete said that the words nagged at him enough that he cornered Brian Epstein after their June 25 show at the Plaza Ballroom in St. Helens. “’Look, Brian,’ I said, ‘are there plans to replace me in The Beatles?’” He described Brian as “very quiet, [he] blushed as he always did and started to stammer.” But he pulled himself together enough to say, “I’m telling you as manager, there are no plans to replace you, Pete.” Pete accepted the statement and didn’t think any more about it.
Just Not One of the Gang
As we’ve talked about many times before, Pete didn’t really hang around with John, Paul, and George very much. In Hamburg, he wouldn’t go with them when they went to visit Stuart Sutcliffe and Astrid Kirchherr, nor very often when they just went out drinking. There are very few photos of Pete in Hamburg because when the rest of the group was doing photo sessions with Astrid or Jürgen Vollmer, Pete didn’t bother. It was the same in Liverpool. He would leave after shows to hang out with his girlfriend, Kathy, instead of accompanying John, Paul, and George on their trips to Hurricaneville (Rory Storm’s house), or other places.
I personally don’t believe that Pete was trying to shun the others. He just had his life and was enjoying it the way he wanted to. There didn’t seem to be any thought that it could be taken wrong by the rest of the group or that it was leaving a bad impression. But it did have an impact. Pete was left out of the loop about important things. For example, John, Paul, and George knew about the Decca rejection for possibly a full month before they even told Pete. The excuse they gave him was that they were afraid it would devastate him. Even news about relations with Parlophone was kept from him.
George Martin’s Decision
As late as 1985, Pete referred to the recording session at EMI on June 6, 1962, as a try-out, as a “last-ditch attempt to get into the record business. And though there is admittedly some confusion about the wording of the initial contract and how it was viewed by George Martin, Pete would also say that Martin decided at the end of July of 1962 to sign The Beatles and record them in September. He continues that the news was kept from him and that he only found out after he had been dismissed.
In reality, as we’ve talked about before, The Beatles were signed to a contract, but there was an issue that needed to be resolved. The reason that The Beatles would be recorded in September was that Martin found the June 6 recordings to not be high enough quality to be released. They would need to record two additional songs to fulfill their initial contract anyway, but for that session, Pete would not be allowed to play the drums. A professional session drummer would have to be called in. As I’ve said before, to be sure, Martin was not saying that Pete needed to be fired from the band. He would have no right to be able to make that decision, anyway. It was simply that for the recording, it was necessary to have a substitute. Martin would tell author Spencer Leigh, “I didn’t think his drumming held the band together as it should have done, and I was determined that The Beatles weren’t going to suffer because of it.”
A Harrowing Couple of Months
As has been clear for a while, John, Paul, and George had wanted Pete out for a while now. It is also clear that Brian was aware of this fact by early summer. Around June 18, 1962, Brian asked lawyer David Harris, who had written up the management contract, what could legally be done. Harris’ June 22 response referred to Pete as the “undesirable member,” and laid out the obstacles they would have to overcome in order to move forward.
The Beatles were, legally, a partnership. The contract had no stipulation for the dismissal of one partner. The only option would be for The Beatles to break up and then reform without Pete, which would require a new management contract. For some legal reason, that would still leave Pete and Brian tied together under the original contract, meaning that Brian would still be required to find Pete work. As for how John, Paul, and George felt during the next couple of months, Paul would say in 1987, “We talked amongst ourselves and talked with Brian and took a lot of advice on it all. It was a very fraught period.”
George, meanwhile, was busy fulfilling his role in the whole affair. Sometime during the summer, while Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were in residency at Butlin’s Skegness, George went to visit Mrs. Starkey. “I…sat and had some tea with his mother and said, ‘Next time, tell your Ringo to call me up, because I want him to be in our group.’”
Next week we’ll be talking about the songs and suits of The Beatles in the summer of 1962. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Spencer Leigh for his The Cavern. More thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
On Saturday, June 9, 1962, The Beatles hadn’t played a show in Liverpool for over two months. Any worry they had that their popularity would fade during that time was dispelled when they arrived at The Cavern Club for their “Beatles Welcome Home Show.” The fan club had done its job. There had been newsletters, letters from the boys from Germany, and meetings in coffee clubs to talk about their favorite group. Nine hundred people showed up to witness The Beatles’ triumphant return, fresh from Hamburg, with a detour in London to record for EMI. Bob Wooler would say, “I thought they might have been tired after the traveling and their strenuous sessions in Hamburg, but not a bit of it. This was one of their finest performances.”
The night was full of stories. Fresh paint that had been applied to the stage area began to drip off due to the condensation caused by the sweat of those nine hundred fans. A fuse blew just as The Beatles were finishing, leaving the crowd in the dark save for a bit of emergency lighting. The Beatles went back to the “band room” to find numerous gifts from their biggest fans, including hand-made clothing and a huge cake. When it was all done, George set off to drive home in his new Ford Anglia, Pete left with his girlfriend, Kathy, while John and Paul were driven back to Forthlin Road in Neil Aspinall’s van to work into the night on completing John’s new song, a lively little number called “Please Please Me.”
Ray McFall, owner of The Cavern Club, had made sure that his club would have the only available access to The Beatles in Liverpool for as long as possible. They were to play twelve consecutive shows, almost like a proper residency. The group wouldn’t play anywhere else until June 21. Well, except for that one little detour to Manchester.
Here We Go
You may remember that back in March of 1962, The Beatles had traveled to Manchester to record songs for the BBC Radio show, Here We Go. Three songs were broadcast at that time, “Memphis, Tennessee,” “Dream Baby,” and “Please Mr. Postman.” All covers. They would go back for a second performance on June 11, recording three songs that would be broadcast on June 15. And one of them would make its mark as the first Lennon/McCartney song to be broadcast by the BBC, heard by 1.8 million listeners.
The recording session took place at The Playhouse Theatre in Manchester in front of an audience of 250 people. You may also remember that for that first performance in March, it was the first time The Beatles had worn their suits in front of an audience. For this occasion, Brian made what is arguably one of the best decisions he had made yet for The Beatles. He asked Peter Pilbeam, the producer of the show, to set aside 50 tickets. He then hired a coach and took 50 lucky fan club members to the taping. Instead of there being polite applause, there would be wild, ecstatic cheering heard by that radio audience. Pilbeam would say, “it was good for the program; they were going to be cheering on their favorites like a supporters club.”
The first song recorded and ultimately the first to be broadcast, was John’s “Ask Me Why,” the first ever original Beatles song to be played on the radio, and pretty soon the B-side of their second single. John was followed by Paul singing “Besame Mucho” and George singing “A Picture of You.” Not sure why they didn’t play a Paul original, but that’s the way it went. Pilbeam was once again impressed by The Beatles’ performance, and likely by the crowd reaction, and made sure that The Beatles remained on his list of acts to rebook.
The trip home must have been a wild one. John, Paul, and George, along with Brian Epstein and Paul’s father, Jim McCartney, jumped on the coach for the ride back to Liverpool. There are a couple of stories that are told about Pete on this evening. As the group left the theatre they were mobbed by fans. Pete was the only one to not get free of them and was trapped. The story is that Jim McCartney thought that Pete was trying to get all the attention and told him “that was very selfish of you.” Pete didn’t take the coach home, but it wasn’t unusual, of course, for him to go off by himself instead of staying with the group. Finally, there is also a story in Philip Norman’s Shout, “without attribution,” as Mark Lewisohn puts it, that someone that night said to Pete, “They’re thinking of getting rid of you, you know, but they don’t dare to do it.”
In any case, as exciting as the last week had been, returning home from Hamburg, their first recording session for EMI, and a spot on BBC Radio, the next couple of months would return to the same pattern as usual. They played just about every night, many times at The Cavern Club, but in several other venues in and around Liverpool. At least now they knew they had something coming worth waiting for.
Next week we’ll be talking in more detail about Pete Best. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Spencer Leigh for his The Cavern. More thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Even more thanks to Philip Norman for his Shout! And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
A Lot to Say
The story of The Beatles’ first recording session for EMI on Wednesday, June 6, 1962, is a detailed one, so this will be an extra-long post! First, we’re going to back up and check in a little more about what led to this happening and how it was perceived by many of the people surrounding it.
You remember that we talked last week about how George Martin was chosen to record The Beatles because EMI’s publishing company, Ardmore and Beechwood, wanted the rights to John and Paul’s original compositions. We also know that a standard contract was written up that would have The Beatles record six songs between June 2, 1962 and June 1, 1963, and that EMI would have option rights for the next three years after that. Yet, there are several books and individuals that refer to the June 6 recording session as an “audition.”
Pete Best remembered that the June 6 session was “a last-ditch attempt to break into the record business,” and that George Martin “probably viewed it initially as just another try-out.” Tony Bramwell said that there was a recording contract written up on May 18, 1962, signed by Brian Epstein, and “back on George’s desk on June 5.” But he also remembered that “George Martin [insisted] that the June 6 date was an audition.” Possibly most interesting is that in Brian Epstein’s autobiography, he said that after the recording session ended on June 6, that “there was still no contract and The Beatles and I left EMI full of hope but without money [nor] security.”
As for the reliability of Brian’s statement, he went on to say that after this recording session, The Beatles flew back to Hamburg “for a further stint behind the vulgar neon of the Reeperbahn” and that a contract was not offered nor signed until July, after which he “sent cables to all the boys in Germany. ‘EMI contract signed, sealed.’” The problem here is that it is established beyond any doubt that The Beatles residency in Hamburg had just ended before the June 6 recording session, and that during all of July they were playing their standard shows at The Cavern Club and other venues in and around Liverpool. He apparently did send cables to The Beatles in Germany telling them about the recording session, but that was in May.
I am not, by the way, suggesting that Brian was outright lying. I think that it is more likely that there was confusion in his memory about the actual dates that things happened along with the fact that those memories had to be interpreted by Derek Taylor, the ghostwriter of A Cellarful of Noise. As for the confusion over whether June 6 was an audition or a contracted recording session, I will offer this bit of conjecture. The contract was for them to record six songs. There does not seem to be a guarantee that any of those songs would be released. So in the mind of George Martin, for example, he may well have viewed the session as an “audition” in the sense that he would still be able to decide if there were records to be released, but the publishing rights of the songs were still secured.
The Beatles had arrived back in Liverpool on June 2. They would leave for London on June 5. That meant that on the two intervening days they could prepare. Ray McFall, owner of The Cavern Club, graciously allowed them to set up during the club’s off hours so that they could rehearse. Brian was excited to discover that new songs had been written during those last weeks in Hamburg, and encouraged John, Paul, and George to come up with a list of possible numbers for the recording session. The list ultimately contained 33 titles, including seven originals, “P.S. I Love You,” “Love Me Do,” “Like Dreamers Do,” “Love of the Loved,” “Pinwheel Twist,” “Ask Me Why,” and “Hello Little Girl.” The songs that received the most rehearsal time were “P.S. I Love You,” “Love Me Do,” and “Ask Me Why” along with a medley of covers that would show off for George Martin the three lead vocal styles, beginning with Paul’s “Besame Mucho,” John’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” and George’s “Open (You’re Lovin’ Arms).”
Rehearsals done, they set off on the seven hour drive to London on June 5. Neil Aspinall was the driver, as usual, and the van was loaded with equipment as if they were just going to any old show. But in this case, they were headed to the Royal Court Hotel. Brian took the train and met them there. They would have about 24 hours to sightsee before having to be at EMI Studios on Wednesday, June 6, 1962, at 7pm.
The session took place in what would later become known as Abbey Road Studio #2. The engineers for the session were Norman Smith and Ken Townsend. The session was to be overseen by Ron Richards, and it was, at first, unclear if George Martin planned to attend at all. The first problem that Norman Smith had to deal with was that while John, Paul, and George had perfectly good guitars and Pete’s drums were fine, their amplifiers were in bad shape. Smith would tell Mark Lewisohn, “They had such duff equipment, extremely noisy with earth loops [basically a buzzing sound] and goodness knows what…Paul’s bass amp was particularly bad.” Ken Townsend set to work getting the speakers up to par, equipped with a soldering iron.
Ron Richards chose four songs for recording. It was not common for artists to write their own songs, but the decision was heavily influenced by the fact that Sid Colman of Ardmore and Beechwood, EMI’s publishing division, very much wanted the rights to Lennon/McCartney songs. So three of the four songs chosen by Richards were originals, “Love Me Do,” “P.S. I Love You,” and “Ask Me Why.” The one cover that was chosen was “Besame Mucho,” which was recorded first. Richards felt that this was the most likely number to be chosen as a debut single.
The second song recorded was “Love Me Do.” Apparently, either during this recording or a run-through, George Martin made his way to the control room. He liked the harmonica, but there was a problem. When John sang the title line, he had to start playing the harmonica at the same time. Martin came down to the studio, greeted The Beatles, and told them, “Someone else has got to sing “love me do” because you’re going to have a song called “Love Me Waaaaahhh.”
Finally, the four songs were all recorded. Norman Smith would say “it was twenty minutes of torture – they made a dreadful sound!” The Beatles climbed the twenty steps up into the control room for listening and debriefing. George Martin had plenty to say. Ken Townsend said that Martin “was giving them a good talking to.” Smith says that John, Paul, George, and Pete remained completely silent, not even nodding their heads. “When he finished, George [Martin] said, ‘Look, I’ve laid into you for quite a time, you haven’t responded. Is there anything you don’t like?’ They all looked at each other…shuffling their feet, then George Harrison took a long look at George and said, ‘Yeah, I don’t like your tie.’”
Breaking the ice, the specialty of George Harrison. They all laughed and enjoyed each other’s company for the next twenty minutes or so. George Martin would tell Mark Lewisohn in 2000, “I did think they had enormous talent, but it wasn’t their music, it was their charisma…I thought, ‘If they have this effect on me, they are going to have that effect on their audiences.’”
Nevertheless, the session wasn’t good enough to release anything from it. Martin decided that they would have to try again. And since their contract only called for six songs, they would only have to record two more, and maybe those could be released. Ardmore and Beechwood wanted at least one of the songs to be an original, but that could be a B-side. Martin told Ron Richards to start looking for a song that could be a reasonable single for The Beatles, and to take his time. One more thing was clear to him, when that next recording session happened, a studio drummer would be called in to play instead of Pete. This was not an unheard of or rare occurrence. It did not in any way mean that George Martin was forcing (or even had the right to force) The Beatles to replace Pete as a band member, he would simply not appear on recordings.
Ron Richards knew there was a problem from the moment they started getting ready to record “Besame Mucho.” He told Mark Lewisohn in 1987, “Pete Best wasn’t very good. It was me who said to George Martin, ‘He’s useless, we’ve got to change the drummer.’” Martin would hear for himself on “Love Me Do.” He tended to speed up during the bridge, and once even changed the rhythm entirely in the middle of the bridge section. You can hear this for yourself on Beatles Anthology I, which contains these recordings of “Love Me Do” and “Besame Mucho.” The other two are apparently lost.
To make it worse for Pete, he didn’t take part in that twenty minutes of frivolity. This was noticed and commented on by both George Martin and Norman Smith. Pete himself said, “I never entered into any conversation with [George Martin].” Smith said in an interview with Melody Maker in 1969, “Pete Best didn’t say one word. I got a feeling something wasn’t right between them – it wasn’t only that George [Martin] and Ron found fault with him as a drummer.”
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles getting back to work after their first recording session with George Martin. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Kenneth Womack for his Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin. Special thanks to Brian Epstein for his A Cellarful of Noise. More thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Even more thanks to Tony Bramwell for his Magical Mystery Tours: My Life With The Beatles. And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
Yes, legal details are boring, so we’ll just go over the basics. On Thursday, May 24, 1962, a contract that had been requisitioned by George Martin six days previously was received in Martin’s office so that it could be sent to Liverpool. The contract was technically between Parlophone Records and Brian Epstein, manager of “a group of instrumentalists known as THE BEATTLES.” Yes, you read that right. At least it didn’t say “Beetles.” 😉There were no changes from the terms that we talked about a couple of weeks ago. The Beatles would make very little money. They would only receive payment on 85% of the sales. That payment, for the release of a single, would be one penny per record to be split among them after Brian took his 15%.
The contract would go into effect on June 2, 1962, and was renewable, at the discretion of Parlophone, for each of the next three years. In the first year, they were to record a minimum of six songs. These are important little details that will come back into play later in the year. In effect, it meant that once The Beatles recorded six songs, Parlophone could basically pull the plug if they wanted to, and could say that The Beatles fulfilled their six songs so no more were necessary for the year, and then not renew the contract for a second year, whether or not anything was even released.
For Brian’s part, he would incorporate, so the contract ultimately ended up being between Parlophone and Nems Enterprises Ltd., a new company owned evenly by Brian and his brother, Clive. Though it shared the name of his family’s stores, the new company was completely independent and Brian intended to use it as the new business home of not only The Beatles, but any other group that Brian managed.
How Bad Was the Deal, Really?
Much has been made over the years about how Brian Epstein was, financially, not a very good manager, that he could have gotten The Beatles so much more money if he had been a better negotiator. But that doesn’t really hold water, at least in this case. The “penny per double-sided single” contract was standard, and it’s not like The Beatles were already worldwide, or even nationwide stars. George Martin would say, “The Beatles would get Musician’s Union session fees as well, and when they got their royalties it was from record one, nothing was lodged against them.”
For context, in case you are unfamiliar with these contracts, many American band signings included the clause that the band was responsible for paying back any recording costs and fees before they started to make a profit. If they were given an advance, which was common, record companies could hold that over them, not allowing them to pursue a better contract. Ultimately, Neil Aspinall may have said it best in a 2007 interview with Mark Lewisohn: “It wasn’t like EMI was screwing The Beatles – a penny a record is what everybody was getting! And at that time we would have paid EMI a penny a record…”
Another option that Brian had was doing an independent recording. That is, he could have paid out of his own pocket to record songs or even a full-length LP (album). He would then have to find a record company to lease the recordings, one that would be willing to put out the records. The one huge advantage to that arrangement would have been that Brian would have retained the rights to the master tapes. But then again, being signed to Parlophone meant not having to pay for studio time or producers. Taking it all into consideration, you may remember that we talked last week about Brian trying to arrange exactly this kind of deal with Bert Kaempfert, getting him to produce an album in Hamburg, paid for by Brian. But Brian ended those conversations as soon as he heard from Parlophone. It was certainly going to be easier to let the big company take care of all of the details. And besides, the idea was to get The Beatles signed.
George Martin’s Interest
As was clear from what we’ve talked about before, George Martin didn’t really care for what he had heard from The Beatles up to this point. He said he “wasn’t knocked out at all” by them. EMI had decided to sign them so that their publishing company, Ardmore and Beechwood could obtain the rights to “Like Dreamers Do” and Martin was chosen to produce them because L.G. Wood, head of EMI, was unhappy about Martin’s personal life and felt he should be punished somehow. Martin didn’t care all that much, since he intended to simply hand over the production duties to his assistant, Ron Richards. There was just one thing left to do, and that was to wait for the agreed upon recording date to arrive, June 6, 1962.
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles’ first recording session for EMI. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Kenneth Womack for his Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin. And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
Back in March, Bert Kaempfert had agreed to let The Beatles out of their contract as long as they recorded some songs with Tony Sheridan while they were in Hamburg. Plans were also discussed, and a contract drawn up, to have The Beatles record a full album, possibly without Sheridan. If this were to have happened, it would have been outside of the current contract with Kaempfert. It is likely, though not known absolutely for sure, that Brian Epstein would have paid for the recording and Bert Kaempfert would have been the producer. In the end, since The Beatles now had a contract with Parlophone Records, the album idea was scrapped. But that didn’t scrap the March agreement for recordings with Sheridan, so they were still on.
A Strange Song Choice
On May 24, 1962, The Beatles, along with piano player Roy Young, arrived at Studio Rahlstedt in Hamburg for what has been recorded in books as a 6pm session to record two songs for Tony Sheridan. The time was a strange element. If the session started at 6pm and The Beatles were to be on stage at The Star Club at 8pm, timing would have been tight. More recent research by Thorsten Knublauchhas unearthed that the starting time was actually 3pm. Tony Sheridan wasn’t present, though. The five musicians would simply record backing tracks and Sheridan would record the lead vocals at a later date, which turned out to be June 7, at which point The Beatles were already back in Liverpool.
They would record the backing tracks for just two songs, “Swanee River” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.” The former, also known as “Old Folks at Home,” was written in 1851 by Stephen Foster, and to this day, remains the state song of Florida, USA. The latter was a jazz hit in 1925, written by Maceo Pinkard and Kenneth Casey. The point being, these were not contemporary pop hits. But then again, neither were “My Bonnie” nor “The Saints,” recorded by The Beatles with Tony Sheridan in June of 1961.
But their ages is not the strangest thing about this choice of songs. Both had already been released on Tony Sheridan’s My Bonnie album that was released in Germany in January of 1962. The June 1961 recordings of “My Bonnie” and “The Saints” that The Beatles played on were included on that album, but the remaining ten songs, including those earlier versions of “Swanee River” and “Sweet Georgia Brown,” were recorded with musicians whose names are apparently unknown. Kaempfert never said why he chose those two songs.
A Strange Recording Session
If you remember from June of last year, Kaempfert only allowed Pete to play a snare drum, a high-hat cymbal and a ride cymbal, effectively removing the trademark Beatles stomping sound that included a bass drum. This time, it has been said that Pete was only allowed to use a snare drum, nothing else. John played rhythm guitar and Paul played bass, but George didn’t play an instrument at all. He and Paul did sing background vocals. Featured very prominently, at least in “Sweet George Brown,” which is the only recording that still exists, was Roy Young on the piano.
This version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” did see a little light of day. It was released on a German EP and actually as a single in Greece. You can find it on the internet if you’re interested. But for whatever reason that remains unclear, “Swanee River” was destroyed before it was ever put on a disc, so that recording seems to be lost forever. You can find recordings on the internet that claim to be the recording, but they all seem to be the earlier recording from the My Bonnie album, so not The Beatles. Basically, if you hear a saxophone, it’s not The Beatles recording, it is the earlier one.
The End of a Contract
The day after the recording session, May 25, 1962, a document dissolving The Beatles contract with Bert Kaempfert was signed by Kaempfert and The Beatles. The group was released from any obligation to Kaempfert and Polydor Records, who he worked with, and The Beatles gave up their rights to any royalties from any of the recordings they had done with Kaempfert, going back to June of 1961, so that included their version of “My Bonnie.” That would end up costing our boys some money when they became world-famous and the track was revived and released as a single in many countries including the US, but they likely didn’t lose any sleep over it. Maybe Kaempfert did down the line for losing them, but at the time, in May of 1962, he didn’t really care for The Beatles and didn’t think they were anything special. He still believed that Tony Sheridan was his star.
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles’ contract with Parlophone Records. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to Thorsten Knublauch for his Mach Schau in Hamburg. And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
In the Spring of 1962 in Hamburg, there were at least four Beatles originals that they would play live, at least from time to time, including “Hello Little Girl,” “Love of the Loved,” “Like Dreamers Do,” and most recently added, “Pinwheel Twist.” Those first three, the ones that had been written between 1957 and 1959, were never officially recorded by our boys, but they were all given away to other artists after the rise of The Beatles and all were at least modest hits on the UK charts. The Fourmost version of “Hello Little Girl” would reach #9 on the UK charts in September of 1963. Cilla Black’s “Love of the Loved” made it to #35 in October of 1963. And “Like Dreamers Do” was recorded by The Applejacks and reached #20 in June of 1964. Not too shabby for songs basically written by sixteen and seventeen year-olds.
There are stories out there that John and Paul had already written something like 100 songs by this time. Some of that comes from the letters that they would write to labels and venues where they were trying to get gigs. But have you ever embellished on a résumé? Though the exact number will surely never be concretely determined, the list of known songs is not even close to that long. Let’s look a little at the numbers.
First, on the Forthlin Road tapes recorded at Paul’s home in 1960, there are several “jam sessions” that were given names by bootleggers. They included titles such as “Instrumental #1,” (and so on), “I Don’t Know,” and “I Don’t Need No Cigarettes, Boy,” among others. To me, these were just practice sessions and I don’t count them as formed songs. You can if you want…
Ruling those out, there are about 40 titles that have been talked about over the years. Those 40 can be broken up into 4 categories, each with close to 10 titles. Those categories are: completed songs, fragments (as in, just one verse or one chorus), songs that we all know but had not yet been completed (such as “Love Me Do,” which we’ll talk about shortly), and songs that are completely unknown other than titles that have made their way through history, such as “Pinwheel Twist,” referenced earlier. So really not 100…
John and Paul agreed that every song written by either one of them or both of them together would be credited to both of them. Originally, their agreement was that songs written primarily by John would be credited to Lennon/McCartney and songs written primarily by Paul would be credited to McCartney/Lennon. As is clear if you look at the song credits to this day, that didn’t happen. Paul ended up on the short end of that stick. We’ll talk in more detail about why that happened when the time comes.
The Beatles were very well aware that the songs that were to be recorded and released by musical artists were chosen by the record companies. George had actually written from Hamburg in a letter to Beatles fan, Margaret Price: “We are all very happy about Parlophone, as it is a big break for us. We will just have to work hard and hope for a hit whatever we record (we don’t yet know what the producer will want).” Nevertheless, John and Paul set out to arrive in London with as many songs as possible, hoping that one of them would be good enough to be chosen as the first single.
Love Me Do
Paul, with John’s help, had written the basics for “Love Me Do” back when he was about sixteen years old. “’Love Me Do’ was written in one of our sessions at 20 Forthlin Road…you would come to the front door and then a small parlour to the left of the door [a room in which my daughter has played piano!], and then…to the dining room behind that, which is where we did most of our composing when we were teenagers.” In its original form it was in the style of Buddy Holly. But now, in 1962, in order to finish it off, a bridge section was added (“someone to love, somebody new …”). John would remember in 1971 that he believed he added that part.
What was clear in John’s mind, though, was how they came around to the idea of using the harmonica. John said in 1963, “we were hoping to be the first British group to use harmonica on record.” The Americans were doing it, so it was good enough for them!
Ask Me Why and P.S. I Love You
John contributed “Ask Me Why” right away. He had heard The Miracles’ “What’s So Good About Goodbye” and was influenced by its sound. It was the first song John had written in about two years, around the time of “One After 909.” Paul kept up with “P.S. I Love You.” With an opening line taken straight from Pat Boone’s “I’ll Be Home” (“as I write this letter…”), Paul had every intention to write something that might be suitable to be released as a single.
So now there were three new songs to go along with the other three that were already part of the package they would be submitting to George Martin in an effort to have him choose one of their own songs to release as their first single (“Pinwheel Twist” was a novelty, sung by Pete, so it was given no consideration. Besides, by all accounts that cannot very verified since no recordings of it exist, it was horrible). They would see what Martin had to say in June.
Next week we’ll be talking about some recording that The Beatles did in Hamburg in May of 1962, before returning to Liverpool. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Paul McCartney for his The Lyrics. Special thanks to https://earlybeatlessongs.weebly.com/. And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
A Fairy Tale
Once upon a time there was a little band from a tiny village called Liverpool. They had magical musical abilities and they were loved by everyone in Merseyside. One day, Sir George Martin, Lord of Parlophone in the kingdom of EMI heard the band and said unto them, “You are surely the greatest, most magical band I’ve ever heard and I will take you under my wing. You will become the four kings of EMI, the most famous, most successful group that the world has ever seen!” And so it came to pass.
Yeah. That’s not quite how it happened…
Ardmore and Beechwood Revisited
Despite all of the rejection, from Decca, Pye, Philips, Ember, Oriole, and even EMI, The Beatles did actually have one fan in the industry, who we’ve talked about before. That was Sid Colman. As you may remember, Colman was the 56-year old general manager of Ardmore and Beechwood, EMI’s music publishing company. It was basically his job to find songwriters to put under contract so that EMI would control the copyrights on their songs. He had heard the tape that Brian Epstein had taken around to labels earlier in the year, the same recordings that had been rejected by every label. However, Colman wasn’t interested in the band as a whole, he only cared about the songs. The one he particularly liked was Paul’s, “Like Dreamers Do.”
Colman told Brian Epstein that he was interested in licensing the songs, but he was very understanding of Epstein’s demand that The Beatles’ first priority was to be signed as a band. They came to an agreement that if Colman and his assistant, Kim Bennett, could help them obtain a recording contract, that Ardmore and Beechwood would get all of the publishing rights. They couldn’t get anywhere with the various A&R men at EMI, including George Martin and Norrie Paramor, but Bennett was known to be particularly persistent, and he became a thorn in EMI head L.G. Wood’s side.
L.G. Wood’s Revenge on George Martin
As we talked about last week, Wood was furious with Martin over his scandalous behavior, engaging in a relationship with his own secretary while still married. He also felt that it would be in his best interest to keep Ardmore and Beechwood happy. And in The Beatles, he found a way to take care of both of his problems. He would get Sid Colman the ability to publish “Like Dreamers Do” by acquiescing to Epstein’s demand that the band as a whole be signed. And who to assign this mediocre band from Liverpool to? Make George Martin sign them to Parlophone. Yes, that George Martin, the one who had said about The Beatles, “not very good songs and a very raw group.”
May 9, 1962
Parlophone notified Brian Epstein that George Martin wanted to meet with him at 11:30am on Wednesday, May 9, 1962 at Martin’s office in London. For Brian, he was very excited at the prospect that there might be good news. Why else would Martin want to see him? As for Martin, the meeting was a technicality. He had no real problem being directed to give The Beatles a contract. He had every intention of simply having his assistant, Ron Richards, take care of the recording sessions. I’d like to think that Martin had Bernard Cribbins’ words in his head the whole time: “George Martin was the chap they sent all the weirdies to…”
It was certainly good news. According to Mark Lewisohn, most of the meeting was spent with Martin laying out the terms of the agreement. It was the standard recording agreement that everyone got, so as shocking as the terms might seem, The Beatles were not being singled out. It was a four year agreement. That is, one year in which The Beatles would record six pieces of music with the idea that they would be releasing singles. Then, EMI would have an option for the next three years. The Beatles received no options for getting out of the contract. The band as a whole would receive one penny per double-sided disc on 85% of the sales. That royalty would increase minimally in subsequent years if the option was exercised by EMI. For specifics sake, that would mean that after Brian received his 15%, that The Beatles would not even quite make £1 each on each 1000 singles sold.
A date needed to be set to start recording. They settled on June 6 from 7pm until 10pm. The Beatles would have at least a couple of days to rehearse before going into the studio. Martin would arrange for a photographer to be present so that they could get some publicity shots. Brian immediately sent a telegram to Hamburg, via Manfred Weissleder at The Star Club. It gave them the news and included an interesting directive: Please rehearse new material. Mark Lewisohn would say that John and Paul interpreted this as, “Please write new material.” Before they left Hamburg at the beginning of June they had two, “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You.” Technically, the bones of “Love Me Do” had been around since 1958, but now it would be a completed song.
Next week we’ll be talking about these new songs that John and Paul would start writing at the request of Brian Epstein. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Ken Womack for his Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin. And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
Bernard Cribbins had great success in the early 60s doing comic songs such as “Right, Said Fred” and “The Hole in the Ground,” both produced by George Martin. This was, of course, long before he would find a place in my heart forever with his portrayal of Wilfrid Mott on Doctor Who, but that’s another story. Cribbins would say “George Martin was the chap they sent all the weirdies to.” The weirdies, though, were keeping Martin’s Parlophone Records label [a division of EMI] in business. As we’ve talked about before, Parlophone was the home of the best comedy to come out of the UK, featuring, along with Cribbins, such names as Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Beyond the Fringe with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. All favorites of everyone including The Beatles.
Martin had also recently had his first #1 song as a producer, “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” a somewhat quirky but straight-forward 1920s style jazz piece by The Temperance Seven. He had a small amount of success with pop music with Matt Monro, who placed a few songs on the charts, but despite the success of Parlophone and EMI’s complete support of his efforts, Martin remained envious of his fellow EMI producer, Norrie Paramor, who had hit after hit, mostly due to the enormous popularity of Cliff Richard. In the third week of March, while Martin was enjoying three singles in the Top 20, topped by Cribbins with “The Hole in the Ground” at #7, Paramor had four, including #1 and #2.
His contract coming due, Martin had a decision to make. He had been with EMI since 1950, when he was 24 years old. He had been head of Parlophone Records since 1955. What he really felt he deserved was to be able to collect royalties, basically finding a way to make a percentage of the profits Parlophone was bringing in. He was told by L.G. Wood, managing director of EMI, that it was not procedure and they were not willing to open that can of worms. When Martin threatened to leave, Wood called his bluff and the producer signed a new three year deal that would pay him roughly £3000 per year (that’s about £57600 or $72000 today). For the time being, any extra income would have to come from such projects as his “reinforced concrete music” as Ray Cathode, or writing film soundtracks, such as the ones he completed for Take Me Over and Crooks Anonymous (I’d never heard of them, either…). Those two contracts combined put £300 in his pocket, an extra tenth above his salary for the year.
As you may be aware from reading these blog posts, I generally shy away from talking too much about the private, personal lives of the people involved in this story. I think of this as a history, not a soap opera. However, in this particular case, the events in the private life of George Martin will have a tangible effect on what happens next month, so we’ll have to get into it a bit.
Martin had been separated from his wife, Sheena, for several months. They were, however, still married, a condition that wasn’t likely to end soon since Sheena had no intention of granting a divorce. He lived in an apartment in London while Sheena and their two children lived in the suburbs. Sheena had convinced Martin to consent to the story that he lived closer to his workplace due to his busy schedule, and that their marriage was fine. The whole family would sometimes spend weekends in London, mostly so that the children wouldn’t know of the fracture.
The truth could not be known. George Martin was Catholic and still technically married. It was 1962. So his serious relationship with Judy Smith was scandalous. Doubly so, since Judy was also George Martin’s secretary. No one could know.
The secret was carefully guarded. They had begun seeing each other before 1960, so it had been quite a while that the secret existed. But in late March of 1962, it would come apart. Martin represented EMI at a music festival north of Blackpool beginning on March 23, and Judy Smith came with him. He calculated that it was proper, as she was his secretary, but somehow word got out that the relationship was more than professional. L.G. Wood was informed, it is unknown by whom, and he was furious. Martin had just finished threatening to quit over money and now it turned out that he was involved in a scandalous affair “right under his nose.”
There was no way that Wood could fire Martin. He was far too valuable. Wood’s churchgoing, principled, upright life (the words of Mark Lewisohn) didn’t take precedence over the success of the company. But maybe he could get back at Martin somehow. Sid Colman of EMI’s publishing company, Ardmore and Beechwood, really wanted to get his hands on some songs that he liked by this unknown band that no one wanted. But that would mean putting them under contract, which would mean someone had to take responsibility for them. So that punishment, er, duty would fall to George Martin. I’ll bet you didn’t see this one coming… 😉
Next week we’ll be talking about the signing of The Beatles by George Martin and Parlophone Records. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Ken Womack for his Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin. And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
“Although I laugh and I act like a clown, beneath this mask I am wearing a frown.” – John Lennon, from I’m a Loser (Lennon/McCartney)
Klaus Voormann, interviewed by Mark Lewisohn in 2006: “That first night at The Star Club, John came on stage dressed like a cleaning woman…[he] knocked over the microphones and some of the drum kit, then he went up and cleaned the microphones. He cleaned under Paul’s armpit, and George’s. The people in the club were laughing – they didn’t know Stuart had died…it gave me shivers to watch it, but this is what clowns do, bring humour to tragedy. It was hilarious.” Pete Best: “We were miserable for days as we settled into our new quarters in the Grosse Freheit across the street from The Star Club.”
The Star Club
This newest and best rock venue in Hamburg was owned by Manfred Weissleder, who had built his entertainment empire by opening a string of strip clubs. So, just normal for Hamburg. He also allegedly had ties to organized crime and was once asked by the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel how he funded The Star Club considering that the club was known for being an inexpensive place to hang out. Weissleder refused to answer. Working as a kind of manager was Horst Fascher, whom The Beatles had known from The Top Ten Club. And working alongside as strong armed security, also brought over from The Top Ten Club, were Fascher’s brothers, Uwe and Fredi.
Altogether, Weissleder and the Fascher Brothers made for an intimidating group, and people knew not to mess with them. On that same opening night, Horst Fascher brought each of The Beatles a present from the boss. These were gold identity bracelets engraved with their names on one side and “Star Club” on the other, along with Star Club badges. They weren’t just for decoration. Any toughs that they would encounter outside of the club would see these identifying features and know that The Beatles were to be left alone in order to avoid being paid a visit by Horst, Uwe, and Fredi.
During The Beatles’ first two residencies in Hamburg, at The Indra, The Kaiserkeller, and The Top Ten Club, they played as many as six to eight hours on some nights. At The Star Club, there were sometimes as many as four bands scheduled for an evening, so our boys would actually be on stage anywhere from two to four hours at the most. Two groups who were known to be there were Tex Roberg and The Graduates as well as a duo known as The Bachelors. In addition, much like when they had Tony Sheridan playing parts of their sets with them at The Top Ten Club, here they had Roy Young, who played piano and organ and would sit in with any and all bands who played at The Star Club. His name was boldly showcased on the stage piano, so it regularly seemed as though any band playing might be called The Roy Young Band.
The entertainment was presented in an efficient, timely manner. Horst would tell a band when to start playing and when to stop playing and his word was law. The Star Club became the most important live music club in Hamburg very quickly and would generally having English bands playing as well as bringing in some top names from the United States who we will be talking about when the time comes. The stage was larger and more elevated than The Beatles were used to in Hamburg. They had house amplifiers, Fenders, that were available for anyone as well as the club’s own drum kit, though Pete apparently still used his own. The stage backdrop was a huge picture of the Manhattan skyline, making many of the photos taken of The Beatles seem like they may have been playing in New York.
It was better than it had been, especially the room they lived in while playing at The Indra in 1960, but still not ideal. The Beatles shared one room above a strip club called Moderne Welt Tanz-Cabaret, across from The Star Club. It had two bunk beds. They at least had a full bathroom, so they could clean themselves up much better than they had in the past, not that they always took advantage of that. They were making far more money than they had previously made in Hamburg, and even more than they were usually paid in Liverpool. After fees and Brian’s commission, they were making about £38 each per week (that’s £865 or $1110 today). Their travel had been paid for, their room was included, and as long as they were in the club, they could drink as much as they wanted. So their only real expenses were food and clothing. Paul would write home that food was much more expensive than in Liverpool, but even so, they were able to send substantial sums home. By all accounts, women were both free and abundantly available, but we won’t go into detail about that. Suffice to say, Cynthia and Dot did have something to worry about if they cared to…
By several accounts, John, in dealing with his grief, had some pretty crazy days, including the time he borrowed an orangutan suit from Horst and ran off down the street, not to be found until a call came in from the police that John had been arrested after jumping on tables at a local pub called Mambo Schänke. George, though, may have outdone even Mr. Lennon. Young Mr. Harrison, all of 19 years old now, got extremely drunk one night and his stomach retaliated, leaving a mess on the floor of their room. In the morning, the cleaning lady refused to clean up the mess, saying that it was beyond her duties. George felt the same, so it was left. Pete would say, “…it began to grow and grow…cigarettes were crushed in it, bits of food fed to it, until it assumed the look of a hedgehog; we christened it ‘The Thing.’” “The Thing” was also apparently adorned with small Union Jack flags.
Pete continued that George said that he was afraid to go to sleep “in case it eats me.” Though it is unclear in the story exactly how long “The Thing” remained, eventually Horst showed up with a shovel. He used the shovel to gather “The Thing” up and took it out to the garbage bin, followed by The Beatles, “solemnly chanting the Dead March.” And now you know more than you may have wanted to know about the life of young George Harrison in Hamburg… Then again, Horst apparently remembered that it was John who created “The Thing” and that The Beatles cleaned it up themselves. So who knows?
The Beatles had asked their fans to write them letters and promised to write back. And that’s exactly what happened. The cards and letters from Liverpool began arriving by the end of the first week of their stay, and all of our boys, but especially Paul, would spend time writing back. Paul said in one letter, “the club we’re playing in is good but not as good as Liverpool…we’ll be glad to get back.” Brian would also make sure to report in the newsletter sent to fan club members that The Beatles were scheduled to play at The Cavern on June 9, so be ready for their return.
John apparently had stressful thoughts about what to expect when The Beatles returned to Liverpool in June. He wrote a letter to his friend, Lindy Ness, saying, “I bet there’ll be hardly any Beatle fans when we get back…” Lindy wrote back that not only would the fans still be there for them, but there was also a Wednesday night meeting group at The Odd Spot coffee bar where fans would trade photos and compare the letters they had received from the group. Fan Margaret Douglas told Mark Lewisohn in 2005, “We thought it was lovely that The Beatles wrote to us…[we would] imagine how they must be loving it in Hamburg. We assumed they were living in luxury there, and it was a long time before we found out they were hell-holes.”
Astrid had been in Liverpool for Stu’s funeral, but by late April she was back and regularly going to The Star Club with Klaus. John and George went to visit her at home, which had been a common occurrence in the past when Stu lived there. Pete didn’t go because, well, he never did. And Paul didn’t go because he felt unwelcome due to his sometimes unfriendly relationship with Stu. Astrid showed them some of the photos that she had taken of Stu in the past months in her upstairs studio, and John asked if she would take photos of him in the same locations. Several photos were taken that day of both John and George and they are remarkable in their black and white compositions.
Astrid would tell Mark Lewisohn in 2010 that on this rare occasion John let down his clown mask: “He said to me, ‘You have got to decide: either you die with Stuart or you go on living your life.’ It was the real John talking – he said it not nice and sweet but very straight, with a strong voice, and he made me think about it. He really helped me get myself together again.”
The Beatles still had an eye on what was going on at home. Brian would send them copies of Mersey Beat as well as new records that were coming out. In May, there was a whole lot going on with Brian that they could hardly imagine as they put their Hamburg time in, and of course, we’ll be talking about those huge developments over the next few weeks. To go along with that, there is one more thing of great interest that will help to set up the next few months. George would say that during the two months in Hamburg, thoughts of Ringo never left him. “I conspired to get Ringo in – I talked to Paul and John until they came round to the idea.” As Mark Lewisohn would say, “They didn’t need much persuading.”
Thank you for putting up with this extra-long post! Next week we’ll be checking in with George Martin again during the Spring of 1962. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Special thanks to Thorsten Knublauch for his Mach Schau in Hamburg. And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
If you’ve read much of what I’ve written over the past few years, there are some things that aren’t going to surprise you here. My time studying the formative years of The Beatles has left me with a love of Stu that matches the devotion I’ve had for John, Paul, George, and Ringo since I was a kid. Learning from the people who were actually there, in Liverpool and in Hamburg, for those first years of the 1960s, has made it clear that much of what is “commonly known” about Stu is pretty much completely false. He was not someone who could never play his instrument. It is true that he had not played before teaming up with John, Paul, and George, but by all accounts of the people who were there, when he left The Beatles he not only was a perfectly fine bass player, he was also asked by other bands to play with them. He did not always play with his back to the audience. There is exactly one photo of him doing that, and that was taken when he had been playing bass for only a few months. And he was an artist about whom Scottish sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi said, “He was imaginative, ultra-intelligent, and he was open to everything…”
Stu was at least partially responsible for coming up with name, “Beatles,” (he wanted it to be “Beatals”). He was the first member of The Beatles to be open to a new style, fringe haircuts and collarless jackets. Possibly most importantly, Stu was one of the only people who John looked up to. Klaus Voormann would say, “Stuart looked down to John – not in a bad way…I’ve seen the letters between them and you get the feeling of a wise man talking to someone who’s a little helpless. That was Stuart and John respectively.”
April 10, 1962
Neil Aspinall had driven John, Paul, and Pete to Manchester to start their series of flights to Hamburg. When they arrived, it was late and they were tired from travel. They went straight to their rooms and then out to dinner with Mannfred Weissleder, the owner of The Star Club. George, still getting over the German measles, would arrive the following day, April 11, with Brian. Brian cabled John, Paul, and Pete to ask them to meet the flight. He didn’t say why. Millie Sutcliffe, Stu’s mother, said “presumably, he thought they’d already heard the news.” They hadn’t. When they arrived at the airport to meet Brian and George they saw Astrid and Klaus. “Where’s Stu?” Astrid told them that Stu had suffered convulsions the previous day and had gone into a coma [while the trio was arriving in Hamburg]. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Astrid would say that “Paul tried to be comforting, he put his arm around me…Pete wept, he just sat there and cried his eyes out…John went into hysterics. We [Astrid and Klaus] couldn’t make out, in the state we were both in, whether he was laughing or crying because he did everything at once.”
I want to say that I have seen some tellings of this story that key in on the idea that John was laughing. I think another of Astrid’s words, “hysterics,” explains it a lot better. I’ll just let these two quotes do the talking: Paul McCartney: “John didn’t laugh when he heard Stuart had died, as some people have made out.” Pete Best: “John, who had been closer to Stu than Paul or me, wept like a child. I had never seen him break down in public like this before. He had cried his fair share when we had last said farewell to Hamburg [and Stu, Astrid, and Klaus], but this was different. He was absolutely shattered” In a span of seven years, John had lost his Uncle George, more of a father to him than his real father; his mother, just when he was getting to know her better; and now his best friend.
Back in Liverpool the previous day, George and Brian had heard the news when it had arrived by telegram. Astrid had sent word to both Millie Sutcliffe and Allan Williams. Williams had always been helpful in trying to ease the relationship between Astrid and Millie, so it was only right to let him know. Williams called Brian Epstein, and they arranged for Millie to join Brian and George on their flights to Hamburg on April 11.
It was Millie, by regulation, who had to formally identify Stu’s body. And then she had to make arrangements to have him transported back to Liverpool for the funeral, which was to be held on April 19. The Beatles, of course, couldn’t be there as they had a contract to fulfill at The Star Club. But Brian was there, along with Cynthia Powell; George’s mother Louise Harrison; Allan and Beryl Williams; and Astrid and Klaus.
The official cause of death was stated as a blood clot on the brain, and Stu had suffered a hemorrhage. The post-mortem also concluded that if he had survived, he would most certainly have been blind. I am, of course, aware of the stories that have come up about Stu’s death and what fights, etc., may have contributed to his condition. I will not entertain that conjecture here and now, and will not even accept commentary about it. Today’s blog is not the time nor place. In terms of this 60 Years Project, we are talking about an event that is among that saddest and most tragic in Beatles history. Stu deserves to be paid a tribute for all of his contributions to The Beatles and that is all we will do here. Thanks for understanding. We’re going into much more detail about Stu and this tragic situation in the latest Beatles60 podcast at https://anchor.fm/beatles60.
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles third Hamburg residency, this time at The Star Club. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
The dark blue Beno Dorn suits, tailored by Walter Smith, had originally been ordered on January 29, 1962. Brian Epstein put a lot of thought into when the suits should be worn. The first time The Beatles performed wearing them in front of an audience was on March 7, 1962, when they recorded a performance for the BBC Radio show, Teenager’s Turn – Here We Go. There were 250 in the studio audience for that performance.
There is some speculation that they may have worn the suits for a performance at the Heswall Jazz Club on March 24, 1962, but others disagree. Mark Lewisohn, among others, places the first wearing of the suits in front of a “regular” audience as March 29, 1962. The venue was the Odd Spot Coffee Bar. Brian felt that this was a particularly important show, taking place in a more upscale location than they often played. It made sense to show off the suits.
Brian hired graphic designer Alan Swerdlow to create advertising flyers that could handed out to fans and even autographed at shows. So Swerdlow was to take photos at the Odd Spot. He took several. They are not the best quality photos, none of them actually capture all four Beatles at the same time, but they are nice action shots that were suitable for the purpose. These particular photos wouldn’t be used immediately, however. The first set of advertising flyers had photos of The Beatles in leather. Brian didn’t want to give away the suits just yet…
In addition to the Swerdlow action shots of our boys in their new gear, Brian also had them do a session with Harry Watmough at his studio. Watmough found them to be very demanding customers. Paul argued with him that the shots should be grainy, like the photos taken of the in Hamburg. The photographer disagreed and prevailed in that dispute. He called John an “arrogant bugger” who wanted shots set up in specific ways. He also said that Brian was “arrogant, not an easy bloke to get on with, but he was good at paying…” Apparently, several rolls of film were shot, but there were only six photos that made the cut, such as the one at the top of this page. Brian’s idea was that these photos would be unveiled in May, when publicity would be needed to welcome The Beatles back from Hamburg.
In addition to the shows at The Heswall Jazz Club and The Odd Spot, Brian had set up some others around this time that were “higher class,” and therefore good places for the suits. These included The Pavilion Theatre and The Subscription Room in Stroud, 150 miles south of Liverpool. This was an attempt by Brian to continue to show off The Beatles outside of Merseyside. There is a story that a local DJ and record store employee named Bob Lusty was at the Stroud show and due to his job, he had actually heard about “My Bonnie.” Lusty ordered 25 copies of the record and brought them to the show, where he talked to The Beatles. Our boys were surprised that someone so far from home would know about them and asked, “Are you going to sell all those records tonight?” He did. – “I sold them all!”
On April 5 came Fan Club Night at The Cavern. Five hundred lucky fans would receive, from Brian Epstein himself, a photo of The Beatles (still in leather), and their ticket included a fan club application. They would receive a membership card, a newsletter from Hamburg, and other “exclusive offers.” The Beatles were to play two sets and Bob Wooler was the DJ for the night. All in leather for that first set, they played a fine show that included bringing Ray McFall, the owner of The Cavern, on stage to sing “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” Fans Linda (Lou) Steen and Brian Farrell brought cameras and took photos of the events.
Then came the second set. Bob Wooler took to the stage and announced, “The Beatles will be appearing in their NEW SUITS!” And so the most loyal of fans, the ones who frequented The Cavern, got their first taste of a new style, including the bow. The reaction was all that Brian could have hoped for. Not everyone liked it, but everyone noticed in a big way. Barbara Houghton: “When they appeared in the suits, everybody screamed because they looked so handsome.” Bernadette Farrell: “…everybody thought, ‘they look smart but it’s not our Beatles.’” I guess Barbara and Bernadette (who had reportedly been dating George) didn’t compare notes before being interviewed…
Brian felt that since this was a show for the fan club, that every Beatle should have their moment, so Paul went behind the drumkit and Pete came to the front of the stage to sing either “Peppermint Twist” or “Pinwheel Twist,” depending on who you ask, an extra special long version, during which he could dance with Kathy, whom he would eventually marry. Brian Farrell’s camera was at the ready, and a great photo was taken of the group with lead singer and substitute drummer!
At the end of the show, The Beatles entreated the audience, “Don’t forget us.” They told everyone that they’d be going to Hamburg for two months and “it’ll be nice if you write to us.” They gave out the address of The Star Club in Hamburg. Mersey Beat would report that the show was their “greatest-ever performance.” They still had a few more shows to go before heading to Hamburg the next week. George would fall ill with the German measles and miss a couple of them. And when they did get to Hamburg, they would be greeted with news that was worse than they could have possibly imagined.
Next week we’ll be talking about the death of Stuart Sutcliffe. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson
Into the Future
This post runs the risk of breaking the illusion created by the 60 Years Project. It has always been the intention of Barmy Old Codger in general to tell the story of The Beatles in real time, sixty years from the actual dates that events occurred. I want you to be able to sit back and think, “It’s 1962! What’s happening right now?!” But here’s the thing. We all very well know what’s going to happen in a little over four months regarding the position of Beatles drummer. And when that time comes, there will undoubtedly be the raising of all of the old stories about why the change was made: drumming ability, attractiveness to the female fans, personality differences, etc.
I don’t know if nor do I think that the answer to that will be absolutely known. Different people, including the ones that were there, will have different opinions, and those who study The Beatles will likely continue to take sides. But there is something that I feel I can dispel right here and now, in the Spring of 1962. That is, the idea that it was a sudden thing, that when faced with having to use a session drummer for their first professional recordings because their drummer wasn’t good enough in the recording studio, that John, Paul, and George scrambled to find someone to replace Pete, that they had no idea what they were going to do.
Back to the Spring of 1962
It was not completely uncommon during a schedule of playing as many as ten shows in a week that a member of The Beatles would be sick at some point. In the first week of April, for instance, George began to feel the effects of what would turn out to be the German measles. He missed several shows, some without a replacement. During one Cavern performance Gerry Marsden of Gerry and the Pacemakers stood in for him.
Pete would also occasionally call in sick. On one of the dates when it happened, very likely March 26, 1962, The Beatles were scheduled to play a lunchtime show at The Cavern Club followed by an evening show at The Kingsway Club. When Pete called in to say he would not be able to play, Brian was sent to collect Ringo. Other than cordially greeting each other on a couple of occasions in the past, this was the first time that Ringo really talked to Brian Epstein. Ringo would remember that he thought about “how strange it was that The Beatles had a manager, because none of us had a real manager.” As others have pointed out in the past when Ringo played with John, Paul, and George, it really was like they were a complete band. In thinking about the difference between his own style and that of Pete, Ringo would say, “He had one sort of style, which was very good for them in those years, I suppose, but they felt, I think, that they wanted to move out of it more.”
Incidentally, Beatles historians have had a hard time nailing down exactly when these events happened. And there was more than one date on which The Beatles played a lunchtime show at The Cavern and then an evening show at The Kingsway Club. Some have said February 5. But Ringo was pretty clearly still in Hamburg on that date. Others have suggested February 26, which could be possible. The best evidence that it was March 26 is a card, dated March 26 at The Kingsway Club, that contains the autographs of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. So there’s that…
After the show, the future Beatles spent the rest of the afternoon at The Colony Club [Ringo would remember the name as ‘The Crocodile Club.’ Ha!), “getting crazy.” Though they had only played together a small number of times, it was not uncommon for them to hang out together. They had in Hamburg, and even now in Liverpool, Ringo would come to see The Beatles play when he was free and they regularly spent time together at “Hurricaneville,” Rory Storm’s family home.
George Harrison, Instigator
You thought George was the quiet one, right? Well, maybe you should never trust those quiet ones. They may just have something up their sleeves. There is a fairly widely known video you can find on the internet from 1988 in which George and Ringo talk about a lawsuit brought by George against Ringo due to a disagreement over a song. Ringo said, “Sue me if you want, I’ll always love you.” That speaks volumes about their relationship going all the way back to 1960.
During that afternoon in March of 1962 at The Colony Club, Ringo remembered, “George was saying, ‘Would you like to join the band?’ I was saying, ‘Yeah, I’d love to but you’ve got a drummer…’ and he started to instigate it with the other two, saying to them, ‘Why don’t we get Ringo in the band?’” George himself would say in 1987, “I was the one responsible for getting Ringo in the group. Every time Ringo played with us the band really swung. I conspired to get Ringo in – I talked to Paul and John until they came round to the idea.”
So when the big debate starts about who was responsible and what really happened, sure, everyone had their various reasons for thinking that a drummer change was a good idea [well, George Martin wasn’t too sure about Ringo at first], but remember, it was our young Mr. Harrison who dunnit, and they had been thinking about it already for quite a while. 😉
Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles and their suits, photos, and shows. Thanks very much, as always, to Mark Lewisohn for his All These Years: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Michael Seth Starr for his Ringo. And thanks to you for being here and for reading this. Please sign up for notifications of future blog posts! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you being here! – Andrew Martin Adamson