The Beatles 60 Years Ago - May 1962.
Paul’s Guitar Woes
Paul had bought his Rosetti Solid 7 guitar in Liverpool on June 30 and let’s just get this out there: it was a piece of junk. The way Paul described it: “Dad instilled in me, ‘Never get heavily in debt.’ as a result of which I bought a cheap guitar.” The guitar kept breaking down in various ways, and by the time that they had been playing at The Indra in Hamburg for only a few weeks, Paul would sometimes wear the guitar but not bother to plug it in, or be left to just run around the stage with a microphone, looking like a proper lead singer. He was still sending money home to make payments on the Rosetti, so buying another instrument was pretty much out of the question. The best he could do was to fix the guitar as well as he could and get by. He wouldn’t buy another guitar until he had completed his transition to bass, and that wouldn’t be for quite a while at this point.
Stu and Derry
There is a story that doesn’t seem to get much attention. Mark Lewisohn briefly mentions it, but scores of other Beatles biographies don’t say a word about it at all, and many seem too busy perpetuating the myth that Stu couldn’t play. Okay, taking a deep breath.
At The Kaiserkeller, where Derry and the Seniors were doing their residency, the nightly music schedule was divided between live and “Musikbox.” The decision was made to go completely live, but that meant that they needed another band. The solution? Break up Derry and the Seniors into two groups. Guitarists Brian Griffiths and Billy Hughes along with drummer Jeff Wallington would be the main members of the “A” band, playing their usual rock and roll. The “B” band would start with saxophonist Howie Casey and piano player Stan Foster along with Derry Wilkie on vocals. But they needed to complete the line-up. A German jazz drummer whose name seems to be lost to history was added, and on bass, they pulled Stu away from The Beatles. (It should be said that Casey has remembered the lineups slightly differently in different interviews, but the idea remains the same). The “B” group played 12-bar blues progressions during the intervals between the “A” band sets. That was perfect for Stu. It was what he did best. As for how Stu performed during these Kaiserkeller performances, Howie Casey said that Stu “had a great live style.”
Of course, while Stu was at The Kaiserkeller playing with Derry, The Beatles were a four piece without a bass player. According to Howie Casey, Paul would play bass lines on the Rosetti (when it was working), which must have made for an interesting sound. He would eventually transform that guitar into a bass (his first, before buying the Hofner violin bass that we all know), but that didn’t happen quite yet. I have a tendency to believe that all of the instrument and personnel trouble The Beatles had in these early days were very important in making Paul the incredible multi-instrumentalist that he is. He had spent several weeks playing drums before Hamburg happened, now he was playing bass lines (albeit on a guitar), and going into the next year he would play piano when there was one available and the Rosetti was letting him down.
Stuart wrote many a letter. They went to his family, his art school friends, and his art school mentor, Arthur Ballard. In a letter to Ballard dated September 22, Stu hinted that the contract at The Indra might be extended, and that he didn’t expect to be home until Christmas instead of the original contract end date of October 16. This would be confirmed within the next week. But he also said that he intended to leave the group sometime in the next year in order to go back to The Liverpool College of Art and obtain his Art Teacher Diploma. He explained that he didn’t think that he had made a bad decision to join the band: “…this is a personal escape which I felt was necessary to free me from a lot of uneasiness.” And he wasn’t keeping it a secret from his bandmates. They all knew that he would be leaving them, that his tenure as a Beatle wouldn’t last much more than a year. And they knew that it would mean looking for a bass player again sometime soon. I have no doubt that Paul already knew that it was likely going to fall to him. But we’ll get to that next year.
As for Stu, it has become very hard not to become completely enthralled by his story as I’ve done the research into this “60 Years Project.” That might be apparent in how I have, and will continue to unapologetically defend his musical ability based on what has been said by the people who were actually there. I’m not comparing him to Paul, who is clearly in a class by himself. But after a year of playing, he wasn’t half bad according to several sources. In a couple of weeks, Stu’s story will become incredibly happy, a tale for the ages, and then, in just about a year and a half, it will take its place among the most tragic chapters in the story of The Beatles.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Daytrippin’ Beatles Magazine. Check out their article about Stu at https://daytrippin.com/2011/06/22/stuart-sutcliffes-bass-playing-id-like-to-set-that-one-straight. And check out this interview with Howie Casey from Beatles Magazine: https://beatlesmagazineuk.com/meeting-the-beatles-exclusive-interview-with-howie-casey/. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about The Beatles’ contract extension with Bruno Koschmider and their move to The Kaiserkeller. Stay tuned!
Living at the Bambi Kino
The rear entrance to the Bambi Kino was about half a block down from The Indra. The main entrance was farther away, around the corner. So The Beatles didn’t really see much of the actual theatre. They would go in the back door, head down a long corridor, and go straight to their rooms. The “bigger” room had two small beds (occupied by John and Stu) and a couch (George). It had one light. The “smaller” room had two small beds (Paul and Pete) which filled up the space…but with no light at all. According to Paul’s estimate, the total space of both rooms was about 22 square meters, or less than 240 square feet. There was no kitchen and no bathroom. They used the cinema’s toilets, down the hall towards the theatre itself. And food? Well, do 17 to 20 year old boys make their own food anyway? 😉.
There was no air conditioning nor heat and one small window. So let’s think about something that we should be very grateful we don’t have to actually experience. Five young men. No place to bathe, only the ability to do a basic wash-up in the sink. They played in a crowded bar for several hours a night and for much of their stay they wore leather. Throw in the fact that they were each smoking up to two packs of cigarettes a day and drinking large quantities of beer. What is it that I want you to think about? The smell. Can you even begin to imagine?…
As for their daily lives, night and day were basically reversed for them since they didn’t start playing until between 5pm and 8pm and didn’t finish until 1:30am to 3am, depending on the day. As John would tell Hunter Davies, “we would go to bed late and be wakened the next day by the sound of the cinema show.” The first film of the day at the Bambi Kino, which showed mainly second run films (and not the X-rated kind, though many have suggested such) was at 4pm. Paul wrote in a letter to father Jim and brother Mike, “I’m writing now at 10:30, before I go to sleep.” That’s 10:30 in the morning… In order to make up for the lack of sleep, they would take “prellies,” an over-the-counter weight loss pill that they were told would keep them awake, because, well, preludin is actually a type of amphetamine.
Speaking of letters, writing them was a favorite pastime of all of The Beatles. I guess these days it would have been all by email, text, or maybe even Zoom. Since there was very little to no light in their rooms, they would use tiny pocket torches (flashlights) to see what they were doing. All five would write to their families, and in the cases of John and Paul, to their girlfriends, Cyn and Dot. They would also send money home so that payments could be made on various guitars and amplifiers they had bought. One postcard that John sent Aunt Mimi said “Don’t worry about me. I’m eating and sleeping well and staying out of trouble.” How much of that was true? Well, maybe one out of three.
Hitting the Town
As for the food, there were a couple of places that Mark Lewisohn says that they liked to frequent. One was Harald’s, a café near the Indra, and another was Chug-Ou, a Chinese restaurant that happened to also serve pancakes. They liked their breakfast, very likely usually eaten before going to bed. Corn flakes were a favorite. They sometimes ate them more than once a day. Paul wrote a letter home saying “we can buy corn flakes, beefsteak, liver, mashed potatoes…at the local café now, so we’re eating well.” He did not, however, like the sausages “made with fish and meat. Ugh!” Such a future vegetarian!
They did have some socialization time. On Mondays when they were off and early mornings before going to bed they would hang around together watching music, drinking, and eventually even shopping for clothes. George was generally the first to get something, followed quickly by John and Pete, while Paul and Stuart took their time. It started with leather jackets. George bought his from a waiter. Then came new drain-pipe jeans followed by black winkle pickers (you know, those things on their feet).
They had friends right away as well. The waiters at The Indra, and at most bars in the St. Paul district, were just as much guards and enforcers. They carried truncheons and tear-gas guns in order to take care of the constant fights that would break out among the bar patrons (many of whom were drunken sailors). The Beatles, of course, were paid employees and so as far as the waiters were concerned, they were all on the same side. In addition to providing protection, the waiters partied with our boys, let them fire their tear-gas guns for fun, told them about “prellies,” and, very helpfully, told them where to go and what they could do if they wanted to in Hamburg. And what did they want to do? Well, remember that part above about them being 17 to 20 year old boys?...
Okay, so depending on the source that you consult, the stories of the level of debauchery The Beatles indulged in while in Hamburg range from absolutely accurate to wildly exaggerated in order to make a good story. As John said in 1980, “There was a lot of heavy boys’ fun when we were in Hamburg, but the stories built out of all proportion, over the years they became like legends.” Astrid Kirchherr (who we will soon be talking about a whole lot) would later say that she never thought the stories were true because the boys would never have had enough money to pay for the services available on the Herbertstrasse. Then again, according to Pete, in a (kind of) similar way to how they were accepted into the working class by the waiters, the ladies of the Herbertstrasse treated them as equals, and no money ever needed to change hands.
For the sake of accuracy (I guess), Stu never really took part in that part of their fun times in Hamburg. He would write to art school friends, “In quantity there are many girls, beautiful and graceful but lacking in quality…(Hamburg) is nothing but a vast amoral jungle…I can’t really get talking to these German girls.” Of course, by a few weeks after writing that letter he would meet another kind of “German girl,” one who possessed every quality he ever wanted, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here…
Finally for this week, there was one place that The Beatles found that did help to give them some feeling of being at home when they wanted it, The British Sailor’s Society. There they could have British food, read the newspaper, and talk to people in English. The resident manager was Jim Hawke, a British World War II veteran with a German wife. By incredible coincidence, they were acquainted with Stu’s father, Charles. His memory of The Beatles was “well-behaved lads…they’d sit and play (checkers)…or…ping pong.” The establishment had a piano and a library. Hawke remembered that John and Paul would write songs on the piano and would read, but they wouldn’t take any books with them because it was too hard to read anything where they were staying. He said that they looked “subdued.” “I’ve seen the same look on men who’ve been away at sea in tankers for a long time.” Now that I can imagine.
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 thanks to Philip Norman for his Shout! Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about some more specific details of things that happened those first weeks in Hamburg. Stay tuned!
First Night at The Indra
There’s no specific record of what songs The Beatles played on their first night in Hamburg, August 17, 1960. But we do know that Howie Casey, saxophonist for Derry and the Seniors (and future contributor and touring member of Wings) was able to get to The Indra for a while to see them. He had told Allan Williams the previous week not to send The Beatles to Hamburg because he remembered just how lacking their performance was in May at the Larry Parnes audition. He arrived at The Indra expecting to be underwhelmed. He was surprised. From an interview with Spencer Leigh: “My jaw went to the floor. There was such a difference from what I’d seen at the audition. There was something there, a spark, that extra little bit…they were stunning.”
They were used to playing about a maximum of two hours, and oftentimes it was far less than that. But now they had to play between 4 and a half and 6 hours per night, not including breaks. And for some reason, they decided that they would not play a song twice in one night, despite the fact that their audience of bar customers was extremely unlikely to be there for an entire evening. This led to a couple of practices that would help them to fulfill their self-imposed no-repeat rule. First, they took to learning entire albums by their favorites. That meant full albums by Elvis, Carl Perkins, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, and others. The second technique was to extend the lengths of songs. John would say in a Radio Times interview in 1972 regarding the Elvis song, “Baby, Let’s Play House,” which was originally 2 minutes and 16 seconds long: “We’d make it last about ten minutes, singing the same verse over and over again.” They were no strangers to playing very long songs. If you remember, their 12-bar blues jams on the Forthlin Road tapes were sometimes more than 15 minutes long.
What They Were Already Playing
A Grosvenor setlist that exists is a fantastic artifact. According to Mark Lewisohn, it is the earliest recorded document of songs that were being played. It was seemingly a personal list written by Paul, as it basically only lists the songs he sings along with the ones that are sung “with John.” Of particular note are some of the songs that would remain part of The Beatles’ repertoire for several years, even appearing on albums. There was “Long Tall Sally,” which would appear on an EP in 1964, and both “Words of Love,” and “Honey Don’t,” which would appear on Beatles For Sale. The latter, of course, would eventually feature Ringo doing the lead vocals. Look at the “possibles.” There you can see they were considering playing “Kansas City,” another that would show up on Beatles For Sale in late 1964.
There is one original listed, and, obviously it was “One After 909,” sung “with John.” So those early songs by Paul such as “In Spite of All the Danger” or “Like Dreamers Do” were not even among those that were considered at this point. Since we don’t have John’s list, we can only guess which songs he was singing, but it is very likely that one of, if not the only, original was “Hello Little Girl,” since we know they would play it live sometimes during this period. We don’t have a list for George, either, but I would expect and hope very much that they were doing The Coasters’ “Three Cool Cats,” written by Leiber and Stoller. I’ve always loved their version.
Stu’s List of Songs
Stu, as you might imagine, kept volumes of sketchbooks. Occasionally you can see one of them, or even just a single drawing or painting, at auction. One of his sketchbooks from 1960 contains not a drawing, but a list. It is a list of songs that The Beatles were apparently considering playing in Hamburg. You can see if you compare Stu’s list with Paul’s Grosvenor list, that there are five songs that appear on both, “Hallelujah (I Love Her So),” “What’d I Say,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’,” “I Don’t Care If the Sun Don’t Shine,” and “Honey Don’t.” Of course, some of the songs on Stu’s list are ones that John or George sang, so they weren’t necessarily new for Hamburg, but the two lists combined contain more than forty total songs, which may seem like a lot until you realize that even if they averaged as much as three minutes a piece (which they certainly didn’t), it was enough material for two hours at best without extending the songs, so they clearly played a whole lot more than these.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Stu’s list is the inclusion of two originals, “Catswalk” and “Winston’s Walk.” We know something about “Catswalk” because of a recording of the instrumental that was made during a rehearsal at The Cavern in 1962. The Beatles never recorded it for an album, but Paul did give it to Chris Barber, who recorded it with his jazz band in 1967, under the name “Cat Call.” We did a version, as well, going on two years ago, that you can hear at https://soundcloud.com/barmy-old-codger/cat-call-cats-walk.
The other, “Winston’s Walk,” remains unknown. It’s clear that it existed, not only because of it appearing on Stu’s list, but also because Paul mentioned it in a letter in 1960, and he also brought it up in conversation during the Get Back sessions, on January 24, 1969. It is commonly thought to have been an instrumental written by John and there are rumors that it appears on the mysterious third Forthlin Road tape that, if it really exists, is locked away in Paul’s vault somewhere. But here’s an interesting thought. If you remember from the blog posts about those recordings, you’ll remember that several instrumentals do not have official names. The names we know them by were made up by bootleggers or they were just called “Instrumental #1,” etc. So what if the actual story is that one of those instrumentals IS “Winston’s Walk?” In the January 24 conversation, Paul and John can’t remember how the song goes, but Paul describes it as fast, so if it really were the case that it was one of those Forthlin instrumentals, and I had to guess which one, I would go with a song on the Braun Tape that bootleggers have called “Turn the Mixers Off.” Always fun to speculate, right?
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to https://earlybeatlessongs.weebly.com/for always helpful information. And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about what The Beatles’ lives were like off stage during those first few weeks in Hamburg. Stay tuned!
Norman Chapman, by all accounts, was a very good drummer. One of the best they had, according to Allan Williams. Unlike some of the others who had played with our boys, he was close to their ages (only a couple of years older than John and Stu) and they got along very well. Could The Beatles’ story have been quite different? In theory, might we have never had reason to talk about Pete nor Ringo? Well, of course, it’s all supposition. But the reason that it isn’t an issue at all is that in July of 1960 Chapman was called up to do his National Service in the Army. So why do we not seem to hear about The Beatles being worried about conscription? I would guess, that since it ultimately didn’t happen, that it’s not really part of the story. But the fact is that it was definitely on their minds, at least for some of them, for at least a while. Let’s start from the beginning.
For obvious reasons, in September of 1939 all British men between the ages of 18 and 41 were required to register for military duty. As World War II progressed, in 1942 the requirements were adjusted to include all men up to the age of 50 and all unmarried, childless women between 18 and 30. With the war going on, it was unnecessary to draft individuals into the Army, Royal Air Force, or Navy. Everyone was willing to do their part. But when it was finally over, there were decisions to make.
In 1946, the decision was made to continue mandatory National Service beginning at the age of 18 simply to keep the number of active military personnel at what the government considered necessary. The term of service would vary over the years, but it was generally two years, with six years of duty in the Reserves afterwards. Of course, deferrals were possible. Anyone who was in school or had an apprenticeship would be able to complete those responsibilities before becoming eligible to be called up. In 1948, a decision was made that as conscription became less necessary, that fewer people would be called, and as of that point, no one born after 1935 would be on the list. So while The Beatles were still young children (George was just turning 5), it seemed that they would not have to think about having to do military service (unless they wanted to, of course). So why doesn’t it end there?
In 1953, mostly due to the effects of The Korean War, the date was changed. Instead of the cut-off being 1935, it would be that no one would be called up who was born after 1940. Well, hooray, that let out Paul, George, and Pete, who would never have to think about it again. But not Stu, John, nor Ringo, all of whom were born in 1940. So let’s look at their individual situations at that time:
John and Ringo’s Thoughts
John and Ringo had definitely put some thought into their situation while they were teenagers. Neither had any interest in going into the military. John had thought of escaping to Ireland. Ringo, at the age of 13, had considered becoming a tramp, either in Mexico or just on the British railways. Both of them (independently) did eventually arrive at the same potential plan: join the Merchant Navy. Eight years on merchant ships and you could avoid National Service completely. Ringo had gone so far as, at the age of 15, to get a job as a barman on the TS St. Tudno’s, which transported passengers daily between Liverpool and Wales. Having seafaring experience was considered helpful in obtaining a Merchant Navy position. That didn’t last, but he was certainly mindful, when he took up his apprenticeship at H. Hunt and Sons, that it would defer his eligibility until he was 21. And there was already talk of the end of National Service being on the horizon.
The Writing on the Wall
The fact is, it was pretty clear to most people by 1958, and not really denied by the government, that while conscription would be ending (as announced in 1957), that it would still be happening for a short time longer, just without a great deal of urgency. People had registered and waited several months to even get brought in for a physical. Overall, the number of call-ups was decreasing as well because fewer soldiers were needed. The April 1957 announcement stated that it was unlikely that men born after October 1939 would be called up. This definitely made our boys feel a bit more comfortable, but there was that “unlikely” phrasing. In addition, because of the lack of urgency, so many men were waiting for their letters that it was said that men coming off of deferments might be called up through 1960. So on one hand, the number of men being called up was going down, but on the other hand, there was not an absolute, official cut-off date being given and the suggested date kept creeping more and more into the future.
Early 1960 brought with it a final announcement. And it was good news for anyone who might have wanted to play in bands in, let’s say, Hamburg or maybe at Butlin’s, but were right on the cusp of being called up. No one whose deferment went past June of 1960 would be eligible for conscription. And so it was over. All three of our boys could defer until at least 1961 if necessary, so they were officially off the hook. Of course, it also happened that in the end, no one did end up being called up who was born after October of 1939. Which is likely why it has never really made it into The Beatles’ story all that much. But Stu, John, and Ringo did luck out by less than a year. More supposition, but if the date had moved back, the three may have been in a position to have to keep their deferments instead of going to Butlin’s or Hamburg, and that surely would have changed the story. Not to leave this unstated, it is very likely that Ringo would have gotten out anyway due to his health issues.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to Richard Vinen for his National Service: A Generation in Uniform 1945-1963. Fantastic information there. And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about the huge number of songs that The Beatles learned in order to play so many hours per day in Hamburg. Stay tuned!
The contract that was signed by all five members of The Beatles was very specific. They were to play six nights per week with Mondays off. Tuesday through Friday they were to be at the club from 8pm until 2am and play a total of 4.5 hours with three ½ hour breaks, scheduled at specific times. On Saturdays they were to be present from 7pm to 3am and play a total of 6 hours with four scheduled ½ hour breaks. Sundays would be from 5pm to 1:30am with 6 hours of playing time and five scheduled ½ hour breaks. The term of the contract was from August 17, 1960 to October 16, 1960. They would be paid 30 Deutsche Marks per night (about £2.50 then, which is about £58 or $77 now) and would agree to not play at a rival club for thirty weeks after the termination of the contract. In addition, Allan Williams was to be paid £10 per week in commission and Bruno Koschmider agreed to obtain work permits for the five of them. He never did.
There are sources out there that state that they actually played seven nights per week, that there were no days off. It is common to find places that say that The Beatles played 48 consecutive nights at The Indra. However, if you take a look at what’s left of the partially burned contract that is on display at The Indra, you can pretty much make out the terms of the contract, and they fit what Mark Lewisohn said in Tune In. They had Mondays off. Incidentally, if you look at the contract closely you’ll see that it is actually the contract extension that was signed in October. But it clearly states that the conditions (such as the days and times they would be playing) are the same as the original contract. Koschmider and Williams went on to sign another contract between the two of them on August 23 in which Williams agreed to find bands for Koschmider to put in his clubs for a period of five years.
The contract signed by The Beatles had no provision for accommodations. But since paying for a place to stay would have left them with no money to live on, Koschmider “kindly” offered a solution. They would stay for free in rooms behind a cinema called The Bambi, known generally as The Bambi Kino. A similar deal had been made with Derry and the Seniors while they played at The Kaiserkeller. They were staying in an office at The Kaiserkeller. Neither that location nor The Bambi Kino rooms had bathrooms, so they were forced to bathe in the public restrooms.
Pete’s description of the discovery of where they would be staying is quite illuminating. Or it would be, except that there was very little light to be found. That little light was at the end of a long corridor, and when they saw it, they sprinted to the room. John, Stu, and George got there first. It was a small room containing two single beds and an old couch. John and Stu quickly claimed the beds and George threw himself onto the couch. That left Paul and Pete thinking they would be relegated to the floor. But no! Koschmider told them there were two more bedrooms! What luck! Apparently, it wasn’t really two more bedrooms, but one small room with two additional tiny beds. The only light they had in that room was provided by their own pocket torches (flashlights). Koschmider repeatedly told them it was “only temporary.” It wasn’t.
When Koschmider would yell that famous phrase to The Beatles, it wasn’t simply to tell them to start playing. He meant that they should really make a show of it. Entertain the audience. Make them want more. Make them tell their friends! So that’s what they did. The way Pete tells it, most of crazy stage antics that they performed were really just the five of them taking out their anger over how they were treated by Koschmider. Low pay and horrible accommodations. The thing was, the crazier they got, the more the audiences loved it. For example, he tells the story of them starting a slow dance song and getting the audience all out on the dance floor dancing close, and then suddenly starting a “frenzied rock tempo.” Before long, the audiences were requesting that song. The band became known to the locals as the beknacked Beatles, literally “cracked.”
Stu was described by Pete as being like a puppet, wearing his shades and keeping up a James Dean look. George would generally concentrate on just playing the guitar, trying to hold the music together. Pete himself said that he couldn’t do a whole lot from behind the drums except to “hop around the kit with a tom-tom under my arm.” So the heavy lifting was up to John and Paul. And they delivered.
Again, from Pete: “John did his best to imitate Gene Vincent, grabbing up the microphone as if he were going to lay into the audience with it…leaping about with it like he was a maniac. Paul roared around screaming like Little Richard and, as the days passed, an act developed.” They would put on fakes fights (that the audience would sometimes think were real). They would give each other piggy-back rides across the stage. When the audience was dancing, they would leap off stage and run into the crowd “like wild bulls.” John would roll around on the stage and eventually took to insulting the audience, most of whom couldn’t understand what he was calling them. Much of the escalation of this behavior was fueled by the fact that the audience had a way of requesting songs. And that way was to accompany the request with a beer or schnapps, or a lot of both. And who were they to turn it down? A quick “prost” for the drinks and back to stomping around on stage.
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 thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about conscription rules in the UK, and how The Beatles lucked out of having to spend a term in the Army. Stay tuned!
It seems common knowledge that The Beatles used to have a tradition for getting themselves excited about their musical journey. John would ask “Where are we going?” And the reply from the others was “To the toppermost of the poppermost!” What I think a lot of people may not know is that it wasn’t really meant as an inspirational proclamation. It was the slogan that was used for a series of albums released by Dick Rowe (whose name we’ll hear again – think of the Decca rejection) and Top Rank. The Beatles thought the catchphrase was ridiculous. When they used it, they were making fun of it. Very simply, and very like The Beatles, they just thought it was funny. As far as Hamburg is concerned, it may have been an amazing, eye-opening experience, legendary amongst Beatles fans, but I don’t believe anyone would say it was “toppermost.”
The Trip to Holland
August 15, 1960. When the minibus carrying The Beatles, Allan and Beryl Williams, Barry Chang, and Lord Woodbine headed down the A5 into London, they passed near EMI Studios (soon to be known as Abbey Road Studios) and ended up near the 2i’s Coffee Bar. Here they picked up their final passenger, a young man named Steiner (first name possible Georg) who was going to work for Bruno Koschmider and would serve as an interpreter.
They were then off to Harwich, 80 miles northeast of London, to catch the ferry across the southern end of The North Sea over to Hook of Holland, near Rotterdam and The Hague. This is where we first get to be extremely thankful that Beryl Williams’ brother, Barry Chang, went on this trip. He took several photos, including a few of the minibus being loaded by crane onto the ferry. Once in Holland, Allan Williams had to convince the Dutch immigration officials that The Beatles were simply students who liked to play their instruments, otherwise they would have been subject to an import duty under the assumption that the instruments had been brought over to be sold. I would assume the true reason could not be told, as they didn’t actually have work permits for Hamburg.
Back in the minibus, they headed into Holland, where Allan Williams wanted to make a stop in Arnhem. In September of 1944, a fierce battle was waged there in which more than 3000 British, Polish, and German soldiers were killed. Williams had a cousin who had fought and was injured in the battle, and he wished to pay his respects. As though being directed by what needed to go down in history, they visited the Arnhem War Memorial, marking the site where 1750 soldiers are buried. At that memorial to a dark time, Barry Chang took what is likely his most famous photograph, a peak into a brighter future. The Beatles (with the exception of John, who remained on the minibus apparently because of his squeamishness about seeing the grave markers) and most of the rest of the company (Steiner was also missing from the photo) are shown in front of the memorial. The caption on the memorial can be seen. It says “their name liveth for evermore.”
John did find a way to leave his mark on Arnhem. On their way out of town, they stopped to look around the city, and found themselves looking at guitars at a music shop. John helped himself to a harmonica, leading Allan Williams to later say about the trip: “I thought, ‘Christ, we’re never even going to get to Hamburg. We’ll all be in jail!.’” - You know, I’ve thought about leaving these kinds of details out of these posts for fear of having to too often write seemingly apologetic asides about John. But these facts are pretty well known, and they are facts, so I would feel some dereliction of duty about leaving them out. So yes, John started out the Hamburg trip by stealing a harmonica in Holland.
And Then to Hamburg
The last part of the trip was the drive into West Germany, and the autobahn into Hamburg (in a loaded minibus that if they were lucky would make it to 55 mph). They reached the St. Pauli district and located The Kaiserkeller late on the evening of August 16, 1960. It had been a 36-hour trip to get there with a little bit of sleep on benches in the bar of the ferry. Inside The Kaiserkeller they met up with Derry and the Seniors, who were not particularly happy to see them. The story is that when Derry and Company heard The Beatles were coming, they implored Allan Williams to send Rory Storm and the Hurricanes instead. Having only seen The Beatles audition for Larry Parnes in May, Derry and the Seniors sax player Howie Casey believed that our boys would ruin the good thing they had going.
Finally, they met Bruno Koschmider. Koschmider took them to see The Indra, where they would begin playing the next evening (the 17th). It was empty and the neighborhood was dead. According to Pete, Koschmider said: “No one comes to this place. But you’ll make it go when you ‘mach schau.’” I’m sure he was hoping that, at least. But now it was time to get some sleep. The “adults” were off to a hotel. The Beatles, well, that depends on who you ask. In The Beatles Anthology, Paul would remember that they stayed the first night in The Indra itself, on “red leather seats.” But George, also in the Anthology, remembered that they stayed the first night in Bruno Koschmider’s flat, “all in one bed.” That was also the way Allan Williams would tell the story. Pete doesn’t mention either of these two locations, and seems to imply that they were immediately put up in the rooms behind the Bambi “Kino,” as they would call it, the location that all accounts agree was their home for the duration of their contract at The Indra.
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 thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking more about what it was like to play at The Indra, and what The Beatles thought of their accommodations. Stay tuned!
As of August of 1960, all five of The Beatles were under 21 (the “age of majority” at the time), they would technically need parental/guardian permission to make the trip to Hamburg. For Pete, this wasn’t a problem at all. Both Mona and Pete’s father Johnny understood show business and were completely encouraging. George didn’t face much opposition either. Though he was the youngest member at 17 (technically not old enough to work in Germany, but we’ll come to that later), his mother, Louise, wanted him to have a paying job, which this was, and his father, Harry, had gone abroad at 17, so he couldn’t really put up a fight. Paul did have to put in time convincing his father, Jim, to let him go, but Paul was bound to win any debate and even brought Allan Williams in for a visit with Jim to help in the cause. Stu didn’t so much face opposition as he had a decision to make. Going to Germany would mean that he was foregoing a fifth year at Liverpool College of Art, the year that would have seen him receive his Art Teacher Diploma.
Then there was John. It’s fairly safe to say that Aunt Mimi disapproved of every decision John made. She was against him spending more time with his mother when he was a teenager. She was against him trying to make a living playing guitar. She was against him moving out of Mendips to live at Gambier Terrace with Stu. And she was against him going to Hamburg. She was able to put up two pretty substantial obstacles for our young man to get past. First, she had no intention of signing a document of consent, without which he would be unlikely to be granted a passport. And another thing necessary to receive that passport was a birth certificate. Mimi said that she had no idea where it was.
John’s Passport Trouble
If you had everything in place, getting a passport in Liverpool was not a long process. As an international seaport, the city had its own Passport Office and was able to produce the documents while you waited. But everything had to be in place. John had to apply for a new birth certificate since Mimi wouldn’t help him, and that could take days. Luckily, he was somehow able to get what was called a “short copy” of the certificate by the weekend, so he could rush first thing Monday morning, the 15th, to the Passport Office. Cutting it close, as that was the morning they would be leaving. Even with the birth certificate, he had no parental permission, so he went into the office with no idea how they would respond to his application. Now John must have simply been the luckiest young man alive (or else these stories are just told in the most dramatic way possible - 😉) because the passport official he saw took into account his story of having a deceased mother and a wayward father and gave him a temporary passport that would expire in six months, at which time he would have to obtain the proper permissions. All was well.
A Third Amplifier
John had his Hofner Club Forty guitar, Paul had his new Rosetti Solid 7 guitar, George had his Futurama guitar, Stu had his Hofner 500/5 bass guitar, and Pete had his Premier drum kit. They also had Paul’s Elpico amplifier and the new Truvoice amplifier that they had just bought. But they would really need one more amp. In the midst of dealing with permissions and passports, John did find the time to head over to the Student Union of the Liverpool College of Art (Sulca). If you remember from earlier blog posts, both Stu and friend Bill Harry were on the Sulca committee, as was Bill’s cousin June. John convinced June to give him the key to the cupboard where they kept the Watkins Westminster amplifier that Sulca had bought for use of the house band, which our boys had been earlier in the year. They were likely they only ones who had ever used the amplifier. John told June that he would bring it back right away (I don’t know if he told her it was a two-month contract in Hamburg…). So The Beatles had their third amplifier.
Monday, August 15, 1960
The plan was to meet at The Jacaranda. Allan Williams would be accompanying The Beatles the whole way driving his Morris J2 Minibus. Paul, George, Stu, and Pete had said their goodbyes to their families and arrived on time. Now they just had to wait for John. There were actually four other passengers that would be making the trip. Williams’ wife Beryl was coming along as was her younger brother Barry Chang. And there was Harold Philips, better known as Lord Woodbine, the club owner friend of Williams who had gone along in January on Williams’ first trip to Hamburg. He also happened to own the club where our boys had recently performed backing that stripper. The fourth was going to be picked up in London. He was identified by Pete Best as an associate of Bruno Koschmider named George Sterner (Mark Lewisohn thinks it was more likely Steiner). John, of course, did show up, fresh passport in his hand, and the group of nine (which would become ten after picking up Sterner/Steiner) was off, with all of their belongings and equipment tied to the top of the minibus. The planned route would take them to London, then to Harwich to catch the ferry across to Holland. Then back into the mini-bus, through Arnhem and into Germany, with the final stop, of course, in Hamburg.
Clearly, sixty years later we all know exactly how important these events would be. In a certain sense, this was the beginning of a journey that would last for the better part of a decade. They were now John, Paul, George, Stu, and Pete. More importantly, the name was no longer in doubt. They were The Beatles. To them at the time, well, I’ll let Mark Lewisohn’s words from page 683 of his book listed below tell the story: “None of them knew. The Beatles wanted to rock and roll, they hungered to move on and try new things, they needed a way out, they all wanted to live and they loved the thought of going abroad…but as the minibus emerged from the Mersey Tunnel and Williams took the long A41 south, no one had the first idea what lay ahead.” Very nice, Mr. Lewisohn.
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 thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about the trip to Hamburg itself. Stay tuned!
A Little Background
Randolph Peter Scanland was born on November 24, 1941 in Madras, then part of British India. His father, Donald Scanland, was a marine engineer who died during World War II. His mother was Alice Mona Shaw, who was born in Delhi, India to Thomas and Mary Shaw. She was known as Mona, and she was a Red Cross trainee when she met Johnny Best. Best came from a family of sports promoters in Liverpool and was serving as a Physical Training Instructor in India. He was also Middleweight Boxing Champion of the Army. He and Mona were married on March 7, 1944, and Randolph Peter Scanland became Pete Best. In late 1945, the family, which by that time included Pete’s one-year old brother Rory, shipped out of India on the last British troop ship out, and arrived in Liverpool on Christmas Day.
Fast forward to 1957. I could, and maybe I will, say, in December, write a whole post sometime about Mona Best. She was a strong, independent, and ambitious woman and her story is deserving of its own movie! But in any case, the legend goes that Mona found out about a large Victorian house that was for sale at 8 Hayman’s Green in West Derby, Liverpool. She wanted the house, but Johnny was not as interested, so she pawned all of her jewelry and placed a bet on a horse, a 33-1 longshot called Never Say Die, which had been ridden by the legendary Lester Piggott in the 1954 Epsom Derby. With her winnings (what did you expect? 😉), she bought the house. Two years later, summer of 1959, Mona was inspired by the story of the 2i’s Coffee Bar in London and thought it would be a good idea to open a club in the basement of the house, a safe place for her sons to be surrounded by friends and music. And so The Casbah Coffee Club was born.
The Casbah Coffee Club
A short review if you need it. Mona had booked The Les Stewart Quartet to be the house band at The Casbah, but the band fell apart the week before the August 29, 1959 opening. One of the group’s guitarists, a 16-year old by the name of George Harrison, told Mona that she knew two other guys who could play and that they would be happy to take on the residency. So John, Paul, George, and another former member of The Les Stewart Quartet, Ken Brown, began playing Saturday nights at The Casbah as The Quarrymen. According to Roag Best, Pete’s youngest brother (who was born in 1962), The Quarrymen played a total of 13 times between August of 1959 and January of 1960 before a dispute over money (what else?) ended that relationship.
After the end of The Quarrymen’s residency, other bands, including Gerry and the Pacemakers and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, appeared at The Casbah. But there was a new group that was about to take over the position of house band. The Blackjacks were comprised of Bill Barlow, Chas Newby (whose name will come up again later), Ken Brown (once he left The Quarrymen), and a brand new drummer. This drummer had spent a lot of time watching bands play at The Casbah, and his mother had encouraged his musical interest by buying him a Premier drum kit for Christmas 1959. So Bill, Chas, Ken, and Pete Best spent a fun few months playing at The Casbah, but it was not to last. Bill and Chas would be heading to university and Ken was moving to London for a job. So by the summer of 1960, Pete was left to play the drums by himself.
This is Where We Left Off Last Week
I always like to get the timeline right, and as we left off last week, it was unclear when the idea of having Pete join came to our boys. Pete himself has said that he joined The Beatles on August 6, but let’s see what we’ve got: Pete’s memory was that by around June of 1960, members of The Beatles, starting with George, started showing up again at the Casbah, not to play, but to enjoy the company and the music. The Blackjacks were still playing at the club, so everyone clearly knew that Pete had become a drummer. On July 24, Allan Williams and Bruno Koschmider had entered into a contract to send bands to Hamburg. It is extremely likely that Williams had told our boys about it soon after, and possibly even mentioned that they would be considered. Of course, the contract stipulated that the groups be five-pieces, so The Beatles would have already known that they would need to find a new member, preferably a drummer if Paul had his way. These things were verified by Paul’s letter to #1 fan Pat Moran from August 7 (before Koschmider called Williams to find a second group!) in which he mentioned both the idea of finding a drummer and that the idea of Hamburg had come up.
Once our boys had agreed to go to Hamburg, it is said that at least two people were specifically approached to play drums and that an ad had been placed in The Liverpool Echo. I don’t think that is absolute evidence that they weren’t already thinking about Pete, it may just be that they didn’t want to take any chances with the short time they had to find someone. George said very simply in The Beatles Anthology that when the time came to find a drummer, he remembered about Pete and that was that (George would eventually take credit for thinking of Ringo, as well, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). 😉
A Phone Call from Paul
Most sources agree that it was on Friday, August 12 that Paul called the Best household and asked for Pete. He told Pete about the Hamburg contract and asked if he was interested. If so, he should bring his kit to The Blue Angel (owned by Williams) on Saturday to “audition.” Pete agreed. The audition really was a formality. Only one other person had been asked to apply (Black Velvets drummer Gerry Winstanley) and he had turned down the opportunity. Pete remembers that they played for about 20 minutes and he was told he was in. Allan Williams remembered that, not knowing anything about drummers, he just asked Pete to do a drum roll and then told him he was in. Williams apparently also said years later that they only made Pete audition to make it look like it was necessary in case he asked for more money. As for me, I just love the tweet that Pete posted earlier this year. Nice one, Pete! Well, no matter what the story, it is apparent that on Saturday, August 13, 1960, Pete Best officially became a member of The Beatles.
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 thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about the preparations for the trip to Hamburg. Stay tuned!
A Bleak Situation
The July 30 show at the Grosvenor Ballroom was the end of a busy couple of months for our boys. They had toured Scotland and started playing as many as three nights per week when they returned to Liverpool. But things were not looking as good for August. At this point, they had temporarily ended their drummer problems by simply forcing the job onto Paul. So they were a foursome, John, George, Stu, and Paul. Paul wrote, in an August 7 letter to #1 fan Pat Moran, “I’m on the drums now until we can find a reliable drummer,” and in a second letter the next day, “we were promised some tours of Scotland, road shows, trips to Hamburg and everything but we don’t believe a word of them…”
This situation for the four of them seemed pretty grim. None of them were in school anymore and none of them had jobs. They did have payments due on guitars and the new amplifier, but no way to pay. John and Stu were about to be evicted from the Gambier Terrace flat and had no prospects for where they would live. Their parents and guardians were beginning to pressure them about getting some type of employment somewhere. But John the Seer’s (or just John the Optimist’s) answer to the question “what are we going to do now?” never changed. “Something will happen.”
The one show that Allan Williams did get them was an August 6 performance backing a stripper at the Cabaret Artists Social Club (there may have been more than one show, different people have remembered it in different ways). Larry Parnes’ relationship with Williams had soured, as we talked about last week, so no more tours with Johnny Gentle (or any of Parnes’ other acts) were to be had, as Paul had eluded to in his letter. It was going to be up to Williams to find something new. Fortunately, Williams did have that little contract with Bruno Koschmider in his pocket. He just needed…something to happen…
The Phone Call
Bruno Koschmider happened to own a second bar, a transvestite cabaret, in Hamburg. It was called The Indra. Business was so good at The Kaiserkeller that Koschmider had decided to change the focus of The Indra to rock and roll. So he would need a second band, and how convenient was it that he had a contract with Allan Williams to provide English groups. He called Williams on or about August 8. Koschmider’s terms were specific. He needed a band to play a two-month residency starting on August 17. Oh, and the group had to be at least a five-piece. They could have a dedicated singer as well (as did Derry and the Seniors), but five was the minimum number of members (this was the case for both Derry’s group and The Jets).
Williams thought of three groups immediately. Cass and the Cassanovas and Gerry and the Pacemakers were both four-piece bands, and neither wanted to add an additional member. They also had some bookings already and some of their members had day jobs. Then there was Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. They were a five-piece. Perfect. But they were at Butlin’s until early September. Koschmider wasn’t willing to wait two additional weeks. So who else could there be? If only Williams knew of a band who needed money and someplace to live, and who were completely available because none of them had day jobs. Well, there was that one band, but they were a four-piece. Fortunately, their drummer wanted to be out front and play guitar instead, so our boys told Williams they would do it. They would be ready in a week and they would have a drummer.
How to Find Yet Another Drummer…
I’m pretty sure we all know what’s about to happen here. But it was not the most straightforward thing in the world. On Wednesday, August 10, seven days before they needed to be in Hamburg, there was a classified ad in the Liverpool Echo newspaper. It said: ‘DRUMMER, young, free’ and left a box number for replies. By Friday, the 12th, our boys had seen the ad and Paul responded, saying “we would like to offer you an audition for the position of drummer in the group.” It went on to lay out the details of the Hamburg contract. They would be leaving on Monday, the 15th, so they needed an almost immediate answer. It didn’t come. The drummer who had placed the original ad actually did respond, but not until after they had left. Interestingly, the identity of the drummer has not been widely known. In fact, Mark Lewisohn states that he did do an interview with him, but that he wanted to remain anonymous. There was, however, an interview in the Liverpool Weekly Star on December 17, 1964, in which a young man named Terry Hymans claimed to be the drummer in question.
There are several stories out there about people who were asked or were considered to take the position of The Beatles’ drummer. Rod Davis, original banjo player for The Quarrymen, remembered being asked by John if he played drums because they needed someone to take to Hamburg. In addition, Gerry Winstanley was the drummer for The Black Velvets. Winstanley’s brother-in-law worked with Paul’s father, Jim, and one thing led to another. He was offered the opportunity to audition on Saturday, August 13, but turned it down, apparently because he had never heard of The Beatles and didn’t like the name of the band.
Depending on who you ask, Pete Best may have been considered and was possibly even asked to be in The Beatles as early as August 6. The thing is, though, Allan Williams didn’t receive the call from Bruno Koschmider until August 8, which would mean that Pete was being considered before Hamburg was even a thing. That’s possible, but not how the story usually goes. Mark Lewisohn as well as David Bedford and Gary Popper place the historic phone call from Paul to Pete as coming on Friday, August 12. In any case, the five who were the first to really be known as The Beatles: John, Paul, George, Stu, and Pete, would leave for Hamburg the following Monday.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Special thanks to David Bedford and Gary Popper for their Finding the Fourth Beatle: The 23 Drummers Who Put the Beat Behind the Fab Three. And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be telling, in more detail, the story of one Pete Best, where he came from, and how he became a Beatle. Stay tuned!
Parnes vs. Williams
It had been a relationship that seemed so promising. Larry Parnes had been getting work for Allan Williams’ bands, both on tours and individual shows. But someone had to go and mess all that up. Who was it? Well, the story says that much of the blame could be aimed at Cass and the Cassanovas. They had already backed Billy Fury on tour and in July of 1960 were on tour backing Johnny Gentle, who our boys had backed in May. Apparently, they and Gentle didn’t get along at all. They demanded more stage time, treating Gentle more like he was backing them and not the other way around. They would also walk out of hotels demanding that the bill be sent directly to Larry Parnes.
Parnes was not happy. He sent angry messages to Allan Williams and ultimately made several deductions from his payment to Williams in order to settle the bills from the tour. The story has is that Williams told his secretary that he thought Parnes was a con man and that they would not work with him anymore. Parnes immediately cut all ties with Williams and terminated the contracts that were already in place. The biggest of these was the agreement that had been made for Derry and the Seniors to play a six-week residency in Blackpool during Parnes’ Idols on Parade series. The band had already made arrangements to make the trip, including some of them quitting their daytime jobs. Now they had no bookings and no employment.
Derry and the Seniors
Derry and the Seniors were a pretty popular band around Merseyside already. They were fronted by singer Derry Wilkie, and featured guitarists Brian Griffiths and Billy Hughes, bass player Phil Whitehead, piano player Stan Foster, drummer Jeff Wallington, and a saxophonist you may have heard of, Howie Casey, who went on to play with Paul on the Band on the Run album and toured with Wings during the 1970s. They were one of the bands who played the big Liverpool Stadium show in May featuring Gene Vincent and had been at the May 10 audition for Larry Parnes. Williams knew that he had to do something to help the band, and they were busy making sure that he knew. So around July 24, he drove the band to London to look up Williams’ friend Tom Littlewood, the manager of the 2i’s Coffee Bar. By coincidence, the stage was empty because the usual acts at the time, Lance Fortune, Keith Kelly, and Vince Taylor, were all on tour. So Derry and the Seniors could play! That little coincidence, though, was nothing compared the fact that there was another interesting person at the 2i’s that night.
“A Million to One Chance” – Allan Williams
If you remember our June 5 blog post (archived here), you will remember that The Jets, featuring Tony Sheridan, had gone straight from the 2i’s Coffee Bar to Hamburg. But their story didn’t end there. The Jets were unhappy with the pay and the accommodations, and as we talked about, in less than a month they had already become a huge audience draw. So naturally, a young club owner named Peter Eckhorn (whose name we will be seeing again) offered them more money and comfort if they would help open his new place, The Top Ten Club. They took the offer. That meant that Bruno Koschmider was in the position of having to find a new band to play at the Kaiserkeller. So guess who happened to be sitting in the 2i’s Coffee Bar when Derry and the Seniors started to play? I imagine you guessed right.
Koschmider and Williams had a very happy reunion, which became even better when Williams said the he represented Derry and the Seniors and that they were available. As for Koschmider, upon hearing them play, he decided that he like the band very much and was anxious to make a deal. Since Williams had gone to London with a mission to get work for Derry and the Seniors, he already had a contract in his briefcase. And so the two men followed through on the contract that they had talked about when Williams visited Hamburg in early February. Williams would provide as many English bands as Koschmider would need. The first would be Derry and the Seniors.
The New English Band at the Kaiserkeller
It was a two month contract starting in seven days, on July 31, 1960. Derry and the Seniors would play for a total of 30 hours per week with Mondays off. After Williams commission, they would be paid £90 per week to be split among the six of them. That £15 per week per person (they were also provided with barely habitable accommodations) would be close to £350 or $445 today. I suspect Paul paid Howie Casey somewhat more than that to tour with Wings…
The band made the trip to Hamburg the following week and like many people who arrived in Hamburg for the first time, they didn’t really know the city’s reputation like we all do now thanks to the stories of The Beatles playing there. As Howie Casey would say: “These naïve boys were being driven into this hell-hole of iniquity – it was marvelous.” Since we won’t really be talking a whole lot more detail about Derry and the Seniors in the future (there will be some mentions), just to finish the story about the first Liverpool band to be sent to Hamburg by Allan Williams…
The band did complete their contract at the Kaiserkeller, but were then returned to Liverpool in October because they did not have the work permits nor visas necessary to stay on. They went through some lineup changes and a name change in 1961 to Howie Casey and the Seniors (though Wilkie was still singing until 1962). They were also the first Liverpool group to release an album, Twist at the Top on Fontana Records. Unfortunately, it didn’t amount to much and the band finally broke up in mid-1962. Various members, including Wilkie, went on to some modest success, with Casey, of course, having the most noted career at least within the story of The Beatles.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about the little problems that our boys were facing as July turned to August, little knowing what we be in store in just a couple of weeks. Stay tuned!
In my time doing this project, I’ve learned quite a bit about music copyright law. I don’t know enough to be a lawyer, so don’t rely on any information here as being absolutely perfectly correct, this is just the way I happen to understand it. Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer! 😉The basics: as a general rule (because there are always little details that might change things), anyone can record a cover version of any song that has been released, and you cannot be turned down. You simply need to obtain a license, which can easily be done through several different agencies. When we do our cover songs and put them up on Soundcloud, we obtain our licenses through https://www.easysonglicensing.com/. I would recommend them to anyone. If you plan to release cover songs for sale on iTunes or wherever else, it is generally easier to go through someone like CD Baby or TuneCore, because they will not only place your song on those platforms, they will take care of the licensing. There are, of course, fees involved no matter how you do it, but they are surprisingly reasonable.
Now doing videos for cover songs is another story completely. Depending on what song you want to do and if you simply want to put up your own video on YouTube, that particular platform has protocols in place that use ad revenue to pay fees to the copyright holder, hence all of the ads you see when you watch something on YouTube. If you want wider distribution or are doing songs that YouTube cannot get permissions for, you have to negotiate directly with the copyright holder. Those songs that YouTube cannot get permissions for? If you do a video with those, it is likely to get banned in most countries, almost always including the UK and the US. And which songs are those? I’ll bet you can guess. Songs by The Beatles are at the top of the list.
So how many people follow these rules? Well, not very many who are just recording songs for fun or as a hobby. You can definitely find videos of people playing their own versions of Beatles songs all over YouTube as well as recordings of Beatles songs on Soundcloud, just like ours, and I assume they don’t generally get into trouble. I could be wrong. We made the decision before we started doing this to follow all of the rules, so we’re not taking any chances.
That brings up a big question. If anyone can record a cover version of a song virtually immediately after the original is released, why don’t tons of people do exactly that? Hey, Ariana Grande has a new song, let’s record a version and put it out to see how many sales we can get? Beyond the fact that modern media has made it possible for everyone to know who originally did any song, I think one obvious answer in these modern times is that songs don’t tend to sell without videos, and as I said above, it can be much harder to get the permissions in place to do a video. I would imagine that most copyright holders would make it prohibitively expensive to obtain those rights for a new song. But here’s the thing. Back sixty years ago, before videos, this practice was extremely commonplace.
Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini
In June of 1960, George Martin heard “Itsy Bitsy…” It was being released in the US by independent label Kapp Records, sung by 16-year old Brian Hyland. Martin correctly assumed that the song would be a huge hit, so within days he scored and recorded a version for Parlophone Records that was sung by 18-year old Paul Hanford. The rush release was put out in the UK on the same day that Decca Records, on behalf of Kapp, released the original version in the UK. Parlophone’s ads called the Hanford version “THE version of the new teenage novelty number.” There was nothing illegal about what Martin and Parlophone had done, but it caught the attention of the NME (New Musical Express) because it was not so much a re-worked cover version of the original song, it was almost exactly the same. To be fair, it was in a different key, had some slightly different background vocals, and added a more Latin bass and drum rhythm than the original, so…okay, who am I kidding, it’s really darn close. Compare for yourself:
The Hyland original - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICkWjdQuK7Q
The Hanford copy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZXHm3Y8vAM
The July 1 issue of NME chronicled the hasty release of the Hanford record (and had a full-page ad promoting it as well), and soon Melody Maker proposed a printed debate between Martin and DJ Pete Murray. Murray claimed Martin was guilty of “a shameful waste of his widely acknowledged skill.” The thing was, Martin didn’t disagree. His answer was “No A&R man worth his salt likes copying…he is paid to produce financially successful records. British artists must “cover” or be forced out of business. We are competing against the Americans on unequal terms.” It was a fair point. Major American labels were huge profit machines with huge amounts of money available to them. Martin concluded his argument by asking anyone who was reading to suggest ways something could be done about it.
Here’s the fact. If you look at the UK charts for 1960 (which we do every week), you’ll see that hardly a week goes by that there aren’t two and sometimes more versions of exactly the same song listed there. Anthony Newley’s UK #1 version of “Why” was on the chart at the same time as Frankie Avalon’s original from the US. Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ version of “You Got What It Takes” debuted on the UK chart the same week as Marv Johnson’s original version. I could continue for several more pages. As I said before, the practice was commonplace. Though I did not find a source to specifically state this, I have a feeling that Martin was willing to go along with the publicity over his “crime” at least partly in order to draw attention to the British recording industry and to promote British acts. Though Hanford’s version of “Itsy Bitsy…” did not ultimately appear at all on the UK chart, it did make the top ten in six countries, including Mexico, where it was Martin’s first #1 record. So he made at least a little progress.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks also to Kenneth Womack for his Maximum Volume: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin. And, of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about how Derry and the Seniors became the first Liverpool band to be sent to Hamburg by Allan Williams. Stay tuned!
As we’ve talked about before, for 12 weeks starting on June 5, 1960, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were the house band at Butlin’s Pwllheli. Pwllheli is a beach town in northwest Wales near where Cardigan Bay opens up into the Irish Sea. It’s about 100 miles west of Liverpool. For those of who may be unfamiliar with Butlin’s (likely American), I’ll try to give a very brief explanation (which I’ll likely get somewhat wrong since I’m more than likely American…) 😉.
Butlin’s is/was a chain of seaside holiday camps. The first camp was opened in Skegness, England, about 140 miles north of London, in 1936. This was followed by two more camps, located in Clacton and Filey. The three camps were turned over to military use during World War II. After the war, several more camps were added, including Butlin’s Pwllheli in Wales, which opened in 1947. Families would come for their summer holidays, generally for a week, and engage in water sports, music, stage shows, eating, drinking, playing pool and snooker, etc. If you want to know what it was like to be at Butlin’s, I would suggest that you get The Who’s Tommy movie and watch the section about Tommy’s Holiday Camp… 😊Disclaimer: For those of you who have not seen Tommy, that was just a silly little joke. Tommy’s Holiday Camp was a horrible place. Butlin’s was awesome!
The slogan at Butlin’s in the 1960s was “You’ll have a really wonderful time at Butlin’s by the sea.” And from all accounts, that was certainly true for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Johnny Guitar, he of the amazing diaries, had so much fun that he didn’t make a journal entry for the entire time they were there, from early June to early September of 1960. The set up was pretty simple. Rory had his own room. Johnny Guitar shared with bass player Lu Walters and Ringo shared with guitarist Ty Brian. They played three hour sets, six nights per week. They also served as the backing band for an hour every weekday afternoon at the Player’s Bachelor Starmaker Contest, which was exactly what it sounds like, an amateur singing contest.
We’ve talked a bit about Rory before, but just as a reminder, Rory was born Alan Ernest Caldwell on January 7, 1938 in Liverpool. He was a tremendous athlete who grew to 6 feet 2 inches tall, and competed at the very least in football (soccer), skating, swimming, and cross-country running. His athleticism was no surprise to anyone who saw him perform on stage. He would jump off pianos and anything else on stage, kick, put his head into the drum kit, anything to be a showman. Incidentally, on one particular evening at The Casbah Coffee Club, he jumped and put his head through the low stage ceiling. If you visit The Casbah, and you should, the hole is still there. What many may not know is that Rory had a speech impediment, a stutter so bad that his friends would joke that they wouldn’t let him buy rounds of drinks because it would take too long. But when he sang, the stutter went away completely. As you may know, this is not an unheard of occurrence. According to The Stuttering Foundation of America, several renowned singers have been stutterers, including Carly Simon, Bill Withers, and Nancy Wilson.
By the time they arrived at Butlin’s, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes had a pretty specific stage show set up. They played songs made famous by Elvis, The Everly Brothers, Conway Twitty, Eddie Cochran, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, and others. During the rockers, Rory would crash around all over the stage, but during the ballads, he would sit in a backwards chair and croon while combing his hair. I must say that the more I have learned about the Liverpool music scene in 1960, the more I think that if I could go back in time and see just one Liverpool band other than The Beatles sixty years ago, it would be Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, without a doubt.
Every night, as part of the Butlin’s show, Rory would at one point set up his microphone over the drums and announce “Starrtime!” before taking a little break. Most of the time Ringo would sing “Alley Oop,” the funny little novelty song by The Hollywood Argyles, whose version would make it to #24 on the UK charts during the summer of 1960. If you remember, the song is about the very popular comic strip character of the time (at least in the US), Alley Oop, a time-traveling caveman from the prehistoric town of Moo. Occasionally, Ringo would also be known to sing Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox,” which The Beatles would eventually record for the Something New album, with Ringo singing, of course.
As an aside here, I’ve seen Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band four times, once in Chicago, twice in Nashville, and one incredible time in Paris, at L’Olympia, where The Beatles did a week long residency in 1964 just before going to the US for the first time. One of the standards that he always does is “Boys,” and he tells a little joke beforehand, saying that he’s going to do a song he used to sing in a band he used to be in. He waits for the audience reaction (thinking he obviously means The Beatles) before saying: “Rory Storm and the Hurricanes!” So he may not have sung it at Butlin’s in 1960, but he certainly would later.
Anyway, back to Butlin’s. They lived a real rock star life that summer. They (especially Ringo) slept late, played music, drank a lot (well, Rory actually didn’t so much), gave autographs, and waited every Saturday for the new group of campers to come in for the week. As Ringo said on the Beatles Anthology DVD, “A new coachload of girls would arrive every week and we’d be like, ‘Hi, I’m with the band.’ It was paradise for that…it was growing up.” Maybe it’s a good thing Johnny Guitar wasn’t writing in his diary…
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And, of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about a little copyright trouble that George Martin had to work himself out of involving an itsy bitsy, teenie weenie, yellow polka dot bikini. Stay tuned!
If you remember, back on April 3, 2020 we wrote about The Forthlin Road recordings and especially about the tape that is supposed to have been recorded in April of 1960, generally known as the Kirchherr Tape. You can find the post at https://barmybeatleblog.com/f/the-forthlin-road-tapes. As a quick review, our boys recorded at least two rehearsals at Paul’s Forthlin Road house. Stories have it that there were as many as five people involved in the recordings: John, Paul, George, Stu, and Mike McCartney, who provided some percussion. The recordings were eventually compiled into as many as three tapes, complete with edits, fade ins, and fade outs. Two of the (possibly) three tapes have been bootlegged and are generally known as The Kirchherr Tape (supposedly recorded in April of 1960) and The Braun Tape (supposedly recorded in June or July of 1960). The third, if it really exists, is said to be in the possession of Paul and has never been heard by the public, even in bootleg form.
My personal opinion (for what it’s worth) is that there were actually several sessions. The number of players present varied. In April, George was still working a day job, so he would not have been there for any sessions during the day. Mike was just tagging along and not really a “member of the band,” so he was not always there. I promise that at some point I will write up a full analysis of where I believe each song on both available tapes falls into the timeline and how many players were present for each song. There are clues available. First, since Stu had only been playing bass for a short time you can hear an improvement in the quality of his playing as time goes by. In addition, we know exactly when certain pieces of equipment and guitars were obtained during the first half of 1960, so differences can be heard in that way as well. But for now, since we talked about The Kirchherr Tape in April, we’ll talk in more detail about The Braun Tape here.
The Braun Tape
The Braun Tape was so named because in 1961 it was given to and held for several years by Hans-Walther Braun, a friend of our boys whom they met in Hamburg. In its most commonly bootlegged form, it is slightly over an hour long and contains between 18 and 22 songs depending on how you count when the instrumental jams start and stop. Those instrumentals fall into the same category as a large portion of the Kirchherr Tape, they just sound like jam sessions to get some practice. The two main ones last about 12 minutes and 17 minutes long. I do believe right off that these were likely recorded later than the ones on the Kirchherr Tape, mainly because Stu’s bass playing is more complex, though certainly not perfect.
Of more interest to me about this tape is the fact that there are several songs on it that are not simply practice jams. Many of them are covers. These include “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” which ended up on Beatles Anthology I, “Matchbox,” “I Will Always Be In Love With You,” “The World is Waiting For the Sunrise,” “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin,” and “Wildcat.” Of the most interest, at least to me, are the six originals that appear on the tape. Two of them, “Some Days” and “You Must Write Every Day,” are basically fragments that could have been worked into complete songs, but in the end would never see the light of day. To hear them, you’ll need to track down the bootlegs. Another that seemed destined for the same fate was “You’ll Be Mine,” which is a hilarious send-up of The Ink Spots, sung mainly by Paul, but with a section in which John professes his love for a girl with a “National Health eyeball.” Fortunately for all of us, this recording made it onto Beatles Anthology I, so we can all enjoy our boys’ silliness. The remaining three are better known, though, of course, the versions we know don’t come from The Braun Tape.
Hello Little Girl
This was among the first songs that John wrote, in 1957, and was one that they played live regularly between 1960 and 1962. We wrote a whole post about the song on January 17, 2020 that you can find archived on this site! This version sounds much like a Buddy Holly song, but that would change over the years. There is a version on Beatles Anthology I that was recorded in January of 1962 as part of the audition for Decca Records. That one is far more upbeat. The Beatles never released it officially, but the song was ultimately given to The Fourmost in 1963, and that version, which sounds very much like The Beatles’ Decca version, went to #9 on the UK charts.
I’ll Follow the Sun
Did you know that this song was written so early? Paul dates it to around 1958. The version we all know, of course, was on Beatles For Sale in 1964, or if you were in the US, Beatles ’65. The Braun Tape version is not exactly the same as the version we all know, but it’s very much recognizable. It is quite a bit more upbeat than the final one, and there is very clearly someone “drumming.” It doesn’t sound like real drums. It could be someone (maybe Mike McCartney, though Mark Lewisohn thinks it’s John) slapping guitar cases or something with his hands. That’s just conjecture, by the way, it could have been just about anything.
One After 909
Two recordings of “One After 909” appear on The Braun Tape. And to my ears, they don’t sound like they were recorded around the same time. On the first, the sound quality is pretty rough. John and Paul’s vocals distort as if they were overwhelming the microphone. There are clearly two guitars but the bass is hard to hear. The second is only about half of the song, but recorded at a better level. The bass is easier to hear and clearly Stu, though not perfect, is much better than on the Kirchherr Tape. There is only one easily discernible guitar, but interesting, this time there are clearly drums of some type, whether there were actual drums or just guitar case slaps. Both of these versions are played in almost exactly the same way as we all know the song from the Let It Be album, and possibly the most enjoyable moment of The Forthlin Road tapes as a whole are John and Paul’s fantastic vocal harmonies.
I’ve said it before, but just to be repetitive (ha!), I don’t particularly think that most people, even Beatles fans, will find a whole lot to listen to on The Forthlin Road Tapes, especially the long instrumental jams. But from a historical perspective, they’re golden.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks also to https://earlybeatlessongs.weebly.com/, always a source of great information! And, of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post and leave a comment, even if it’s just to say “hello!” And sign up for notifications if you are so inclined. Next week we’ll be talking about how the summer of 1960 was going for Ringo and the rest of Rory Storm’s Hurricanes at Butlin’s. Stay tuned!