The Beatles 60 Years Ago - May 1962.
Charles “Chas” Newby was born in Blackpool, about 50 miles north of Liverpool by car, on June 18, 1941, exactly one year before Paul. He had played guitar and was the lead vocalist in The Blackjacks before Pete joined The Beatles, and had been a fan of The Quarrymen when they played at The Casbah. “It was all guitars, no drums, and they could all sing.” When George was deported from Hamburg, The Beatles asked Chas if he would come and take over. He replied that he could only give them two weeks of his time during Christmas vacation, as he was in college. As it turned out, The Beatles found themselves back in Liverpool in December, and it wasn’t George who was missing from the band, it was Stu. Newby agreed to sit in on bass as much as they needed him until the new year.
Newby ended up playing four shows as a member of The Beatles. He had to borrow a bass guitar (Stu’s was still in Hamburg), which was right-handed, and Newby is a leftie, so he had to play it upside-down. He also had to make a quick adjustment to The Beatles’ stomping style. He would later say about the shows, “I remember them vividly. It used to make my feet ache with all the stamping we had to put into the act, but I loved every minute.” Great memories to have. He played with The Beatles twice at The Casbah, on December 17 and December 31, and once at the Grosvenor Ballroom, on December 24. But it sure must have been incredible to be a part of one show, on December 27, that is legendary in Beatles history.
Litherland Town Hall – December 27, 1960
As you may remember, The Beatles were very lucky to be allowed to play this particular show. The promoter was Brian Kelly, whom our boys had angered back in May of 1960 by missing a show at Lathom Hall, forgetting to tell him that they were going on a tour of Scotland backing Johnny Gentle. Kelly was persuaded to put them on the bill by Bob Wooler, former associate of Allan Williams and friend to The Beatles, who had recently taken a position as Kelly’s general manager. He had room for another band on the bill anyway. The Beatles would be appearing with The Deltones and The Del Renas. They would play for half an hour and be paid £6 in total (about £115 or $150 today).
Wooler was in charge of running the show. He told our boys that they were to pay attention to “impact, immediacy, and impression.” They would be announced with the curtain closed and begin playing as it opened. How they were announced? “Direct from Hamburg! The sensational Beatles!” They wore leather jackets, black drainpipe jeans, pink caps, and gold and silver cowboy boots. No ties! As the curtain opened, they were playing and stomping to “Long Tall Sally.” No one had seen anything like it.
The show was advertised as and intended to be a dance. The two other bands were very much dance bands, but no one danced when The Beatles played. As Bob Wooler would remember about the audience, “They were transfixed…They hadn’t seen or heard anything like it before. I’d never seen anything like it. The Beatles were sensational…People went crazy for the closing number, “What’d I Say.” Paul took the mic off the stand, shed his guitar, and did fantastic antics all over the stage. They were stomping like hell and the audience went mad!” Adding to the chaos was the confusion over where they were from. As John would remember in an interview with Mersey Sound in 1963, “They all thought we were German. We were billed as ‘from Hamburg,’ and they’d all say ‘You speak good English.”
My favorite reaction to the night comes from Bobby Thompson, guitarist of King Size Taylor and the Dominoes, who happened to be at the dance. From an interview with Spencer Leigh, “The place went bananas. I’ve never seen a reaction like it…You could see that they were going to be so big, you could taste it, and I wanted them to be. It was a funny feeling for blokes to want that…Everybody just literally loved them; it was an unbelievable experience.”
In the audience was a young promoter named Dave Forshaw. He made his way into The Beatles’ dressing room and immediately got them to agree to three upcoming dates. Kelly got wind of this and sent bouncers to guard the dressing room until the ballroom was empty, so that he could have a chat with the boys. Bob Wooler wasn’t even allowed into the room; Kelly wanted them all to himself. He wanted to talk dates. John, Paul, and George weren’t so interested in dealing with the details, so it was Pete who took care of business. They were booked solid for the next three months at every one of Kelly’s jive dance events. Ultimately, in the first three months of 1961 they would play close to 90 shows, booked by Kelly and others, often playing more than one show in a day.
Some of the legendary status of the Litherland Town Hall show can be attributed to articles that were written for Mersey Beat in 1961. One article, titled “The Man Who Discovered The Beatles” was made up of quotes by Brian Kelly, in which he told the story of booking the group for the big show. He said, “On their first appearance I was completely knocked out by them. They had a pounding, pulsating beat which I knew would be big box office.” Bob Wooler wrote an article in the same magazine in which he remembered the “fantastic night” and continued that The Beatles had “resurrected original style rock’n’roll music…when it had been emasculated by figures like Cliff Richard and sounds like…The Shadows and their many imitators.”
It should be noted that Mersey Beat was run by Bill Harry, who had been at Liverpool College of Art with John and Stu and knew them well. Helps to have connections! But in any case, 1960 had been a huge year for The Beatles, starting with no drummer, followed by Scotland and Hamburg, and ending with the Litherland show. Things were still just getting going. As for Chas Newby, he would go back to college and eventually become a math teacher. He currently plays left-handed bass in The Quarrymen with original members Colin Hanton, Len Garry, Rod Davis, and Duff Lowe, and he has played with The Racketts, a 60s cover band that plays charity events.
Next week we’ll be previewing Beatles life in 1961, the next chapter in this 60 Years Project. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
“Mo threw the pebble, that made the ripple, that caused the wave, that shook the world.” – Roag Best
Every story, of everything and everyone, is made up of countless components. If one thing hadn’t happened, then another thing wouldn’t have happened, then another thing, and on and on ad infinitum. It’s just that some stories are more well-known than others. In the story of The Beatles, those things that happened, one after another, some related to each other, some not, added up to one of the most remarkable stories ever told. It is commonplace for people to suppose that if one particular thing, whichever one they choose, had not happened, that The Beatles would never have been the phenomenon that they were. How true is that? It’s impossible to say. Are some particular events more important than others? Who knows? But it’s hard to deny that the events of their lives, when put together, seem to make a perfect storm. A not so insignificant player in that storm was Mona Best.
We have talked about Mona Best a few times in the past. She was born and grew up in India, where her first two sons, Pete and Rory, were born. Everyone on the family, including her sons, called her “Mo.” The family, including her husband, Johnny Best, moved to Liverpool around Christmas of 1945. In 1954, she bought a house at 8 Hayman’s Green in West Derby, Liverpool, using winnings from a bet on a horse named Never Say Die, which won as a 33:1 longshot. In August of 1959 she opened The Casbah Coffee Club in the basement of that house, and the first house band was The Quarrymen, featuring John, Paul, George, and Ken Brown, all on guitars and vocals.
Mona was a shrewd and fair businesswoman, but the opening of The Casbah was not solely a business venture. Mona had a very close relationship with her sons and they idolized her. As Pete would say, “she is a marvelous champion of a woman who let me choose my own path in life and has supported me like a pillar whether times have been good or bad.” She was extremely supportive of her sons’ interest in music. When Rory admired George’s Futurama guitar, Mona bought him one. When Pete showed an interest in playing the drums, she bought him his first kit.
The Casbah became extremely popular very quickly. In order to stay open late, Mona had to register the venue as a private club and sell memberships. They had soon sold 2000. While The Casbah was open, artists such as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Derry and the Seniors, The Searchers, Cilla Black, and Gerry and the Pacemakers all played there. During the Spring of 1960, the house band was The Blackjacks, featuring Mona’s eldest son, Pete Best, on drums. When Pete was asked to join The Beatles and go to Hamburg in August of 1960, Mona was again, completely supportive. She told Pete “Hamburg’s a wild town. Watch your step, Peter! You’ll probably come back educated – a further education of a different type!” Indeed.
As we talked about last month, when The Beatles made their way back to Liverpool in early December of 1960, some of their equipment, including Pete’s drums, were left behind. Mo was immediately on the phone to Peter Eckhorn at The Top Ten Club in Hamburg to make arrangements to have the equipment shipped to Liverpool. She paid for the shipping and helped retrieve the massive crate when it arrived, the week before Christmas of 1960. The Beatles, meanwhile, would need some gigs if they were going to remain a band, so Mo booked them for two shows at The Casbah. The least she could do for her son!
She wasn’t done by simply having The Beatles play at The Casbah, either. As we’ll be talking about over the next few months, our boys found themselves in great demand as 1961 progressed. Pete was generally the one who handled the bookings for the band, but if he wasn’t available, Mo would take care of them. All of The Beatles’ equipment was stored at The Casbah and it was Casbah employees who transported the band and equipment to their gigs. In addition, The Casbah itself was too small to hold the audiences that wanted to see the bands that she had playing there, The Beatles and others. So Mo started up Casbah Promotions and became the first woman rock promoter in Merseyside. Using the same bands that regularly played at The Casbah, Mo set up shows at dance halls and larger clubs. The first “Casbah Promotion” was held on February 17, 1961 at St. John’s Hall in Tuebrook, Liverpool, and featured The Beatles along with Gene Day and the Jango Beats.
How important was Mo to The Beatles career? Well… If you’re not familiar with a map of Liverpool, you should know that The Casbah is located in West Derby, a suburban area almost five miles from Liverpool’s city centre. It occurred to Mo that The Beatles could reach a larger audience on a regular basis if they could play closer to the city centre. With that in mind, she contacted Ray McFall, the owner of a jazz club that, due to a decline in attendance, had started booking beat groups for lunch sessions. That club happened to be called The Cavern. McFall told her that he would ask Bob Wooler what he thought. A stroke of luck, since as you may remember from last week, Wooler was a friend of The Beatles who had worked for Allan Williams and was currently working for Brian Kelly, who had booked our boys to play at Litherland Hall on December 27. And so The Beatles began what would end up being a total of 292 performances at the legendary Cavern Club. Thanks, Mo!
As if she weren’t busy enough with her club and her promotions, Mo was busy with Pete making arrangements for The Beatles to get back to Hamburg. This wouldn’t be straightforward. Peter Eckhorn was enthusiastic about the group starting a residency at his Top Ten Club in April of 1961, but Paul and Pete had “criminal records” to deal with. Eckhorn and Mo, along with Pete, were instrumental in negotiating with the German authorities, and in the end, Bruno Koschmider decided not to pursue the charges against young McCartney and Best. Mo and Eckhorn were free to work out all of the correct paperwork this time, including the work permits that Koschmider had never obtained for them during their runs at The Indra and The Kaiserkeller in 1960.
There will be a lot more about Mona Best to talk about as we get through the next year and a half. I do want to say that if you really want to know what it was like for the young Beatles in Liverpool, you can, and should, visit The Casbah Coffee Club, which remains open for tours and the occasional show: https://www.petebest.com/casbah-coffee-club/. And don’t miss the affiliated Liverpool Beatles Museum: https://liverpoolbeatlesmuseum.com/. I’ve been to both (The Casbah twice!) and will always go back if I ever get a chance to get back to Liverpool.
Next week we’ll be talking about one of the most important shows in Beatles history, December 27, 1960 at Litherland Town Hall. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Most special thanks to Roag, Pete, and Rory Best for their The Beatles: The True Beginnings. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
“When George and Paul found out [I was home] they were mad at me because they thought we could have been working.” – John, in a 1980 interview in Newsweek magazine.
On December 15, 1960, George walked into The Jacaranda in order to pick up a letter from Stu. There he found John. John had been home for about a week without any contact. By that time, Paul and Pete had been home for about two weeks, and George for possibly three. So it is definitely believable that they may have been somewhat perturbed that John had made them wait. But since George and Pete had already started trying to see if they could get some gigs lined up, the fact that John was back was exciting. George picked up his letter from Stu and immediately wrote back his own four pager. He implored Stu to hurry back to Liverpool so that they wouldn’t have to find a new bass player. He would go on to say:
“I would like to have the whole group appearing for our first few bookings at least, so as to go down well from the start. So how about coming home, son? Wouldn’t it be good, Astrid’s first Christmas in England!”
The fact was, Stu wasn’t going to come back that soon, so they felt that they needed to find someone to take his place for the time being. They approached Johnny Gustafson of Cass and the Cassanovas to become a temporary bass player, but he refused. So the job went to Chas Newby, formerly of Pete’s band, The Blackjacks. The newest formation of The Beatles: John, Paul, George, Chas, and Pete, would get their first chance to play on December 17 at The Casbah Coffee Club. Mona Best was very happy to give her son’s band that opportunity. Stu’s bass guitar was still in Hamburg (along with Paul and Pete’s equipment, soon to be shipped), so Chas, who normally played guitar, had to borrow a bass. The thing was, Chas was left-handed, so he had to play the borrowed bass upside down. And yes, the joke has been made that Chas Newby was the first left-handed bass player in The Beatles (and his birthday is the same as Paul’s, June 18, but a year earlier). Of course, he knew he was a temp, but still. Ha!
Paul and Pete also had to find equipment to use, and they were lucky enough to be able to borrow what they needed from Gene Day and the Jango Beats. They had one quick rehearsal and were ready to go. Neil Aspinall, Pete’s best friend (and name we’re going to see a lot from now until the end of this “60 Years Project”) made a poster promoting The Return of The Fabulous Beatles. They did their Hamburg show. Stomping and rocking. Those who had seen them before in Liverpool were amazed. As Aspinall said in an interview with Mark Lewisohn: “And wow, they were so @#$%^&’ good!” Pete would remember: “When we finished the first number the place went into rapture, it just exploded.” It was a great homecoming. And they would plan to play at the Casbah New Year’s Eve show. But what they really needed to do was find more dates outside of the safety of their home club.
Enter Bob Wooler. Wooler had become a leader of the charge of Liverpool bands in the last couple of years, serving as a DJ and master of ceremonies at top events. Wooler had worked with Allan Williams on the opening of Williams’ newest club, his own Top Ten Club in Liverpool that would partner with its namesake in Hamburg. Unfortunately, that club had burned down a week after it opened earlier in December. Through his affiliation with Williams, Wooler was very well aware of the reputation The Beatles had earned in Hamburg, and he had told George that he would be very interested in getting them some work through his new position as general manager of Beekay Productions.
But there was the problem. Beekay Productions was owned by one Brian Kelly. If you remember, back in May of 1960, The Beatles had gone on a Scottish tour with Johnny Gentle. In their rush to get ready for the tour, they failed to inform the promoter of their scheduled performance at Lathom Hall in Seaforth that they would have to cancel that date as they would be in Scotland. The promoter responsible for that show was…Brian Kelly. Kelly had told them that he would never book them again. It took quite a bit of persuasion from Wooler to convince Kelly to give them another chance. In the end, he allowed them a spot, adding them to the bill at Litherland Town Hall on December 27. That show would be extremely important in getting The Beatles back on the track that they had started down in their time playing in Hamburg.
In the meantime, in the week after the Casbah show of December 17, Peter Eckhorn came through for our boys. The crate containing Paul’s and Pete’s gear showed up. Mona and Pete picked up the contents and took it all back to The Casbah. It was just in time for them to play a show that Allan Williams had been able to set up for them at The Grosvenor Ballroom in Liscard on December 24. This was the same venue at which they had played ten shows June and July, right before getting ready for Hamburg. Many of those dates had been played without a permanent drummer, but now they had Pete and a lot more experience. They were to play this Christmas show on a double bill with Derry and the Seniors.
In George’s letter to Stu from mid-December, he mentioned that they had gigs set up for Christmas Eve (the Grosvenor show) and New Year’s Eve (at The Casbah – the December 17 show was sudden and hadn’t been agreed to yet). But he also mentioned that there was a show scheduled for Boxing Day, December 26. Unfortunately, no source seems to have any knowledge of where that show may have been or if it actually happened at all. George didn’t mention the name of a venue, so there’s no help there. It is also extremely unlikely that he could have mistaken a Boxing Day show with the Litherland show on December 27, simply because of the extreme unlikelihood that The Beatles had been added to that show by December 16, the date of the letter. So maybe there was something that fell through, maybe Wooler or Williams had mentioned a date they would try to pick up, or maybe he was just mistaken. In the end, if they did play a Boxing Day show, it had nothing like the impact the December 27 Litherland show would have on their careers. In a couple of weeks we’ll be dedicating an entire blog post to that one event.
Next week we’ll be talking about the incredible Mona Best and her importance to The Beatles’ story. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
We’re On Our Way Home
George was, possibly, the first one back to Liverpool, though there is information out there that Paul and Pete may have beaten him, considering they got to fly. George had been deported from Germany for being underage on or somewhat after November 21, 1960. By train, ferry, and taxi, with his guitar, amplifier, and all of his other belongings (too much for him to carry, he would say), he had just barely had enough money to make it. He would say in The Beatles Anthology, “I got home penniless. It took everything I had to get back.” He had also told Hunter Davies, “I felt ashamed after all the big talk when we set off for Hamburg.” His mother Louise was away in Canada visiting George’s sister Louise and other family members. She wouldn’t be home for another five months. So George had come home to his father, Harry, and his brothers, Harry and Peter.
Paul and Pete had had a little bit more luxurious trip home than George, only because they were put on a plane by the German authorities who were deporting the “arsonists,” and they had no luggage, only the clothes on their backs. They arrived at London Airport (now known as Heathrow) on December 2 and took the courtesy bus to Kensington. From there, they used most of their remaining money to take the Tube (London Underground) to Euston Station. The last of their money, according to Pete, went for tea and coffee. They didn’t have nearly enough cash to purchase train tickets to Liverpool. They each had to phone their respective parents, reversing the charges, and ask for train fare to be wired to the Euston Station Post Office.
By the time the money arrived, the train tickets were purchased, and they made their way back to Liverpool Lime Street Station, it was around 2am on Saturday, December 3, 1960. They took taxis home, which had to be paid by their parents upon their arrivals. Paul’s brother Mike remembered that Paul was full of stories about what a great time they had in Hamburg, but he and their father noticed immediately after Paul sat down on the couch that Paul’s legs were “as thin and white as Dad’s pipe cleaners.” Pete shocked his mother, Mona, quite a bit upon his arrival. He was wearing his leather jacket, jeans, and cowboy boots. “What an object of art!” was Mo’s reaction. Pete says that she thought he was “a real figure of despair.”
Plans of Action
For Paul, the plan was pretty simple. Father Jim told him that he had to get a job. Paul was sent to the Labour Exchange and picked up a £10 per week holiday job with SPD (Speedy Prompt Delivery) as the second man on a delivery truck (the one who does the package dropping off work as opposed to the driving). George, excited that Paul and Pete were back and somehow able to avoid having to get a job, simply wanted to start playing again. George and Pete actually began to search for places they might be able to play, in addition to Mona’s Casbah Coffee Club, of course, where they would obviously be welcome. All they needed was for John and Stu to get back.
Now Pete and Mona were on a mission. Paul and Pete’s equipment remained at The Top Ten Club in Hamburg and they really needed it back. Well, at least Pete did. Paul’s guitar was still a piece of junk, though to be fair, his Elpico amplifier was also still there, and to give you an idea of how much he loved that amp, he still has it and sometimes uses it to this day. In any case, Pete and Mona contacted Peter Eckhorn at The Top Ten Club and he was delighted to package up all of the equipment and send it. It cannot be overstated how lucky it is that The Beatles had moved their gear out of The Kaiserkeller and into The Top Ten Club just a couple of days before Paul and Pete were deported. Imagine how hard, if not impossible, it would have been to get Bruno Koschmider to send anything back to Liverpool. Eckhorn packaged everything up and delivery was scheduled for before Christmas. The invoice was sent straight to Mona.
As we talked about last week, Stu was allowed to stay in Germany until January if he wanted, but John was forced to leave, which he did on December 7, and arrived back in Liverpool only five or six days after Paul and Pete. His trip home had been more like George’s. He carried an amplifier on his back and a guitar in one hand, with what belongings he had left in the other. He had sold some clothes in order to have enough money for the trip, and made his way back by train, ferry, and taxi. When he reached Mendips in the middle of the night, he threw stones at Aunt Mimi’s bedroom window to get her to come down. As Mimi would remember, “He had those awful cowboy boots on, all gold and silver. He just pushed past me and said ‘Pay that taxi, Mimi!’ I shouted after him ‘Where’s your £100 a week, John…and you can get rid of those boots. You’re not going out of this house in boots like that.’”
Cynthia Lennon said that John was “dispirited” upon returning from Hamburg. He felt he had “no prospects and no idea what to do next. As far as he knew, it might be the end of the road for The Beatles.” In a 1976 interview with Eliot Mintz, John said about his feelings upon his return, “Is this what I want to do? Is this it? Nightclubs? Seedy scenes? Being deported? Weird people in the clubs? I thought hard about it. Should I continue doing this?”
John spent almost all of his time the following week with Cyn. There were continued blow-ups with Mimi, including one in which she screamed at John for buying a coat for Cyn, saying that he had spent all of his money on a “gangster’s moll.” John’s depressed state was such that he didn’t actually contact Paul, George, and Pete at all after returning to Liverpool. The first contact he had with any of them was a week later when George walked into The Jacaranda to retrieve a letter from Stu, only to discover John sitting at a table. And so the decisions about how to, or whether to, move forward could begin.
Next week we’ll be talking about our boys regrouping to play some shows, with a new bass player! Nope, not Paul! As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Hunter Davies for his The Beatles. Special thanks to Cynthia Lennon for her John. And special thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
Bruno Koschmider Explodes
This one is going to be longer than usual, and it’s going to get a bit complicated. All of the basic things I’m about to lay out are confirmed by various sources, but the exact details and especially the exact dates can be a bit questionable. So this is the best I can come up with 😉. As we’ve talked about, Bruno Koschmider, owner of The Indra and The Kaiserkeller, had disliked The Beatles’ behavior from the beginning, and he had been compiling a list of specific complaints about them for about a month, just in case he needed it. It had started with their refusal to lower the volume at The Indra, even at the risk of the club being closed down by the authorities, which is exactly what happened. Then there was the fact that The Beatles were always complaining about their accommodations at The Bambi Kino. Such a thorn in his side! Though the audiences didn’t seem to mind, Koschmider was very much offended by The Beatles, especially John, making fun of the audience by calling them Nazis, and even doing a Hitler impression. Koschmider had started compiling the list of complaints after John had mooned the audience during one performance.
The last couple of straws happened around mid-November 1960. The Beatles and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes had been playing alternating sets at The Kaiserkeller since early October. As we talked about last week, they had a little competition to see who could break the stage first. Rory won that contest and was banned from the club, and Bruno was getting very close to his wit’s end. He couldn’t really blame The Beatles for that one (actually, he could have, they were in on the contest, but Koschmider may not have realized what the entire situation was). Afterwards, however, The Beatles did the one thing that the club owner wasn’t willing to forgive.
In the original contract between Bruno Koschmider and The Beatles, no specific mention was made of whether or not The Beatles were allowed to play anywhere else. But there was apparently a verbal agreement that they wouldn’t play anywhere within 30 miles of Hamburg. It wasn’t just paranoia that made that item so important to him. The first English group Koschmider signed to play at The Kaiserkeller, The Jets, had broken their contract with him in order to play at Peter Eckhorn’s Top Ten Club. It is a wonder that Koschmider didn’t add that particular provision into new contracts in writing, but it is what it is. Incidentally, Koschmider himself was in violation of his contract with The Beatles, which DID specifically state, in writing, that he would obtain work permits for our boys. He never did.
If you remember, after Rory Storm was banned from The Kaiserkeller, sometime around November 16, he started hanging out at The Top Ten Club and he sometimes took the stage with Tony Sheridan and The Jets. Around that same time (it is unclear whether it was after that or somewhat before), The Beatles also started spending some of their off time at The Top Ten Club. They, too, would sometimes be invited up to the stage to play with Sheridan.
Remember George Steiner? He was the young man whom Allan Williams had picked up in London when The Beatles were first being taken to Hamburg in August. He had been hired by Koschmider as a waiter and interpreter, but he was also heavily involved in Koschmider’s plan to journal The Beatles’ transgressions. He informed the club owner that our boys had been not only spending time at The Top Ten Club, but had sometimes been performing with Sheridan. According to Pete, he confronted Steiner, saying “You’re supposed to be our friend. Come on, let’s have a go!” In Pete’s words, he “flattened” Steiner. Koschmider was furious. As far as he was concerned, it was time to take action.
George Gets Deported
Yeah, George was deported for being underage. It’s a pretty well-known story. Very simple, right? But in actuality, there are a few things to unpack here. Most importantly, why then? We’ve talked about some of this before, but to recap: The Beatles had been playing in Hamburg for over three months. The contract that The Beatles had signed with Koschmider included the birth dates of each band member, and that information had supposedly been provided, in August, to the Fremdenpolizei (the aliens police), so it wasn’t a secret to them. So could it be that the authorities had just gotten around to checking out the paperwork? Mark Lewisohn doubts that. He suggests that it would be very unlike the German authorities to be so inefficient. Is it possible that the Fremdenpolizei assumed that it would get sorted out when work permits were applied for? Maybe. Of course, Koschmider never put in those applications. Still, that explanation seems somewhat unlikely to me, though possible.
The details at this point are cloudy. Pete said that “the cops suddenly took an interest in George Harrison, discovering that he was still only seventeen.” According to Philip Norman, after “conducting a belated examination of George Harrison’s passport,” the police discovered he was underage. It has been suggested that Koschmider had initially made a deal with the authorities to ignore George’s age, possibly with some type of payoff. And though his reasoning for that may have originally been to protect his own interests in having a full, working band, it could be that he suddenly found himself with some solid evidence he could pull out of his bag of tricks if and when he needed it. If it is correct that Koschmider was using his first card against The Beatles by telling the authorities to go after George, my question is “why?” Did he think that losing George would calm the rest of the group down, or did he expect that they would just leave if they lost one of their members. Of course, it really could just have been acting out in anger, considering that his contract with The Beatles ended on November 30 anyway, in just nine days.
But the rest of The Beatles didn’t leave. Again, unclear what the real story is, but there are suggestions that George actually played a few nights after being caught for being underage, but on those nights he had to stop playing and leave at 10pm. Most sources seem to agree that he was ultimately deported on November 21 (some exciting news appears to be on the way about these details!),and that he and John had spent hours after their show of the 20th with George teaching John lead guitar parts. Why not Paul? Well, remember, Paul’s Rosetti Solid 7 guitar was junk and didn’t work half the time. John, Paul, Stu, and Pete, not knowing if their time was also going to be limited, actually did spend some time trying to convince Chas Newby, formerly of Pete’s band, The Blackjacks, to come over to Hamburg and join them (his name will come up again soon!). Ultimately, on November 21, Astrid and Stu drove George to the train station and he began his trip back home to Liverpool.
Showdown with Bruno
On November 27, 1960, Paul wrote a letter to #1 fan Pat Moran in Liverpool. In it, he said “all sorts of things have been happening here, but they’re too complicated and too many of them to mention.” Indeed. The four Beatles (John, Paul, Stu, and Pete) had continued playing at the Kaiserkeller without George and still spent their off time at The Top Ten Club. Their relationship with club owner Peter Eckhorn had been growing, and he had offered them the opportunity to start playing at his club when their contract ended with Bruno Koschmider. This had apparently been in the works even before George left, seeing that they had asked Chas Newby to join them, which would have been unnecessary if they were planning to leave Hamburg after the 30th.
Koschmider, still incensed about The Beatles appearances at The Top Ten Club, showed up at the end of the night at The Kaiserkeller, apparently also on November 27. He insisted that our boys sign a document stating that they would not play at another club in December. According to Pete, Koschmider gave them the option of either signing the document or not being able to play due to the condition their fingers would be in. Pete said that Koschmider promised “If you leave me you’ll never play The Top Ten. You can take that any way you like. My boys know how to create trouble!” As you may imagine, our boys called what fortunately turned out to be his bluff. John told Koschmider, “Get stuffed! We’re off to The Top Ten.” And so off they went. They would be welcomed by Tony Sheridan and Peter Eckhorn and even given a place to sleep. But first they had to retrieve their belongings. Instruments were one thing, they could simply carry them from The Kaiserkeller to The Top Ten Club. But they still had clothes and other things at the Bambi Kino, and so the story continues…
Paul’s first time in Jail
John was able to quickly get everything he needed and head towards their new home. But Paul and Pete, if you remember, lived in that tiny room with no light. As Pete would say, “we had to scramble our goods and chattels together in the pitch darkness.” Solution? They pinned four condoms to the wall outside their room and lit them. Enough light was provided for very little time, but enough for them to get out. The stone wall escaped with a couple of scorch marks.
November 28, 1960 must have been a pretty pleasant day for The Beatles. They were out of The Kaiserkeller and in nicer accommodations. Stu and Astrid announced their engagement. Our boys were able to play that evening at The Top Ten Club, and even began working out a contract with Peter Eckhorn to play at his club through December and then start a contract in April of 1961. That contract included George’s name, since he would be 18 at that point, so things were looking up. But Bruno Koschmider wasn’t done quite yet.
A quick inspection of The Bambi Kino had revealed the scorch marks. Koschmider called the police, demanding The Beatles be charged with arson. According to Pete, on the morning of November 29, they were awakened by two “gorilla-like cops.” John, Paul, and Pete were arrested. Stu was living with Astrid, but when he arrived at The Top Ten Club and discovered what was happening he turned himself in. John and Stu were released within a few hours after the authorities had somehow determined that the only two criminal parties were Paul and Pete. Stu had written a “confession” in which he stated he knew nothing about the fire. Why John was ruled out is pretty much unknown. Of course, the authorities had gotten it right.
Our two naughty boys were officially charged with arson and taken to the main Hamburg prison, where they spent the night. Next, they were marched to the front of the prison and put into a car. This time they were taken to the airport. The police gave them their passports and told them “You’re going home, courtesy of the German government. And you can never come back to Germany again!” They were marched to the gate, and Paul was able to make a quick phone call to the British Consul. They were being deported without their belongings, including their instruments, which were still at The Top Ten Club. He was told that they should take the flight and file a protest from home.
Just for the sake of complicating things 😉, the dates here may not be exactly accurate. Pete has actually also said that when they were arrested, it was “early December and an icy winter’s morning…” Mark Lewisohn has said that the day they were sent home, therefore at least a day and maybe more after the arrest, was December 1. Little details, right? Just another example of how people remember things differently. In any case, by early December George, Paul, and Pete were all back in Liverpool, leaving John and Stu in Hamburg.
John and Stu: December in Hamburg
One result of their run-in with the authorities was that John and Stu were required to apply for work and residence permits if they wanted to stay in Hamburg. Having done that, they were told they would be interviewed on December 6. They spent the next few days hanging out between Astrid’s house and The Top Ten Club. John, along with Rory Storm, who was also just kind of hanging out at the club, would join Tony Sheridan onstage for a few songs. When interview day came, the results were not particularly good. John and Stu would not be allowed to work. Stu would be allowed to stay temporarily, but John would have to leave by December 10. It doesn’t seem clear why that decision was made. The best I can guess is that Stu had a permanent passport, while John’s was a six-month temporary passport that would expire in less than three months. But it could also be that the interviews were done by two different officials who just made two different decisions. Unknown.
No matter what the reasoning, that was it for John. The following day, December 7, 1960, he sold off some of his clothes to pay for his transportation back to Liverpool by trains and boat, grabbed his Rickenbacker guitar and his new Fender Vibrolux amplifier, and set off for home. Meanwhile, all of Paul’s and Pete’s equipment was still at The Top Ten Club. Stu remained with Astrid. They had some plans to make, after all. He decided that he would head back to Liverpool in January, but with the Top Ten Club contract in place starting in April and Astrid waiting for him, he knew he would be back in Hamburg by Spring whether he was a member of The Beatles or not. And that remained to be seen.
Next week we’ll be talking about what The Beatles were up to after they returned to Liverpool. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Philip Norman for his Shout! Thanks to Andy Babiuk for his Beatles Gear. Special thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. And of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
A Pleasant Relationship
By mid-November of 1960, The Beatles and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes had been playing back to back sets six nights per week at The Kaiserkeller for about six weeks. Rory and his group had come to Hamburg believing themselves to be the top act in Liverpool. They had top billing at The Kaiserkeller and expected to be the stars of the show. They were extremely professional. They had a specific act, the one that they had perfected at Butlin’s over the summer. It was energetic and fun, full of jumping around, synchronized kicks, and Rory combing his hair during the ballads. But it was basically always the same. If anything, it was TOO professional. And it wore thin on the Hamburg audiences who loved watching The Beatles because they never knew what our boys were going to do. The only thing you knew to expect about their show was that it would be crazy and unpredictable. And therefore more exciting.
The Beatles had few friends in Hamburg in the first few weeks while they were playing at The Indra. And, of course, when Rory Storm and the Hurricanes arrived, they were still in that situation. Since the two bands were playing at the same club, they started getting to know each other better. Back in Liverpool, George knew Rory somewhat because he had “dated” Rory’s sister, Iris Caldwell, when he was 14 (Paul would date her around 1962, when “she was just 17, and you know what I mean?” Yes, it was about her…). Pete knew all of The Hurricanes fairly well because they had played at The Casbah around the same time that Pete’s band, The Blackjacks, were the house band there. None of them except Pete knew Ringo until Rory and band arrived in Hamburg in October of 1960. George would remember that “I didn’t like the look of Rory’s drummer myself…” Well, that would change. Stu was the first to really become friendly with Ringo. It was he who showed Ringo where he could get pancakes and eggs with potatoes, which helped quite a bit with our drummer’s stomach issues.
So the two bands spent a great deal of time together even after spending hours in The Kaiserkeller playing alternating sets. After finishing their sets, they would go together to other clubs to see the last sets of whomever was playing. Every Sunday, with an eye on having Monday off, they would go out for a late dinner/breakfast and hang out at the harbor or the fish market. As the weeks passed, their numbers dwindled a bit. Stu began spending all of his time with Astrid and was even living in her house. Pete, who was never the most social, would go off by himself. After the fight over who would buy the Fender Stratocaster that we talked about a couple of weeks ago, Rory and Ty Brian didn’t feel quite as welcome. It was not uncommon that it was actually a group of four who hung out together. And those four happened to be John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Klaus Voormann noticed. He said “every time Ringo came near The Beatles it was happiness.” He actually went on to say: “I know the three of them discussed changing their drummer while they were in Hamburg, because I heard them. It wasn’t said too explicitly because you don’t just go and steal someone else’s drummer, but they always liked Ringo.”
A New Song
One thing that we should give Rory a lot of credit for was his role in the creation of the only Beatles song to be credited to Lennon/Harrison. The Beatles had been playing “Apache,” the hit song by The Shadows, ever since they got to Hamburg. They were interested in learning another Shadows song, most likely “Man of Mystery” (which song has been remembered different ways by different people). Rory was familiar with song and tried to teach them the first few notes, but he couldn’t remember exactly how it went after that. So John and George came up with what they thought it might sound like, something that would sound like something The Shadows would do. They called their instrumental composition “Beatle Bop.” Not to get too far ahead of ourselves here, but in June of 1961, the song was one that The Beatles recorded with Tony Sheridan, and though it wasn’t released at the time, it was eventually released as a single in the US in 1964 and would appear on The Beatles Anthology in 1995. Of course, at that point the song would be better known as “Cry for a Shadow.”
Rory Gets Fired
As far as the playing went, both bands did their best to “mach schau” for the Hamburg audiences. And by mid-November, they had come up with a little competition. The winner would get a case of cheap champagne. Pete was no stranger to competitions with Rory. Back at The Casbah, The Hurricanes and The Blackjacks had a friendly wager over who would bring in more paying customers. Interestingly, the story goes that The Blackjacks won that one. In this case, the competition was a bit more destructive. Both bands hated the stage at The Kaiserkeller. It was basically just wood planks put on top of crates. So they decided to see who could be the first to break it. On or around November 16, 1960, The Hurricanes played “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On” and Rory jumped from the piano onto the stage and disappeared underneath. He had won. The rest of the band joined in and the stage was pretty well destroyed.
Bruno Koschmider was furious. He banned Rory from The Kaiserkeller. But he still needed the band, so they played on with Lu Walters taking over lead vocals. This would, interestingly, play a role in what would happen next with The Beatles. Rory started hanging out at The Top Ten Club, Peter Eckhorn’s establishment where Tony Sheridan and the Jets were in residence. He would occasionally be called up to sing a song or two. And so The Beatles began to spend some time there as well. And though nothing is specifically documented, the story is that they would also be invited onstage from time to time.
As we talked about before, this was the end of the line for Koschmider. In his mind, there was an agreement that The Beatles would not play in any other club. It was not in the signed contract, but he thought there was a verbal agreement. All of the evidence he had been building up against The Beatles would begin coming into play, starting with the revelation to the proper authorities that George was underage. This first trip to Hamburg for The Beatles was about to come to an end. And it was full of fireworks.
Next week we’ll be talking about the fireworks of the last week or so of November 1960, and how The Beatles ended up back in Liverpool, possibly one of the most entertaining stories there is to tell about the early days of The Beatles. As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to Philip Norman for his Shout! Special thanks to Michael Seth Starr for his Ringo: With a Little Help. And of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post, leave a comment, and most importantly, upvote the post at the bottom of the page. And sign up for notifications of future blog posts! Stay tuned!
The Hamburger Dom Funfair
The funfair still takes place three times per year in front of the site of the Hamburg Cathedral in Heiligengeistfeld, less than a mile from The Kaiserkeller. There are records of nearby celebrations going as far back as 1329, but the Hamburger Dom has been in its current location, the same as where it was in 1960, since 1892. This was where Astrid Kirchherr took The Beatles, the six of them in one VW Beetle (!) for a photo session that would produce many of the most famous photographs of The Beatles in Hamburg, including the iconic one above, in which you can make out the workings of a roller coaster in the background. All of The Beatles were endlessly impressed with Astrid’s photographic skills. As George would later say, “These early Beatles photographs are fantastic. Astrid was the one, really, who influenced our image more than anybody. She made us look good!”
So Who Was This Astrid When She Was at Home?
We talked a little about Astrid a few weeks ago. She was born in 1938. Her father, Emil, who passed away in 1958, had been an executive with The Ford Motor Company, and the family had been evacuated during the war. Her maternal grandfather, Theodor Bergmann, owned a very successful company (called Bergmann) that made juke boxes and music boxes. It was in his family’s four-story home in the Hamburg suburbs that Astrid and her mother, Nielsa, lived along with several other family members. If you haven’t figured it out already, to put it plainly, you could say that Astrid’s family was fabulously well-to-do.
The Beatles found themselves in quite a lucky situation as October progressed into November. They now had a place to go where they would be made gourmet meals by Nielsa. They could take baths. John could look through volumes of books and Paul could become engrossed in a healthy collection of LPs, all jazz and classical. As much as you might imagine that it would be a strange grouping, the rough, dirty Beatles and a refined, upper class family who spoke very little of each other’s languages, they apparently got on famously. John’s relationship with Nielsa was especially interesting. When he would enter the house, he would immediately seek her out to see what she was doing and what she was cooking. Astrid would say “Whenever they came to visit me, John always went to the kitchen first to say ‘Hi’ to my mommy. Though they couldn’t talk, they understood one another somehow.”
Of course, the closest relationship was between Astrid and Stu. Their romance happened very quickly, which is that much more surprising considering how little they could speak to each other. But Astrid soon rescued Stu from the Bambi Kino, and he moved into the home, into Astrid’s black room with a black carpet and black walls, black blankets on the black bed. Astrid called it her “Jean Cocteau phase.” Nielsa had little objection to Stu moving in, as she had had little objection to Astrid’s decorating style. As Klaus Voormann would say, “whatever Astrid wanted to do she was going to do; she was a pampered only child who could get anything she wanted.”
Incidentally, to go off on one of my famous asides here 😉… When Stu moved into Astrid’s house, the only change in The Beatles’ accommodations was that George moved from the couch to what had been Stu’s bed at The Bambi Kino. In addition, though Pete was still living with them, he didn’t really spend a lot of time with them. For example, when Astrid was taking the photographs at The Dom, she finished by taking several individual shots of the boys. But Pete had left before that. In fact, Astrid never took another photo of Pete. So as their time wound down on their first Hamburg trip, it really was once again just the three, John, Paul, and George, who continued the bond that would take them through the next several years. It had been that way in 1958, before they had Stu and a drummer, and it was so at this point. Not that there was any open animosity between them and Pete, he just wasn’t really one of them.
Okay, back to romance. By mid-November, Stu and Astrid had known each other for little more than three weeks. But the subject of marriage was already in the air. Astrid had already told Nielsa, and Stuart wrote a letter home: “Please write back quickly and tell me what you think, but I’ve made up my mind anyway. When I know when I have to return home I will buy a ring here, as they look good and are quite cheap.” The letter also said that Astrid knew and was fine with the fact that Stu would be returning to Liverpool for a year to do his fifth year of college, the one that would get him his Art Teacher Diploma.
A lot of plans in a short time. But it appeared that Stu would still be leaving the group in the beginning of the following year, at least sometime before the summer of 1961. As we’ve seen in previous posts, he had openly talked about that in letters and in conversation with the other Beatles for at least the last month. Then he’d be off to Liverpool for school, followed by returning to Hamburg in mid-1962 to marry Astrid. Well, the best laid plans… It wouldn’t happen that way. As we’ll see in upcoming posts over the next year and half or so, Stu never really returned to Liverpool for any significant length of time. Probably for the best, since the next 16 months would be all that the couple would have.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post 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 relationship with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Stay tuned!
I just want to quickly say that this is the 50th post on the Barmy Beatle Blog. We started the blog almost exactly a year ago. Thank you so much for being here. There’s still a long way to go!
Koschmider’s Case Against The Beatles – October 1960
Bruno Koschmider had been unhappy with The Beatles from almost the very beginning. They wouldn’t turn down the volume despite noise complaints and they constantly complained about their accommodations. Koschmider would say about them: “they had such bad manners.” Unfortunately(?) for the club owner, The Beatles were an incredible draw, so he felt that he had no recourse but to put up with them. But at the same time, he decided to keep a close eye out. Soon after the move to The Kaiserkeller, around John’s 20th birthday, the “making show” was taken to a new level. On a dare from one of his fellow band members (Pete has conveniently 😉forgotten which one), John took to the stage in a pair of swimming trunks and in the middle of “Long Tall Sally,” he turned around, dropped the trunks, and mooned the audience. Pete remembered that there was some laughter but no comment from the audience. Allan Williams, who happened to be in Hamburg working on new contracts, remembered it slightly differently. He said “the Germans thought (it) was hilarious.” It was a one-time, spur of the moment prank, but for Koschmider, it was the beginning of the end. He began keeping a logbook of The Beatles’ questionable activities. This included having his workers note all inappropriate behavior, including the times that The Beatles referred to the audience as “Nazis.” He wanted The Beatles to keep playing, but the logbook helped to ensure he had evidence against them if necessary.
Young Mr. Harrison
Here's where the story gets a bit garbled. Remember when we talked about how the fact that George was only 17 would play a role before too long? So the thing is, regardless of whether or not someone was playing in a band, it was unlawful for anyone under 18 to be in a club after 10pm. In fact, at around 9:45pm every evening, the Ausweis (identification card) patrol would enter the clubs and announce (in German): “…at ten o’clock all young people under 18 years of age must have left the premises.” Identity cards were checked at the top of the hour. George would kind of hide in the back until the procedure was over. Maybe the authorities just assumed that the band members would be of age and didn’t bother to scrutinize them.
In any case, this does raise some questions. When The Beatles first arrived in Hamburg, Bruno Koschmider had them not only sign a contract that stipulated the hours they would be playing, but also had them fill out forms that had personal information such as names of parents, addresses, and location and date of birth! This would imply that Koschmider knew from the very beginning that George was underage. It is unclear if Koschmider had intended to use these forms to apply for work permits for The Beatles or if he just wanted to have information on file. The fact is that though the contract itself stated that the club owner would obtain the work permits for our boys, he never actually did. He hadn’t for Derry and the Seniors either. According to Mark Lewisohn, Koschmider provided the particulars to the Fremdenpolizei (the aliens police), but if that’s really the case it just continues to bring up questions.
If the Fremdenpolizei had the information from the very beginning that George was just seventeen (and you know what I mean), why didn’t they do anything about it right away? You could come up with at least a couple of potential answers, I guess. Maybe they didn’t really care at that level. Maybe they didn’t bother to look at the documents in detail and just assumed that everything was in place, I mean, why would Koschmider have willingly submitted the information if he knew that it could create a problem. Maybe they had such a workload of going through paperwork that it took them a couple of months to get to it. Who knows? Well, if you ask Mark Lewisohn, he would likely say that none of those answers are likely, as the German authorities would never have been that inefficient. He suggests something a bit more sinister. It is possible that Koschmider was simply paying off the authorities to look the other way. It would have been worth it to him to pay some little fee against the popularity of his clubs.
The Beginning of the End
So far, nothing had made Koschmider angry enough to end the contract with The Beatles. But there was one thing he wouldn’t tolerate. Though it was not written in the contract, there was a verbal agreement that The Beatles would not appear at any rival clubs. Towards the end of October 1960, Tony Sheridan was in residence at The Top Ten Club and our boys liked to hang out there when they had time off. Apparently Sheridan would bring The Beatles on stage to join him for a song or two. Remember George Steiner? He was the one who accompanied The Beatles on their trip to Hamburg and started working for Bruno Koschmider. According to Pete, he saw our boys playing at The Top Ten and told Koschmider. That was it.
On November 1, 1960, Koschmider served written notice to The Beatles: “The notice is given by the Public Authorities who have discovered that Mr. George Harrison is only 17 years of age.” Their contract would be terminated as of November 30. More questions, anyone? If the “Public Authorities” actually cared (or even knew) that George was underage, why would they be fine with letting him play for four more weeks? Seems to me much more likely that Koschmider wanted to get rid of The Beatles but he sure didn’t want to lose any business at The Kaiserkeller, so he would need time to find another group before letting them go.
To add to the drama, the Bruno Koschmider / Allan Williams relationship had been cooling off. As we talked about last month, Williams had already been negotiating with Peter Eckhorn of The Top Ten Club to get Liverpool bands to play there instead of at The Kaiserkeller. Eckhorn already had his eye on The Beatles and arrangements were about to be made with Gerry and the Pacemakers. It was going to be an eventful last four weeks at The Kaiserkeller for The Beatles…
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Pete Best and Patrick Doncaster for their Beatle! The Pete Best Story. Of course, thanks to you for reading this. We really do appreciate it. Please recommend the post 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 Astrid and Stu. Stay tuned!
As a reminder, if you look at the very famous picture at the top of this post, you can basically see the equipment that The Beatles took with them to Hamburg. John has his Hofner Club 40 and George his Futurama, both plugged into the Selmer Truvoice amplifier that they had purchased in June. Pete has his Premier drum kit, at that point a snare drum, one rack tom, a kick drum, and one cymbal. Paul is holding his Rosetti Solid 7, which is plugged into his Elpico amplifier. And Stu has his Hofner 500/5 bass guitar, plugged into the Watkins Westminster that was borrowed from Sulca, the Student Union of the Liverpool College of Art.
Pete was known to slowly add pieces to his set. By 1961, he was photographed on the same Premier set he had been playing in 1960, but two additional cymbals and a floor tom had been added to the mix. Pete was not really a collector. He had in mind only to finish the kit that he had and it would be sufficient. Paul was not into spending money. He himself said that his Rosetti was a cheap guitar. It broke down constantly. But he was still making payments on it, so there would be no new one. As for the other guys…
The Stores – October 1960
There was a big difference between music shops in Liverpool and music shops in Hamburg. In Hamburg, the shops stocked American guitars. Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Rickenbacker, they were all there. The Beatles spent a lot of time in those shops. As George would say, “You have to imagine that in those days, when we were first out of Liverpool, any good American guitar looked sensational to us.”
The first of The Beatles to make the dive is probably the most unlikely. Stu jumped right in and bought a Gibson Les Paul GA-40T amplifier, the first major piece of American equipment our boys would own. The amplifier, which was almost as big as Stu, cost £120. That would be over £2300 or $3000 today. His payments would be £7 per week (£135 or $175 today). For someone who had written to friends that he was leaving the band and that he had no money, this seems very odd to me. I guess there is a possibility that Stu felt that he owed it to the group to get an amp, since he hadn’t done so when he bought his bass guitar. And there was the fact that the Watkins Westminster would have to be returned to Sulca at some point, but they would still need at least three amplifiers. In the end, when Stu wasn’t playing anymore, the Gibson was passed down to George.
Soon, word came that Steinway Haus Music Shop was in possession of a blue Fender Stratocaster. Of course, everyone wanted it. Stories exist that there were actual fights among members of The Beatles and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes over who would buy it. Johnny Guitar remembered that Rory fought John over it, but Ringo thought that it was Rory vs. George. There’s no question that George wanted it, but whether he was in the fight, he would say: “By the time I got there it had gone.” As for how much he wanted it: “I was so disappointed - it scarred me for the rest of my life.” In the end, it was Rory (you know, the one who didn’t actually play guitar on stage) who bought it. He had told John that he would lend it to him, but he instead lent it to his own guitarist, Ty Brian, which infuriated John, who didn’t speak to Rory for weeks afterwards. Gee, I wonder if John and George would ever do anything to get back at Rory. I’m looking at you, Ringo… 😉
George had originally bought his Futurama because it was the closest guitar to a Stratocaster that you could get in Liverpool. So it was clear that he really did want one. But he also had his eye on another at this point. In his letter to Arthur Kelly, he wrote “I might get a red Stratocaster…but the one I want is the Gretsch.” That wouldn’t happen quite yet. He did eventually get the used 1957 Gretsch Duo Jet that is seen in many an early picture of The Beatles. But that wouldn’t be until the next year.
At some Hamburg music shop, whether it was Steinway Haus or somewhere else is unclear, John made the first purchase of an instrument that would become known as an iconic Beatles guitar. It was a 1958 Rickenbacker 325, the one he would use through 1964. As for how much he liked it, he would tell Ray Coleman in a 1965 interview that it was his most prized possession. He also bought a Fender Vibrolux amplifier (some sources say it was a Fender Deluxe, but the amplifier was identified by John’s cousin, David Birch, whom John had given it to, as a Vibrolux). The total price of the two pieces was around £160, a staggering amount for a poor musician.
Temporarily, this was good news for Paul. Since John had his Rickenbacker 325, he could lend Paul his Hofner Club 40. As you can see in the accompanying photo, John has the Rick and Paul has John’s Club 40. He let Paul re-string it for left-handed use, and Paul was back in business…for a while. Paul still wasn’t interested in spending any money, so he declined John’s offer to sell it to him. Meaning that before too long, John sold it to someone else (apparently unknown) “for a profit,” as John would put it. That left Paul to once again keep fixing up his Rosetti Solid 7 when it would break down. Paul’s biggest purchase, the one that would be responsible for, probably, the most iconic instrument image associated with The Beatles, would happen the following year, on their second trip to Hamburg.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). And thanks to Andy Babiuk for his Beatles Gear. 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 how Bruno Koschmider collected “evidence” against The Beatles in case he had to fire them. Stay tuned!
Virtually all of the quotes contained here come from wonderful interviews by Mark Lewisohn.
Stuart Sutcliffe, in a letter to friend Ken Horton, around the beginning of October, 1960:
“It is now my seventh week here. I came for a reason I do not know. I have no money, no resources, no hopes, I’m not the happiest man alive. Six months ago I thought I was an artist. I no longer think about it. Everything that was Art has fallen from me, no paintings left…”
The Krauts (Don’t blame me, it’s what The Beatles called them)
On or around October 20, 1960, Klaus Voormann had an argument with his girlfriend and took a walk through Grosse Freiheit. Hearing strange music coming from a basement bar, he entered The Kaiserkeller to see Rory Storm and the Hurricanes on stage. He would later say, “What struck me first was that they had a fantastic drummer.” He stuck around, and when fantastic Ringo and company left the stage, it was time for The Beatles to play. According to Klaus, “It was really exciting and I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.” The following day, Klaus visited his girlfriend at her job as an assistant to photographer Reinhart Wolf in order to try to convince her to come with him to see The Beatles. One of her co-workers and a fellow photographic assistant was Jürgen Vollmer. He wanted to go as well.
Jürgen was a rebel. He was influenced by the French, starting with their intellectual and artistic outlook, to the clothes he wore, to the “Caesar haircut” that he modeled, which was quickly followed by his friends. His chosen way of life was to perform “acts of rebellions against the squares.” He had chosen his haircut and cut it himself because “the barbers in Hamburg were totally square.” Jürgen would say about that evening at The Kaiserkeller, “I’d never seen a rock and roll band before and the music blew my mind. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes…looked good but weren’t the same as The Beatles, who were rocker types.”
First impressions from that girlfriend of Klaus: “I saw George first, then Paul, and then John, and after John I thought ‘That’s enough, I can’t take any more.’ Pete was sitting in the back and you could hardly see him, and then suddenly I discovered another boy standing in the corner, and that was Stuart. He didn’t move at all… He looked delicate and fascinated me tremendously – I fell in love with him at first sight.”
Astrid Kirchherr was born on May 20, 1938 (and sadly passed away this past May, just short of her 82nd birthday). Her father was an executive of the Ford Motor Company, and her family had been evacuated for the duration of World War II. She started studying to become a fashion designer, but eventually switched to photography and worked for Reinhart Wolf as an assistant from 1959 to 1963. That’s where she met Jürgen Vollmer. Somewhere along the line, she met Klaus Voormann, and they soon began dating. The threesome didn’t quite fit in at The Kaiserkeller, dressing in black and with strange haircuts, very bohemian. The Beatles noticed them. The language barrier was fairly substantial, but they were ultimately able to communicate. As Jürgen would say, “The Beatles called us ‘The Krauts,” and Stuart always asked me questions about Astrid.”
Stuart Sutcliffe, in a letter to friend Susan Williams, around the end of October, 1960:
“I have definitely decided to pack the band in at the beginning of January. My curiosity is quenched, as far as rock and roll is concerned anyway… Just recently, I have found the most delightful friends in three young artists here, one girl and two boys. What intrigues me however is the fact that they found me and not I them…They asked me why I was playing in a rock band as I obviously wasn’t the type…I was enticed into showing them some drawings I had done while here…the girl thought I was the most handsome of the lot and begged me to allow her to photograph me, which she did today. How ashamed I am of the pleasure I experienced, of the contempt I felt for my dashing companions of rock – they who at my side had commented unanimously on her unique beauty…It’s somehow like a dream which I’m participating in…”
A few weeks can make quite a difference. Stu, of course, also felt guilty for several weeks about breaking up the relationship between Astrid and Klaus, who was also his friend. But Klaus had this to say: “Astrid and I were often fighting. We knew we’d always like each other but the love affair wasn’t happening. I felt happy she’d found Stuart, like a brother would be when his sister finally finds a boyfriend. I was friends with them both and they were friends with me, so it was OK.”
We’ll be talking about these three for a while. This is just the starting point. Astrid would, of course, go on to take many of the most well-known photos of The Beatles, especially in the early years. She remained friends with them throughout their careers. Unfortunately, much of what she ended up best known for herself was being the grieving fiancée after Stu’s death. Jürgen also became an accomplished photographer. John used one of Jürgen’s on the cover of his Rock ‘n’ Roll album in 1975. He has also spent time as a set photographer in Hollywood.
Klaus has probably had the most noticeable career, especially from a Beatles/rock music perspective. He designed the cover of The Beatles’ Revolver album, for which he won a Grammy Award. He also learned how to play bass guitar and became a member of Manfred Mann from 1966 to 1969. As a session musician, he has played with several artists including Carly Simon, on “You’re So Vain,” and on Lou Reed’s Transformer album, not to mention that he played bass on albums by John (including John Lennon Plastic Ono Band), George (including All Things Must Pass), and Ringo (including Goodnight Vienna).
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 some new equipment that The Beatles bought in Hamburg. Stay tuned!
An Extended Contract
October 16, 1960 would have been The Beatles’ last day in Hamburg according to their original contract. The fact that they had moved from The Indra to The Kaiserkeller did not change that. Bruno Koschmider, however, had told them as early as the last week of September that he would work out a contract extension. Allan Williams arrived in Hamburg early in October and worked out the extension, which would go to the end of the year. There was talk of going beyond that. Stu and George both wrote home, saying that they would be moving to Berlin in January and would be under contract through February. That part of the contract never happened, and in the end they would barely make it through November. But we’ll get to that when the time comes…
Williams wasn’t done with Hamburg when he signed The Beatles’ contract extension. The fact was, he was growing disillusioned with Bruno Koschmider. Koschmider had tried to get Williams to take a reduction in his commission. He had also become very unreliable in paying on time or even at all. Enter Peter Eckhorn. Eckhorn was 21 years old, owned The Top Ten Club, and had already poached The Jets from Koschmider, back in July. Williams told Eckhorn that he would be happy to start sending Liverpool bands to The Top Ten Club instead of The Kaiserkeller. Gerry and the Pacemakers were hounding Williams to get them a gig in Hamburg, so the timing was perfect. As we’ll see in the next few weeks, the era of The Kaiserkeller and Indra was winding down, and the era of The Top Ten Club would be starting soon.
Lu Walters Can Sing?
Allan Williams still wasn’t done with this little Hamburg trip. Lu Walters, bass player for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, was the second singer of the group after Rory. Williams thought that Walters would do well as a crooner, and persuaded him to record some songs to be taken around to London talent agencies. He identified a small place called Akustic Studio where performances could be recorded in much the same way that full band recordings were made by The Quarrymen, among others, at Percy Phillips’ studio in Liverpool (remember “In Spite of All the Danger?”). No fancy studio techniques or overdubs, etc. Just everyone playing at the same time, you know, like a band…
According to Walters, Rory was pretty unhappy about not being asked to sing on a recording, so he didn’t show up. The rest of the Hurricanes did, as did all of The Beatles except Pete. There are a couple of stories about how the recordings went down. The most likely one, as told by Walters and Johnny Guitar of The Hurricanes, is that three songs were recorded. They were Peggy Lee’s “Fever” (written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell), Kurt Weill’s “September Song,” and George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” The musicians were The Hurricanes (minus Rory, of course), with Lu taking the vocal to feature his voice.
Johnny Guitar remembered that Allan Williams didn’t think that the playing on “Summertime” was sufficient, so he asked John, Paul, and George to give it a shot. Lu played bass, so Stu wasn’t necessary, and Pete wasn’t there, so Ringo would still play drums. So there they were. John, Paul, George, and Ringo playing together for the first time on October 15, 1960. Supposedly, nine copies were made and Williams apparently did take them around to promoters and labels in London, but got no interest. Unfortunately, there has been no sign of any existing copies, so as Mark Lewisohn put it: “It’s the holy grail of Beatles audio.” He says that Ringo has lamented that he wishes he could hear it again.
Some Fuzzy Memories
The story as I told it above is the one that seems most likely in my own opinion about what happened on October 15, 1960. But as usual, over the years there have been some other memories thrown in by some of the people who were there, and they don’t always match up.
Lu Walters, in a 1963 interview in Mersey Beat, said that The Beatles actually played on all three songs recorded that day. Twenty years later, in 1983, he told Mark Lewisohn that The Beatles had only played on “Summertime.” In the 1963 interview, Walters also said that there were several copies of the recording made and that they were “still available in Liverpool and being played regularly.” Most interesting to me is that fact that Walters said that Allan Williams’ idea to record him came about after seeing him sing “Fever” with The Beatles at The Indra. If that is really the case, it could have realistically only happened on October 1 or 2. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes left Liverpool on September 29 and the first two days of October were the last two days The Beatles played at The Indra. So it’s possible that Lu Walters and maybe other members of the band could have walked down to The Indra. Who knows? Of course, that could also help to explain Ringo’s quote that we talked about last week, that they and The Beatles started out playing in different clubs. He may have simply remembered that on those first couple of nights (before Rory Storm and the Hurricanes began playing at The Kaiserkeller), The Beatles were at The Indra.
As a last chapter in this story…so why are the recordings missing? According to Williams, five or six copies were made. According to Walters, it was nine. Either way, it is accepted that Williams did take the recordings around to London agencies without any luck. In a 1966 interview in Disc, Williams claimed to have two copies. In 1971 he said he took his last surviving record to Los Angeles so that Ringo could hear it. Before they could make a deal for Ringo to take possession of the disc, Williams said that he misplaced his briefcase and the recording was gone. Lu Walters claimed in 1983 that his only copy was in the hands of a relative in Australia, but by 2012 he said that he was not aware of any surviving copies. Where did they go? You can see why Mark Lewisohn calls the recording “the holy grail.” I’d like to believe that at least one of the recordings exists somewhere, and I’m sure we all agree that we’d love to hear the first time John, Paul, George, and Ringo played together.
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). Thanks to https://ultimateclassicrock.com/beatles-first-recording-with-ringo/. 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 Beatles’ friendship with Klaus Voormann, Jürgen Vollmer, and, of course, Astrid Kirchherr. Stay tuned!
The Beatles and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes had the same contract for number of hours to be played, and that total number per week was the same as what The Beatles had been playing at The Indra, which meant they would each play 4 and a half hours on Tuesdays through Fridays and six hours on Saturdays and Sundays. They would take turns playing hour and a half long sets, but Bruno Koschmider required that they all stay on the premises the whole time, so they all basically had to be at The Kaiserkeller for nine hours Tuesdays through Fridays and twelve hours on Saturdays and Sundays. That’s 60 hours per week on-site, 30 of them on stage. They still had Mondays off.
As for when exactly this arrangement started, there are, of course, some fuzzy memory problems associated with it. The commonly accepted starting date for both groups is Tuesday, October 4, 1960.
But Ringo, in a 1976 interview with Eliot Mintz, said “we were playing in one club and they were playing in another…we didn’t know them. It was just ‘Hi, you from Liverpool?’” To make it even more confusing, Pete remembered about The Kaiserkeller, “when we opened there we doubled on the bill with Derry and the Seniors. Later we were reunited with our old pal Rory Storm.” Try as I might to put together a likely truth with those two statements, it doesn’t make sense.
Let’s see. It was Rory and company who were new and there is no record of them playing anywhere but The Kaiserkeller at this point. So if they were playing a different club than The Beatles, it would suggest that our boys had not yet moved over from The Indra. But Derry and the Seniors never played at The Indra, so if The Beatles were doubling with them, it had to be at The Kaiserkeller. Confusing… Not to say that Ringo is the one who is completely off, but there’s also the fact that Rory Storm and the Hurricanes had played at The Casbah Coffee Club several times during the early part of 1960. In fact, there was a friendly competition between them and Pete’s band, The Blackjacks, to see who could draw in more people there. So Pete clearly knew them. Rory and Johnny Guitar had been at the Larry Parnes audition in May, so they had clearly met The Beatles at that point. And George had dated Rory’s sister, for goodness sake. Ah, the things we’ll never know for sure…
Well, Now At Least They Do Know Each Other…
Just to put this out there. I’ve seen questions on occasion asking whether or not Pete and Ringo got along. As Pete said: “We reached the stage where we would lend one another drumsticks and go shopping together… It was an extremely pleasant relationship that would last for a long time to come, but not for always.” Ringo had a good relationship with Stu. There is a story that in the first days after Ringo’s arrival, they ran into each other in the street while Ringo was looking for a place that he could get food that would be all right for his sensitive stomach. Stu took him to one of The Beatles’ favorites, Chug-Ou, where they served pfannkuchen…pancakes.
Rory’s Group had been offered the same accommodations as Derry and the Seniors had been given, which was to have the entire group sleep in the office of The Kaiserkeller. They refused, and eventually Bruno Koschmider put them up at The British Sailor’s Society, all in one room. This same option had at one point been given to The Beatles, who turned it down because they would not be allowed to bring “companions” back to the room. It was also somewhat farther away from The Kaiserkeller than the Bambi Kino was. The Beatles did show Rory and the boys their favorite route between the club and The British Sailor’s Society. They walked through the Herbertstrasse, where they could get an eyeful of who they were not allowed to bring back to their room.
Rory Storm and the Hurricanes went to Hamburg with the reputation of being the #1 group in Liverpool. They certainly expected to be treated that way and as you can see, the initial poster advertising their appearances at The Kaiserkeller put them in the top position. What they didn’t realize was exactly what kind of transformation The Beatles had gone through during their time at The Indra. As Stu put it in a letter home in mid-October, “We have improved a thousandfold since our arrival.” To be sure, Rory and his group had perfected a very professional, very energetic show, but it was the same show every night. The crowds loved The Beatles’ version of “mach schau,” much crazier and unpredictable. Stu’s letter also said about Rory, “I’m afraid he hasn’t fooled anybody here and he must be very frustrated by the cheers which greet us…”
George also wrote a letter home with an interesting detail. In it, he said “Rory Storm and the Hurricanes came out here the other week, and they are crumby. He does a bit of dancing around but it still doesn’t make up for his phoney group. The only person who is any good is the drummer.” Harsh, but interesting. As you may remember, George always took credit for being the one who convinced John and Paul to bring Ringo into the group. Clearly, from very early on, he was on the side of “…the nasty one, with his little grey streak of hair. But the nasty one turned out to be Ringo, the nicest of them all.”
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 Hunter Davies for his The Beatles. 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 new contract at The Kaiserkeller as well as the first time that John, Paul, and George played with Ringo. Stay tuned!
Oh, the Noise!
The noise complaints had been coming at The Indra from almost the very beginning. Apparently, three amplifiers, drums, and foot-stomping were far louder than the sound that had been made when the Indra was a transvestite cabaret. The woman who lived above the club was furious. The Beatles were told to turn the volume down by Bruno Koschmider’s Geschäftsführer (executive director), Willi Limpinsel, but our boys, well, they didn’t do it. What a surprise 😉. In a 1972 BBC Radio interview with Johnny Beerling, Koschmider remembered “We said to The Beatles that they shouldn’t play so loud because the neighbours weren’t able to sleep…but they were stubborn…they had such bad manners that we just stayed out of their way.”
Around the end of September of 1960, the woman above the Indra was victorious. Koschmider found that he was facing the prospect of having The Indra close down permanently if the volume didn’t come down. He made the decision to revert The Indra back to its previous type of entertainment and that The Beatles would move to The Kaiserkeller. Derry and the Seniors were heading back to Liverpool anyway, as their contract was ending and they didn’t have work permits (neither did The Beatles, and that would start making a difference by a few weeks later).
Bruno Gives Them the Good News
Koschmider told The Beatles about the move during the last week of September. Their last day at The Indra would be Sunday, October 2 and they would start up again at The Kaiserkeller on the 4th. The last two weeks of their original contract would simply be moved over to the new venue. Unfortunately, their accommodations would remain the same unless they wanted to sleep in the office of The Kaiserkeller as Derry and the Seniors did. They chose to remain at The Bambi Kino. But there was more news.
The Beatles had been very successful at The Indra, and Koschmider had no reason to think that would change at The Kaiserkeller. So he extended their contract into December. As we’ve seen before, our boys already knew that this was possible, even if they had remained at The Indra. Stu had written home that he may not be home until Christmas. Allan Williams would be coming over to Hamburg to work out the details of the new contract, but there was really only one big change.
If you remember from last week, Koschmider had broken up Derry and the Seniors into two groups who would play back to back all night in order to keep the live music coming. Stu had been playing bass for one of the two groups. This arrangement worked out very well in the eyes of the club owner, so he decided he would need a new group to play back to back with The Beatles since Derry and the Seniors were leaving (meaning that Stu was back in The Beatles!). That would be set up by Allan Williams, as well, since he and Koschmider still had their arrangement to have Williams bring Liverpool bands to Hamburg.
From Butlin’s Pwllheli to Hamburg
From the Liverpool Weekly News around the end of August 1960: “It’s as good as a holiday and we get paid for it,” said twenty-year old Richard Starkey. “It’s fabulous.” The first (of three) Butlin’s summers came to an end for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Ringo bought a new Premier drum kit and a used Ford Zephyr. He and the rest of the group thought that it would be great to play even more shows outside of Liverpool, maybe even on the continent. Allan Williams could help them there. Bad timing had stopped them from going to Hamburg in mid-August, as they still had a month to play at Butlin’s. But now they were free and a second group was need at The Kaiserkeller. On September 29 they left for Germany so that they could start playing alternating sets with The Beatles on October 4.
The Kaiserkeller is located at 36 Grosse Freiheit in Hamburg, about 100 yards from The Indra in the opposite direction from where The Bambi Kino once stood, so The Beatles’ walk “home” was just a little longer. Back in 1960, the club had a nautical theme as it was basically a sailor’s bar before Bruno Koschmider turned it into a rock and roll club. Not that sailors stopped coming. They wanted to rock, too. It was around twice the size of The Indra and actually had a stage, well, a rickety one that would break before too long. To The Beatles, it was clearly the more desirable place to play compared to The Indra. The Jets, featuring Tony Sheridan, had played there starting in June. Derry and the Seniors had played there starting in July, and now both The Beatles and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes would be playing. What a great time to have been there, eh?
As always, thanks to Mark Lewisohn for his All Those Years Volume One: Tune In (Extended Special Edition). 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 even more about what was going on in Hamburg and about our boys’ relationship with Rory and the Hurricanes. Stay tuned!