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  1. #1
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    Fifty years since the Beatles went to Hamburg

    Fifty years since the Beatles went to Hamburg
    Catherine Jones
    Aug 16 2010

    It’s 50 years since the Beatles made their first appearance in Hamburg. Catherine Jones looks back with a little help from musical friends

    WE’RE used to landmark Beatles anniversaries in Liverpool. But tomorrow marks a particularly important occasion.


    The Beatles with Lord Woodbine, l-r, Harold Phillips (Lord Woodbine), Stuart Sutcliffe, Paul McCartney, George harrison and Pete Best, by the British War Memorial in Arnhem, en route to first visit to Hamburg in August 1960


    John Lennon singing with the Beatles in Hamburg with Stuart Sutcliffe in the background


    The Dominoes perform at the Starclub, Hamburg


    Hamburg's famous Star Club

    It was on August 17 1960, after a sea crossing from Harwich with 10 musicians and assorted hangers on in the back of Allan Williams’ tiny minivan, that John, Paul, George, Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe first stepped out on a Hamburg stage.

    They had been hired to perform at the Indra, a strip joint run by Bruno Koschmider in the seedy St Pauli district.

    Over the next two-and-a-half years the band would perform 281 gigs – at the Indra, Kaiserkeller, Top Ten and Star-Club.

    There’s been debate over the years about just how important Hamburg was in the development of what became the biggest band in the world.

    But the Beatles themselves have always acknowledged its impact.

    “Hamburg was really like our apprenticeship, learning how to play in front of people,” said George Harrison.

    And John Lennon famously pronounced: “I might have been born in Liverpool, but I grew up in Hamburg.”

    There’s no doubt the early visits to the German city, with their gruelling night-time sessions, transformed the Beatles’ sound and honed their playing skills.

    So what was it like for bands who made the journey to Hamburg in the early 1960s?

    Paul McCartney wrote to Mersey Beat’s Bill Harry at the time, describing the Hanseatic port as “a sort of blown-up Blackpool but with strip clubs instead of waxworks.”

    And he added, with some understatement, about those early days: “The pay wasn’t too fab, the gigs weren’t much good, and we had to play for quite a long time.”

    Pete Best, who will celebrate the anniversary with a special concert at the Casbah Club later this month, says: “It only seems like a couple of years ago, not 50.”

    The 68-year-old, who was preparing to go to teacher training college when he was asked to join the band, recalls of their arrival in Hamburg: “We got there late in the evening, and went to the Kaiserkeller where we thought we’d be playing.

    “We heard this fantastic noise coming from the cellar. It was Derry and the Seniors and we went down and the place was absolutely jumping, there was a fantastic atmosphere.

    “Then we were told, you’re not playing here, you’re playing at the Indra.

    “We went outside and walked down the Grosse Freiheit and the lights got a little bit dimmer and we came to this grotty club called the Indra. There were a couple of people in there and Koschmider turned round and said ‘I want you to turn this into another Kaiserkeller’.”

    Derry and the Seniors had preceded the Beatles by a month, having been signed to play at the Kaiserkeller.

    “The guys were up for it, they were excited,” recalls sax player Howie Casey. “It was 15 a week which was good money in those days.

    “I’d been to Germany when I was in the army (with the Kings Regiment) and I liked it. The Kaiserkeller was quite a big club compared to some in Liverpool.

    “The next thing, I got a letter from Allan Williams saying he was going to send the Beatles over to the Indra.

    “I said please don’t send them.

    “They weren’t very good at the auditions we’d all been at. None of us were brilliant, we were all feeling our way, but compared to the standard, they weren’t brilliant.

    “But of course when they did come over to play at the Indra, they’d improved 200%.”

    It wasn’t always easy for the bands hired for Hamburg. In the early days, many of them were sent off without work visas and told to pretend to be on holiday.

    “We had guitars and amps with us,” says Howie. “We got to the border and they said what’s this? We said when we go on holiday we like to play! They said ‘get off the train’.

    “Thankfully a border guard took pity on us and got hold of Bruno who assured him he’d get us the visas.”

    Then there was the accommodation.

    Howie, who later played with Wings, smiles: “The accommodation was foul. It was the same as the Beatles, the Bambi Kino where they stayed was foul too.

    “We had two rooms opposite the toilets. One had a settee and two tatty armchairs, and the other had a metal bed and settee.

    “Being the band leader I claimed the bed and Derry the settee. The other four guys had to push together the chairs and do head-to-toe.

    “The only washing facilities was a basin in the ladies loos.

    “But we had a great time and it did the band the world of good. If we hadn’t been to Hamburg we’d have been semi-pro, doodling about.”

    Hardship certainly didn’t put off other groups either.

    Gerry and the Pacemakers, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Billy J Kramer, Lee Curtis and the All Stars, and Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes were just some of the Merseyside bands who made their way to the Kaiserkeller, Indra, Top Ten and the Star-Club.

    The latter, seating 2,000, also attracted major American stars including Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

    Ted ‘Kingsize’ Taylor packed in his job as a butcher for the Co-op in June 1962 to take his band to the newly-opened Star-Club, after being booked by Horst Fascher who saw them playing at the Orrell Park ballroom.

    “I was on 12 7s 6d at the Co-op, and we were over there on 80 a week each,” he says from the home in Hamburg he shares with wife Marga, who he originally met at the Star-Club in 1962.

    “When you got there you were treated like a member of a family. If you hadn’t had anything to eat, Horst would go round and see his mother and she’d cook you liver and potatoes, so it was a friendly culture shock.

    “The fact they treated you, not as a star but as a credible musician in the days when you were semi-professional.

    “That was a great feeling.”

    It was while they were working alongside the Beatles in the Star-Club that Ted made a live recording of the band on his four-track tape recorder – albeit accidently.

    The recorder would be put on each night so bands could hear how they played, but usually the expensive tapes were recorded over.

    “Nobody ever said ‘switch it on because the Beatles are on’,” says Ted.

    “You had artists like Little Richard, or Johnny Kidd and the Pirates on, why should you record the Beatles?”

    He adds: “It makes me so happy the Beatles did make it a success on behalf of the music scene. But Marga and I campaign that the whole Hamburg Scene shouldn’t just revolve around the Beatles.”

    Tomorrow’s anniversary will be celebrated in Hamburg with tribute band Bambi Kino recreating exactly the same set the Beatles performed on that day.

    Pete Best smiles: “Hamburg is one of those memories you can look back with fond affection because it was the start of a uncanny adventure which took us on many, many different trails and opened the doors to so many things.”

    Pete Best presents a 50th anniversary gig at the Casbah club in West Derby on August 28 with the Pete Best Band and guest artists. Tickets are 20 from MerseyCats - The Liverpool R 'N' R Childrens Charity-MerseyCats Home Page or Pete Best, Beatles. The Beatles Pete Best

    liverpoolecho.co.uk

  2. #2
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    Nice recall Mid, thanks for posting. Green owed.

  3. #3
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    And it only seems like yesterday even though I was too young to remember the day.

    The Beatles changed the way popular music was presented and I doubt there is any following band that has not been influenced by their creativity and talent.

  4. #4
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    I like the Beatles' music.
    Yoko Ono, not so much.

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    Great post Mid. Very interesting.
    Last edited by hopmad; 17-08-2010 at 08:47 PM.

  6. #6
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    why is Paul wearing a heavy overcoat in Arnhem in August? Did mummy insist?

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