JOHN: Once upon a time there were three little boys called John, George and Paul, by name christened. They decided to get together because they were the getting together type. When they were together, they all wondered what for after all, what for? So all of a sudden they all grew guitars and formed a noise. Funnily enough, no one was interested, least of all the three little men. Sooo... on discovering a fourth little even littler man called Stuart Sutcliffe running about them, they said, quote: 'Sonny, get a bass guitar and you will be all right,' and he did - but he wasn't all right because he couldn't play it. So they sat on him with comfort till he could play. Still there was no beat, and a kindly old aged man said, quote: 'Thou hast not drums!' We had no drums! they coffed. So a series of drums came and went and came. Suddenly, in Scotland, touring with Johnny Gentle, the group (called The Beatles called) discovered they had not a very nice sound - because they bad no amplifiers. They got some. Many people ask what are Beatles? Why Beatles? Ugh, Beatles, how did the name arrive? So we will tell you. It came in a vision - a man appeared on a flaming pie and said to unto them, 'From this day on you are Beatles with an A.' - 'Thank you, Mister Man,' they said, thanking him.61
PAUL: It was John and Stuart who thought of the name. They were art students and while George's and my parents would make us go to bed, Stuart and John could live the little dream that we all dream: to stay up all night. And it was then they thought up the name.
One April evening in 1960, walking along Gambier Terrace by Liverpool Cathedral, John and Stuart announced: 'Hey, we want to call the Band "The Beatles".' We thought, 'Hmm, bit creepy, isn't it?' - 'It's all right though; a double meaning.' One of our favourite groups, The Crickets, had got a dual-meaning name: cricket the game, and crickets the little grasshoppers. We were thrilled with that - we thought it was true literature. (We've spoken to The Crickets since, and found that they hadn't realised that we had a game called cricket. They never knew they had a second meaning.)
GEORGE: It is debatable where the name came from. John used to say that he invented it, but I remember Stuart being with him the night before.
There was The Crickets, who backed Buddy Holly, that similarity; but Stuart was really into Marlon Brando, and in the movie The Wild One there is a scene where Lee Marvin says: 'Johnny, we've been looking for you, the Beetles have missed you, all the Beetles have missed you.' Maybe John and Stu were both thinking about it at the time; so we'll leave that one. We'll give it fifty/fifty to Sutcliffe/Lennon.
PAUL: In The Wild One, when he says, 'Even the Beetles missed ya!' he points to the motorcycle chicks. A friend has since looked it up in a dictionary of American slang and found that it's slang and found that it's slang for 'motorcycle girls'. So work that one out!
JOHN: We had one or two names. Then we began to change the name for different bookings, and we finally hit upon 'The Beatles'.
I was looking for a name like The Crickets that meant two things, and from crickets I got to beetles. And I changed the BEA, because 'beetles' didn't mean two things on its own. When you said it, people thought of crawly things; and when you read it, it was beat music.61
GEORGE: Stuart was in the band now. He wasn't really a very good musician. In fact, he wasn't a musician at all until we talked him into buying a bass. We taught him to play twelve-bars, like 'Thirty Days' by Chuck Berry. That was the first thing he ever learnt. He picked up a few things and he practised a bit until he could get through a couple of other tunes as well. It was a bit ropey, but it didn't matter at that time because he looked so cool. We never had many gigs in Liverpool before we went to Hamburg, anyway.
PAUL: That spring of 1960, John and I went down to a pub in Reading, The Fox and Hounds, run by my cousin Betty Robbins and her husband. We worked behind the bar. It was a lovely experience that came from John and I just hitching off down there. At the end of the wekk we played in the pub as The Nerk Twins. We even made our own posters.
Betty's husband turned me on to showbusiness in a big way, and the talk we had with him about how we should do the show was very formative. He'd been an entertainments manager hosting talent contests at Butlins, and been on radio. He asked what we were going to open with, and we said 'Be Bop A Lula'. He told us: 'No good. You need to open with something fast and instrumental. This is a pub, a Saturday night, what else have you got?' We said, 'Well, we do "The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise".' (I played the melody and John did the rhythm.) He said, 'Perfect, start with that, then do "Be Bop A Lula".' He was good like that, and I would remember his advice years later when we were organising our shows.
GEORGE: A lot was happening at the beginning of 1960. I remember there was a show at the Liverpool Stadium in which Eddie Cochran was due to appear, but he got killed a couple of days before so Gene Vincent topped the bill.
RINGO: I never forgave Eddie for that. I was so looking forward to seeing him.
GEORGE: It was held in a stadium where Pete Best's dad, Johnny, used to promote boxing. Ringo was in that show with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. We weren't big enough to play (we didn't even have a drummer) and I remember thinking how we'd got to get our band together because the Hurricanes all had suits and dance steps - a proper routine. It was semi-professional; it looked impressive from where we were sitting.
Brian Cass had a band called Cass and the Cassanovas that also played. (He disappeared a year or so later, and those left became The Big Three.) Somehow Cass had the ability to get gigs, and one night he put us in a show in a little club cellar, which was the first time we played as 'The Silver Beetles'. He'd actually wanted us to be Long John and the Pieces Silver.
PAUL: He said, 'What's your name?' We had just thought of 'The Beatles' so we thought we would try this out at the audition. Cass said, 'Beatles - what's that? It doesn't mean anything.' (Everyone hated the name, fans and promoters alike.) He asked John's name. John, who at that time was pretty much the lead singer, said, 'John Lennon.' - 'Right, Big John... Long John... OK, Long John Silver.' So we compromised and had Long John and the Silver Beetles. We would do anything for a job, so that's what we became.
GEORGE: He perceived John as being the leader because he was the biggest, the pushy one. He was the leader when it was The Quarry Men, and he was certainly the leader at this point. I think he is still the leader now, probably.
PAUL: In May, Larry Parnes came to town, auditioning. He was the big London agent. His acts nearly always had a violent surname. There was Ronnie Wycherley who became Billy Fury; and a less furious guy you have yet to meet. A sweet Liverpool guy - the first local man who made it, in our eyes. Marty Wilde was also in Larry's stable; he had another tempestuous surname. But Larry Parnes had some new singers and was looking for backing groups, and someone had told him there were a few groups around in Liverpool. So he came up to the Blue Angel. Billy Fury came with him.
Allan Williams ran the Blue Angel and the Jacaranda. He was the little local manager (little in height, that is - a little Welshman with a little high voice - a smashing bloke and a great motivator, thought we used to take the mickey out of him). He held the auditions in conjunction with Larry Parnes. All the groups in Liverpool were there and we were one of the bands.
GEORGE: They were going to use the Blue Angel, which in those days was called the Wyvern Social Club, to audition back-up bands for Larry Parnes's acts. Beforehand we went out and bought some string shoes with little white bits on top. We were very poor and never had any matching clothes, but we tried to put together a uniform - black shirts and these shoes.
When we arrived at the club our drummer hadn't shown up, so Johnny Hutchinson, the drummer with Cass and the Cassanovas, sat in with us. I don't think we played particularly well or particularly badly.
JOHN: We just had a stand-in drummer for the day. And Stu couldn't play bass, so he had to turn his back.72
PAUL: We had to tell Stuart to turn the other way: 'Do a moody - do a big Elvis pose.' If anyone had been taking notice they would have seen that when we were all in A, Stu would be in another key. But he soon caught up and we passed that audition to go on tour - not with a furious name at all like the other acts, but with a guy called Johnny Gentle.
GEORGE: It was a bit of a shambles. Larry Parnes didn't stand up saying that we were great or anything like that. It felt pretty dismal. But a few days later we got the call to go out with Johnny Gentle. They were probably thinking. 'Oh well, they're mugs. We'll send a band that doesn't need paying.'
PAUL: Now we were truly professional, we could do something we had been toying with for a long time, which was to change our names to real showbiz names. I became Paul Ramon, which I thought was suitably exotic. I remember the Scottish girls saying, 'Is that his real name? That's great.' It's French, Ramon. Ra-mon, that's how you pronounce it. Stuart became Stuart de Staël after the painter. George became Carl Harrison after Carl Perkins (our big idol, who had written 'Blue Suede Shoes'). John was Long John. People have since said, 'Ah, John didn't change his name, that was very suave.' Let me tell you: he was Long John. There was none of that 'he didn't change his name': we all changed our names.
So here we were, suddenly with the first of Larry's untempestuous acts and a tour of Scotland, when I should have been doing my GCE exams. A lot of my parents' hopes were going up the spout because I was off with these naughty boys who weren't doing GCEs at all.
JOHN: During my whole time at art school I used to disappear from time to time. When my first exam came up I was with The Beatles in Scotland, backing Johnny Gentle. For the second, I was away with the group in Hamburg. Eventually I decided to leave whether I ever passed an exam or not, but when I got back there was a note saying, 'Don't bother to come back.' Believe it or not, I actually got annoyed.63
GEORGE: I remember asking my big brother, 'Would you pack in work and have a go at this if you were me?' He said, 'You might as well - you never know what might happen. And if it doesn't work out you're not going to lose anything.' So I packed in my job, and joined the band full time and from then, nine-to-five never came back into my thinking. John was still at art college and Paul was doing an extra year at school.
That was our first professional gig: on a tour of dance halls miles up in the North of Scotland, around Inverness. We felt, 'Yippee, we've got a gig!' Then we realised that we were playing to nobody in little halls, until the pubs cleared out when about five Scottish Teds would come in and look at us. That was all. Nothing happened. We didn't really know anything. It was sad, because we were like orphans. Our shoes were full of holes and our trousers were a mess, while Johnny Gentle had a posh suit. I remember trying to play to 'Won't you wear my ring around your neck?' - he was doing Elvis's 'Teddy Bear' - and we were crummy. The band was horrible, an embarrassment. We didn't have amplifiers or anything.
What little pay we did get was used to take care of the hotels. And we all slept in the van. We would argue about space. There weren't enough seats in the van, and somebody had to sit on the inside of the mudguard on the back wheel. Usually Stu.
JOHN: We were terrible. We'd tell Stu he couldn't sit with us, or eat with us. We'd tell him to go away, and he did - that was how he learnt to be with us. It was all stupid, but that was what we were like.67
PAUL: We did OK on that tour, playing church halls all over Scotland, places like Fraserburgh. It was great - we felt very professional. But we were endlessly on the phone to Larry Parnes's office, complaining that the money hadn't arrived. (Years late I said this on a radio programme and Larry threatened to sue me, because his aunties had got onto him: 'Larry, you didn't pay those nice Beatle boys.' That was a true shame in his book.)
For a while, when we returned, we became a backing group. We were still going around as The Silver Beetles - I think there's a few posters of us with a double 'e' - but soon we started to drop the 'silver'; because we didn't really want it. John didn't wish to be known as 'Long John Silver' any longer and I didn't wish to be known as Paul Ramon - it was just an exotic moment in my life.
We backed all sorts of people. It was a good little period and we felt professional learning other people's songs. Sometimes it was quite hard because we weren't that good at chords. They'd throw us sheets of music and we'd ask: 'Have you got the words, have you got the chords? We were very naive - one time we thought that the girl with one of the artists was his wife. We kept calling her Mrs Whatever, and it took us ages to realise she was a girlfriend.
JOHN: We had all sorts of different drummers all the time, because people who owned drum kits were few and far between; it was an expensive item.70
GEORGE: We had a drummer, Tommy Moore, who had come with us to Scotland. He was a funny kind of guy who played with a lot of different bands. He used to show up for a while and then not show up again, and so we'd get someone else.
We had a stream of drummers coming through. After about three of these guys, we ended up with almost a full kit of drums from the bits that they'd left behind, so Paul decided he'd be the drummer. He was quite good at it. At least he seemed OK; probably we were all pretty crap at that point. It only lasted for one gig, but I remember it very well. It was in Upper Parliament Street where a guy called Lord Woodbine owned a strip club. It was in the afternoon, with a few perverts (five or so men in overcoats) and a local stripper. We were brought on as the band to accompany the stripper; Paul on drums, John and me on guitar and Stu on bass.
She came out and gave us her sheet music: 'Now here are the parts for my act.' We said, 'What's that? We can't read it.' She told us it was 'The Gypsy Fire Dance'. We said, 'Well, how does that go? What's the tempo?' We decided to do 'Ramrod' instead, because we knew it, and then 'Moonglow'.
PAUL: The Grosvenor Ballroom in Wallasey was one of the worst places; there would be a hundred Wallasey lads squaring up to a hundred lads from Seacombe and all hell would break loose. I remember one night a rumble had started before I realised what was happening. I ran to the stage to save my Elpico amp, my pride and joy at the time. There were fists flying everywhere. One Ted grabbed me and said, 'Don't move, or you're bloody dead!' I was scared for my life, but I had to get that amp.
JOHN: We'd been playing round in Liverpool for a bit without getting anywhere, trying to get work, and the other groups kept telling us, 'You'll do all right, you'll get work some day.' And then we went to Hamburg.
JOHN: I grew up in Hamburg, not Liverpool.
GEORGE: We'd heard about musicians getting gigs in Stuttgart, where there were American army bases. We knew that those kinds of gigs were available around Germany, so it was an exciting thought.
The story behind our going there was that another Liverpool group, Derry and the Seniors, had given up their jobs to do a gig for Larry Parnes. And when they didn't get it, they were all really annoyed so they decided to go to London to beat Larry up. Allan Williams said to them: 'If you are going to London you should take your instruments.' He drove them down and got them into the 2I's (the club where Tommy Steele had been discovered). They didn't beat up Larry Parnes, but they did go down well at the club.
Bruno Koschmider, a German promoter, saw them there and hired them for his own club, the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg, and they were there for a couple of months. He must have really liked them, because he then got in touch with Allan Williams and said, 'We want another Liverpool band to play at the Indra.'
Allan Williams offered the gig to us, 'But,' he said, 'the fellow wants a five-piece.' We needed another person, since there were only the three of us and Stuart. We were excited, but we thought, 'Paul isn't really the drummer. Where do we get one from?' Then I remembered a guy I'd met who'd been given a drum kit for Christmas. His name was Pete Best; tha Casbah club was in his basement.
PAUL: Pete Best's mother, Mona - a very nice woman, an Anglo-Indian - ran the Casbah in a part of Liverpool, West Derby. We'd started to go round there and we'd ended up painting the place.
It was great to be involved in the birth of a coffee bar - they were such important places then. The concrete and wood in the basement had been stripped and we painted each part a different colour. All of us lent a hand - John and George and all the others. And after we'd painted it up, it was our club - The Beatles used to play there. Pete had a drum kit so he would sometimes sit in with us. He was a good drummer, and when Hamburg came up he joined us. He was a very good-looking guy, and out of all the people in our group, the girls used to go for Pete.
JOHN: We knew of a guy and he had a drum kit, so we just grabbed him, auditioned him, and he could keep one beat going for long enough, so we took him.70
PAUL: I was still at school at the time of the Hamburg offer; hanging on, trying to take exams. I didn't want to leave because I didn't want to put my life in a pigeonhole quite yet. I thought I might become a teacher - it was about all I could qualify for with a decent salary - but I was scared to solidify my life in a block of cement.
There was a guy at art college who was twenty-four, and that seemed very old when we were seventeen. I thought that if he could keep going until that age without getting a job, then so could I. So I had my eye set on blagging around the sixth form, doing anything that would protect me until I was twenty-four when I would have to decide what to do. Then Hamburg came up.
Someone must have realised that there were a lot of good groups in Liverpool, and how we were cheaper than the London groups, and didn't know that much so we would work long hours. We were a promoter's dream. We were told, 'You can go to Hamburg and get Ј15 a week.' Now, Ј15 a week was more than my dad earned. In fact the teachers at school didn't earn more than that. So Hamburg was a real offer. It was as if we had found a profession, and the money was there too. I remember writing to my headmaster very proudly that summer: 'I am sure you will understand why I will not be coming back in September, and the pay is - wait for it - Ј15 a week.' It was a 'that's more than you earn' kind of a letter.
But first of all my dad to decide whether to even let me go. I pleaded. I knew he might not, because although my dad was not strict, he was a fairly sensible kind of bloke. This was letting his kid go off to the famous stripper land, to the Reeperbahn - it was known to be a dodgy place - with gangsters, where sailors were murdered. I remember Dad giving me lots of advice, but there was an agreement that he had to sign. But this was The Big Thing.
JOHN: Allan Williams took us over in a van. We went through Holland, and did a bit of shoplifting there.72
GEORGE: We probably met with the van outside Allan Williams's club, the Jacaranda. There were the five of us and then Allan, his wife Beryl and Lord Woodbine.
It was cramped. The van didn't even have seats; we had to sit on our amplifiers. We drove down to Harwich and got the boat to the Hook of Holland. Driving through Holland, I remember we stopped at Arnhem where all the people had parachuted out to their deaths (another little Winston Churchill trick). There were thousands of white crosses in the cemetery.
PAUL: The strangest memory for me is being asked at the borders if we had any coffee. I couldn't understand it. Drugs, yes, guns, yes - we could understand booze or something like that; but a roaring trade in contraband coffee?
Anyway, we ended up in Hamburg very late one night. We got the timing wrong; there was no one there to meet us. We could find Hamburg from the map but then we had to find the St Pauli district, and then the Reeperbahn. By the time we found the street and the club it was all closed. There we were, with no hotel or anything, and it was now bedtime.
We managed to shake up someone from a neighbouring club who found our guy, and he opened up the club and we stayed the first night in the little alcoves, on red leather seats.
GEORGE: Of course, on the first night we got there there weren't arrangements for anything. The club owner, Bruno Koschmider, drove us round to his house, and we ended up staying, all in the one bed. Bruno wasn't with us, fortunately, he left us to stay in his flat for the first night and went somewhere else. Eventually he put us in the back of a little cinema, the Bambi Kino, at the very end of a street called the Grosse Freiheit.
Bruno wasn't some young rock'n'roll entrepreneur, he was an old guy who had been crippled in the war. He had a limp and didn't seem to know much about music or anything. We only ever saw him once a week, when we'd try to get into his office for our wages.
The city of Hamburg was brilliant; a big lake, and then the dirty part. The Reeperbahn and Grosse Freiheit were the best thing we'd ever seen, clubs and neon lights everywhere and lots of restaurants and entertainment. It looked really good. There were seedy things about it, obviously, including some of the conditions we had to live in when we first got there.
PAUL: I had been reading Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas and Steinbeck, so that when we came to this Hamburg experience it was as students, a little bit as artists, in a way: 'This will be good for the memoirs one day.' We saw it differently from the other groups. I think we saw it as if we were Dylan Thomas and this was his time in Germany. It was a very rich period for experience because we were kids let off the leash.
The club we were to play was called the Indra, and it had a big elephant over the street to signify India. Later, with our Indian influence, it seemed funny that that should have been our first place.
GEORGE: The Indra was at the far end of Grosse Freiheit, off the Reeperbahn, the main club zone. Bruno had just opened up the club and put us on there.
The whole area was full of transvestites and prostitutes and gangsters, but I couldn't say that they were the audience. I don't recall there being many people at all at first. It took a little while before word of mouth built up, by which time the church across the street had made Bruno close down because of all the noise we were making.
PAUL: We lived backstage in the Bambi Kino, next to the toilets, and you could always smell them. The room had been an old storeroom, and there were just concrete walls and nothing else. No heat, no wallpaper, not a lick of paint; and two sets of bunk beds, like little camp beds, with not very many covers. We were frozen.
JOHN: We were put in this pigsty, like a toilet it was, in a cinema, a rundown sort of fleapit. We were living in a toilet, like right next to the ladies' toilet.72 We would go to bed late and be woken up the next day by the sound of the cinema show. We'd try to get into the ladies' first, which was the cleanest of the cinema's lavatories, but fat old German women would push past us. 67
We'd wake up in the morning and there would be old German fraus pissing next door. That was where we washed. That was our bathroom. It was a bit of a shock in a way. 72
PAUL: People would be coming in from the cinema to the toilets, and they would find these little Liverpool lads going, 'Morning,' all shaving. 'Ah, guten morgen, alles ist gut?'
GEORGE: I never used to shower. There was a washbasin in the lavatory at the Bambi Kino, but there was a limit as to how much of yourself you could wash in it. We could clean our teeth or have a shave, but not much else. I remember once going up to the public baths, but that was quite a long way from the Bambi Kino. Later on, maybe the third time we visited Hamburg, we'd go to Astrid Kirchherr's to wash. I don't think we bathed or showered at all when we were first there, probably not even the second time.
.... Photo .....
GEORGE: This was taken when we first played at the Indra. I remember the outfits: a neighbour of Paul's made these lilac jackets and after a few weeks at the Indra they melted, just dropped apart.
PAUL: The neighbour was Mr Richards, a tailor. He lived next door to me at Forthlin Road. We picked out some material ourselves and took it to him to make these jackets.
The others came to my house for fittings. Eventually, the sweat got to them.
JOHN: We'd done the Johnny Gentle tour, but we'd only been on stage for a bit, for twenty minutes or so, because he'd be on most of the time.72 In Liverpool we just used to do our best numbers, the same ones at every gig. In Hamburg we would play for eight hours, so we really had to find new ways of playing.67 It was still rather thrilling when you went on stage. It was a little nightclub and it was a bit frightening because it wasn't a dance hall, and all these people were sitting down, expecting something.
At first we got a pretty cool reception. The second night the manager told us: 'You were terrible, you have to make a show - "mach shau",' like the group down the road were doing.67 And of course whenever there was any pressure point I had to get us out of it. The guys said, 'Well, OK John, you're the leader.' When nothing was going on, they'd say, 'Uh-uh, no leader, fuck it,' but if anything happened, it was like, 'You're the leader, you get up and do a show.'72
We were scared by it all at first, being from Liverpool, at least believing the myth about Liverpool producing cocky people.67 So I put my guitar down and I did Gene Vincent all night: banging and lying on the floor and throwing the mike about and pretending I had a bad leg. That was some experience.72 We all did 'mach shauing' all the time from then on. 67
PAUL: We had to actually invite the audience in, because we would be playing to a completely dark and empty club. The minute we saw someone we'd kick into 'Dance In The Street' and rock out, pretending we hadn't seen them. And we'd perhaps get a few of them in. We were like fairground barkers: see four people - have to get them!
It was good training because, at first, the main thing they were looking at was the price of the beer. We would see them (usually a couple) come in and look at us: 'Yeah... pretty good.' Then she'd nudge him and say, 'One mark fifty. We can't afford this place,' and they'd leave. We were saying to Bruno, 'Bring the price down, man. It's doing us in. You will get 'em in if you bring it down a bit.' Eventually, out of this, we built a little audience. We would grab two people and do anything they wanted - our whole repertoire: 'You want a request?' (There was only one table filled.) 'Yes.' We would do all the jokes and try to be marvellous and make them want to come back.
GEORGE: We were at the Indra for about a month, and then the club shut down and we moved into the Keiserkeller, where Derry and the Seniors were. It was right at the time they were leaving. They'd finished their two months and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were coming out.
The Keiserkeller was great - at least it had a dance floor. And all the tables and chairs were located inside pieces of ship. The tables were barrels and there were ropes and nautical things around.
JOHN: There was beer and tables. And there was another group.
They had brought Howie Casey over, with the Seniors - or maybe they were even there when we got there - anyway, they were playing here, at Bruno's other club. They were pretty competent. They had saxes; they were really a together group. They had a black singer [Derry Wilkie] who couldn't really sing, but was a real showman. So we had to compete with them at first, and we had to start putting on this show to get enough people into our club, even though they were owned by the same person. Then they moved us in - with Rory Storm and Ringo. They were professionals; we were still amateurs. They'd been going for years, and they'd been to Butlins, and God knows what, and they really knew how to put on a show.72
RINGO: Hamburg was great. I went with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. No van for us - we had the suits - we went by plane, which was a thrill. But when we got there Koshmider wanted us to sleep in the back of the Keiserkeller, because The Beatles were in the back of the cinema.
Before us, Howie Casey and the others had been sleeping in the back of the club. I'll never forget when we arrived and they said: 'Yes, this is where you live now.' There were a couple of old settees with Union Jack flags, which were our sheets. We said, 'Are you kidding? We've got the suits!' So Rory and I and the band all stayed in one room in the German Seaman's Mission, and that was luxury - absolute bloody luxury.
I MET THE BEATLES WHILE WE WERE PLAYING IN GERMANY. WE'D SEEN THEM IN LIVERPOOL, BUT THEY WERE A NOTHING LITTLE BAND THEN, JUST PUTTING IT TOGETHER. IN FACT, THEY WEREN'T REALLY A BAND AT ALL.
GEORGE: In the Keiserkeller we had to start earlier and finish later. They'd double us up with the other band, so we were alternating - first with Derry and the Seniors and then Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. In the contract we had to play for six hours and the other band had to play six hours, so it made into a twelve-hour set. We'd do an hour, they'd do an hour and it seemed to rotate like that, day in and day out, for tuppence a month. But when you a kid you don't care, really.
We started hanging out with them. I think we'd met Ringo once before, in England. I know we all had the same impression about him: 'You'd better be careful of him, he looks like trouble.'
Ringo seemed to us to be cocky. Relative to what we were like at the time, the band he was with were very professional. Maybe they wouldn't seem all that good now, but then they all had good instruments, they had a full drum kit and they had uniforms, matching ties and handkerchiefs. All their tunes were put into a routine, in a running order, and they did it as a show. And Rory was out at the front, always trying to leap around and 'mach shau'. Out of all the amateur bands in Liverpool, they were the most professional. So when they came to Hamburg Allan Williams told us: 'You'd better pull your socks up because Rory Storm and the Hurricanes are coming in, and you know how good they are. They're going to knock you for six.'
They would do their show and Ringo was the cocky one at the back; and with the way he looked, with that grey streak in his hair and half a grey eyebrow and a big nose, he looked a real tough guy. But it probably only took half an hour to realise it was actually... Ringo!
RINGO: By the time we all got together in Germany, with them playing one club and us playing another, they were already great. Then we ended up in the same club and The Beatles had the last set. I'd be semi-drunk, demanding they play slow songs.
PAUL: Ringo used to come in very late at night. He liked the bluesy sessions, when there weren't very many people there. I can see what he liked, too. We were getting down by then, pulling out all the B sides. We used to do a number called 'Three-Thirty Blues'. I remember Ringo would always come in, order a drink, settle back and request 'Three-Thirty Blues'.
RINGO: I was still a Teddy boy and I only found out later from John that they were a bit scared of me. John told me, 'We used to be a bit frightened of you - this drunk, demanding slow songs, dressed like a Teddy boy.'
They were great in Hamburg. Really good - great rock. I knew I was better than the drummer they at the time, and we all started hanging out some (not a lot); and then we moved to the same club, and that's when the battle started. We played twelve hours on a weekend night between two bands. That's a hell of a long time, especially when in each set we were trying to top them and they were trying to top us.
GEORGE: There was another thing: Pete would never hang out with us. When we finished doing the gig, Pete would go off on his own and we three would hang out together, and then when Ringo was around it was like a full unit, both on and off the stage. When there were the four of us with Ringo, it felt rocking.
JOHN: In Hamburg we had to play for hours and hours on end. Every song lasted twenty minutes and had twenty solos in it. We'd be playing eight or ten hours a night. That's what improved the playing. And the Germans like heavy rock, so you have to keep rocking all the time; that's how we got stomping.72
STUART SUTCLIFFE: We have improved a thousand fold since our arrival and Allan Williams, who is here at the moment, tells us that there is no band in Liverpool to touch us.60
GEORGE: We had to learn millions of songs. We had to play so long we just played everything. So it was all the Gene Vincent - we'd do everything on the album; not just a lazy 'Blue-Jean Bop', whatever. We'd get a Chuck Berry record, and learn it all, same with Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino - everything. But we'd also do things like 'Moonglow', which we used to play as an instrumental. Anything, because we'd be on for hours - we'd make up stuff.
Hamburg was really like our apprenticeship, learning how to play in front of people.
JOHN: We once tried a German number, playing to the crowd.
We got better and got more confidence. We couldn't help it, with all the experience, playing all night long. It was handy, them being foreign. We had to try even harder, put our heart and soul into it, to get ourselves over.67 Our performance was good then. We worked and played long hours - good at the age, when you could get work.76 And we'd all end up jumping around on the floor. Paul would be doing 'What'd I Say?' for an hour and a half.72
PAUL: 'What'd I Say' was always the one that really got them. That was one of our big numbers. It became like trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records - who could make it last the longest. It is the perfect song; it has the greatest opening riff ever. And if you had a Wurlitzer (which we didn't) you could keep that riff going for hours. Then it went, 'Tell your MAMA, tell your PAW. Gonna take you back to ArkanSAW. See the girl with the red dress on...' We could string that out. Then the chorus: 'Tell me, what'd I say?' and you could keep that going for hours. Then it had the killer, 'Oh yeah!' - audience participation.
JOHN: As far as I know, that was the first electric piano on record that I ever heard. 'What'd I Say' seemed to be the start of all the guitar-lick records. None of us had electric pianos so we did it on guitar to try and get that low sound. Before that, everything was mainly licks like on Little Richard rock'n'roll records, like 'Lucille' where the sax section and the guitar played it. 'What'd I Say' started a whole new ball game which is still going now.74
PAUL: We never thought to write our own songs over there. There was so much other stuff. I had written a couple of little things but I didn't dare show them to anyone because they were little. There was always a Chuck Berry song instead. 'A Taste Of Honey' was one of my big numbers in Hamburg - a bit of a ballad. It was different, but it used to get requested a lot. We sang close harmonies on the little echo mikes, and we made a fairly good job of it. It used to sound pretty good, actually.
We got better and better and other groups started coming to watch us. The accolade of accolades was when Tony Sheridan would come in from the Top Ten (the big club where we aspired to go) or when Rory Storm or Ringo would around to watch us.
GEORGE: Saturday would start at three or four in the afternoon and go on until five or six in the morning. We'd have breakfast when we finished. Everyone would be drunk - not just the band but the audience and all the people in St Pauli. They'd all go and eat something and perhaps drink more, then go to the fish market on Sunday morning (I never did figure out why). We'd just wander around in the broad sunlight, pissed as newts, with no sleep. Eventually we'd go to bed. Then the Sunday show would start early, but not finish too late.
For the early period the audience would be much younger, around fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. At eight or nine o'clock they'd start to get a bit older and after ten o'clock it would be eighteens and over only. By two in the morning it would be the hardened drunks and other club owners, who'd all come around and hang out with our club owner. They'd all be sitting at a big table getting thrashed, chucking around crates and bottles of Sekt, all kinds of schnapps - that's not to count what we were drinking by buying our own drinks, because at this point we discovered whisky and Coke.
RINGO: The Germans were fabulous, because if they liked you they would send up crates of beer. And if there were people with money, out-of-towners or the snobs of Hamburg, they would send champagne. We didn't give a damn, we'd drink it all.
Gangsters would also come into the clubs, and they had guns, which we'd never seen before. People would come in and sit at the bar and drink until they fell off the stool, or they had no money left. They wouldn't be shown to the door, they'd actually be kicked out of it to say, 'Don't do that again.'
JOHN: All these gangsters would come in - the local Mafia. They'd send a crate of champagne on stage, imitation German champagne, and we had to drink it or they'd kill us. They'd say, 'Drink, and then do "What'd I Say".' We'd have to do this show, whatever time of night. If they came in at five in the morning and we'd been playing seven hours, they'd give us a crate of champagne and we were supposed to carry on.
My voice began to hurt with the pain of singing. But we learnt from the Germans that you could stay awake by eating slimming pills, so we did that.67 I used to be so pissed I'd be lying on the floor behind the piano, drunk, while the rest of the group was playing. I'd be on stage, fast asleep. And we always ate on stage, too, because we never had time to eat. So it was a real scene... It would be a far-out show now: eating and smoking and swearing and going to sleep on stage when you were tired.72
RINGO: This was the point of our lives when we found pills, uppers. That's the only way we could continue playing for so long. They were called Preludin, and you could buy them over the counter. We never thought we were doing anything wrong, but we'd get really wired and go on for days. So with beer and Preludin, that's how we survived.
JOHN: The first drugs I ever took, I was still at art school, with the group (we all took it together), was Benzedrine from the inside of an inhaler...74
GEORGE: There was a bearded guy from a suburb of London, a Beat Poet named Royston Ellis. He came up to Liverpool to read his poetry and we were used to back him. Ellis had discovered that if you open a Vick's inhaler you find Benzedrine in it, impregnated into the carboard inside. (He later exposed this fact to the News of the World.)
JOHN: The beatnik, a sort of English version of Allen Ginsberg, was turning everybody onto this inside of an inhaler, and everybody thought, 'Wow! What's this?' and talked their mouths off for a night.
In Hamburg the waiters always had Preludin (and various other pills, but I remember Preludin because it was a big trip) and they were all taking these pills to keep themselves awake, to work these incredible hours in this all-night place. And so the waiters, when they'd see the pill. You'd take the pill, you'd be talking, you'd sober up, you could work almost endlessly - until the pill wore off, then you'd have to have another.74
GEORGE: We were frothing at the mouth. Because we had all these hours to play and the club owners were giving us Preludins, which were slimming tablets. I don't think they were amphetamine, but they were uppers. So we used to be up there foaming, stomping away.
We went berserk inasmuch as we got drunk a lot and we played wildly and then they gave us these pills. I remember lying in bed, sweating from Preludin, thinking, 'Why aren't I sleeping?'
PAUL: My dad was a very wise working-class guy, so he saw it all coming. As a lad going out to Hamburg on my own, I'd been forewarned: 'Drugs and pills: WATCH OUT, right?' So in Hamburg, when the Preludin came around I was probably the last one to have it. It was: 'Oh, I'll stick to the beer, thanks.'
They'd all get high, and I'd come up just on the buzz. I remember John turning to me, 'Blah, blah, blah,' saying, 'What are you on?' and I said, 'Nothing, blah, blah.' I'd be talking just as fast as them; their high would do it for me.
I really was frightened of that stuff, because you're taught when you're young to 'watch out for those devil drugs'. I actually saw the dangers and tried to keep away from it at first. Looking back, I realise it was only peer pressure: and to resist seems cooler now than it did at the time. It would have been rather wise and mature of me to say, 'Hey guys, I don't have to do everything you do,' but at the time it just felt like I was being a cissie. And that was the attitude that prevailed.
JOHN: The things we used to do! We used to break the stage down - that was long before The Who came out and broke things; we used to leave guitars playing on stage with no people there. We'd be so drunk, we used to smash the machinery. And this was all though frustration, not as an intellectual thought: 'We will break the stage, we will wear a toilet seat round our neck, we will go on naked.' We just did it, through being drunk.
Paul was telling me that he and I used to have rows about who was the leader. I can't remember them. It had stopped mattering by then. I wasn't so determined to be leader at all costs. If I did argue, it was just out of pride.
All the arguments became trivial, mainly because we were fucked and irritable with working so hard. We were just kids. George threw some food at me once on stage. The row was over something stupid. I said I would smash his face in for him. We had a shouting match, but that was all; I never did anything.67 And I once threw a plate of food over George. That's the only violence we ever had between us.69
GEORGE: John threw all kids of stuff over everybody, over the years. I can't remember that happening, but if he said it it must have happened. There were times when he did throw stuff. He got pretty wired. The down, adverse effects of drink and Preludins, where you'd be up for days, were that you'd start hallucinating and getting a bit weird. John would sometimes get on the edge. He'd come in in the early hours of the morning and be ranting, and I'd be lying there pretending to be asleep, hoping he wouldn't notice me.
One time Paul had a chick in bed and John came in and got a pair of scissors and cut all her clothes into pieces and then wrecked the wardrobe. He got like that occasionally; it was because of the pills and being up too long. But we threw things at the Germans; all the bands did.
JOHN: We used to shout in English at the Germans, call them Nazis and tell them to fuck off.70
PAUL: One of those days we were doing our stuff and some slightly strange-looking people arrived who didn't look like anyone else. Immediately we felt, 'Wey-hey... kindred spirits... something's going on here.' They came in and sat down and they were Astrid, Jürgen and Klaus. Klaus Voormann later played bass with Manfred Mann. Jürge was Jüfgen Vollmer, who is still a good photographer. So was Astrid Kirchherr, who was to be Stuart's girlfriend - they were the big love. Anyway, they arrived, sat down, and we could see they had something different. And we were also what they were looking for.
GEORGE: Astrid was the girlfriend of Klaus at first and they'd had a row one night, so he'd gone off in a huff. He was pissed off with her and he came down to this very bad area of Hamburg, where he would never have gone otherwise. He was walking around and he heard this noise coming out of a cellar so he came into the Keiserkeller, saw us and thought we were really interesting. He went back and told Astrid and brought her and some of their friends - there were ballet dancers with them - and they started coming in on a regular basis to see us. Astrid and Klaus would come in most frequently. They liked our band and she wanted to photograph us.
PAUL: They all liked the rock'n'roll and the quiffed-back hairdos, but they were different; they all wore black. In fact, we got a lot of our look from them. They called themselves 'Exis' - Existentialists. They were not rockers or mods, but 'Exis'.
We were still in rocker mode but, as I say, a little bit different from the other groups: different material, different sense of humour. Stuart had got himself looking like James Dean. He would put his shades on and stand there with his bass - it was all a big pose. At first, they were blown away by Stuart: they evidently weren't looking for musicianship - it was image. And when Stuart turned out to be a painter, and as John was an art student and they were art students, there was this great connection. So we had drinks with them and chatted, and soon really go to know them well.
STUART SUTCLIFFE: Just recently I have found the most wonderful friends, the most beautiful looking trio I have ever seen. I was completely captivated by their charm. The girl thought that I was the most handsome of the lot. Here was I, feeling the most inspired working member of the group, being told how much superior I looked - this alongside the great Romeo John Lennon and his two stalwarts Paul and George: the Casanovas of Hamburg!
GEORGE: They were all very nice people. It was really good for us to meet them, too, because they were more cultured than the locals. They had a great appreciation for us, but they were very artistic and interesting in themselves. They were the arty crowd around Hamburg.
We started hanging out with them. We learnt more from them at that point than they learnt from us, including style. Klaus, Astrid and Jürgen became real friends. Klaus later became a bass-player himself and played on many of my records and other people's. And Astrid was so loving; she'd take us home and reed us. She helped us a lot, even just to let us have a bath. Astrid was twenty-two at that time and I was seventeen; she seemed so much older than me, and so grown up.
Eventually Stuart and Astrid got off with each other; Astrid was really cute - so was Stuart; you can see from their pictures that they were.
PAUL: We got in with these people very tight. Jürgen and Astrid took some early photos of us. We would go to their studio, as they had one (or they knew a man who did). We had never had this kind of treatment before.
JOHN: IT WAS HAMBURG THAT DID IT. THAT'S WHERE WE REALLY DEVELOPED. TO GET THE GERMANS GOING AND KEEP IT UP FOR TWELVE HOURS AT A TIME WE REALLY HAD TO HAMMER. WE WOULD NEVER HAVE DEVELOPED AS MUCH IF WE'D STAYED AT HOME. WE HAD TO TRY ANYTHING THAT CAME INTO OUR HEADS IN HAMBURG. THERE WAS NOBODY TO COPY FROM. WE PLAYED WHAT WE LIKED BEST AND THE GERMANS LIKED IT AS LONG AS IT WAS LOUD.67
PAUL: Jürgen and Astrid would take us to a seedy place like a fairground and photograph us against it, so we started to see how that side of things was done. For a lot of our early hand-out photographs we would ask the photographer, 'Can we go out on site?' We liked that sort of image - it looks great. Glitter we always hated.
We found a shop with leather jackets, which we knew no one in Liverpool would have, and it was really cool. So that was going to be great for when we got back home.
GEORGE: It was everybody's idea to wear leather as soon as we saw it. Leather jackets were always the thing - Marlon Brando - and jeans. In Germany they had great leather, and our friends wore it. Astrid was dressing like that when we were still just Liverpool scruffs. She was the one who had the leather kecks and the Beatle haircut.
We got friendly with a few other local people; the waiters and the managers of the clubs. They really got to like us because we went back to Hamburg again and again.
PAUL: It was still very close to the war and all the people in Liverpool and on our estate hadn't forgotten, so it was good that we could meet young Germans. All these kids coming in had forgotten about the war, and this was very good for our relationships with those people.
It was strange for us. It was all very different, the whole ambience of Germany. Going to the Postamt to get stamps. It was like being at scout camp as a kid, where the post becomes very important: when they were handing out the post you prayed that there'd be two or three letters for you. If there weren't any you'd be gutted.
Here, the club managers would hand them to us and when we got one it was great - we'd go off in a corner reading these long letters.
RINGO: One morning, when I first got to Germany, I was wandering around, wondering where to go, and I bumped into Stuart in Grosse Freiheit. I didn't really know him at all, but he took me to a café that sold pancakes and got me my first meal.
We all hung around together in the Reeperbahn and ate cornflakes and pancakes together - that's how I learnt some German. The first word I learnt was for cornflakes, and then I learnt Pfannkuchen (pancakes) and Ei und Kartoffeln (egg and potatoes). The waiters would teach you to say 'fuck off' or 'kiss my arse' and pretend it was something else. So we'd say it to someone, and they'd grab you by the throat and we'd say, 'No, we're English! He told me to say it!'
It was very rough in that area. So was Liverpool, but because we'd grown up there we knew how to deal with it.
GEORGE: There were a couple of places we'd go to eat. There was a very cheap, horrible place just around the corner from the Kaiserkeller, down a little side street on the right. The customers were locals but they all seemed to be war veterans - people with no legs or eyes or arms - and cats. We'd go there and have a horrible slap-up meal for very little money.
Much better than that, though, was Harald's. He used to give us cornflakes, and egg and chips. And milk; that probably saved us - there was lots of fresh milk in that street. We'd wake up in the morning and buy a litre of cold milk at a little dairy place opposite the Bambi Kino. A couple of times we got buttermilk and didn't know what it was. We thought, 'Phew! What's going on?' It tasted curdled.
PAUL: Harald's was on the Grosse Freiheit. They would serve hamburgers called Frikadellen. (We could never understand why they didn't call them 'hamburgers' in Hamburg.) Harald's was right near the clubs, but if you went round the back there was Chug-ou. That's the place George was thinking of. It was a Chinese place just three hundred yards up the road, slightly off the Reeperbahn. Its great attraction was pancakes - 'Pfannkuchen mit Zitrone bitte, und Zucker' - pancakes with lemon and sugar. It was the only place that sold them; everywhere else was 'foreign food' to us. My main memory of that place is that you could tell we'd been in there, because ours were the only plates that were empty except for the gherkins -we didn't understand miniature pickles. So there'd always be two little gherkins left in our otherwise meticulously scrubbed plates.
It was great to have pancakes; it was like Shrove Tuesday every day. The down side of it was that there were quite a few limbless old people sitting around; old guys with black berets who'd obviously been in the war. And if you think about it, the war was only fifteen years before. We would see millions of veterans. And Germans all had uniforms - be it for the dustman, the binman, or for the man who lays the tarmac. There were war veterans so they would have a uniform or an armband, but no arm or no leg. It was a very clear reminder of what had recently happened. Our reaction as Liverpool lads was, 'Ah well, we won the war - don't worry.' There was always that 'don't mention the war'; but when it came to it we felt quite nationalistic, slightly gung ho about it.
STUART SUTCLIFFE: One thing I'm sure about since I've been here, I hate brutality. There is so much in this area...60
GEORGE: The problem with the nightclubs in Hamburg was that most of the waiters and the barmen were gangsters. They were tough guys, anyway; they were fighters, and there would always be fights.
The most popular tune to fight to, not only in Hamburg but in Liverpool too, was 'Hully Gully'. Every time we did 'Hully Gully' there would be a fight. In Liverpool they would be hitting each other with fire extinguishers. On Saturday night they would all be back from the pub and you could guarantee 'Hully Gully'!
I remember there were many nights in Hamburg when they pulled tear-gas guns out. But on one particular night you could smell the Players and Capstan cigarettes and we thought, 'Oh, eh up, the British are here.' Soldiers were in, and I remember telling one not to mess arounf with the barmaid, that she belonged to the club manager - one of the tough guys. But this soldier was getting drunk, trying to make it with the barmaid, and the next minute 'Hully Gully' was playing and all hell broke loose. By the end of the song we had to stop playing because of the tear gas.
JOHN: Gangs of fucking British servicemen [would] try to stir things up. When we could smell Senior Service in the audience we knew there would be trouble before the night was out. After a few drinks, they'd start shouting, 'Up Liverpool' or 'Up Pompey'. [But later] they'd all be lying there half dead after they'd tried to pick a fight with the waiters over the bill, of just over nothing. The waiters would get their flick-knives out, or their truncheons, and that would be it. I've never seen such killers.67
GEORGE: They had truncheons, coshes, knuckle-dusters. There was a shop just around the corner from where we lived where you could buy all this stuff. They would have fights and beat the hell out of each other and then the bad guy would get thrown out of the back door, and so an hour later he'd come back with reinforcements and then it was really wicked - blood everywhere. It happened a lot, especially when the troops came in. The seamen and the soldiers would come into town; they'd all get drunk and inevitably it ended in blood and tears. And tears for the band, too, with the gas in our faces.
PAUL: There were sailors everywhere. The waiters were all violent - they had to be because fights would always break out; so it was a crazy time. But we loved it.
JOHN: We chose to roll a British sailor. I thought I could chat him up in English, kid him on we could get him some birds. We got him drinking and drinking and he kept on asking, 'Where's the girls?' We kept chatting him up, trying to find out where he kept his money. We never made it. We just hit him twice in the end, then gave up. We didn't want to hurt him.67
PAUL: I used to get on Pete's case a bit. He'd often stay out all night. He got to know a stripper and they were boyfriend and girlfriend. She didn't finish work until four in the morning, so he'd stay up with her and roll back at about ten in the morning and be going to bed when we were starting work. I think that had something to do with a rift starting.
Round about this time, Stuart and I got a little fraught, too. I claim that I was making sure that we were musically very good, in case anyone was watching. I felt we had to be good for any talent-spotters. People would now call that the perfectionist in me. I see it as trying to get it right, but not obsessively so. This did create a couple of rifts and I could have been more sensitive about it. But who is sensitive at that age? Certainly not me.
Stuart and I once actually had a fight on stage. I thought I'd beat him hands down because he was littler than me. But he was strong and we got locked in a sort of death-grip, on stage during the set. It was terrible. We must have called each other something one too many times: 'Oh, you...' - 'You calling me that?' Then we were locked and neither of us wanted to go any further and all others were shouting, 'Stop it, you two!' - 'I'll stop it if he will.'
JOHN: Paul was saying something about Stu's girl - he was jealous because she was a great girl, and Stu hit him, on stage. And Stu wasn't a violent guy at all.72
PAUL: Of course, all the big gangsters round there were all laughing at us because they were used to killing people. Here were me and Stu - neither of us big fighters. None of this helped my relationship with Stuart or Pete.
RINGO: It was pretty vicious, but on the other hand the hookers loved us. They'd do my laundry - and the girls behind the bar were always good to us.
PAUL: Hamburg was quite eye-opener. We went as kids and came back as... old kids!
It was a sex shock. There were the Reeperbahn girls, and then there was a nicer class of girl who came in on weekends who had to go by ten o'clock because the German police would make an Ausweiskontrolle (an identity check). There were a few others who were a little more 'Reeperbahn' and then there were the striptease artists, and suddenly, you'd have a girlfriend who was a stripper. If you had hardly ever had sex in your life before, this was fairly formidable. Here was somebody who obviously knew something about it, and you didn't. So we got a fairly swift baptism of fire into the sex scene. There was a lot of it about and we were off the leash.
We were just Liverpool guys who, as far as we were concerned, could not get arrested back home. In Liverpool all the girls wore very rigid girdles; it was medieval. Here, in hamburg, they were almost flashing it. And seemed to know what the score was. That was the proof of the pudding, that we could pull them. They were great-looking girls, too, so it really was pulling the birds time. They were all barmaids; it wasn't your average sweet virgin that you were mixing with, but we were quite happy to be educated. We all got our education in Hamburg. It was quite something.
GEORGE: In the late Fifties in England it wasn't that easy to get it. The girls would all wear brassieres and corsets which seemed like reinforced steel. You could never actually get in anywhere. You'd always be breaking your hand trying to undo everything. I can remember parties at Pete Best's house, or wherever; there'd be these all-night parties and I'd be snogging with some girl and having a hard-on for eight hours till my groin was aching - and not getting any relief. That was how it always was. Those weren't the days.
There's that side of it which will always be there, with the different sexes and their desires and all that Testa Rossa-terone bubbling up. And there's the other side of it - the peer-group pressure: 'What, haven't you had it yet?' It becomes, 'Oh, I've got to get it,' and everyone would be lying: 'Yeah, I got it.' - 'Did you get some tit?' - 'I got some tit.' - 'Well, I got some finder pie!'
I certainly didn't have a stripper in Hamburg. I know Pete met one. There were young girls in the clubs and we knew a few, but for me it wasn't some big orgy. My first shag was in Hamburg - with Paul and John and Pete Best all watching. We were in bunkbeds. They couldn't really see anything because I was under the covers, but after I'd finished they all applauded and cheered. At least they kept quiet whilst I was doing it.
PAUL: We kept quiet, kept our faces to the wall and pretended to be asleep. The rest of us were a little more experienced by then. George was a late starter.
That was the intimacy we had. We would always be walking in on each other and things. I'd walked in on John and seen a little bottom bobbing up and down with a girl underneath him. It was perfectly normal: you'd go, 'Oh shit, sorry,' and back out the room. It was very teenage: 'Are you using this room? I want to have a shag.' And you'd pull a girl in there.
That's why I've always found very strange the theory that John was gay. Because over the fifteen years of sharing rooms, sharing our lives, not one of us has an incident to relate of catching John with a boy. I would have thought that kind of thing would be more prevalent, and John's inhibitions were certainly free when he was drunk.
RINGO: We were twenty (at least, I was) and were going to all the strip clubs and it was exciting. The closest I'd been to anything like that in Liverpool was watching Nudes on Ice - those perspex boxes with naked women in who couldn't move - and suddenly, in Germany, it was in your face. I was around all the clubs and we learnt to stay up day and night.
JOHN: What with playing, drinking and birds, how could we find time to sleep?
GEORGE: One time our friend Bernie came out from Liverpool to visit us. One day we were in a club and Bernie walked in and said, 'I've just had a wank off this great-looking bird in the lav.' We all said, 'That's not a bird, Bernie!'
PAUL: We set Bernie up. There was a club called the Roxy we all knew about. There were some cracking-looking birds there; they had deepish voices and they'd call you 'my little schnoodel poodel', which was like 'Little sweetie'. We didn't realise at first, but after being there a few weeks someone put us straight - they were all guys. There were a few who fancied us because we were good-looking young boys. And so Bernie came out and he was a Liverpool kid: 'Eh, all right lads - whoa, look at her, she's great!' We all knew the score by then and we said, 'Yeah. I've had her, she's fantastic.' The next day he came up and said, 'Ooh, I put me hand down there and she's got a fuckin' knob.' We all collapsed in a heap.
We grew up by experiencing this kind of thing, and got quite used to it. We spent all our money on drinking and generally having a good time.
GEORGE: The whole area, the Reeperbahn and St Pauli, was like Soho. So if you had a few beers and were feeling merry and talking loudly with a few friends, you wouldn't stand out. We were in an area where the whole place was raving. There were places where there were donkeys shagging women or whatever - allegedly, I never saw it - and mud-wrestling women and transvestites and all that. All we were doing was getting a bit pissed and playing rock'n'roll, and maybe getting a bit noisy occasionally. Not like the folklore; the history books have glorified and exaggerated it.
PAUL: There was a curfew at ten o'clock every night. The German police would come up on stage and announce: 'It is twenty-two hours and all young people under eighteen years must leave this club. We are making an Ausweiskontrolle.' Eventually we got so used to it that we started saying it ourselves. We would do joke announcement. I knew a bit of German; George and I had learnt it in school. (Everyone else had learnt French, but they taught us German and Spanish.) So it was very handy and we could do all the silly stuff. We eventually got a really big steaming club full and they loved us.
GEORGE: We would be sitting up on the bandstand, waiting, while all this went on. The Kontrolle would turn on all the club lights and the band would have to stop playing. Men would go around the tables checking Ids.
PAUL: We used to call them 'the Gestapo' - guys in very convincing German uniforms, going around looking at all the kids' passports. We had never seen the like of it. In Liverpool you could go anywhere as long as you didn't get caught in a pub, and certainly nobody came round and asked you for your pass. I suppose it was all leftovers from the war.
GEORGE: It went on for two months before the penny dropped as to what they were actually saying: 'Everybody under eighteen years old get out.' I was only seventeen and I was sitting with the band and getting worries, and eventually somebody did find out; I don't know how. We didn't have any work permits or visas, and with me under-age they started closing in on us; then one day the police came and booted me out.
I had to go back home and that was right at a critical time, because we'd just been offered a job at another club down the road, the Top Ten, which was a much cooler club. In our hour off from the Kaiserkeller we'd go there to watch Sheridan or whoever was playing. The manager had poached us from Bruno Koschmider and we'd already played a couple of times there. There was a really good atmosphere in that club. It had a great sound-system, it looked much better and they paid a bit more money.
Here we were, leaving the Kaiserkeller to go to the Top Ten, really eager to go there - and right at that point they came and kicked me out of town. So I was moving out to go home and they were moving out to go to this great club.
Astrid, and probably Stuart, dropped me at Hamburg station. It was a long journey on my own on the train to the Hook of Holland. From there I got the day boat. It seemed to take ages and I didn't have much money - I was praying I'd have enough. I had to get from Harwich to Liverpool Street Station and then a taxi across to Euston. From there I got a train to Liverpool. I can remember it now: I had an amplifier that I'd bought in Hamburg and a crappy suitcase and things in boxes, paper bags with my clothes in, and a guitar. I had too many things to carry and was standing in the corridor of the train with my belongings around me, and lots of soldiers on the train, drinking. I finally got to Liverpool and took a taxi home - I just about made it. I got home penniless. It took everything I had to get me back.
I had returned to England, on my own and all forlorn, but as it turned out, Paul and Pete were booted out at the same time and were already back ahead of me. It seems Bruno didn't want The Beatles to leave his club and, as there had been an accidental fire, he had got the police in.
Bruno said that they were burning his cinema down and they took Pete and Paul and put them in the police station on the Reeperbahn for a few hours and then flew them back to England. Deported them. Then John came back a few days after them, because there was no point in him staying and Stuart stayed for a bit because he'd decided to get together with Astrid. It was great, a reprieve, otherwise I had visions of our band staying on there with me stuck in Liverpool, and that would be it.
STUART SUTCLIFFE: We finished at the Kaiserkeller last week. The police intervened because we had no work permits. Paul and Peter the drummer were deported yesterday and sent in handcuffs to the airport. I was innocent this time, accused of arson - that is, setting fire to the Kino where we sleep. I arrive at the club and am informed that the whole of the Hamburg police are looking for me. The rest of the band are already locked up, so smiling and on the arm of Astrid, I proceed to give myself up. At this time, I'm not aware of the charges. All of my belongings, including spectacles, are taken away and I'm led to a cell, where, without food or drink I sat for six hours on a very wooden bench, and the door shut very tight. I signed a confession in Deutsch that I knew nothing about a fire, and they let me go. The next day Paul and Pete were deported and sent home by plane. John and I were without money and job. The police had forbidden us to work as already we were liable to deportation for working three months in the country illegally. The next day John went home. I stay till January at Astrid's house. At the moment she's washing all my muck and filth collected over the last few months. God I love her so much.60
JOHN: They were all deported and I was left in Hamburg, playing alone with another group of musicians. It was quite a shattering experience to be in a foreign country, pretty young, left there all on my own.76 We'd spent our money as we went along. I didn't have any to spare and being stuck in Hamburg with no food money was no joke, especially just around Christmas.
It was terrible, setting off home.67 I was feeling really sorry for myself and it was a pretty hungry business working my way back to Liverpool.63 I had my amp on my back, scared stiff I was going to get it pinched. I hadn't paid for it. I was convinced I'd never find England.67
When I did get home, I was so fed up I didn't bother to contact the others for a few weeks. A month is a long time at eighteen or nineteen; I didn't know what they were doing. I just withdrew to think whether it was worth going on with.80 I thought, 'Is this what I want to do?' I was always a sort of poet or painter and I thought, 'Is this it? Nightclubs and seedy scenes, being deported, and weird people in clubs?' Nowadays they call it decadence but those days it was just in Hamburg, in clubs that groups played at, strip clubs. I thought hard about whether I should continue.76 Now, when George and Paul found out, they were mad at me, because they thought, 'We could have been working now.' But I just withdrew. You see, part of me is a monk and part of me is a performing flea. Knowing when to stop is survival for me.80
Anyway, after a while I got to thinking that we ought to cash in on the Liverpool beat scene. Things were really thriving and it seemed a pity to waste the experience we'd got, playing all those hours every night in Hamburg.63
PAUL: After Hamburg it wasn't too good. Everyone needed a rest. I expected everyone to be ringing me to discuss what we were doing, but it was all quiet on the Western front. None of us called each other, so I wasn't so much dejected as puzzled, wondering whether it was going to carry on or if that was the last of it.
I started working at a coil-winding factory called Massey and Coggins. My dad had told me to go out and get a job. I'd said, 'I've got a job, I'm in a band.' But after a couple of weeks of doing nothing with the band it was, 'No, you have got to get a proper job.' He virtually chucked me out of the house: 'Get a job or don't come back.' So I went to the employment office and said, 'Can I have a job? Just give me anything.' I said, 'I'll have whatever is on the top of that little pile there.' And the first job was sweeping the yard at Massey and Coggins. I took it.
I went there the personnel officer said, 'We can't have you sweeping the yard, you're management material.' And they started to train me from the shop floor up with that in mind. Of course, I wasn't very good on the shop floor - I wasn't a very good coilwinder.
One day John and George showed up in the yard that I should have been sweeping and told me we had a gig at the Cavern. I said, 'No. I've got a steady job here and it pays Ј7 14s a week. They are training me here. That's pretty good, I can't expect more. And I was quite serious about this. But then - and with my dad's warning still in my mind - I thought, 'Sod it. I can't stick this lot.' I bunked over the wall and was never seen again by Massey and Coggins. Pretty shrewd move really, as things turned out.
JOHN: I was always saying, 'Face up to your dad, tell him to "fuck off". He can't hit you. You can kill him, he's an old man.' He treated Paul like a child, cutting his hair and telling him what to wear at seventeen, eighteen. But Paul would always give in. His dad told him to get a job; he dropped the group and started working on the lorries, saying, 'I need a steady career.' We couldn't believe it. I told him on the phone, 'Either come or you're out.' So he had to make a decision between me and his dad then, and in the end he chose me.71
GEORGE: We got a gig. Allan Williams put us in touch with a guy called Bob Wooler, a compere on the dance-hall circuit. He tried us out one night and put an ad in the paper: 'Direct from Hamburg. The Beatles'. And we probably looked German, too; very different from all the other groups, with our leather jackets. We looked funny and we played differently. We went down a bomb.
PAUL: We all wore black that we had picked up in Hamburg. All the Liverpool girls were saying, 'Are you from Germany?' or, 'I saw in the paper you are from Hamburg.'
JOHN: Suddenly we were a wow. Mind you, 70% of the audience thought we were a German wow, but we didn't care about that. Even in Liverpool, people didn't know we were from Liverpool. They thought we were from Hamburg. They said, 'Christ, they speak good English!' which we did, of course, being English.
It was that evening that we really came out of our shell and let go. We stood there being cheered for the first time. This was when we began to think that we were good. Up to Hamburg we'd thought we were OK, but not good enough. It was only back in Liverpool that we realised the difference and saw what had happened to us while everyone else was playing Cliff Richard shit.67
PAUL: HAMBURG TOTALLY WRECKED US. I REMEMBER GETTING HOME TO ENGLAND AND MY DAD THOUGHT I WAS HALF-DEAD; I LOOKED LIKE A SKELETON. I HADN'T NOTICED THE CHANGE, I'D BEEN HAVING SUCH A BALL!
JOHN: WE WERE ALWAYS ANTI-JAZZ. I THINK IT IS SHIT MUSIC - MORE STUPID THAN ROCK'N'ROLL - FOLLOWED BY STUDENTS IN MARKS AND SPENCER PULLOVERS.67
PAUL: We started getting gigs down the Cavern. The Cavern was sweaty, damp, dark, loud and exciting. As usual we didn't start out with much of an audience, but then people began to hear about us. We could always entertain them. It became our strength later, whether playing live or making records - we always had something up our sleeve.
GEORGE: We used to play lunchtime dates. We'd get up and go down to the Cavern and play from noon till about two. It was very casual; we'd have our tea and sandwiches and cigarettes on stage, sing a couple of tunes and tell a few jokes. There was something that even Brian Epstein liked about all that, although he pushed us away from that to a bigger audience.
JOHN: In those old Cavern days, half the thing was just ad lib; what you'd call comedy. We just used to mess about, jump into the audience, do anything.64
PAUL: We'd go on stage with a cheese roll and a cigarette and we felt we really had something going in that place. The amps used to fuse and we'd stop and sing a Sunblest bread commercial while they were being repaired. We used to do skits - I'd do an impersonation of Jet Harris from The Shadows, because he'd played there. He fell off the stage once and I'd fall off it, too - you couldn't beat it.
JOHN: Neil's our personal road manager. He was in from the start - he went to school with Paul and George.64
NEIL ASPINALL: It was when they came back from Hamburg that The Beatles needed transport to get them to the Cavern and other places. They were using cabs at the time and all the money they were earning was going to the cab drivers. I had a van and needed the money, so Pete (I was a friend of his and living at his house at the time) told the others that I would drive them round. I did that for Ј1 a night, which wasn't bad: I'd make Ј7 a week, which was better than the Ј2.50 I was getting as a trainee accountant.
I used to drop them off in the van, go home and do my correspondence course, then pick them up later; and it developed from there. Soon, I wasn't doing the accountancy any more - I just didn't bother turning up - and was with the band on a permanent basis. It was great, because it was the start of the whole rock'n'roll era in Liverpool and it was very exciting.
I first met Paul when we were about eleven, thought I didn't get to know him as a friend until a number of years later. I had gone to grammar school with him. We were both in the same class in the first year, then we went off into different streams. George was in the same school, but a year younger - we used to smoke together, behind the air-raid shelter in the playground.
My first memory of John is in Penny Lane in Liverpool. I think we were going to Paul's house. I was fifteen. People were into the skiffle then, and would go to each other's houses and play instruments - there were no bands formed, as I recall. I remember this: getting off the bus at Penny Lane and we're all waiting there and I ask, 'Who are we waiting for?' A bus stops and a guy gets off with his arm around an old man that he is talking to - and walks off down the road.
He was back in a few moments and somebody asked him, 'Who was that?' - 'I don't know, never seen him before.' That was my first impression of John: 'What's he doing with his arm round some old guy he's never met before?' That was John Lennon.
GEORGE: Behind the air-raid shelters at school there used to be this smoking club; that's where I met Neil - smoking cigarettes in playtime. I'd see him throughout our school years and by the time we left school he was living in Pete Best's house, the one that had the Casbah club in the basement. Neil had a job as an accountant, and he had a little van, so when we needed somebody to drive us around it occurred to us that Neil might want to make some extra money - probably only about five shillings at the time. We put all our equipment into his van and he drove us to a gig, and he kept on with it. That became the makings of the road manager.
NEIL ASPINALL: They were doing a lot of gigs in and around Liverpool at the time. There were a lot of ballrooms and town halls and clubs like the Cavern and the Iron Door and the Blue Angel that bands could play in, but they were mainly jazz clubs. They'd never let The Beatles play. You had to try and force your way in. It was Kenny Ball/Acker Bilk sort of stuff at the Cavern. They might let a rock'n'roll group play in the break, before the main band came on, a jazz band.
JOHN: Jazz never gets anywhere, never does anything; it's always the same, and all they do is drink pints of beer. We hated it because they wouldn't let us play at those sort of clubs.67
NEIL ASPINALL: Often, after a gig, we'd go to a drinking club - maybe the Blue Angel - and see what was happening and just hang out. Everybody knew everybody else. A lot of people in the different bands had gone to school with each other so there was quite a bit of camaraderie, and plenty of rivalry as well.
People used to say to me then, 'What do you do?' I'd stopped being an accountant or pretending to be one by this time and I said, 'I drive the band around,' and they'd say, 'Yeah, I know that - but what do you do for a living?' Two years later, the same people were saying, 'You lucky git, Neil.'
RINGO: Our band all came home to Liverpool, too. It was pretty hard, trying to find jobs, and we couldn't make a lot of money. I was still playing with Rory, and The Beatles were on their own. We would do some gigs at the same venue and I started to go and watch them. I just loved the way they played; I loved the songs, the attitude was great, and I knew they were a better band than the one I was in.
GEORGE: We began to get other gigs at dance halls. There would always be a bunch of groups on, maybe five, and we'd follow somebody and do our bit and it became more and more popular. They liked us because we were kind of rough, and we'd had a lot of practice in Germany. They couldn't believe it. There were all these acts going 'dum de dum' and suddenly we'd come on, jumping and stomping. Wild men in leather suits. It took us a while to realise how much better we'd become than the other groups. But we began to see that we were getting big crowds everywhere. People were following us round, coming to see us personally, not just coming to dance.
In those days, when we were rocking on, becoming popular in the little clubs where there was no big deal about The Beatles, it was fun. A lot of those old nightclubs were just real fun. I think we were a good, tight, little band.
JOHN: One of the main reasons to get on stage is it's the quickest way of making contact. We went to see those movies with Elvis or somebody in, when we were still in Liverpool, and everybody'd be waiting to see them (and I'd be waiting there, too), and they'd all scream when he came on the screen. We thought, 'That's a good job.' That's why most musicians are on stage, actually. It is a good incentive for all performers.
In the very early days, when we were playing dance halls, there were a certain type you'd call groupies now, available for 'functions' at the end of the night. Most kids would go home with their boyfriends or whatever, but there was a small group that went for any performer. They didn't care if it was a comedian or a man who ate glass, as long as he was on stage.75
PAUL: It certainly wasn't all pleasure. We did a lot of hard slog. We'd play places and people would throw pennies at us. To disarm them we'd stop playing and pick up all the coins. We thought, 'That'll teach 'em, they won't keep throwing now.' We had pockets full of pennies.
JOHN: I remember one hall we were at. There were so many people that we told each other that there must be other managers around and we'd get a lot of work out of it. What we didn't know was that the management had laid on lots of bouncers to stop the other promoters getting near. So nobody came to us, except this bloke from the management who said he liked us and would give us a long series of dates at Ј8 a night. It was a couple of quid more than we were getting anyway, so we were pleased.67
GEORGE: There were a lot of fights in clubs in Liverpool; that was after Hamburg, when we started touring dance halls.
PAUL: The Hambleton Hall was a place with a reputation for fights. One gig there, we were playing 'Hully Gully', and they turned fire-extinguishers on each other. By the end of the song, everyone was soaking wet and bleeding.
GEORGE: We came back from Hamburg in November 1960 and went back out again in April 1961. I'd become eighteen when we went the second time so I was able to go back, and whatever the problem was of Paul and Pete's deportation we managed to get round it. Peter Eckhorn sorted it out. He was the owner of the Top Ten Club, where we were going to play; and the fact he'd made that effort meant that he was keen to get The Beatles, so we were happy to work there.
When we went back we were playing at the Top Ten and living above the club; a really grubby little room with five bunk beds. In the next room was a little old lady known as Mutti. She was pretty stinky. She used to keep the toilets clean - they were really bad up there.
PAUL: German toilets always have a lady to look after them and we formed a friendship with our one, Mutti. Every time you went to the toilet you were supposed to leave ten pfennigs in the saucer. And if anyone was ever sick in there Mutti would come roaring out of the toilet with a bucket and demand that the drunk clean it up. You wouldn't see so many people being sick there.
Mutti found a houseboat for me and my then girlfriend to stay in. The girls were coming over one time, Cynthia and Dot Rhone, and we needed a place. We found a rather nice little houseboat through her.
RINGO: At the Top Ten Club there were just bunk beds - and you could have Mutti look after you! It was tough, but we were twenty years old, we didn't give a damn; it was fabulous. This was opening your eyes; this was leaving home, this was leaving the country. Hamburg was fabulous; I think when you are twenty everywhere's wild. To me Hamburg felt like Soho.
PAUL: We tried our 'Beatle' hairstyle in Hamburg this time. It was all part of trying to pull people in: 'Come in. We are very good rock'n'roll!'
GEORGE: Astrid and Klaus were very influential. I remember we went to the swimming baths once and my hair was down from the water and they said, 'No, leave it, it's good.' I didn't have my Vaseline anyway, and I was thinking, 'Well, these people are cool - if they think it's good, I'll leave it like this.' They gave me that confidence and when it dried off it dried naturally down, which later became 'the look'.
Before that, as a rocker, I wore my hair back; though it would never go back without a fight - it goes forward when I wash it. (It just grows into a Beatle cut!) I used to have to put thick Vaseline on my hair to hold it back.
I remember cutting John's hair one time, and I tried to get him to cut mine. We did it just as a joke, only the once, but I don't think he cut mine as professionally as I cut his...
JOHN: That was the last time I cut anybody's hair.65
GEORGE: And then we saw those leather pants and we thought: 'Wow! We've got to get some of them!' So Astrid took us to a tailor who made us some Nappaleders - those great pants. And we had found a shop in Hamburg that sold genuine Texas cowboy boots. It was just a matter of trying to get some money. We may have even paid for them 'on the weekly'. We all had little pink caps we used to call 'twat hats' that we'd bought in Liverpool. So that became our band uniform: cowboy boots, twat hats and black leather suits.
JOHN: We had a bit more money the second time, so we bought leather pants and we looked like four Gene Vincents - only a bit younger.63
GEORGE: The Top Ten Club had a mike system called the Binson Echo. It was a silver and golden unit which had a small Grundig tape machine with a little green light, that would twitch with the volume. That had a great echo - on it you'd sound like Gene Vincent doing 'Be Bop A Lula'.
We were backing up lots of people at the Top Ten. The singer Tony Sheridan was there - he had been there the first time as well, now he was the resident. He'd managed to get himself a job working the club permanently and we used to back him.
RINGO: It was great being out there with Tony Sheridan. I was there in 1962 backing him with Roy Young, and Lou Walters on bass. It was all very exciting. Tony was really volatile. If anyone in the club was talking to his girl he'd be punching and kicking all over the place, while we'd just keep on jamming. Then he'd come back and join us, covered in blood if he'd lost. But he was a really good player.
GEORGE: Tony Sheridan had an up-side and a down-side. The up-side was that he was a pretty good singer and guitar player, and it was good to play along with him because we were still learning - the more bands we saw and heard the better. He was older than us as well and was more hardened to the business, whereas we were just getting into it, more bouncy and naive. On that basis it was good to have Sheridan there; but at the same time he was such a downer. He'd fled from England - some kind of trouble - and was always getting into fights. I remember he managed to cut the tendon in his finger on a broken bottle in a fight - fortunately, not on his guitar-playing hand. When he used his guitar pick after that, his injured finger stuck right out.
They used to have a talent night at the Top Ten Club, a Tuesday evening. People from the audience would come up and sing and we'd have to back them up. We did this for a while and we would really wind people up, take the piss out of them.
I remember one bloke who came up, a sax player. At that time, we didn't know that much about music; all we knew were the names of each key. This guy started playing his sax and we were playing along with him when we decided to play a joke. We began to say among ourselves another key, say D; someone gave the nod and we all suddenly changed into that key, pretending nothing had happened. The guy didn't know what was going on, but he tried to follow. And then we whispered, 'B flat,' to each other and we all changed key again. We were really stretching this guy and he was trying desperately to find out what key we were in and keep up with us.
There were other Germans who'd come on stage and try to sing Little Richard and Chuck Berry songs without knowing the words. They knew the sounds of the words but they couldn't really get them, especially if it was something like 'Tutti Frutti'. And the German accent doesn't really lend itself to rock'n'roll so it could be quite hysterical. The funniest noteworthy story is how, back then, when we were still performing the latest records, one was Johnny Kidd and the Pirates' 'Shakin' All Over' and it went, 'Shivers down my backbone, shaking all over...' but the Germans thought we were singing 'Schick ibn nach Hannover' - 'Send him to Hanover' - the German equivalent of 'send him to Coventry'.
We were learning how to gel as a band, we learnt a lot of songs and we learnt a lot of improvising within all the songs we knew. We gained a bit of confidence, but we were always looking for the next big thing when we were in the Top Ten Club: you'd hear, 'Bert Kaempfert's here.' - 'Who the fuck is he?' - 'Bert Kaempfert; you know, "Wonderland By Night", he's a record producer and he's looking for talent.' - 'Oh shit, we'd better play good then.'
PAUL: We did a recording with Tony Sheridan, 'My Bonnie', for Bert Kaempfert, a band leader and producer. It was actually 'Tony Sheridan und die Beat Brothers'. They didn't like our name and said, 'Change to The Beat Brothers; this is more understandable for the German audience. 'We went along with it - it was a record.
JOHN: When that offer came we thought it would be easy. The Germans had such shitty records. Ours were bound to be better. We did five of our own numbers, but they didn't like them. They preferred things like 'My Bonnie'.67 It's just Tony Sheridan singing, with us banging in the background. It's terrible. It could be anybody.63
GEORGE: We recorded 'Ain't She Sweet', too. It was a bit disappointing because we'd been hoping to get a record deal as ourselves. Although we did 'Ain't She Sweet' and the instrumental 'Cry For A Shadow' without Sheridan, they didn't even put our name on the record. That's why it's so pathetic that later, when we'd become famous, they put the record out as 'The Beatles with Tony Sheridan'. But when it first came out they'd called us 'The Beat Brothers'.
We also recorded with Lou Walters. He was Rory Storm's bass player. He was a guy who though he was a singer. He paid to have the record made himself, as we had done in Liverpool with 'That'll Be The Day'.
JOHN: Gene Vincent's recording of 'Ain't She Sweet' is very mellow and high-pitched and I used to do it like that, but the Germans said, 'Harder, harder' - they all wanted it a bit more like a march - so we ended up doing a harder version.74
RINGO: I recorded with Rory over in Hamburg. Somewhere out there is an amazing acetate which I'd like a copy of. We did 'Fever' and another track.
JOHN: We were a good live band and, in general, it's pretty pleasant memories of struggling along to Lord knows where. But at the time it didn't seem any more fun than that. It was just you had a job or you didn't have a job. When you look back on it, you realise how good things were, even though at the time you might have thought, 'Gor, we've got to play six hours a night and all we get is two dollars and you've got to take these pills to keep awake, man,; it's not right.'76
We repeated the shows many, many times, but never the same. Sometimes we'd go on with fifteen or twenty musicians and play together and we'd create something that had never been done on stage by a group before. I'm talking about before we were famous, about the natural things that happened, before we were turned into robots that played on stage. We would, naturally, express ourselves in any way that we deemed suitable. And then a manager came and said, 'Do this, do that, do this, do that,' and that way we became famous by compromise.
GEORGE: Stuart was engaged to Astrid and after that trip decided that he was going to leave the band and live in Germany because Eduardo Palozzi was coming to be the lecturer at Hamburg Art College. Stu had never really been that single-minded about music. We liked him in the band: he looked great and he'd learnt enough to get by, but he was never totally convinced that he was going to be a musician.
He said, 'I'm out of the Band, lads, I'm going to stay in Hamburg with Astrid.' At that point I said, 'We're not going to get a fifth person in the band. One of us three is going to be the bass player and it's not going to be me.' And John said, 'It's not going to be me,' and Paul didn't seem to mind the idea.
Colin Milander, the bass player in Tony Sheridan's trio, had a Hofner violin bass, which was really a rip-off of the Gibson bass. So when Paul decided he was going to be the bass player he went out and bought one like Colin's.
PAUL: I really got lumbered with bass. Nobody actually wanted to play bass that's why Stuart was playing it. We all wanted really to be guitarists, and we were three guitar players to start off with.
There's something I'd like to get straight because it is kind of historical - someone a few years ago said how it was my relentless ambition that pushed Stu out of the group. We did have some arguments, me and Stu, but actually I just wanted us to be a really cracking band, and Stu - being a cracking artist - held us back a little bit not too much. If ever it came to the push, when there was someone in there watching us I'd feel, 'Oh, I hope Stu doesn't blow it.' I could trust the rest of us; that was it. Stuart would tend to turn away a little so as not to be too obvious about what key he was in, in case it wasn't our key.
When it became clear that Stu was leaving because of Astrid, I asked him in the transition period to lend me his bass, which, for me, was upside down - although I couldn't change the strings around in case he ever wanted to play it. By then I had learnt to play guitar upside down, anyway, because John would never let me turn the strings around on his guitar, neither would George - it was just too inconvenient for them to have to turn them all back again.
GEORGE: Bill Harry started the Mersey Beat newspaper in Liverpool in the summer of 1961, soon after we'd come back from Germany. John, who was at art college with him, would do funny things for the paper.
John had a gift for writing and drawing and speaking - particularly funny stuff. He had a book which he wrote when he was at Quarry Bank called the Daily Howl. It was quite big, the size of the Beano annual. It was a kind of newspaper with little jokes and cartoons - schoolboy humour, but really good and nicely illustrated. He was good at all that.
JOHN: I wrote for Mersey Beat. Some things went into In His Own Write, and I used to write a thing called 'Beatcomber', because I admired the column 'Beachcomber' in the Daily Express. That's when I wrote with George, 'A man came on a flaming pie...' because even back then they were asking: 'How did you get the name, "The Beatles"?'72
JOHN: 'GEAR' IS A LIVERPOOL EXPRESSION FROM THE FRENCH DE RIGUEUR, MEANING SOMETHING LIKE 'VERY COOL'.
JOHN: I was twenty-one/twenty-two before The Beatles ever made it in any way. And even then that voice in me was saying, 'Look, you're too old.' Before we'd even made a record I was thinking, 'You're too old,' that I'd missed the boat, that you'd got to be seventeen - a lot of stars in America were kids. They were much younger than I was, or Ringo.74
STUART SUTCLIFFE: Last night I heard that John and Paul have gone to Paris to play together - in other words, the band has broken up! It sounds mad to me, I don't believe it...61
PAUL: John and I went on a trip for his twenty-first birthday. John was from a very middle-class family, which really impressed me because everyone else was from working-class families. To us John was upper class. His relatives were teachers, dentists, even someone up in Edinburgh in the BBC. It's ironic, he was always very 'fuck you!' and he wrote the song 'Working Class Hero' - in fact, he wasn't at all working class. Anyway, one of John's relatives gave him Ј100 I would be impressed. And I was his mate, enough said? 'Let's go on holiday.' - 'You mean me too? With the hundred quid? Great! I'm part of this windfall.'
JOHN: Paul bought me a hamburger to celebrate.
I wasn't too keen on reaching twenty-one. I remember one relative saying to me, 'From now on, it's all downhill,' and I really got a shock. She told me how my skin would be getting older and that kind of jazz.
Paul and I set off on a hitchhike to Paris. Well, it was going to be a hitchhike but we ended up taking the train all the way - sheer laziness.63 We'd got fed up. We did have bookings, but we just broke them and went off.67
PAUL: We planned to hitchhike to Spain. I had done a spot of hitchhiking with George and we knew you had to have a gimmick; we had been turned down so often and we'd seen that guys that had a gimmick (like a Union Jack round them) had always got the lifts. So I said to John, 'Let's get a couple of bowler hats.' It was showbiz creeping in. We still had our leather jackets and drainpipes - we were too proud of them not to wear them, in case we met a girl; and if we did meet a girl, off would come the bowlers. But for lifts we would put the bowlers on. Two guys in bowler hats - a lorry would stop! Sense of Humour. This, and the train, is how we got to Paris.
We'd never been there before. We were a bit tired so we checked into a little hotel for the night, intending to go off hitchhiking the next morning. Of course, it was too nice a bed after having hitched so we said, 'We'll stay a little longer,' then we thought, 'God, Spain is a long way, and we'd have to work to get down there.' We ended up staying the week in Paris - John was funding it all with his hundred quid.
We would walk miles from our hotel; you do in Paris. We'd go to a place near the Avenue des Anglais and we'd sit in the bars, looking good. I still have some classic photos from there. Linda loves one where I am sitting in a gendarme's mac as a cape and John has got his glasses on askew and his trousers down revealing a bit of Y-front. The photographs are so beautiful, we're really hamming it up. We're looking at the camera like, 'Hey, we are artsy guys, in a café: this is us in Paris,' and we felt like that.
We went up to Montmartre because of all the artists, and the Folies Bergères, and we saw guys walking around in short leather jackets and very wide pantaloons. Talk about fashion! This was going to kill them when we got back. This was totally happening. They were tight to the knee and then they flared out; they must have been about fifty inches around the bottom and our drainpipe trousers were something like fifteen or sixteen inches. (Fifteen were the best, but you couldn't really get your foot through at fifteen, so sixteen was acceptable.) We saw these trousers and said, 'Excusez-moi, Monsieur, où did you get them?' It was a cheap little rack down the street so we bought a pair each, went back to the hotel, put them on, went out on the street - and we couldn't handle it: 'Do your feet feel like they are flapping? Feel more comfortable in me drainies, don't you?' So it was back to the hotel at a run, needle and cotton out and we took them in to a nice sixteen with which we were quite happy. And then we met Jürgen Vollmer on the street. He was still taking pictures.
JOHN: Jürgen also had bell-bottom trousers, but we thought that would be considered too queer back in Liverpool. We didn't want to appear feminine or anything like that, because our audience in Liverpool still had a lot of fellas. (We were playing rock, dressed in leather, though Paul's ballads were bringing in more and more girls.)67 Anyway, Jürgen had a flattened-down hairstyle with a fringe in the front, which we rather took to. We went over to his place and there and then he cut - hacked would be a better word - our hair into the same style.63
PAUL: He had his hair Mod-style. We said, 'Would you do our hair like yours?' We're on holiday - what the hell! We're buying capes and pantaloons, throwing caution to the wind. He said, 'No, boys, no. I like you as Rocker; you look great.' But we begged him enough so he said 'all right'. He didn't do it quite the same as his.
His was actually more coming over to one side. A kind of long-haired Hitler thing, and we'd wanted that, so it was really a bit of an accident. We sat down in his hotel and he just got it - the 'Beatle' cut!
For the rest of that week we were like Paris Existentialists. Jean Paul Sartre had nothing on us. This was it. 'Sod them all - I could write a novel from what I learnt this week.' It was all inside me. I could do anything now.
RINGO: What a sight they looked when they arrived back!
PAUL: When we got back to Liverpool it was all, 'Eh, your hair's gone funny.' - 'No, this is the new style.'
We nearly tried to change it back but it wouldn't go, it kept flapping forward. And that just caught on. We weren't really into the coiffure. It was like Mo's out of the Three Stooges. It fell forward in a fringe. But it was great for us because we never had to style it or anything - wash it, towel it, turn upside down and give it a shake, and that was it. Everyone thought we had started it, so it became 'the Beatle hairdo'.
JOHN: We go along with the trends, we always have done. To a degree we can make a trend popular - we don't usually invent clothes, we wear something we like and then maybe people follow us. Our original style was continental, because English people wore English kinds of clothes. Then continental styles caught on in England, too.65
I was ashamed to go on the Continent and say I was British before we made it. The Beatles have tried to change Britain's image. We changed the hairstyles and clothes of the world, including America - they were a very square and sorry lot when we went over.69
BRIAN EPSTEIN: On Saturday 28th October 1961, I was asked by a young boy for a record by a group called The Beatles. It had always been our policy in records to look after whatever request was made. I wrote on a pad: '"My Bonnie". The Beatles. Check on Monday.'
I had never given a thought to any of the Liverpool beat groups then up and coming in cellar clubs. They were not part of my life, because I was out of the age group, and also because I had been too busy. The name 'Beatle' meant nothing to me, though I vaguely recalled seeing it on a poster advertising a dance at New Brighton Tower and I remembered thinking it was an odd and purposeless spelling.
Before I had had time to check on Monday, two girls came in the store and they too asked for a disc by this group. This, contrary to legend, was the sum total of demand for The Beatles' disc at this time in Liverpool. But I was sure there was something very significant in three queries for one unknown disc in two days.
I talked to contacts and found what I hadn't realised, that The Beatles were in fact a Liverpool group, that they had just returned from playing clubs in the steamy, seedy end of Hamburg. A girl I know said: 'The Beatles? They're the greatest. They're at the Cavern this week...'
PAUL: Brian Epstein had a shop called NEMS. He was the son of the owner, Harry Epstein. NEMS stood for North End Music Stores and we bought our records there. It was quite a gathering place; one of the shops where you could find the records you wanted.
We did well at the Cavern, attracted some big audiences and word got around. What had happened was a kid had gone into Brian's record store and asked for 'My Bonnie' by The Beatles. Brian had said, 'No it's not, it's by Tony Sheridan,' and he ordered it. Then Brian heard that we were playing 200 yards away. So he came to the Cavern and the news got to us: 'Brian Epstein is in the audience - he might be a manager or a promoter. He is a grown-up, anyway.' It was Us and Grown-ups then.
GEORGE: Brian came down the street and checked us out. I remember Bob Wooler, the disc jockey, announcing, 'We have with us a Mr Epstein, who owns NEMS,' and everybody going, 'Oh wow. Big, big deal.'
He stood at the back listening and afterwards came round to the band room. We thought he was some very posh rich fellow: that's my earliest memory of Brian. He had wanted us to sign up, but I believe he came a number of times before he actually decided to be our manager.
JOHN: He looked efficient and rich, that's all I remember.67
He tried to manage us, but he couldn't get through to us. It lasted about a week: we said, 'We're not having you.' He didn't take over as though he just walked in and said, 'Right, cut your hair like that, put this suit on,' any of that.69
Paul wasn't that keen, but he's more conservative in the way he approaches things. He even says that himself - and that's all well and good. Maybe he'll end up with more yachts.75
PAUL: At that age we were very impressed by anyone in a suit or with a car. And Brian was impressed with us; he liked our sense of humour and our music and he liked our look - black leather.
So one evening we went down to the NEMS shop. It was very awe-inspiring, being let into this big record shop after hours with no one there. It felt like a cathedral. We went upstairs to Brian's office to make the deal. I was talking to him, trying to beat him down, knowing the game: try to get the manager to take a low percentage. And the others tried as well, but he stuck at a figure of 25%. He told us, 'That'll do, now I'll be your manager,' and we agreed.
With my dad's advice - I remember Dad had said to get a Jewish manager - it all fitted and Brian Epstein became our manager.
JOHN: Epstein was serving in a record shop and he had nothing to do, and saw these rockers, greasers, playing loud music and a lot of kids paying attention to it. And he thought, 'This is a business to be in,' and he liked it - he liked the look of it. He wanted to manage us, and he told us that he thought he could, and we had nobody better so we said, 'All right, you can do it.'75
We were in a daydream till he came along. We'd no idea what we were doing. Seeing our marching orders on paper made it all official.67
NEIL ASPINALL: It was impressive to us. Till then, the guy who was running a particular venue would book you up for the next four Tuesday nights and it would be written in somebody's diary - in Paul's diary or Pete's, or somewhere. They'd book it up but it was all ad hoc, done as we went along. When Brian came along, the first thing he did was double the money at the Cavern from Ј7 10s to Ј15.
PAUL: The gigs went up in stature and though the pay went up only a little bit, it did go up. We were now playing better places. we would still do our rock act, though we wouldn't get decent money for any gig apart from cabaret. I could pull out 'Till There Was You' or 'A Taste Of Honey' - the more cabaret things - and John would sing 'Over The Rainbow' and 'Ain't She Sweet'. These did have cred for us because they were on a Gene Vincent album and we didn't realise 'Rainbow' was a Judy Garland number; we thought it was Gene Vincent, so we were happy to do it.
NEIL ASPINALL: It was Brian's theatrical training - that's where the clothes and bowing to the audience after each number came from, and cutting off the end of the guitar strings. In those days guitar strings cost money, so when one snapped you undid the end of it, pulled it through and tied a knot, then wound it up and got on with playing. All those wires hanging at the end of the guitar didn't look very tidy, so Brian's advice was, 'Cut off the end of that and tidy this act up - get it more presentable for the general public.'
These suggestions were resisted at first. With the guitar strings, it meant taking the whole thing off and putting a new one in: that took longer to do. And the bowing - John would do it, but under protest. He would flick his hands about and he'd always add a little quip just for us in the crowd - we knew what he was doing and we'd be laughing about it, but I don't think the audience ever caught on.
JOHN: Brian Epstein said, 'Look, if you really want to get in these bigger places, you're going to have to change - stop eating on stage, stop swearing, stop smoking...'75
He wasn't trying to clean our image up: he said our look wasn't right, we'd never get past the door at a good place. We used to dress how we liked, on and off stage.67 He'd tell us that jeans were not particularly smart and could we possibly manage to wear proper trousers, but he didn't want us suddenly looking square. He let us have our own sense of individuality.75
To us, Brian was the expert. I mean, originally he had the shop. Anybody who's got a shop must be all right. And a car, and a big house... Fuckin' hell, you don't care if it's all his dad's or not, we thought he was it.72
It was a choice of making it or still eating chicken on stage. We respected his views. We stopped champing at cheese rolls and jam butties; we paid a lot more attention to what we were doing, did our best to be on time and we smartened up.75
GEORGE: Brian put in a lot of time getting us off the ground. He believed in us from the start.
JOHN: He went around, smarming and charming everybody, the newspaper people - and they all thought highly of him.72
Trying to get publicity was just a game. We used to traipse round the offices of the local papers and musical papers asking them to write about us, because that's what you had to do. It was natural we should put on our best show. We had to appear nice for the reporters, even the very snooty ones who were letting us know they were doing us a favour. We would play them along, agreeing how kind they were to talk to us. We were very two-faced about it.67
Brian would go from Liverpool to London. And he came back and said, 'I've got you an audition.' We were all excited: it was Decca. He'd met this Mike Smith guy and we were to go down there. So we went down and we did all these numbers; terrified and nervous, you can hear it. It starts off terrified and gradually we settle down.72 We recorded 'To Know her Is To Love Her', the Phil Spector song, and a couple of our own; we virtually recorded our Cavern stage show, with a few omissions - around twenty songs.74
We made tapes for Decca and Pye, but we didn't actually go to Pye.64
NEIL ASPINALL: I remember we had to drive down to London on New Year's Eve 1961, because of The Beatles' audition for Decca Records. (We got lost somewhere in the Midlands.) That New Year's Eve was our first in London.
GEORGE: It was snowing and I remember going into the Decca studios. We just went in, set up our amps and played.
In those days a lot of the rock'n'roll songs were actually old tunes from the Forties, Fifties or whenever, which people had rocked up. That was the thing to do if you didn't have a tune: just rock up an oldie. Joe Brown had recorded a rock'n'roll version of 'The Sheik Of Araby'. He was really popular on the Saturday TV show Six-Five Special and Oh Boy!. I did the Joe Brown records, so I sang 'Sheik Of Araby'. Paul sang 'September In The Rain'. We each chose a number we wanted to do.
It was unusual at that time to have a group where everybody did the singing. In those days it was all Cliff and The Shadows, a lead guy out the front; the whole band in suits, matching ties and handkerchiefs, all with regular movements, and one guy at the front who sang.
The audition lasted for a couple of hours and that was it. We left and went back to our hotel.
NEIL ASPINALL: All of us were broke and it was snowing and very cold. We went down Shaftesbury Avenue and around there; amazing things to buy. The bootshop Anello & Davide was on one corner, then Cecil Gee, the clothes store. We went into a club up by St Giles Circus. We didn't stay long because it was boring. Some of the women had an after-eight shadow. We were starving and we went into a restaurant. All that we could afford was the soup so they threw us out and we went into Soho and got something there. London was all very exciting and new.
GEORGE: We had met a London group who had what later became known as 'Beatle boots'. The first pair of those boots I ever saw was on that trip. They had elastic in the edges and I found out that they were made in a shop on Charing Cross Road called Anello & Davide.
As for Decca's response, we didn't hear anything for ages, though Brian kept bugging them to find out; and in the end they turned us down. The funny thing is that it was by someone from one of those 'dum de dum' bands, Tony Meehan, a drummer who had become big-time as the A&R man for Decca. There's a famous story that Brian Epstein was trying to get him to say whether he liked us, whether we'd got the job or not. He replied, 'I'm a busy man, Mr Epstein,' and he was just a kid!
JOHN: We went back and we waited and waited, and then we found out that they hadn't accepted it; we really thought that was it then, that was the end.
'It's too bluesy,' or, 'It's too much like rock'n'roll and that's all over now,' they used to keep telling us. Even in Hamburg when we auditioned for those German companies they would tell us to stop playing the rock and the blues and concentrate on the other stuff, because they all thought rock was dead; but they were wrong.72
PAUL: Listening to the tapes I can understand why we failed the Decca audition. We weren't that good; though there were some quite interesting and original things.
JOHN: I listened to it. I wouldn't have turned us down on that. I think it sounded OK. Especially the last half of it, for the period it was. There weren't many people playing music like that then.72 I think Decca expected us to be all polished; we were just doing a demo. They should have seen our potential.67
GEORGE: Years later, I found out they'd signed Brian Poole and the Tremeloes instead. The head of Decca, Dick Rowe, made a canny prediction: 'Guitar groups are on the way out, Mr Epstein.'
PAUL: He must be kicking HIMSELF NOW.
JOHN: I HOPE HE KICKS HIMSELF TO DEATH!63
PAUL: There were millions of groups around at that time - The Blue Angels, The Running Scareds - but they were mostly lookalike groups; The Shadows and Roy Orbison had a lot of followers. Then there were groups like us, more into the blues and slightly obscure material. And because we had the unusual songs, we became the act you had to see, to copy.
We started to get a lot of respect. Guys would ask where we'd got a song like 'If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody' from - we'd explain it was on a James Ray album. The Hollies came to see us once and came back two weeks later looking like us! We were in black turtleneck sweaters and John had his harmonica and we were doing our R&B material. The next week, The Hollies had turtleneck sweaters and a harmonica in their act. This is what had started to happen. We would come back to Liverpool and Freddie and the Dreamers would be doing 'If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody' as their hit number. (Freddie Garrity saw us playing that song in the Oasis Club in Manchester and took it.)
So we were a big influence on those people. We had too much material anyway. We couldn't record it all when we did get a deal, so other groups took songs from our act and made hits out of them - like The Swinging Blue Jeans with 'The Hippy Hippy Shake', which was one of my big numbers.
NEIL ASPINALL: There wasn't much pop radio. You had Radio Luxembourg on a Sunday night, that was it. Through the merchant seamen you could get a lot of American records that weren't being played in England. And whichever of the bands heard a record first got to do it. So if Gerry Marsden found a number before everybody it, it was as if they were copying Gerry.
PAUL: I think we sussed early on that we weren't going to get anywhere unless we were different; because if you weren't original you could get stranded. An example: I used to sing 'I Remember You' by Frank Ifield. It went amazingly well anywhere I played it; but if the group on before us did 'I Remember You', that was our big number up the spout. We'd ask bands, 'What numbers do you do, then?' If they ever mentioned 'I Remember You', it was, 'Oh dear.' So we had to play numbers no one else had or, if we'd both got the big number, trade off with the other band.
This grew into writing songs ourselves and daring to introduce them. At first we'd only do that at the Cavern. I think the first original song we ever did was a really bad one of mine called 'Like Dreamers Do' (which was also covered later). It was enough. We rehearsed it and played it and the kids liked it because they had never heard it before. It was something they could only hear when they came to see our show.
Looking back, we were putting it all together very cleverly, albeit instinctively: we were making ourselves into a group that was different.
JOHN: Introducing our own numbers started round Liverpool and Hamburg. 'Love Me Do', one of the first ones we wrote, Paul started when he must have been about fifteen. It was the first one we dared do of our own. This was a quite traumatic thing because we were doing such great numbers of other people's, of Ray Charles and Richard and all of them.72 (I used to do an old Olympics number called 'Well' at the Cavern, a twelve-bar thing.)80
It was quite hard to come in singing 'Love Me Do'. We thought our numbers were a bit wet. But we gradually broke that down and decided to try them.72
PAUL: A lot of our tracks may not have been 'cool'. (I think if we'd just been cool, we wouldn't have made it how we did.) But that was a great aspect of us. John would do 'A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues' or 'You Really Got A Hold On Me' - you could call that cool. But then we'd have something like 'If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody' - which was actually more cool because it was probably the first R&B waltz that anyone did.
I could never see the difference between a beautiful melody and a cool rock'n'roll song. I learnt to love all the ballady stuff through my dad and relatives - 'Till There Was You', 'My Funny Valentine' - I thought these were good tunes. The fact that we weren't ashamed of those leanings meant that the band could be a bit more varied. And there was a need for that, because we played cabaret a lot. Songs like 'Till There Was You' and 'Ain't She Sweet would be the late-night cabaret material. They showed that we weren't just another rock'n'roll group.
The Lennon/McCartney song-writing collaboration was forming during that period. We went on from 'Love Me Do' to writing deeper much more intense things. So it was just as well someone didn't come up and tell us how uncool 'Till There Was You' was.
NEIL ASPINALL: The touring pattern was steadily evolving. They were spreading out farther and farther from Liverpool. They would play, say, Swindon. Wow! That was miles away from anywhere. And Southport and Crewe, then Manchester; ballrooms, mainly. They wanted publicity, and a recording contract; but it took a long time to get one and there were lots of disappointments.
Brian had a tape of the recording they'd done at Decca, which he took round.
JOHN: We paid Ј15 or something to make the tape, in a Decca studio. Brian Epstein hawked it round. He would go down on his own, on the train to London with this tape and he'd come back with a blank face and we'd know we'd bombed out again.
When you hear the tape, it's pretty good. It's not great, but it's good and it's certainly good for then, when you consider that all that was going on was The Shadows - especially in England. But they were so dumb, when they listened to these audition tapes they were listening for The Shadows. So they were not listening to it at all - they're listening like they do now - you know how these people are - for what's already gone down. They can't hear anything new.
It was pretty shaky then, because there's nowhere else to go if you don't get the records.74 We didn't think we were going to make it at all. It was only Brian telling us we were going to make it, and George. Brian Epstein and George Harrison.
Brian used to come back from London and the couldn't face us because he'd been down about twenty times. He'd come back to say, 'Well, I'm afraid they didn't accept it again.' And by then we were close to him, and he'd be really hurt. He'd be terrified to tell us that we hadn't made it again.72
We did have a few little fights with Brian. We used to say he was doing nothing and we were doing all the work. We were just saying it, really - we knew how hard he was working. It was Us against Them.67 He got us to EMI, it was his walking round. If he hadn't gone round London, on foot, with the tapes under his arm, and gone from place to place, and place to place, and finally to George martin, we would never have made it. We didn't have the push to do it on our own. Paul was more aggressive in that way: 'Let's think up publicity stunts, or jump in the Mersey' - something like that, in those kind of terms, to make it.72
JOHN: When The Beatles were depressed, thinking, 'The group is going nowhere, and this is a shitty deal, and we're in a shitty dressing room...' I'd say, 'Where are we going, fellas?' They'd go, 'To the top, Johnny!' And I'd say, 'Where's that, fellas?' and they'd say, 'To the toppermost of the poppermost!' and I'd say, 'Right!' Then we'd all cheer up.
GEORGE: In April 1962, Stuart Sutcliffe died. He had already left the band. Not long before he died, he showed up in Liverpool (in the Pierre Cardin jacket with no collar; he had one before we did) and he went round and hung out with us - almost as if he'd had a premonition that he wasn't going to see us again. He came to visit me at my house quite apart from when I saw him with the others and it was a very good feeling I got from him.
I didn't know Stuart was ill, but he was trying to give up smoking. He'd cut his cigarettes up into little bits and every time he fancied a cigarette he'd smoke a little piece, like a dog-end. All the stories make out that somebody kicked him in the head and he died of a haemorrhage, and I do remember him getting beaten up after a gig once in Liverpool (just because he was in a band), but that was a couple of years before.
There was something really warm about his return, and in retrospect I believe he was finishing something; because he went back to Hamburg and suffered a brain haemorrhage and died soon after, only a day before we were due to fly back there. I had German measles so I went a day later than the other guys, on a plane with Brian Epstein. That was the first time I'd been in an aeroplane.
We didn't go to the funeral. That was it: as the man said, 'He not busy being born is busy dying.' But we all felt really sad and I remember feeling worst for Astrid. She was still coming to the shows and sitting there. I think it made her feel a bit better, at least, to hang out with us.
JOHN: I looked up to Stu. I depended on him to tell me the truth. Stu would tell me if something was good and I'd believe him. We were awful to him sometimes. Especially Paul, always picking on him. I used to explain afterwards that we didn't dislike him, really.67
GEORGE: Sometimes in the van, with all the streets we were under, a little bitching went on and Paul he used to punch each other out a bit. I remember the two of them wrestling one time - Paul thought he'd win easily because Stuart was such a little bloke, but Stuart suddenly got this amazing strength that Paul hadn't bargained for.
I once had a bit of a fight with Stuart as well, but we were very friendly other than that - certainly by the end.
PAUL: Not many of our contemporaries had died; we were all too young. It was older people that died, so Stuart's dying was a real shock. And for me there was a little guilt tinged with it, because I'd not been his best friend at times. We ended up good friends, but we'd had a few ding-dongs, partly out of jealousy for John's relationship. We all rather competed for John's friendship, and Stuart, being his mate from art school, had a lot of his time and we were jealous of that. Also, I was keen to see the group be as good as it could be, so I would make the odd remark: 'Oh, you didn't play that right.' But Stuart's death was terrible, because if nothing else he should have been a great painter - you can see that from his sketchbooks.
The rest of us weren't as close to Stu as John was - they'd been to college together and shared a flat - but we were still close. Everyone was very sad, though the blow was softened by the fact that he'd stayed in Hamburg and we'd got used to not being with him.
John didn't laugh when he heard Stuart died, as people have made out; but being so young, we didn't go on about it. The kind of questions we'd ask were, 'I wonder if he'll come back?' Among ourselves we'd had a pact that if one of us were to die, he'd come back and let the others know if there was another side. So as Stuart was the first one to go, we did half expect him to show up. Any pans that rattled in the night could be him.
GEORGE: We came back to play the Star-Club, a big place and fantastic because it had a great sound system. This time we had a hotel. I remember it was quite a long walk from the club, at the top of the Reeperbahn going back towards the city. We were there for a couple of months.
PAUL: The Star-Club was great. Manfred Weissleder, owner of the Star-Club, and Horst Fascher had Mercedes convertibles, which were pretty swish. Horst had been in jail for killing a guy. He'd been a boxer and he killed a sailor in a bar-room brawl. But they were very protective towards us; we were sort of like their pets. We were safe around these people, paradoxically.
JOHN: We were in Hamburg with Gene Vincent and [later] Little Richard and there's still many a story going round about the escapades, especially with Gene Vincent, who was a rather wild guy. We met Gene backstage. 'Backstage' - I mean, it was a 'toilet' and we were thrilled.75
PAUL: Gene had been a marine and he was always offering to knock me out; he knew two pressure points. I said, 'Get out of it. Sod off!' He'd say, 'Oh come on, you'll only be out for a minute.'
GEORGE: I met Gene Vincent in the Star-Club bar one day, in a break. He said, 'Quick, come with me.' We jumped in a taxi and went up the Reeperbahn to the apartment where he was staying. I began to notice that he was all uptight - he thought the tour manager was bonking his girlfriend!
WE RAN INSIDE, UP TO THE FRONT DOOR AND GENE OPENED HIS COAT AND PULLED OUT A GUN. HE HANDED IT TO ME SAYING, 'HOLD THIS,' AND STARTED KNOCKING ON THE DOOR AND SHOUTING, 'HENRY, HENRY, YOU BASTARD!' i THOUGHT TO MYSELF, 'I'M OUT OF HERE,' GAVE HIM THE GUN BACK AND CLEARED OFF QUICK.
PAUL: We used to drive up to Lubeck, on the Ost See. Astrid was the connection. Her family had a bathing hut or something down there. We went out on various day excursions. I went certainly once I remember, with Roy Young, a pianist, and was very impressed with the Autobahn; we didn't really have motorways in Britain at that time. It was very fast and we were driving a Mercedes so it all seemed ultra-wonderful to me.
JOHN: I was always slightly disappointed with all the performers I saw, from Little Richard to Jerry Lee. They never sound exactly like their records. I like 'Whole Lotta Shakin'', the 1956 take on the record, but I'm not interested in a variation on the theme. When Gene Vincent did 'Be Bop A Lula' in Hamburg, he didn't do it the same. It was a thrill to meet Gene Vincent and see him, but it was not 'Be Bop A Lula'. I'm a record fan.80
NEIL ASPINALL: They had been rejected by almost every record label. Finally, Brian sent the guys a telegram to Hamburg: 'EMI request recording session. Please rehearse new material.' Brian told them it was a record contract. It wasn't really; it was just an audition with a producer, George Martin.
GEORGE: The Parlophone audition was in June 1962. It went not too badly. I think George Martin felt we were raw and rough but that we had some quality that was interesting. We did 'Love Me Do', 'PS I Love You', 'Ask Me Why', 'Besame Mucho' and 'Your Feet's Too Big', among others. ('Your Feet's Too Big' was Fats Walter. That was Paul's dad's influence.)
What I recall about George Martin the first time we met him was his accent. He didn't speak in a Cockney or a Liverpool or Birmingham accent, and anyone who didn't speak like that we thought was very posh. He was friendly, but schoolteacherly: we had to respect him, but at the same time he gave us the impression that he wasn't stiff - that you could joke with him. There is a well-known story about when we'd finished playing and we were walking up the stairs to the control room in Studio Two. He was explaining things and he said, 'Is there anything that you're not happy about?' We shuffled about silently, then I said, 'Well... I don't like your tie!' There was a moment of 'Ohhhhh', but then we laughed, and he did too. Being born in Liverpool you have to be a comedian.
PAUL: George Martin had been known at EMI for producing the lesser acts - people who weren't serious recording artists, such as The Goons. The big acts like Shirley Bassey would go to other producers. George was thrown the 'scrag ends', and we were 'scrag ends'. He agreed to audition us, and we had a not-very-powerful audition in which he was not very pleased with Pete Best.
George Martin was used to drummers being very 'in time', because all the big-band session drummers he used had a great sense of time. Now, our Liverpool drummers had a sense of spirit, emotion, economy even, but not a deadly sense of time. This would bother producers making a record. George took us to one side and said, 'I'm really unhappy with the drummer. Would you consider changing him?' We said, 'No, we can't!' It was one of those terrible things you go through as kids. Can we betray him? No. But our career was on the line. Maybe they were going to cancel our contract.
It was a big issue at the time, how we 'dumped' Pete. And I do feel sorry for him, because of what he could have been on to; but as far as we were concerned, it was strictly a professional decision. If he wasn't up to the mark (slightly in our eyes, and definitely in the producer's eyes) then there was no choice. But it was still very difficult. It is one of the most difficult things we ever had to do.
JOHN: This myth built up over the years that he was great and Paul was jealous of him because he was pretty and all that crap. They didn't get on that much together, but it was partly because Pete was a bit slow. He was a harmless guy, but he was not quick. All of us had quick minds but he never picked that up.
The reason he got into group in the first place was because we had to have a drummer to get to Hamburg. We were always going to dump him when we could find a decent drummer, but by the time we were back from Germany we'd trained him to keep a stick going up and down (four-in-the-bar, he couldn't do much else) and he looked nice and the girls liked him, so it was all right.74 We were cowards when we sacked him. We made Brian do it. But if we'd told him to his face, that would have been much nastier. It would probably have ended in a fight.67
PAUL: It was a personality thing. We knew that he wasn't that good a player. He was slightly different to the rest of us; not quite as studenty. Pete was a straight-up kind of guy and so the girls liked him a bit. He was mean moody and magnificent.
JOHN: There were two top groups in Liverpool - The Big Three and Rory Storm and the Hurricanes - and Ringo was in the Hurricanes. The two best drummers in Liverpool were in those two groups and they were established before we'd even got going.
We knew of Ringo. Ringo was a star in his own right before we event met.74 Ringo was professional drummer who sang and performed, so his talents would have come out one way or the other. I don't know what he would have ended up as - whatever that spark is in Ringo, we all know it but we can't put our finger on it. There's something in him that's projectable and he would have surfaced as an individual.80
PAUL: WE REALLY STARTED TO THINK WE NEEDED 'THE GREATEST DRUMMER IN LIVERPOOL', AND THE GREATEST DRUMMER IN OUR EYES WAS A GUY, RINGO STARR, WHO HAD CHANGED HIS NAME BEFORE ANY OF US, WHO HAD A BEARD AND WAS GROWN UP AND WAS KNOWN TO HAVE A ZEPHYR ZODIAC.
So we made Ringo an offer to join us, and Pete had to have the dreadful talking-to.
GEORGE: To me it was apparent: Pete kept being sick and not showing up for gigs so we would get Ringo to sit in with the band instead, and every time Ringo sat in, it seemed like 'this is it'. Eventually we realised, 'We should get Ringo in the band full time.'
I was quite responsible for stirring things up. I conspired to get Ringo in for good; I talked to Paul and John until they came round to the idea. I remember going to his house. He wasn't in so I sat and had some tea with his mother and I said, 'We'd like Ringo to be in our band.' She said, 'Well, he's in Butlins holiday camp with Rory at the moment, but when he rings me I'll get him to phone you,' and I gave her our number.
We weren't very good at telling Pete he had to go. But when it comes down to it, how do you tell somebody? Although Pete had not been with us all that long - two years in terms of a lifetime isn't very long - when you're young it's not a nice thing to be kicked out of a band and there's no nice way of doing it. Brian Epstein was the manager so it was his job, and I don't think he could do it very well either. But that's the way it was and the way it is.
RINGO: At the same time that I got the offer from The Beatles, I got one from King Size Taylor and the Dominoes, and from Gerry and the Pacemakers. (Gerry wanted me to be his bass player! I hadn't played bass then or to this day, but the idea of being up front was appealing. That you'd never played a particular instrument before wasn't important back then!)
I used to go and watch The Beatles a lot and there are photos around showing them playing, with me sitting on the side of the stage: 'Hello, lads.' Then one morning, I'm in bed, it's about noon, and my mother knocks on the bedroom door and says, 'Brian Epstein is outside.' I didn't know much about him, except how strange it was that The Beatles had a manger, because none of us had a real manager. He said, 'Would you play the lunchtime session in the Cavern for us?' I said, 'Give us a minute to get a cup of tea and get me trousers on, and I'll come on down.' He drove me to the Cavern in his posh car, and I played the session.
All bands played a lot of the same numbers at that time. One gig I did in Crosby, there were three bands on. Each band had two sets, half an hour each; and as the other two drummers hadn't turned up I sat in with all three bands - I never got off the kit. As the curtain closed I would change jackets and the next band would come on and I'd still be there. It would close and then it would open and - me again! This happened six times. It was OK because I had a lot of stamina in those days and we all knew what we were doing.
After the Cavern gig we all went to another club for a drink. It was 'Thanks a lot, lads' - we'd had a good time and I was off. But I was asked again later: 'Would you play with the boys? Pete can't make it.' I got good money playing with them, I loved playing with them, so I said, 'Sure.' This went on three or four times - we were pals and we'd have a drink after the show and then I'd be back with Rory.
Then one day, a Wednesday - we were doing Butlins again, our third season: three months' work, sixteen quid a week; fabulous - Brian called and said, 'Would you join the band for good?' I wasn't aware that it had been on the cards for a while, because I was busy playing. In fact, the guys had been talking to Brian, and George had been hustling for me.
The Beatles had a piece of tape for record companies, they had done some tracks, they were going to EMI and were getting a recording deal! A piece of plastic was like gold, was more than gold. You'd sell your soul to get on a little record. So I said, 'OK. But I've got four other guys here. We've got a gig for months. I can't pull out now and have it all end for them.'
I said I would join on Saturday. We used to have Saturdays off at Butlins; that was when they changed the campers. That gave Rory Thursday, Friday and Saturday to bring someone in to open again on Sunday, which was a lot of time.
And that was it. John said, 'Get rid of your beard, Ring, and change your hairstyle.' I cut my hair, as the saying goes, and joined the band. I never felt sorry for Pete Best. I was not involved. Besides, I felt I was a much better drummer than he was.
The first gig in the Cavern after I'd joined was pretty violent. There was a lot of fighting and shouting; half of them hated me, half of them loved me. George got a black eye, and I haven't looked back.
GEORGE: Some of the fans - a couple of them - were shouting 'Pete is best!' and 'Ringo never, Pete Best forever!', but it was a small group and we ignored it. However, after about half an hour it was getting a bit tiring so I shouted to the audience. When we stepped out of the band room into the dark tunnel, some guy nodded me one, giving me a black eye. The things we have to do for Ringo!
JOHN: Nothing happened to Pete Best. At one time he went touring America with The Pete Best Band and I suppose he was hyped and hustled. And then he married and settled down and was working in a bakery. I read something about him. He was writing that he was glad about the way things turned out; he was glad he missed it all.71
RINGO: A light-hearted side note: Neil Aspinal was really friendly with Pete Best and his family and so for a while he wouldn't set my kit up. This lasted for a few weeks, but he got over it. He was all we had he was driving the van, setting up the gear and everything, and he was a little miffed.
PAUL: Pete Best was good, but a bit limited. You can hear the difference on the Anthology tapes. When Ringo joins us we get a bit more kick, a few more imaginative breaks, and the band settles. So the new combination was perfect: Ringo with his very solid beat, laconic wit and Buster Keaton-like charm; John with his sharp wit and his rock'n'rolliness, but also his other, quite soft side; George, with his great instrumental ability and who could sing some good rock'n'roll. And then I could do a bit of singing and playing, some rock'n'roll and some softer numbers.
JOHN: I GOT MARRIED BEFORE I EVEN KNEW WHAT RELIGION MY WIFE WAS, I NEVER ASKED HER. SHE COULD HAVE BEEN ANYTHING, AN ARAB.64
GEORGE: I don't remember much about John's wedding. It took place in August 1962. He just went in some office in Liverpool one afternoon, and in the evening we got in Brian's car, went to the gig (we actually did a gig that night) and it was, 'Well, we got married.' It wasn't hushed up, it just wasn't mentioned to the press. There was no wedding - it was a five-minute thing in a Registry Office. It was different in those days. No time to lose.
JOHN: Cynthia's grown up with it, with me.
We got married just before we made the first record. I was a bit shocked when Cynthia told me [she was pregnant], but I said, 'Yes, we'll have to get married.' I didn't fight it.67 I went the day before to tell Mimi. I said Cyn was having a baby, we were getting married tomorrow, did she want to come? She just let out a groan. There was a drill going on all the time outside the Registry Office. I couldn't hear a word that bloke was saying. Then we went across the road and had a chicken dinner. It was all a laugh.
I thought it would be goodbye to the group, getting married. None of us ever took girls to the Cavern as we thought we would lose fans (which turned out to be a farce in the end). But I did feel embarrassed, walking about, married. It was like walking about with odd socks on or your flies open.65
RINGO: I didn't go to the wedding - John never even told me he'd got married. John and Cynthia were keeping it a secret from everyone. If something got mentioned it was, 'Shh, Ring's in the room.'
It was kept from me because I wasn't considered a real member at the beginning. I was in the band, but emotionally I had to earn my way in. John didn't tell me anything until we went on tour and got to know each other in all the doss houses where we camped.
JOHN: We didn't keep it secret, it's just that when we first came on the scene nobody really asked us. They weren't interested whether we were married or not. The question they used to ask was, 'What kind of girls do you like?' And if you get our early news sheets it says 'blondes'. I wasn't going to say, 'I'm married,' but I never said, 'I'm not.' I always disliked reading about people's families.
BRIAN EPSTEIN: I first encouraged them to get out of leather jackets and I wouldn't allow them to appear in jeans after a short time. After that I got them to wear sweaters on stage and eventually, very reluctantly, suits. I'm not sure that they didn't wear their first suits for a BBC broadcast for a live audience.
PAUL: When we met Brian Epstein we were still into the leather. But when we had photos taken people started saying, 'Maybe the leather is too hard an image.' And agents would agree. Even Astrid began to take pictures of us wearing suits in Germany. Somehow Brian persuaded us to get suits. He quite wisely said, 'If I get a huge offer, they won't take you in leather,' and I didn't think it was a bad idea because it fitted with my 'Gateshead group' philosophy that you should look similar, and because we got mohair suits it was a bit like the black acts.
It was later put around that I had betrayed our leather image but, as I recall, I didn't actually have to drag anyone to the tailors. We all went quite happily over the water to Wirral, to Beno Dorn, a little tailor who made mohair suits. That started to change the image and, though we would still wear leather occasionally, for the posh do's we'd put on suits. It was suits for a cabaret gig. We were still on the edge of breaking in a big way and cabaret was well paid. So that was something of an end to the Hamburg era.
JOHN: Outside of Liverpool, when we went down South in our leather outfits the dance-hall promoters didn't really like us. They thought we looked like a gang of thugs. So it got to be Epstein saying, 'Look, if you wear a suit you'll get this much money...' And everybody wanted a good, sharp, black suit. We liked the leather and the jeans, but we wanted a good suit, even to wear off stage. 'Yeah man, all right, I'll wear a suit - I'll wear a bloody balloon if somebody's going to pay me; I'm not in love with leather that much!'75
GEORGE: People thought we looked undesirable, I suppose. Even nowadays kids with leather jackets and long hair are seen as apprentice hooligans, but they are just kids; that's the fashion they like - leathers. And it was like that with us. With black T-shirts, black leather gear and sweaty, we did look like hooligans.
Brian Epstein was from an upper middle-class background and he wanted us to appeal to the producers of radio, television and record companies. We gladly switched into suits to get some more money and some more gigs.
RINGO: HE CHANGED OUR IMAGE ONLY IN MAKING US A BIT SMARTER. THEY ALL CHANGED MY IMAGE. I USED TO HAVE MY HAIR RIGHT BACK, LIKE A TEDDY BOY, WITH A TONY CURTIS CUT AND SIDEBOARDS AND SUDDENLY IT WAS, 'SHAVE THEM OFF AND PUT YOUR HAIR DOWN,' WHICH I DID.
JOHN: It was a constant fight between Brian and Paul on one side and me and George on the other.70 Brian and Paul used to always be at me to cut my hair.69 At that time it was longer than in any of the photographs - it was generally trimmed for the photographs, but there were some private pictures that show it was pretty long, greased back, hanging around. There was a lot of hair on the Teddy boys; the Tony Curtises that grew lager larger and larger because they never went to the hairdresser. We were pretty greasy.75
So Brian put us in neat suits and shirts and Paul was right behind him. My little rebellion was to have my tie loose, with the top button of my shirt undone, but Paul'd come up to me and put it straight. I used to try and get George to rebel with me. I'd say to him: 'Look, we don't need these fucking little suits. Let's chuck them out of the window.'
I saw a film, the first television film we ever did. The Granada people came down to film us, and there we were in suits and it just wasn't us. Watching that film, I knew that that was where we started to sell out.70
PAUL: I think John in later years liked to feel that he was the rebel and I somehow tried to straighten him up - but that's bullshit. We all changed to the straight image. I didn't cut his hair for him; I didn't care if his tie was straight or his button done up. Check the pictures - John's not scowling in all of them!
NEIL ASPINALL: By 1962 they were pretty big in the Northwest, in Liverpool and Manchester. Granada had got the regional TV franchise in 1956. Know The North was a local show and, having heard of The Beatles, they came down to the Cavern and filmed a performance. Ringo had just then come into the band, as you can hear from the heckling in the crowd.
GEORGE: I remember Granada TV cameras coming to the Cavern that August. It was really hot and we were asked to dress up properly. We had shirts, and ties and little black pullovers. So we looked quite smart. It was our first television appearance. It was big-time, a-TV-company-coming-to-film-us excitement - and John was into it.
PAUL: In September we went down to London with Ringo and played for EMI again. By this time we did have a contract.
This was our intro to that world. We came in the tradesman's entrance and set up our own gear. We were there at 10.00, ready to work at 10.30 sharp, expected to have done two songs by 1.30. Then we had an hour's break for lunch (which we paid for). We would go round the corner to the Alma pub, at the back of St John's Wood. We were young and pubs were still grown-up places, so we'd have a ciggy to look older and order half a pint with a cheese roll. Inevitably, the chat would be about the session. Then it was back to the studio from 2.30 to 5.30. Those were the main sessions: two daytime sessions in which you were expected to have completed four songs.
If we'd done a particularly good take they might say, 'Would you like to listen to it in the control room?' We'd think, 'What, us? Up those stairs, in heaven?' We'd never properly heard what we sounded like until then. We'd heard ourselves doing it 'live' in the headphones, but through speakers it was very exciting: 'Oh, that sounds just like a record! Let's do this again and again and again!' From then we were hooked on the recording drug, and when John and I sat down to write the next batch of songs it was with this in mind: 'Remember how exciting it was? Let's see if we can come up with something better.'
GEORGE: I don't think John particularly liked wearing a suit - nor did I - but we wanted more work, and we realised that's what we had to do. Back then everyone was more straight, the whole business was.
RINGO: The response to us at EMI was OK, because we'd done the auditions and George Martin was willing to take a chance. (Though the reaction from people because we were from the North was a bit weird.)
On my first visit in September we just ran through some tracks for George Martin. We even did 'Please Please Me'. I remember that, because while we were recording it I was playing the bass drum with a maraca in one hand and a tambourine in the other. I think it's because of that that George Martin used Andy White, the 'professional', when we went down a week later to record 'Love Me Do'. This guy was previously booked, anyway, because of Pete Best. George didn't want to take any more chances and I was caught in the middle.
I was devastated that George Martin had his doubts about me. I came down ready to roll and heard, 'We've got a professional drummer.' He has apologised several times since, has old George, but it was devastating - I hated the bugger for years; I still don't let him off the hook!
So Andy plays on the 'Love Me Do' single - but I play later on the album version; Andy wasn't doing anything so great that I couldn't copy it went we did the album. And I've played on everything since then. (Well, bar 'Back In The USSR' and a few other things.)
PAUL: Horror of horrors! George Martin didn't like Ringo. Ringo at that point was not that steady on time. Now he is rock steady; it's always been his greatest attribute and that was why we wanted him. But to George he was not as pinpoint as a session guy would be. So Ringo got blown off the first record. George did the, 'Can I see you for a moment, boys?' -'Yeah?' - 'Um... without Ringo.' He said, 'I would like to bring in another drummer for this record.'
It was very hard for us to accept that decision. We said, 'Ringo has to be the drummer; we wouldn't want to lose him as the drummer.' But George got his way and Ringo didn't drum on the first single. He only played tambourine.
I don't think Ringo ever got over that. He had to go back up to Liverpool and everyone asked, 'How did it go in the Smoke?' We'd say, 'B side's good,' but Ringo couldn't admit to liking the A side, not being on it.
NEIL ASPINALL: The Beatles were asked in those sessions, on 4th and 11th September, to record a song by Mitch Murray, 'How Do You Do It'. That is the way things were done: the songwriter is with the publisher, the publisher knows the record producer, who gives it to the band to record. But The Beatles came along and said they'd prefer to do their own song.
PAUL: George Martin told us that the music-business network was made up of songwriters and groups. Normally, you would be offered a couple of songs by a publisher, like Dick James, in cahoots with your producer. But we were starting as a group that had its own material.
Mitch Murray was writing songs. He came up with, 'How do you do it? How do you do what you do to me?' We listened to the demo and said, 'It's a hit, George, but we've got a song, "Love Me Do".' George said, 'I don't think yours is such a big hit.' We said, 'Yes, but it is us, and it is what we're about. We're trying to be blues, we're not trying to be "la de da de da". We're students and artsy guys - we can't take that song home to Liverpool, we'll get laughed at. We can take "Love Me Do": people in the groups we respect, people like The Big Three, will go for it.' We didn't want to be laughed at by other bands. But George insisted that his song was still a hit. So we said, 'OK, we'll learnt it up.'
We went home and did a reasonable arrangement and recorded 'How Do You Do It', and George Martin said, 'It's still a Number One.' We insisted that we hated it, so George gave it to Gerry and the Pacemakers; and Gerry did it faithful to our demo and had his first big hit.
GEORGE: We had played 'Love Me Do' on stage and it felt quite good and it was one of Paul's and John's. We wanted that; the other song we were being offered was really corny.
George Martin listened to both songs and I think he decided 'How Do You Do It' could still be our second single. But then we speeded up 'Please Please Me' and that was it.
GEORGE MARTIN: It was common in those days to find material for artists by going to Tin Pan Alley and listening to the publishers' wares. That was a regular part of my life: I spent a long time looking for songs, and what I wanted for The Beatles was a hit. I was convinced that 'How Do You Do It' was a hit song. Not a great piece of songwriting, not the most marvellous song I had ever heard in my life, but I thought in had that essential ingredient which would appeal to a lot of people - and we did record it. John took the lead. They didn't like doing it, but we made a good record and I was very close to issuing it as their first single.
In the end I went with 'Love Me Do' but would still have issued 'How Do You Do It' had they not persuaded me to listen to another version of 'Please Please Me'.
RINGO: At EMI, besides my being distraught that I wasn't even on the drums, I remember us all being ready to stand up for the principle of, 'We have written these songs and we want to do them.' We had to make a really big stand on that, and the others made it more than I did because I was the new boy. I just said, 'Go on, lads, go get 'em.'
I was still trying to find my place, but they were adamant, thank God, about not wanting this song we'' been given. On reflection, this was a huge stance because, as I say, for that bit of plastic you would sell your soul. I don'' think Cliff Richard would have refused. Cliff was never a writer. Dickie Pride and Billy Fury, all that crowd, were just given songs, and sang them.
GEORGE: We released 'Love Me Do' and it did very well. It got to Number Seventeen in the charts. That was based mainly on local sales; there were enough fans of The Beatles around because we were playing all over the Wirral, Cheshire, Manchester and Liverpool. We were quite popular, so the sales were real.
First hearing 'Love Me Do' on the radio sent me shivery all over. It was the best buzz of all time. We knew it was going to be on Radio Luxembourg at something like 7.30 on Thursday night. I was in my house in Speke and we all listened in. That was great, but after having got to Seventeen, I don't recall what happened to it. It probably went away and died, but what it meant was that the next time we went to EMI, they were more friendly: 'Oh, hello lads. Come in.'
RINGO: When 'Love Me Do' came out, Brian would get the playlist and tell us we were on at, say, 6.45 or 6.26, and we'd stop the car to listen (because we were always doing something - travelling, working) and it was a thrill.
PAUL: It was symptomatic of our group that we turned 'How Do You Do It' down. The other huge stand in our life, a little later on, was saying to Brian Epstein, 'We're not going to America until we've got a Number One there.' We waited, and I think that was one of the best moves we ever made. We were very cheeky. It was all based on Cliff Richard, who had been to America and been third on the bill to Frankie Avalon. We thought, 'Oh dear, Cliff is a bigger star than Avalon! How could he do that? And Adam Faith - all the early stars we looked up to had gone with terrible billing. So we said, 'We're not going until we get a Number One and we're headlining.'
NEIL ASPINALL: They were doing a gig somewhere in the Wirral, or Birkenhead, when we learnt that 'Love Me Do' had sold 5,000 copies. I remember John saying, 'Well, there you go - what more do they want?'
JOHN: The best thing was it came into the charts in two days and everybody thought it was a fiddle, because our manager's stores sent in these returns and everybody down South thought, 'Ah-ha, he's buying them himself or he's just fiddling the charts.' But he wasn't.63
RINGO: Even though 'Love Me Do' didn't make Number One, it was exciting. All we had wanted was a piece of vinyl - my God, a record that you hadn't made in some booth somewhere! And now we wanted to be Number One. They were both as important.
By the end of 1962, 'Love Me Do' Had sold 100,000 copies, most of them in Liverpool. We've still got a bunch of them in our house. (Joke.)
PAUL: Ted Taylor first told us how use make-up. We were playing the Embassy Cinema at Peterborough late that year, very low on the bill to Frank Ifield and below The Ted Taylor Four as well. Ted had a funny little synth on the end of his piano on which he could play tunes like 'Sooty'. He would use it for 'Telstar' - the audience went wild to hear his synth sound. It was Ted that said, 'You looked a little pale out there, lads. You should use make-up.' We asked him how. He said, 'There's this pancake stuff, Leichner 27. You can get it from the chemist. Take a little pad and rub it on; it gives you a tan. And put a black line around your eyes and lips.' We said, 'That's a bit dodgy, isn't it?' He said, 'Believe me, they will never see it, and you'll look good.'
GEORGE: The Ted Taylor Four had a record called 'Son Of Honky Tonk'. We were in their dressing room and found their stage make-up called 'pancake'. We thought we'd better put some on because the lights were bright and we supposed that's what people did on stage. So we put it on and we looked like Outspan oranges. There were photos taken of us, and John is also wearing eye shadow and black eye-liner. Big orange faces and black eyes.
PAUL: Right afterwards we were being photographed for a poster for Blackpool. They had been bootlegging posters (which meant we were obviously getting quite popular), and the poster company said we should do an official one. So they did four squares - one of us in. each square. And you can see the black line around our. eyes. We never lived it down!
NEIL ASPINALL: Brian started to promote shows himself so he could put on his own bands. He'd hire the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton and get a star like Little Richard, who was touring England anyway. He'd call the agent in London and do a deal for him to play the Tower Ballroom as top of the bill. On the Same bill - this was 12th October 1962 - there were The Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Undertakers - a whole pile of Liverpool bands. But The Beatles would always be second on the bill to the big visiting star.
JOHN: Brian used to bring the rock stars who were not making it any more, like Gene Vincent, Little Richard. No reflection on them, but they were coming over for that reason and he put us on the bill with them, second billing; so we'd use them to draw the crowd.
It's hard for people to imagine just how thrilled we, the four us, were to even see any great rock'n'roller in the flesh, and we were almost paralysed with adoration with both of them, and the side note was Little Richard's organist was Billy Preston. He looked about ten then.73
GEORGE: Little Richard was also on the bill with us for our fourth trip to Hamburg in November. By then things were better for us there. They had new Fender amplifiers for all the bands and we had a hotel room each; just in a little hotel on the Reeperbahn, but our own rooms nevertheless. Brian Epstein had hired Little Richard to play on the same bill as us at the Liverpool Empire and at the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton so we'd met him briefly.
Hamburg was really happening then and they were coining quite a bit of money in those clubs, with all the drinks and the admission fees: they'd have four shows so they could get four different audiences in a night.
JOHN: We used to stand backstage at Hamburg's Star-Club and watch Little Richard play. Or he used to sit and talk. He used to read from the Bible backstage and just to hear him talk we'd sit round and listen. It was Brian Epstein that brought him to Hamburg. I still love him and he's one of the greatest.75
RINGO: We went in November and in December. I don't know where we stayed that final time. It's hazy, to say the least. The staying wasn't important, the living was cool. It was fairly crazy; I'd been there with Rory Storm, and I'd been separately to play with Tony Sheridan (I'd played with him for a month) and I was back this time with The Beatles, and it really felt good. It was becoming like home.
Little Richard played the Star-Club with Billy Preston. Billy was sixteen and he was fabulous; still it. I watched Little Richard twice a night for six days: it was so great. he did show off a bit in front of us - he'd want to know we were in the wings; he'd heard of us by that time.
We were only twenty-two and we still loved the Preludins and we still liked to drink and we could get away with anything as long as we went on and played. The only thing that the Germans wouldn't tolerate was your not going on stage, and you could go on (and we did) in several states of mind.
JOHN: We had great happenings on stage. We used to eat on stage, we'd smoke, we swore. Some shows I went on just in my underpants - this was at the larger club, the Star-Club, when Gerry and the Pacemakers and the whole of Liverpool was over there. We really got them going then. I'd go on in underpants with a toilet seat round me neck, and all sorts of gear on. And out of my fucking mind! And I'd do a drum solo - which I couldn't do, because I can't play drums - while Gerry Marsden was playing.72
RINGO: It was par for the course to swear at the audience by then. They knew what we were saying and they swore back, but they loved us. I didn't know about all the Germans, but the ones from Hamburg, the ones who were really around us like Horst Fasher, Rudi and a few of the other guys, were really rough - I don't know how many of them are still alive.
You had to go on, however bad you felt. I'd heard musicians saying, 'Knock me out, I don't want to go on.' Because they would knock you down, they would kick you on stage. But every time we left they'd all cry - that's what blew me away; that the people of Hamburg were so sensitive. While we were there they'd put on a show of being tough guys, but when the time came for us to leave, here were these big tearful Germans saying, 'I don't want you to go.' Horst Fasher would cry at the drop of a hat. All this sadness, when the night before it had been, 'Mach shau, you mach fuckin' shau.' They'd get right on your brain.
PAUL: There was a guy called Harry in a group called The Strangers. He'd got a little pissed and was in the wings at the Star-Club, obviously not as ambitious or as keen as we were. He didn't want to go on so he kept asking people to knock him out. I remember not understanding that, thinking, 'It's all very well being pissed, but not wanting to go on stage when you're in a group - that's a serious problem you've got, maybe we should knock you off!'
JOHN: You would only have two hours' sleep, and then you'd have to wake up and take a pill, and it would be going on and on and on, since you didn't get a day off; you'd just begin to go out of your mind with tiredness and you'd think you'd be glad to get out of there. But then you'd go back to Liverpool, and only remember the good fun you had in Hamburg, so you wouldn't mind going back. But after the last time we didn't want to go back.72 We were beginning to feel stale and cramped. We were always getting the pack-ups. We'd get tired of one stage and be deciding to pack up when another stage would come along.
We'd outlived the Hamburg stage and wanted to pack that up. We hated going back to Hamburg those last two times. We'd had that scene.67 Brian made us go back to fulfil the contract - if we'd had our way, we'd have copped out on the engagement, because we didn't feel we owed them fuck all - we made all those clubs into international clubs.72
GEORGE: That's one thing I'll say for The Beatles, we always honoured our agreements. For years, every time we had a record that went to Number One we still had six months' work already booked at little ballrooms for fifty quid a night when we could have been earning maybe Ј5,000. But we always honoured them, because we, or rather Brian Epstein, was a gentleman. He didn't want to say, 'Well, screw them, let's do the London Palladium instead.'
RINGO: Brian was really a cool guy. We played every gig. We'd play some daft club in Birmingham because we'd been booked. I'm glad now we did that and not drop the little clubs for the Palladium and say 'fuck you'. We were an upright band, and Brian was really upright.
JOHN: There's big exaggerated stories about us in Hamburg, about us pissing on nuns and things like that, but there was a lot of things that went on. What actually happened with that was - we had a balcony in these flats - one Sunday morning we were just pissing in the street as all the people were going to church, and there were some nuns over the road going into the church. It was just a Sunday morning in the club district, with everyone walking about and three or four people peeing in the street.72
GEORGE: I think that Hamburg and the early years between Hamburg trips, becoming established in the Merseyside area, were great. But Hamburg was the more exciting because they had Mercedes Benz taxis and the nightclubs. There was a lot going on. It seems in my memory like one of those black-and-white jazz movies of the Fifties.
I'd have to say with hindsight that Hamburg bordered on the best of Beatles times. We didn't have any luxury, we didn't have any bathrooms or any clothes, we were pretty grubby, we couldn't afford anything; but on the other hand we weren't yet famous, so we didn't have to contend with the bullshit that comes with fame. We could be ourselves and do whatever we wanted to do without people writing about it in the newspapers. We were free to piss on anyone we wanted to, if we wanted, although we never actually did. (John didn't piss on the nuns - we peed over a balcony into a deserted street at about 4.30 in the morning.) We were just like everybody else and we could have a great time and just rock on.
PAUL: In Hamburg we used to think, 'We'll have to save money here, in case it all finishes.' But we never did and it used to worry me that we'd have no money to show for it and we'd have to get jobs and do what we didn't want to do and still have no money.65
Hamburg was certainly a great childhood memory. But I think all things are enhanced by time. It was very exciting, though I think it felt better to me a little later in our career, once we'd started to get a bit of success with the records.
JOHN: We always talk about Hamburg and the Cavern and the dance halls in Liverpool because that's when we were really hot musically.72 We were performers then and what we generated was fantastic when we played straight rock - there was nobody to touch us in Britain.
[By the time we were playing theatres] we had to reduce an hour or two of playing to twenty minutes, and repeat the same twenty minutes every night.70 Suddenly everything had to be done in twenty minutes and you had to do all your hits, and you'd only do two shows a night because the live theatre only held a few thousand people.72
So we always miss the club days. Later on we became technically efficient recording artists, which was another thing; because we were confident people, and whatever media you put us in we can produce something worthwhile.70
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