Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Last of Bert

April 23-27, 1962

Bert Kaempfert has a contract with the Beatles that was signed before they worked with him on cutting "My Bonnie" as the backing group for local rock hero Tony Sheridan.  The term of that contract was for one year, so it doesn't expire until June 30, 1962, but at Brian Epstein's insistence, Kaempfert is willing to let them out of it early, if they will cooperate with him on two more recordings.  Epstein wants out of the contract so he can get his group into EMI studios with George Martin ASAP.

The exact date of their last session with him is not known, but the likely songs are Swanee River (yeah, "Way down upon the Swanee River, far far away", that Swanee River), and Sweet Georgia Brown.  John and Paul have to be thinking, "We can write better material than this.  But a contract is a contract and if they pay us to play This Ol' Man, we'll do it."  Of course, Sheridan puts his own spin on the songs.

Whatever the exact date, the Beatles had to work around it, they were obligated to play everyday at the Star Club.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Settling In

April 20, 1962

"Time heals all wounds" and the Beatles are settling into their residency at the new Star Club in Hamburg.  They play shorter sets and with much less sporting around on stage.  They play in suits and from pre-arranged set lists.  It's all part of the new direction.  The venue was later destroyed by fire, but the entrance way is still recognizable on Google Earth.  It is right across the Grosse Freiheit from arch rival club, the Kaiserkeller where so much of the Beatles earlier development took place and where a previous visit came to a bad end.

The Star is a new club that is just opening now.  There are some terrific reminiscences from an actual club patron (who happened to be a pretty Hamburg girl at just the right time) here.  Scroll down about halfway for Maja.

Today is the Christian holy day called Good Friday.  It is the only day the Beatles have off on this trip to Hamburg.  In a related development, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, however, at Harvard Divinity School, under the supervision of Professor Timothy Leary, the Marsh Chapel Experiment is being conducted.  In this experiment, volunteers are given doses of hallucinogenic psilocybin mushrooms so their effect on religious experience can be examined.  Believe it or not, it is only about three years from today when George Harrison and John Lennon are unknowingly slipped doses of LSD, courtesy of a dentist/sycophant in London's Bayswater district as they are in the midst of making their second film, Help.

Things are about to start happening fast!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Stars for the Star

April 13, 1962

The Beatles start their next Hamburg "residency" today.  The conditions of their stay this time are considerably improved.  They are "only" required to play  three or four hours a night on a short seven week stint.  And also on the bill for two of those weeks, one of their rock and roll heroes, Gene Vincent.

I am sure they are in a bit of a haze as one is when in deep shock and mourning, especially at an unexpected death. They are learning how to go on in all weathers.  It is a lesson that will serve them well in coming years.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How Can It Be?

April 11, 1962

The Beatles make the short hop over to Hamburg to start their third stay in the cradle of the Mersey Beat sound.  This time, thanks to their new management, they fly via commercial airline.  In another improvement in their professional lives, Neil Aspinall has quit his day job as an accountant trainee to become their full time road manager.  He's been getting more money that way than sitting at a desk and making entries into a ledger anyway.  He has had the Commer van ferried across to Germany in advance of their arrival.  They are contractually obligated to seven weeks with only one day off, Good Friday.

The Beatles and old friends Astrid Kirchherr and Klaus Voormann coincidentally find each other at the Hamburg airport.  At first the Beatles are overjoyed to see their old friends until they find out why they are there.  Astrid and Klaus are there to meet Stuart Sutcliffe's mother who is arriving on a different flight.  She is coming to Hamburg to claim the body of  her beloved son.  Stuart Sutcliffe, founding member of the band, and probably John Lennon's most intimate friend in the world, has suddenly collapsed and died.   He's been suffering from debilitating headaches for months now, but the doctors, using the techniques available at that time, could find nothing specific wrong.  Stuart died yesterday, in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.  John has a breakdown at the airport. Astrid says she remembers him sitting on a bench and rocking back and forth and alternately laughing and crying hysterically.  Pete Best weeps openly.  Paul, characteristically demonstrating concern for his friend, tries his best to comfort and console her.  It is an awful day to be a Beatle.  The death of a friend when the world seems so bright and the future so full of promise is unbearable.  Everything is coming apart at the seams.

Look at Astrid's wonderful photographs of Stuart here.

Without you, Stuart, there would have been no Beatles.  Rest in peace, friend.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


April 10, 1962

Unbeknownst to the members of the Beatles, Stuart Sutcliffe dies today aged 21 years.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Pair of One-Offs and a Farewell

April 2-6, 1962

The Beatles continue to rock the Cavern almost everyday, of course, but they mix in a few "experiments" too.  On the 2nd of April, they do a show at the Pavilion Theatre, Liverpool's premier venue for ecdysiastic performers.  The Beatles haven't made music here since their days playing skiffle contests as the Quarrymen.  Boy, that had to be a weird feeling!

On the 5th, they do a special show at the Cavern for the Beatles Fan Club, which has been growing by leaps and bounds.  They do the first set in their old school leather outfits and then change for the second set into their Epstein dress code "bespoke tailors" Beno Dorn suits.  Oh, what a show that must have been!  I wonder if any audience members saw the future and liked it.

The boys are so proud of their new suits - or are they?
Wanna buy an autographed copy of this photo?  Got $12,000 to spare?

On the 6th, they do a "Beatles Farewell Ball" at the Tower Ballroom, in anticipation of their upcoming Hamburg trip.  The show is organized by Sam Leach and includes Emile Ford.  The poster mentions that the "Beetles" are on the bill.  They still can't get no respect from those poster designers.  :-)