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The Beatles in Hamburg

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The Beatles' residency in Hamburg, the German city where John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best regularly performed at a series of four different clubs during the period August 1960 to December 1962, was a chapter in the group's history which honed their performance skills, widened their reputation, and led to their first recording, which brought them to the attention of Brian Epstein.

The Beatles booking agent, Allan Williams, decided to send the group to Hamburg when another group he managed, Derry and the Seniors, proved successful there. Having no permanent drummer at the time, they recruited Best a few days before their departure. They initially lived in squalid conditions, sleeping in an unheated storeroom behind the screen of a cinema, in an area renowned for gangsters and prostitutes. After breaking their contract by playing at another club, Harrison was deported for being under-age, and McCartney and Best were arrested and deported for attempted arson (McCartney and Best had set fire to a condom in the club).

In Hamburg The Beatles first met Astrid Kirchherr, who was instrumental in the adoption of the famous Beatle haircut. During their time in Hamburg bass player Sutcliffe decided to leave the group to continue his studies. In April 1962, less than a year after leaving the group, Sutcliffe died of a brain haemorrhage.

Hamburg in the 1960s Edit

Hamburg had once been Germany's main seaport, the third largest in the world, but in 1944 virtually the entire city had been reduced to rubble by World War II bombing raids. By 1960, when The Beatles arrived, the Hamburg that had grown up from the ruins had established its reputation throughout Europe as a city of vice and criminal activity

Leaving Liverpool Edit

Williams, a 29-year-old Liverpool businessman and promoter, had sent his leading group to Hamburg, Derry and the Seniors (later known as Howie Casey and the Seniors) where they were enjoying success, and wanted to send an additional group. He initially tried to send Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, but Storm and his group were committed to a Butlins holiday camp and turned Williams' offer down, as did Gerry & The Pacemakers. Williams started promoting concerts for The Beatles in May 1960, after they had played at his Jacaranda club in Liverpool, and offered The Beatles the Hamburg bookings. He booked them into Bruno Koschmider's Indra club in Hamburg for a season of bookings starting on 12 August 1960, but said that he was not impressed with them as a musical group, and hoped to find a better act to follow them.

As The Beatles had no permanent drummer, McCartney looked around for someone to fill the Hamburg position, which was difficult, as Lennon later said that drummers were "few and far between", because a set of drums was an expensive item. Harrison had seen Best playing with the Black Jacks in The Casbah Coffee Club (which was run by his mother, Mona Best). He was regarded as a steady drummer, playing the bass drum on all four beats in the bar, which pushed the rhythm, and was known in Liverpool at the time as being "mean, moody, and magnificent" by female fans, which convinced McCartney he would be good for the group. After the Black Jacks broke up, McCartney asked Best to go to Hamburg, telling him they would earn £15 per week each. Best had the chance to go to a teacher-training college, as he had passed his school exams—unlike Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, who had failed most of theirs—but decided that playing in Hamburg would be a better career move.

The St. Pauli quarter of Hamburg, where the Indra club was located, was well-known as an area where prostitutes were to be found, and was a dangerous place for anyone that looked different from the usual clientele. McCartney's father, Jim McCartney, was therefore reluctant to let the teenage Paul go to Hamburg. However, as the money his son would earn was more than he earned himself, he finally agreed, but only after a visit from Williams, who said that Jim "shouldn't worry". Lennon's aunt, Mimi Smith, was also reluctant to allow Lennon to go to Hamburg, wanting Lennon to continue his studies, but Lennon placated her by explaining the amount he would earn.

Best had an audition in Williams' Jacaranda club on 15 August 1960, and travelled to Hamburg the next day as a member of The Beatles. Williams later admitted that the audition with Best was not needed, as The Beatles hadn't found any other drummer willing to travel to Hamburg, but didn't tell Best in case he asked for more money. The group would be paid about £100 per week, which was much more than promoters in Liverpool paid, but to save money Williams drove the group and their equipment in his Austin Minivan, which was loaded by crane onto a ferry at Harwich on 16 August 1960, and landed at the Hook of Holland.

The Beatles, Williams and his wife Beryl, her brother Barry Chang, and 'Lord Woodbine' were in the minivan, along with Georg Sterner (Koschmider's translator and later a waiter) making a total of ten people, which resulted in a journey that was both uncomfortable and dangerous. As Williams had not obtained work permits for Germany, everyone pretended to be students on holiday, although work permits were later obtained after their arrival. Note: 'Lord Woodbine' and Williams ran a Strip Club called New Cabaret Artistes club at 174a Upper Parliament Street, Liverpool. Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Sutcliffe once played backing music for "Janice the Stripper" there, in July 1960.

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