Having pretty much exhausted the Searchers Appreciation Society archive articles that have been a feature of the website for a long time now, Wendy Burton and I decided that perhaps a chapter of the book, which is a very detailed history of the group and my life in music, might be a fascinating insight to its contents and an enticement to go ahead and purchase your own copy. It is a rather expensive item and it would be nice to know that it will be your cup of tea when you finally have it in your hands.
I spent four years researching and writing what is a very large tome. It is 446 pages, twice as long as most hardback books you`ll find on shelves today, with 167 photos and a complete discography. Dear Wendy selflessly accompanied me on the journeys to the newspaper and TV libraries, transcribed the relevant information and collated it into chronological lists from which I was able to complete the text. It was hard work for both of us but at the same time a labour of love.
The chapter I've chosen for the web site seemed the most fitting as it encompassed some of my time with the Rebel Rousers and continued on to the period at the Star Club where I first ran into The Searchers. I think you`ll find it interesting. And there are so many other areas in the book that I think will surprise and fascinate you.
The early days of both the Rebel Rousers and The Searchers prior to their fame are within the pages. The recording sessions and the conditions of those early contracts have been included. There are always conflicts and arguments within bands and I have dealt with them in what I like to think is an objective way, without bias or bitterness. The traumatic court case following Mike Pender`s departure is dealt with in detail thanks to the court papers which I had fortunately retained.
I very much wanted to credit Mike, Tony and Chris with their important roles in the band`s history despite any issues that may have at times come between us.
There are of course lighter moments from happier times and although this is very much more a factual book than TRAVELLING MAN my natural style of writing has made room for plenty of humour along the way. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this small taster of something I am very proud of.
PS The book is ONLY available direct from the publishers. Aureus.
Please go to www.thesearchersandme.com and follow the link to purchase from there.
As exciting and stimulating as Hamburg was to most young English musicians I was constantly bored and desperately homesick. One day was no longer than another but they seemed like an eternity especially when it rained, which it did. A lot. For a musician I rose quite early. Usually around ten. The wild ones among our fraternity were unlikely to have been back in their own beds for more than a couple of hours by that time. Many of them would not be in their own beds at all. Goodness knows there were enough beds to sleep in and enough willing bodies to keep you warm and to serve you a hearty breakfast in the morning after an energetic night of copulation.
Compared to some of the other musical ensembles of simmering testosterone more than ready to join the twenty-four hour no-holds-barred party that was Hamburg we Rebel Rousers were a tame bunch, more attracted by the possibilities offered by the over consumption of alcohol than any of the many other temptations on tap. With the exception of me, that is, who was still stubbornly resisting the lure of intoxicating liquids. I think it was Brendan Behan who said 'Never trust a man who doesn`t drink,' and I`m not sure I entirely disagree with him. God knows I bored for England in those days.
German girls possessed a worldliness far beyond anything experienced in the youthfully immature relationships the lads had left behind in the UK. They fussed over you and took care of your every need. They bought their own drinks and they bought yours as well. There was a liberation in the Fatherland that would have amazed folk back home. And in the area of the bedroom they were the teachers not the pupils. In the England of the early sixties the vast majority of girls simply did not do bedroom stuff and to have it laid out before you like an offering to a god was nirvana. To be a musician around the Grosse Freiheit was for many to live the life of a gigolo. There were oodles of testosterone to be released and so what if there was someone waiting at home and relying on your commitment and your fidelity? Sometimes a young man needs a mistress just to break the monogamy.
I even managed to acquire my own bleach blonde bouffant-haired girlfriend in the form of Monika. She was a dancer and despite her scant knowledge of my language was savvy enough to see the humour in her family name of Pricken. 'I think it sounds a little bit rude in English,' she suggested. When she went on tour with a dance troupe called The Leslie Dancers she would send me postcards of the exciting places she visited. But while she was a nice girl and it was a pleasant diversion I found it a bit claustrophobic. I always liked and needed my own space and didn`t want to be anyone`s exclusive property.
While many of the musos set up cosy little secret 'homes from homes' with German frauleins who had insinuated themselves into their company with the promise of good sex and, often more importantly, a terrific meal, our lot simply enjoyed the revelry and banter of the post-club gatherings in bars like der Holle which could be found downstairs in the courtyard next door. Here, when the club had closed, you could drink your way into oblivion with your pals without the threat of another show for which you needed to remain sober. Der Holle stayed open until you left or fell over comatose.
If you fell due to the effects of drink it was wise to wait until work had ended. Moss, one of our sax players, misjudged the whole drinking thing on our first trip out and his falling occurred off the front of the stage during one late night session. Not a wise thing to do when your firm is under the control of a strict disciplinarian like Cliff Bennett. The next day, with a king-sized hangover, he was definitely suffering the wrath of grapes and feeling sorry for himself. Not too many words were said but the look of disapproval on Cliff`s face said it all. It never happened again.
There was of course the odd bit of straying into even more forbidden territory. One of our members was unfortunate enough to have the pitfalls of indiscreet liaisons brought sharply into focus by a rather disconcerting eruption in the toilet area of his person which, after its refusal to disperse and his need to seek the advice of others, he decided to share with his fellow performers.
The viewing took place in the dressings rooms to the left of the stage early one evening. A group of intrigued pals gathered excitedly in a circle as his trousers were unzipped and lowered for inspection. The deterioration of the condition had obviously gathered pace since he had last dared to peek and when the patient caught sight of the now pulsating mound of multicoloured flesh, slightly reminiscent of a pile of rotting fruit the centrepiece of which was a very unripe and unappetising banana, he fainted.
Horst was called and very soon a car sped off to the krankenhaus where he was incarcerated for the night. With the efficiency of experts very used to treating every hideous sexually transmitted malady that the Reeperbahn could and would throw up, he was back ready for work the next day with his meat and two veg heading slowly but surely towards normal proportions and colour. It was a tough way to learn the lesson 'if you stray you must pay' but indeed his straying days in Hamburg ended once and for all that night. I have no wish to put at risk someone`s happy domestic situation simply to satisfy the prurient curiosity of my readers and therefore he shall remain nameless.
Of course if you couldn`t find a girlfriend and were desperate for sexual relief there were plenty of efficient and friendly prostitutes plying their honourable trade. But this direction was one trodden mostly by the transient seamen and ne`er-do-wells who passed through the city in search of booze and women before their ship set sail again. The musicians, endowed with a perceived glamour by the simple virtue of their profession, had no need of their services. But for those who did, the easiest way to choose your 'date' was to nip along to the notorious Herbertstrasse.
What would have otherwise been merely an unprepossessing network of cobbled streets that would not normally merit a second glance grabbed one`s attention by the solid green metal barriers that hid the buildings from plain sight. They weren't gates. They were heavy iron panels emblazoned with warnings in German that youngsters were forbidden from entering. You simply walked either side of the wide centre panel and into the narrow opening formed by the two smaller side panels to find, hidden behind, a pretty row of picture windowed houses. And what pictures they framed.
Big women. Bigger women. Quite tiny women. More big women. Average-sized women. And positively huge women. There definitely seemed to be more flesh on these inhabitants than you would have expected to encounter, their Amazonian appearance grotesquely exaggerated by the costumes (you couldn`t reasonably call them clothes) of basques and bras and knickers and thigh high boots in a variety of materials from satin and nylon to leather and pvc. Chains, whips and studs were optional. Standards in the flesh trade are odd to say the least because there were grotesque creatures managing to charge considerable amounts of money for their company when in civilian life you`d have a hard time getting the tide to take them out.
To purchase goods from this sexual supermarket you simply made your choice during a leisurely stroll and established a price at the designated aperture and, if agreed by both parties, entered by the adjacent door after which the curtains would be drawn and the fun would begin. Simple, efficient and honest I thought. No objection whatsoever, although I never actually gave them my custom. Too mean? Or too scared? You decide.
The usual routine for me on waking most days was a leisurely stroll over the Reeperbahn and down towards the River Elbe where the British-run Seamen's Mission offered a welcome sanctuary to those of us far from dear old Blighty. There you could get a cheap meal and maybe a discarded newspaper to make you even more homesick than ever. It also served as a money exchange, offering a slightly better rate than you could get from the local bank.
Put off by the distance you could always breakfast on cornflakes at the Mambo Schenke, just a street away from the Grosse Freiheit, where Rosie Sheridan, the German wife of the Star Club Combo`s guitarist Tony, worked as a waitress. Or just a few doors along from the club Alphonse und Gretel`s small family café could sell you a cheap and spicy frikadelle, a fried hamburger guaranteed to live on in your memory for some time to come as your heart burnt itself to a cinder, ramming home the awful truth that your arteries were slowly and inexorably being hardened to the point of complete uselessness. The cut of meat, or indeed the indeterminate animal from which it had been constructed, was never made clear and its food value was questionable. On a good day it was a tasty and inexpensive meal. Quality control was absent. On a bad day it could be saltier than Lot`s wife`s arse.
One afternoon I wandered into the club to see who was hanging about. A group was rehearsing on the stage. You could usually find one band or another routining new material to keep their act fresh. Three and four hours playing per night used up a hell of a lot of music. Often songs were borrowed from bands you had watched over the previous nights. It wasn`t stealing. How could you steal something that had already been stolen itself? It had all been done before and now we were just doing it our own way. The close-knit community of the Star Club was a kind of musical currency exchange.
We had arrived in town playing great R&B tunes like Stupidity, Slow Down and If You`ve Got To Make A Fool Of Somebody which were soon integrated into the repertoires of other bands who spied on us during our evening sessions. We in turn heard the Big Three, one of the most exciting and competent of the Liverpool combos, playing Some Other Guy and Tricky Dicky and introduced the tunes to a London crowd on returning home. Little did I know it then but two songs from our current set list were later to figure prominently in the careers of the young men I was about to meet.
Alright caught the ear of Cliff Bennett when it was performed on Lonnie Donegan`s television show by a black American vocal group called The Grandisons. Lonnie was promoting their career and the tune was their current single. Alas all of Donegan's efforts were to no avail. The single and their career flopped but at least we had acquired a great piece of music which perfectly suited our guitars/saxes and blues-shouting vocals.
Round about the same time we had been presented with a disc brought back from the States by Eddie Normand, the promoter of our local gigs in the West London area. He thought it would be great to do on stage. It was a haunting blues-rock song with a guitar riff that insinuated itself into your brain and a breathy angst-ridden vocal sung by a white girl who knew how to sound black.
Needles and Pins, a flop on the US Liberty Label by Jackie DeShannon, was not what you would call a typical Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers tune but it sure went over big with our regular fans. We had injected droning saxes in harmony to stamp it with our own identification and to give it the gravitas we felt it required to fit into our programme. On reflection it wasn`t perhaps the most sympathetic treatment that we could have given the song but it worked for our purposes. Little did we know that we were soon to deliver it to the people who knew exactly how to transform this otherwise unremarkable combination of notes and words into one of the most important hits of the decade, while the aforementioned Alright was eventually put to good use by them as a well-respected album track.
The foursome on the stage that afternoon were running through an arrangement of Walk Right In which had only just entered the charts by a US act called the Rooftop Singers and they were doing it well. It was a harmony-based song and this was an area in which they were obviously very good. It was yet another Scouse group and in the carefully constructed casualness of their appearance they fitted into the general pattern I had come to expect. I recognised them from the pictures in the bar areas. They were The Searchers.
I caught their set later that evening and liked what I saw and what I heard. They looked good. Young and clean-cut but still with that earthy street kid appeal that seemed to be present to a greater extent in groups from the north of the country than in poncey southerners like us.
Mike, his surname shortened to Pender for the purposes of stage work, was without doubt a handsome young guy with the kind of look that would certainly appeal to women. Strong in appearance and slightly serious with what looked like a chip in his front teeth that, on closer inspection, turned out to be a gold filling and which, like Alma Cogan`s beauty spot, was something you either liked or you did not.
John, with a baby face and a hair colour that in a girl might be called strawberry blond, looked about fourteen. I learned to my astonishment that he was already actually a remarkably mature twenty year old. Practically superannuated in my terms of reference. He held his tiny black Hofner guitar high on his chest in the manner that had been adopted by many of the Liverpudlian musicians and looked serious when he sang. I figured this was probably an inbuilt reaction to any resentment felt with regard to his boyish appearance, always a bugbear when you`re young but one of life`s bonuses when age starts to attack with an unpleasant and unremitting vengeance. Isn`t it always the way? No one likes to look young when they`re young or old when they`re old.
John recalls their journey from Merseyside to Hamburg which unlike ours was conducted by ferry. 'We took all our equipment, amps, drums, everything, with us because nobody had thought to tell us that the club was fully equipped and with much better stuff than the crap we had. When we got to Hamburg docks the porters unloaded all our stuff onto the quay. Then they waited for us to tip them, which was something we weren`t used to and couldn`t afford to anyway so we refused. They called us all the names under the sun then loaded the stuff back onto the hoist and lifted it back onto the ship. We had to go back and take it off ourselves down the gangplank.'
Tony looked like the tough guy of the gang. He was definitely older by a few years and had an aggressive look about him. Like John he hoisted his instrument, a bass guitar as opposed to a standard six-string, up a few notches from the accepted norm. He seemed to do a fair amount of the singing although, being an ensemble which took the harmony side of things more seriously than most others, the vocals were on the whole spread quite evenly. With the exception of John that is, who joined in on some harmonies and an occasional unison line but whose solo vocals were restricted to a couple of featured numbers during the evening. He seemed to be content chugging out one of the most solid and hypnotic guitar rhythms I had heard in a while. He tended to use the strumming technique normally employed on a banjo but on a standard six- string guitar which is used to being stroked in a much more delicate manner. It was both unusual and extremely effective.
The drummer was altogether harder to figure out. Like Mike, Chris had also abandoned his family name for the more media friendly Curtis. He was without doubt the one in charge as far as their stage presence was concerned. A born communicator, he didn`t talk to the people so much as he commanded them, grabbing the crowd and mesmerising it with his gestures, his body language and his instructions from the off and refusing to let them go without receiving the response he demanded. And what he demanded he got. After all they had just gone through a war following orders and were not about to stop now. Old habits die hard.
He looked wild, his extraordinarily long hair falling down thickly way below the collar of the black leather coat he was wearing which, like the others, conformed to the general all black colour scheme of their outfits. And the eyes were nothing less than manic, the insinuated menace within exaggerated by a wide-mouthed grin that indicated either malevolence or exhilaration. It was difficult to tell which. It is little wonder that George Harrison used to refer to him as 'Mad Henry'.
His party piece was the old Ray Charles standard What`d I Say and if the vocals were not what you might call controlled they certainly had their effect. The answer and response segment resulted in a mass roar that confirmed without a shadow of a doubt that he had them in his sway. How he kept in time I do not know for he played his kit in a standing position, a not impossible technique but difficult without a doubt and certainly different. I had never seen the like before. In truth he was quite frightening.
When I met them all later I discovered that I was both right and wrong. Tony was indeed the wild party animal of the group, keen to spend his free time in the bars with the other young bucks and the girls, having the craziest and best time of his life while it was there to be had. And why not? There were many times in years to come when I wished I had cut loose a bit earlier and fully enjoyed the privileges and perks of being young.
Mike and John, it turned out, were quiet living and missing their girlfriends to whom they sent frequent and very long letters penned in the dim light of the Spartan quarters of the Grosse Freiheit flats. They were both very personable and friendly. I liked them immediately.
Chris was a different kettle of fish entirely. The wide-eyed aggression I had perceived from his on-stage persona was a complete red herring. He was in fact a gregarious and fun-filled figure whose zany, off-the-wall sense of humour was different from anything I had encountered before. His gestures were large and demonstrative. His turn of phrase theatrical and astonishingly sophisticated. He was a renaissance man in the costume of a thug. It was androgyny before most of us knew what the word meant. Chris was a lot of fun. His rapid wit would dart off into unexpected lateral directions when you least expected it. We all decided to treat ourselves one night at the local Chinese restaurant, a rare extravagance in those penny-pinching times. The place was called the Chug Ooh which Chris inventively translated as 'The House Of The Little Train That Hurt'. That was the way his mind worked. I enjoyed the company of my new friends and the days passed more quickly, but communicating with other musicians was not always so easy.
John Kay, the guitarist with Bill Haley`s Comets at the time, certainly remembers the guy he always thought of as 'Crazy Chris'. “Yes, I remember that he liked to play practical jokes on other bands, like unplugging amplifiers just as a band would go on stage. And there was another time when he and the Searchers threw me in a fountain apparently because they liked me. Chris would point out the female groupies that he said not to have sex with, because they had VD. I really don't know if it was the truth or not. But I stayed away from them just in case. He also told our bass player, Al Rappa, that a transvestite was a woman and he should go after her. I don`t believe Al did though”.'
John Kay adds “Chris always was telling jokes and really liked to laugh a lot. I remember liking to watch him perform on stage. He had a lot of energy in his drumming and vocals. I really liked to hear him sing. He had a kind of a primitive yet polished sound to his voice. He told me that the music scene in the U.S. at that time was playing watered-down R&B and rock & roll crap and that all of the 1950s musical energy was gone. England was just "giving us our own music back in a more pure, raw form that was missing in the U.S.” I agreed, and we all know what followed. British rock & roll and R&B became the hottest music Stateside.
“He liked the Comets because we played pure rock and roll and we kept the 50s feeling alive. That made me feel really good. He loved American blues and rock artistes. The Searchers made a definite impression on me too. I am not the kind of person who remembers every little detail of the past but I remember Crazy Chris”. Kay`s recollections more or less matched my own.
The Undertakers, who I also liked a lot, were a band like no band I had seen before. Like all the other Merseysiders they were garbed in the mandatory black and played a raunchy style of music that was accompanied by an equally raunchy stage presence. Most of their set consisted of frantically paced rhythm and blues numbers that were not surprisingly loud and compelling.
But the most unusual aspect of the Undertakers` performance was that as they sang they stamped their Cuban heeled boots hard into the wooden stage with a relentless pounding and a most impressive synchronisation that made the front line look like the Tiller Girls on acid. It was truly an awesome sight and one I had never witnessed before. As I watched from the side of the auditorium with Moss Groves we both found ourselves laughing at this spectacle which was, to put it mildly, different. Our amusement was by no means malicious. We both found it quite impressive and anything that grabbed one`s attentions I felt was definitely an asset in rock & roll terms.
When it came to the Rebel Rousers' time to take the stage I trundled to the amplifier set behind the closed curtains where Jackie Lomax, the Undertakers` wiry framed bass man, was unplugging his lead. He fixed me with the kind of look you see on a rottweiller just before it is about to clamp its teeth into your leg. “If I see you taking the piss out of us again I`m going to smash your fuckin' face in”.
There is something about a threat in a Scouse accent that imbues it with an extra dimension of malevolence and makes you take it just that little bit more seriously. The sudden intake of fear had my arse twitching like a rat`s nose in a cheese factory. For a brief second I considered explaining his misreading of the situation but plainly here was a man not open to discussion, not at this moment in time anyway.
Had I been a person used to a life of conflict and fisticuffs I would have called his bluff and invited him outside to sort out our differences in the time-honoured fashion. But being the lily-livered wimp I was, I did the sensible thing and offered a grovelling apology. I always think a good grovel is far more preferential to having your face smashed in. Disfigured features when you`re in showbusiness is not a good look.
As time went on wounds healed and Jackie and I got on fine. All of the Undertakers were nice guys and together they were a terrific band. As were almost all of the Liverpudlian groups. Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, The Strangers, The Big Three, The Searchers, and of course The Beatles. The city seemed to be overrun with raw but exciting musical talent. Unlike their southern compatriots who had mostly adopted the echo embellished crystal clear guitar sounds pioneered by Hank Marvin and his acolytes, these guys eschewed effects and substituted them with guts and passion.
If I had to pick a favourite it would have to be The Big Three. Initially consisting of Johnny Gustafson on bass, Johnny Hutchison on drums and Adrian Barber on guitar, later to be replaced by Brian Griffiths when Barber decided to make his home in Hamburg, they made a trio sound like there were half a dozen people up there on stage and their choice of material was to our taste exactly. But there were few on the stage of the Star Club who didn`t match up to the exacting standards expected.
Mike, John and Chris were like-minded people whose company I enjoyed. I hardly ever saw Tony. He was always missing, presumed having a good time. The rest of us would hang out together substituting the temptations of booze or pills for the delights of good conversation and some innocent laughs. Mike and John had serious girlfriends at home to whom they were committed. Their sojourn in the seedy depths of Hamburg allowed them to enjoy their music and amass the wherewithal to return home and marry in unions that, true to their Catholic religion, would be for life.
Someone once said that anyone who doesn`t live life on the edge is taking up too much room. We must have been occupying acres of space in a lifestyle that would have made Mother Theresa look like the all-time party girl. I must impress upon you that at this time and in fact for a couple of decades yet to come I was an absolute teetotaller. Alcohol did not pass those virgin lips.
If drink wasn`t enough for some people to keep the rush of energy flowing through their veins then there were the tiny pills called Preludin to aid and abet their search for enough stamina to get them through the night. Sold as a dietary aid, they were amphetamines which would kill your appetite and embody you with the power and desire to rave on until your body caved in to the exhaustion built up over hours of partying. The sum total of two Preludin tablets were, and have remained, the entire illicit drug intake throughout my less than wild days as a pop star.
A few evenings into our stay I succumbed to what was known as 'the Hamburg throat', an infection which made it painful to sing, almost impossible to swallow and even harder to sleep at night. I was desperate and I sought out Tony Sheridan as my saviour. Tony was known to be a free flying character who had tried just about anything and everything and who, like most people in the club, had employed the effective pick-u-ups when necessary. I explained my predicament and he handed me two tablets. I took them both and waited. Nothing seemed to happen. I waited and I waited and as I wondered when they were going to kick in I realised that they already had. I felt fine. More than fine. I was soaring. The throat was smooth and open and my spirits were high.
I got through the show with no problems whatsoever and, still on a roll, I spent the rest of the night telling anyone who would listen how wonderful these amazing little pills were. But then I discovered the other side of the coin. When the highs wore off the lows took over. I went into a deep depression that worried the hell out of me. The next day I got to a doctor and had my malady treated in the proper manner with antibiotics. And my illicit drug taking ceased from that moment on. I never took another amphetamine. Coke remained something that I drank out of a bottle not shoved up my nose. And I never experienced the attractions of that most innocent of drugs of choice, pot. It neither makes me proud nor ashamed to state that I am drug free. That`s just how it is.
Apart from the fact that we were making an extraordinary amount of money in comparison to what we were used to back home, we were also afforded the immense privilege of being in the company of and working on the same stage as our rock & roll heroes. The very people who had inspired us to jump on this precarious and rickety old bandwagon to which we had hitched ourselves.
Apart from those already mentioned there were others who would eventually grace and enhance our time there. The Everly Brothers, two young guys with the sweetest harmonies this side of anywhere and more good looks than one is legally allowed to possess. Joey Dee and the Starliters who surprised us all, as we were expecting a vapid dose of light pop with a twist of banal choreography and instead got a an act full of white soul with a dynamic and charismatic front man who knew how to wrench every amount of emotion out of songs that previously we thought could only be justly delivered by someone with a darker shade of skin
Bo Diddley was an R&B legend and his insistently repetitive 'shave and a haircut - ten bob' rhythm had secured an important position in the development of rock and blues but for me, who was recruited to sit in on bass for his Star Club performances, bashing out one beat on one chord for half an hour was not the most satisfying experience of my life. Still, it was a powerful sound, he was an originator and a legend and the crowd loved him. If the style was not my cup of tea I still consider it a privilege to have been on stage with him. Bo was a really nice guy with a friendly attitude, a warm smile and a stage outfit made from curtain fabric both for cost effectiveness and effect. Both of which results he achieved.
Gene Vincent, my old rockabilly hero whose amazing recording of Be Bop A Lula was the second disc I ever bought (Heartbreak Hotel of course was the first) turned out to be as mad as a box of frogs. He might have been a dynamic performer but I`ve seen more brains in a head of lettuce. He was obsessed with crippling karate grips and always carried guns and knives. He was best avoided at all costs.
I was sorely jealous of my chums the Searchers who had managed to be in residence when two real heavyweights visited - Fats Domino and Ray Charles. They don`t come much bigger, better or more important in the annals of popular youth music.
What locals we met were almost without exception friendly and welcoming. The bar girls at the Star Club were our confidantes and friends. Rosie, Goldie, Astrid, Bettina and the rest were there to give us comfort and encouragement and to dispense advice should we need it. Bettina was the matriarch of the bunch, big, blonde and buxom with a body you could hire out as a bouncy castle, a heart as big as Germany and a cleavage like a sumo wrestler`s bum. John Lennon would trade banter with her from the stage and dedicate her requests for her favourite songs. 'Ein wunsche fur Betty' Lennon would yell as they launched into Dizzy Miss Lizzie.
Musicians working at the Star Club existed under a code of protection. They were greeted warmly in the clubs and bars and their special status prevented them from being ripped off which was considered mandatory treatment of the average drunken punter. Abuse of privilege however was not to be recommended. Even the local gangsters were morally bound to obey the unwritten rules. Freddie Fascher, Horst`s younger brother, was beaten up in the wings of the club one evening while we were on stage pounding out our set. His transgression was allegedly an unwise dalliance with the girlfriend of a Hamburg hood while the man was languishing in jail. After his punishment Freddie was unceremoniously marched out of the club in full view of the audience. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done.
The young lady in question, I was told later by Cliff Bennett, was also reprimanded and, like Freddie, was forced to leave her place of abode in an extremely undignified manner, via the window. Had the window been a ground floor one it would not have been too bad but alas it was on the third floor. I don`t believe she ever transgressed again. Astrid Kirchherr was a talented young art student and photographer who had become involved with the Beatles from their first trip to Hamburg, and in particular their bass player Stuart Sutcliffe to whom she had quickly become engaged. When the not yet fab four returned home Stuart had stayed on to live with Astrid and carry on with his art studies at a Hamburg college, but sadly a brain haemorrhage was to kill him within months.
Astrid was a beautiful girl who, though almost all the published pictures show her with a close cut gamine style of haircut, at that time wore her blond locks shoulder length in a look reminiscent of the French singer Francoise Hardy. Her striking half-lit photographs of the young Beatles, slavishly copied by someone else for their EMI album covers, were ground breaking and set the pattern for the image that Britain would soon come to know. She created an iconic image and a style for which she never received the due recognition or rewards she richly deserved.
She introduced herself to us and indicated that she would like to take some studio shots. We were flattered. Her family home at Eimsbutteler Strasse 45a in an affluent middle-class suburb of the city indicated a cultured and privileged upbringing. Her bedroom at the top of the house was lined completely in silver foil, perhaps a tad childish and over dramatic in retrospect but quite shocking and different to young guys from our mundane background where our post war decorative techniques consisted of little more than basic paintwork in brown, cream and green.
The images she captured of us were in the same style and mood as those of the Beatles but with the contrast a little less intense. The faces she seemed most interested in were Cliff`s, mine and guitarist Dave Wendells'. When the results were presented to us she raved about the magnificent bone structure of Dave`s face. I was slightly miffed, being someone wracked with youthful insecurities and having a need for constant attention and approval. I wanted to be the one with magnificent bone structure. I would have been an analyst`s dream back then. In many ways I still am.
My portrait seemed ordinary. I decided that I looked like any other spotty-faced kid to whom classic good looks had patently been denied. When I came across the picture again in the early part of a brand new millennium I was astonished. Looking at it with fresh eyes I realised that I would gladly kill to look that good again.
Copyright: Frank Allen 2009.
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