Strangers in a strange land
It’s a common saying that you just can’t get famous in your hometown, even if you have the potential to be great, best there ever was, first globally popular band. The Beatles felt that on their own skin, they were relatively well known in Liverpool and the UK generally, but their rise to fame began in the great country across the sea, Germany.
Hamburg, one of the biggest port towns in the world was suffered heavy bombardment during the WW II. The city was in ruins by the end of the war, but eventually it rose up from the rubble and become a vast port city once again. Hamburg during the 60’s was a dangerous place to live in, criminal activity was sky up high and for a five teenagers from England it looked like a promised city because Hamburg was completely economically recovered from the war, unlike Liverpool, a sad remnant of the once thriving city.
The success came completely by surprise; back then The Beatles had five members, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. They regularly performed in Liverpool and after a performance at the Jacaranda club, owned by Allan Williams, a local businessman, who will later become their first booking agent. The other group who was managed by Williams, Derry and the Seniors, had seen great success playing in Hamburg and he decided to send another band to Germany. The Beatles were not his first choice, not even the second. Williams tried first to book Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, but they refused, as did Gerry and the Pacemakers, making the room for five kids that will later become the most famous band in the world.
They first played at Indra club, which was located in St. Pauli, a dangerous part of Hamburg, basically a red light district, a perfect starting point for the young and thriving band. They slept at the backstage in the Bambi Kino, basically lived there while they were performing at the Indra. As McCartney said: “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, with not very many covers we were frozen.”
The Indra was closed soon after they started playing there, because of the complaints about the noise, and they soon started to perform at the Kaiserkeller, one of the most famous clubs in Hamburg. Four hours per night, seven days a week, that was their schedule. Lennon said: "We had to play for hours and hours on end. Every song lasted twenty minutes and had twenty solos in it. That's what improved the playing. There was nobody to copy from. We played what we liked best and the Germans liked it as long as it was loud."
On the October of 1960, Storm and the Hurricanes, the band in which Ringo Starr played arrived in Hamburg and started to play alongside The Beatles. They had lots of problems while playing at the Kaiserkeller, they even broke the stage, and were beaten by the owners bouncers.
The Beatles played better and better, their on-stage performance advanced every day, and eventually they signed to play at the Top Ten, another infamous club of the 60’s era Hamburg. Better pay, better conditions, and better audio equipment were the reasons for making a change. Shortly after that the owner of the Kaiserkeller, jealous because they abandoned his club, reported Harrison for working under age and he was soon deported back to England. McCartney and Best later set fire in the room they lived during their gigs at Kaiserkeller and were sent also sent back to England. They went back to play at the Top Ten, as soon as their problems with the law ended and during that time their first single has been recorded “My Bonnie”. During this time, Sutcliffe decided to leave the band.
After their time at the Top Ten, The Beatles started to play at the Star Club, a new venue that needed a quality opening act. During this time, Ringo Starr joined the band and the story of World dominance slowly began.
Brian Epstein heard “My Bonnie”, he was already familiar with the band, and finally he decided to visit the Cavern club in Liverpool while they were performing, was amazed and later on he become their manager and brought them to the top of the world. But the Beatles story started in Hamburg, showing that the road to success isn’t a straight line.