When was the Beatles' first concert?

It all started in 1960: "No Beatles without Hamburg"

Status: 08/17/2020 10:00 p.m.

On August 17, 1960, the Beatles appeared on a Hamburg stage for the first time. The concert in Indra is not a success - nevertheless the Liverpoolers develop into world stars in the rough neighborhood.

by Heiko Block, NDR.de

On this day, music history was written in Hamburg: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best made their first appearance on August 17, 1960 at the Indra in Hamburg-St. Pauli. It is her first official engagement as The Beatles. The first time they make money with their music. However, the first appearance is not a success: the number of guests is limited, the repertoire of the band is limited. They don't have their own songs yet. They play rock 'n' roll songs from the 1950s - that's what they're booked for. Nevertheless: On this evening 60 years ago, the foundation stone for their world career was laid, because the Beatles mature in Hamburg.

"There was a real need in St. Pauli"

"Back then there weren't any decent rock 'n' roll bands in Hamburg," says musician Stefanie Hempel, who has been offering Beatles tours in Hamburg since 2004. "But there was a real need on St. Pauli in 1960. That had to do with the port, the seafarers - it was international. Many came from Scandinavia or from the USA - and they wanted to hear their music here. There was a great rocker- Scene in Hamburg, especially in St. Pauli - she wanted to hear rock 'n' roll too. There were already jukeboxes - for example in the Kaiserkeller. That's why people went there. " And then Bruno Koschmider, owner of the Kaiserkeller and the Indra, had the idea of ​​bringing rock 'n' roll to the neighborhood.

VIDEO: In the footsteps of the Beatles in Hamburg with Stefanie Hempel (5 min)

Everyone wanted real rock 'n' roll - but where did they get it from?

Koschmider first tried German musicians. "But the people in the Kaiserkeller found Peter Kraus or Ted Herold terrible at the time. They wanted real rock 'n' roll," says Hempel. But where should you get bands from? The US was too far away - the shortest route was England. First up, Tony Sheridan came with the Jets from London, a few months before the Beatles. Then the club owner wanted new bands. So he went to London to find similar musicians.

Only fourth choice: "Please don't send the Beatles to Hamburg!"

In the 2i's Coffee Bar in Soho he met Allan Williams from Liverpool by chance, who had booked various bands and got them engagements. "Williams said to Koschmider: 'You don't need to look any further, you can get my bands - for a better price.' The Liverpool bands were cheaper, for them it was the first opportunity to earn money back then, because there was no rock 'n' roll scene in Liverpool, "says Beatles expert Hempel. "For example, the Cavern Club didn't start rock 'n' roll until 1961." The bands were grateful to be able to play regularly somewhere, because there were hardly any opportunities to perform.

First Derry and the Seniors came to Hamburg from Liverpool - and then the Beatles. As a fourth choice band. "It's also such a crazy story: Just because three other Liverpool bands couldn't, the Beatles were booked as a stopgap," reveals the 43-year-old Hempel. "Saxophonist Howie Casey from Derry and the Seniors said to Williams at the time: 'It's going well for us in Hamburg, please don't send the Beatles. This bad band is going to ruin our reputation.'"

But the Beatles, who previously only had "small gigs for a beer" or appearances at private parties in different constellations in Liverpool - they came anyway.

Only understood the contract correctly after arriving in St. Pauli

The Beatles arrived in Hamburg on the night of August 17th, 1960. Their first appearance was in the evening - on a Wednesday. At first it was difficult because the Beatles didn't even know they should play all evening and late into the night. "They didn't really understand the contract until shortly after their arrival in Hamburg," says Hempel. "In England they only knew the curfew, when almost everything closes at 11 pm. At that time they had hardly any live experience and only for about one to one and a half hours of programming. John Lennon later said that they had to stretch every song."

"Black Hole" in the cinema storage room for the first time

Two small rooms in the former Bambi cinema on Paul-Roosen-Straße were the Beatles' first accommodation in Hamburg.

After the contract, the accommodation was the next shock. Koschmider also owned the Bambi cinema. The boys were initially accommodated there. Two tiny, damp storage rooms of the cinema without windows functioned as the first sleeping quarters for the Beatles, whom they themselves only called the "black hole". Under Koschmider, the Beatles had to play four and a half hours an evening on weekdays, and even six hours on weekends - that was the contract. They had one day off a week - always on Mondays.

Songs by Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly on the first night

Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison (from left) became one of the most famous bands in the world as The Beatles.

It is not known with which song they opened the first concert evening. "But you pretty much know what kind of program they had back then. They played a lot of pieces by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Gene Vincent or Carl Perkins. And Buddy Holly too, they could do those three voices," explains Hempel. "Howie Casey came to Indra on the first night and saw if the Beatles were still that bad. They had gotten a little better than he remembered them. They weren't a good band in his eyes - but what really impressed him was the voices."

"They were still looking for chords and looking at their fingers"

The Beatles were very inexperienced that first evening. "They didn't know how to do a performance and stood there relatively stiffly. You can imagine because they didn't have much program. They were still looking for chords and looking at their fingers," said Hempel. The number of visitors was manageable - but some people from the Kaiserkeller came over "to see what the new English are like".

"The Beatles should turn the Indra into the new Kaiserkeller"

At that time the Indra was still on the dark side of the Great Freedom, there were no street lights there, so it didn't go so well. "It was a mixture of cabaret, strip and live club. It often went on until the last drunk sailor had left the club. Koschmider wanted to upgrade the shop with live music, the Beatles should turn the Indra into the new Kaiserkeller, the went much better, "said the musician.

"Take a look!": Hard pressure on the Kiez

The Liverpool boys were subsequently driven by the club owner Koschmider to heat up the audience in St. Pauli - because the competition in the Kiez was fierce. "The pressure was tough," Paul McCartney once recalled: "'Take a look, take a look,' the manager always said. The people in the shop looked at the beer prices. Our job was to put on a show so that they could come in and stayed. So we made a show. " The club was often empty. According to McCartney, the Beatles then waited for someone to walk in and played songs like Gene Vincent's "Dance In The Street".

From the Indra to the Kaiserkeller

By performing almost every night, the band got better quickly. The Beatles' show also evolved, singing together and taking turns so their voices would hold out. And after 41 appearances in the Indra, Koschmider dared to take them to the Kaiserkeller - even after there had been complaints about noise pollution in the Indra. "With the same commitment, they went over to the Kaiserkeller, also because they were now good and had their own audience - and, above all, had learned what Koschmider wanted from them," says Hempel. "This 'Look!' has become a household name in Beatles history. " They then played 50 nights in the Kaiserkeller.

Friendship with artist clique: the mushroom-head look is created

The Hamburg photographer Astrid Kirchherr played a key role in shaping the Beatles' look and image.

In addition, the style and image of the Beatles were largely developed and shaped in Hamburg. "No mushroom head without Hamburg," emphasizes the expert Hempel. The art student and musician Klaus Voormann heard the energetic music on the street and went down to the Kaiserkeller. He recognized the quality of the band and brought in more and more of his fellow students. The Beatles quickly made friends with the "Exis", the artist clique around Voormann and the photographers Astrid Kirchherr and Jürgen Vollmer. The students were "the first to capture the beauty and spirit of the Beatles" (John Lennon). The Liverpoolers were not only inspired by the lifestyle of their Hamburg friends, they also adopted their look: the so-called mushroom head.

92 nights in a row in the top ten - appearance at the opening of the Star Club

The second engagement in Hamburg was in the Top Ten Club. "That was their best time back then. They played there 92 nights in a row - they never had an evening off," emphasizes Hempel. After that they were engaged in the Star Club three times, including at the opening on April 13, 1962. "It was important for the Hamburg scene and the Star Club that they played there. For many Hamburgers they were the best band. They were very popular back then due to their many appearances - including with Tony Sheridan in the top ten. " The first Star Club engagement lasted from April to June.

Hamburg shapes the Beatles like no other city

Hamburg shaped the Beatles like no other city. "Mark Lewisohn, the most important Beatles author in the world, said 'No Hamburg, No Beatles' - so no Beatles without Hamburg. That is also perfectly clear to me," said Hempel. "Especially without the first engagement, without this opportunity to develop as they did here - musically, personally and as far as the band cohesion is concerned - they would not have existed for long. I'm sure of that." Without the performances in Hamburg they would have had significantly worse opportunities. "You became a professional live band through the long nights here. You met Ringo Starr here because he played with another band in the Kaiserkeller and they shared the commitment. The first joint appearance with Ringo was also in the Kaiserkeller. " When Pete Best was sick for a few days, Ringo Starr helped out.

Foundation stone laid for Hamburg's club culture and music scene

The Beatles are also very important to Hamburg. "This whole club culture started here with bands like the Beatles or Tony Sheridan. St. Pauli had this unique music scene that laid the foundation for Hamburg as pop music and rock 'n' roll in the 1960s -City, "says Hempel. "Hamburg was the pop capital in Germany for a long time - and that is definitely related to St. Pauli and the Beatles." Because the Beatles became so famous so quickly, even more bands from all over the world were drawn to Hamburg. The Star Club advertised with the slogan "The cradle of the Beatles" as early as 1963. As a result, Jimi Hendrix and Ozzy Osbourne, for example, came to Hamburg to play in the Star Club.

"The passion just doesn't stop "

For Stefanie Hempel, the Beatles now almost feel like family: "I can no longer imagine a life without the Beatles. I became a musician through the Beatles. I started writing songs when I was ten because I was totally in love was in John Lennon and wanted to express my love musically. " Her favorite songs include "Here, There and Everywhere", "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "A Day In The Life", which moves her the most. "The music of the Beatles gives me a lot of power and energy. And this passion just doesn't stop."

1,200 hours on Hamburg stages

A passion that visitors can experience on a tour with Hempel. For 16 years she has been telling visitors from all over the world that nowhere in the world have the Beatles played more often than in Hamburg. In the two years and four and a half months from August 1960 to December 1962 they stood 1,200 hours on Hamburg stages - at 281 concerts and five engagements in four different clubs. Her world career began in 1963. They had their last appearance in the Hanseatic city on June 26, 1966, when they came back to Hamburg as superstars.

Lennon: Grew up "not in Liverpool, but in Hamburg"

"We grew up in Hamburg," said John Lennon - here at the last concert in the Hanseatic city in 1966.

In the red light district - among sailors, gangsters, rockers and prostitutes - the talented amateurs became musicians with world star potential under tough conditions. "They were washed up in Hamburg when they conquered the world," says Hempel. John Lennon also once emphasized: "We didn't grow up in Liverpool, but in Hamburg."

The Beatles: how it all started

Liverpool, 1960: A couple of boys make music together: John, Paul and George - plus Pete Best, who initially sat on the drums. First they played in basement bars, then they went upstairs. more

When the Beatles drove Hamburg crazy

Ecstatic teenagers, exhausted police officers: on June 26, 1966, the Beatles gave two lightning concerts in Hamburg - and all hell broke loose in the Hanseatic city. It was the last gig in Hamburg. more

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NDR 90.3 | Culture journal | 08/17/2020 | 7:00 p.m.