The Beatles are, of course, famous for their extensive and pioneering music. However, thanks to their trajectory to fame, the crazy stories that are associated with their melodious journey continues to add flavour to the Fab Four enigma. The tales we often come across are mostly from the times when they were well-known far and wide, at the peak of their fame, a period of Beatlemania. But, were they equally free-spirited and mischievous in their formative years? Let’s find the answer to this question by rewinding a little and focusing on a particular incident that took place early in the band’s history.
The process which John Lennon started back in 1957 was completed by 1960 when The Beatles was formed with Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Stuart Sutcliffe—along with Lennon, of course. Allan Williams, who was then the manager of the group, sent the band to Hamburg with another outfit that he managed called Derry and the Seniors. The motive behind sending the novice team abroad was to polish their skills and attract an audience outside their homeland. The strategy clearly worked as the band caught Brian Epstein’s attention during their times staying in Hamburg from August 1960 to December 1962.
Williams booked the band for Bruno Koschmider’s Indra club for a season, whereas McCartney started a hunt for a drummer to fill the space temporarily as The Beatles laboured without a permanent percussionist. It proved to be a difficult task as drummers were “few and far between” because of the cost of a drum set as Lennon said. But soon Harrison found Pete Best who was a steady drummer and whom he had heard playing at a venue with the Black Jacks.
The clubs were mainly located in a red-light area. As a matter of fact, Hamburg became a hotspot for criminal activities following the economic depression post World War II. The clubs had doormen who lured the people in and often beat them up when they were unable to pay their bills. Perhaps not the kind of place you’d expect the soon-to-be clean-cut idols of the day.
The Beatles didn’t like the place or how they were treated, at least. So, to spice things up they indulged in some mischief. Things started to heat up when the band broke the stage of the Kaiserkeller, a music club where they replaced Derry and the Seniors. It was made of wooden planks balanced carefully on beer bottles. The members took turns to jump on it to test its strength, engaging in a playful and stupid bet of who could break it first. This, of course, made the club owner Koschmider furious and his men chased the band and beat them up.
Soon after the incident, the group were given a better offer at the Top Ten club. They left Koschmider’s club for Top Ten in October 1960 breaking their contract with the former. An already infuriated Koschmider reported Harrison for working under the legal age though he technically worked for Koschmider under the same circumstances before. On 21st November 1960, Harrison was deported from Germany and his position with The Beatles left in jeopardy.
Reminiscing the incident in The Anthology Harrison said, “I had to go back home and that was right at a critical time, because we’d just been offered a job at another club down the road, the Top Ten, which was a much cooler club. In our hour off from the Kaiserkeller, we’d go there to watch Sheridan or whoever was playing. The manager had poached us from Bruno Koschmider and we’d already played a couple of times there.
“There was a really good atmosphere in that club. It had a great sound system, it looked much better and they paid a bit more money.”
It meant losing the gig was not something the band could risk doing and they ploughed on without Harrison in the group: “Here we were, leaving the Kaiserkeller to go to the Top Ten, really eager to go there – and right at that point they came and kicked me out of town. So I was moving out to go home and they were moving out to go to this great club.”
Not only that, the unplanned journey left Harrison with an empty pocket as he had to spend all his money on the series of transports that took him back to Liverpool from Hamburg in just 24 hours. Though it could have potentially seen Harrison booted out of the band and replaced with another guitarist, luckily Lennon, McCartney and, at the time, Pete Best, saw fit to give Harrison his spot back as soon as he could tread the boards once more.