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The Beatles in Germany : nouvelle publication de l’éditeur “Genesis”

C’est en cet été que l’éditeur Genesi, réputé dans le domaine de l’édition de livres sur le Rock, a décidé de publier un nouvel ouvrage consacré aux Beatles, avec une focalisation bien précise sur la période qu’ont passé les Beatles en Allemagne. Cette nouvelle publication, intitilée “The Beatles in Germany”, voit notamment une forte participation de Tony Sheridan qui fut le premier rocker anglais à connaître un succès appréciable à Hambourg, notorité qui dépassa très vite la ville portuaire pour gagner l’Allemagne entière, lui assurant ainsi une place de faveur dans la programmation du Kaiserkeller, scène sur laquelle il se produisit pendant 7 années consécutives. C’est dans le courant de l’année 60, lorsqu’il se produisit au Top ten Club qu’il fit la connaissance des Beatles, avec qui il enregistra un 45 T devenu célèbre : “My Bonnie”.

De ce fait, il s’imposait donc comme incontournable auprès des Editions Genesis, en qualité de rédacteur de cette édition limitée du livre “Beatles In Germany”.

Nous vous livrons donc ci-après une des nombreuses interviews de Tony qui sont présentent dans cet ouvrage. Ainsi, celle que vous découvrirez ci-après a été réalisée par Ulf Krüger, en 2002n alors que Tony était en studio pour enregistrer 15 nouvelles compositions, dont il est l’auteur… un entretien interressant dans lequel Tony revient largement sur ses relations avec les ex-Fab Four.

WHO FIRST DUBBED YOU THE TEACHER AND WHY?

This is a mystery to me – I had no idea anyone called me anything other than “that stupid twat” [1], or worse. On the other hand, my interest in playing “weird chords” where there were otherwise none, helped bring a little diversity into playing the same old three-chord rock’n’roll songs ad nauseam. Oddly, it was gratifying to hear a few of my ideas emerge in the Beatles’ later song arrangements. (e.g. “Come together”).

SEVERAL LIVERPUDLIAN ARTISTS, INCLUDING JOHN LENNON, COPIED YOUR HIGH-CHESTED GUITAR PLAYING AND YOUR WIDE-LEGGED STANCE ON STAGE. WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OF PLAYING THE GUITAR LIKE THIS?

This position relieved pain (caused by the pressure of the guitar body on my bony lower ribs). It also looked like the early Elvis. The “wide-legged stance” was a preventive measure in two senses:

1) After fifteen beers one was less likely to fall off the stage.

2) There was less chafing at the crotch, caused by wet jeans (we sweated an awful lot) worn without underpants (musicians just threw the old unwashed ones away and couldn’t afford new underwear on the pauper’s salary we received in the clubs). Also, there were no facilities for washing anything, (including ourselves) anywhere in St. Paul’s.

From this we deduced that the Germans only bought throw-away underwear. It also looked like the early Elvis. John assumed a similar stance for apparently similar reasons, plus the fact that Tony Sheridan knew more chords (mostly weird) than he did. Furthermore, he was anxious to stay on good terms with “the stupid twat”.

WHAT WERE YOUR VERY FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE BEATLES, AS MUSICAL TALENTS AND AS INDIVIDUALS?

It was strangely comforting to make the acquaintance of musicians – even if they hailed from Liverpool – who outwardly resembled oneself and one another. That we were all talented need not be reiterated here. But as I quickly learned that they had not acquired any weird chords, it was evident that their talent was still yet to emerge in its fully developed form.

Thus I felt fraternally obliged to assist them in their musical development by introducing them to weird chords and other quirky innovative ideas. Of course, they were “individuals-in-waiting”, but at the same time we were, more likely, individual expressions of an “over-individualistic” entirety called “the British rock(‘n’roll) musician”, that had not yet fully mutated. (Remember, Timothy Leary has been quoted as saying that the Beatles were mutants.)

Their particular intangible talent appeared to be one that had still to be applied (to a “sub-talent”, or genre). At that time we were all copying various rock’n’roll models of one sort or another.

The talents of John and Paul obviously expressed themselves through their basic personalities which were, simply put: “bright lights” in a culture that had not too many lights to boast of, other than red ones. This was, of course, especially apparent in the district known as St. Pauli. (Let us not forget the value of their knowing one who had – in the development of his own talents – already managed to integrate various weird chords into his musical efforts!).

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THIS WAS THE ERA OF STUART SUTCLIFFE AND PETE BEST. WHAT WERE THEY LIKE?

Stuart’s and Pete’s talents, with regard to the other musicians, were – as we now know – more of a catalytic nature in that each was, in his way, equally effective in inspiring the collective group identity at an especially formative point in time.

Stuart through his intellectual influence on John; and Pete because of his outward ability to stabilize the group’s pre-Epstein image as a leather-clad, slightly dangerous, not-to-be-messed-with, don’t-give-a-shit Scouse [2] band. And, it should be mentioned, in addition to the characteristic revolutionary trait that pervaded the rock musicians’ still embryonic scene, a distinct touch of the “art school crowd” syndrome was prevalent, too.

DID THEY DISPLAY THE SAME TALENT AS PAUL, JOHN AND GEORGE? YOU AND THE BEATLES BOTH PLAYED AT THE TOP TEN CLUB? HOW BIG A LOCAL FOLLOWING DID YOU ALL HAVE?

While appearing at the Top Ten Club, the Beatles and I drew a following in droves from all the preceding venues we had played, much to the detriment of the other clubs, whose prosperity rapidly deteriorated. (The opening of the Star Club in April 1962 eclipsed the Top Ten’s monopoly position, but from the late 1960’s the club’s popularity reigned unchallenged by any rival competitors).

Significantly, in contrast to the previous clubs’ clientele, a typical Top Ten audience comprised young (and some not-so-young) people from all walks of life, a phenomenon not previously observed prior to 1960-61.

DID YOU RELAX WITH THE BAND IN THE ATTIC ABOVE THE TOP TEN CLUB? WHAT DID THE BAND DO TO WIND DOWN AFTER PERFORMANCE?

Our “living quarters” in the attic of the house containing the Top Ten were conspicuously devoid of all amenities save a bucket of water and the tiered steel army beds provided to receive our exhausted bodies after the fray of a typical night of continuously thrashing out three or four harmonies (by now interspersed with a liberal sprinkling of weird chords!). The afternoons were often spent in trying out new songs.

To wind down, we occasionally wandered down to the Grosse Freiheit, inevitably consuming litres of beer in our favourite haunt “Gretel & Alfons” a sort of local pub where the boss was sympathetic to our cause, and more importantly, to our ravings induced by the frequent consummation of numerous “Prellies” (Preludin).

IT WAS FINDING OUT ABOUT YOUR “MY BONNIE / THE SAINTS” TRACK, ON WHICH THE BEATLES PLAYED BACKING AS THE BEAT BROTHERS AND WHICH WAS THEIR FIRST EVER RECORDING, THAT INSPIRED BRIAN EPSTEIN TO SEARCH OUT THE BAND. SO, WITHOUT YOU, THEY MAY NEVER HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO HAVE PLAYED SUCH AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN MUSICAL HISTORY?

Quite often I have had to listen to the hyperbolic supposition that without “My Bonnie’s” appearance the Beatles may never have been discovered. Now, having known them quite intimately from having experienced their “magic” for myself from a short distance, I view these hypothetical utterances, with much suspicion and not a little loathing. I decline to accept even partial responsibility for their “discovery” by Brian Epstein. There were numerous individuals who played a role in the emergence of the Beatles (and others, too), and all were, in my opinion, equally important – or not, depending on your viewpoint…

CAN YOU REMEMBER ANY PARTICULARS FROM THE “MY BONNIE / THE SAINTS” RECORDING SESSION? WAS IT AN EASY SESSION? DID IT TAKE LONG? HOW PROFESSIONAL WERE THE BEATLES OR THE BEAT BROTHERS?

After the experience of having to perform eight or more hours a night for several months, we had become extremely proficient – as opposed to “professional” – in playing our particular style of music that had evolved in the Top Ten. Thus we were able to play any number of titles from our combined repertoire faultlessly, with ease and precision. Transplanted at an early hour to the relatively sterile surroundings of a recording session, we performed effortlessly, having just been plucked from the stage – as it were – with little ensuing sleep. It is regrettable that so few typical songs emerged – hardly one title containing a single weird chord worthy of the name! It should have occurred to someone – but it didn’t – to record an evening’s live performance. What a shame…

IN YOUR OPINION HOW DOES THE TOP TEN CLUB WITH ITS 7 HOUR SETS, CURFEW ETC, COMPARE TO TODAY’S LIVE MUSIC VENUES? IS THERE ANY CLUB NOWADAYS IN HAMBURG OR ELSEWHERE, WHICH IS SIMILAR TO THE TOP TEN CLUB?

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Hardly one aspect of the Top Ten’s significance in the evolution of the Hamburg / Liverpool music scenes can be found today, comparatively speaking, in any music venue known to me, at least.

The club offered a talented group the hitherto unheard-of opportunity of playing extremely long hours – seven days a week – for months on end, thereby allowing the musicians to progress in merit at an enormously rapid rate. Left to their own resorts, they could be innovative, creative and outrageously experimental, with no limitations set on their music by a third party on content, style, loudness, antics or show; and no one person to reproach them for any short-comings, musical or otherwise. (One exception was the ban imposed on us by the police of wearing Nazi armbands, insignia, etc.!). Of course, in these circumstances one either becomes – inadvertently or not – very good; or one eventually notices – inadvertently or not – that not enough talent is not enough to pursue further the career of a young up – and – coming rock musician.

HOW DOES THE SALARY OF LIVE MUSICIANS THESE DAYS COMPARE TO WHAT YOU AND THE BEATLES WERE EARNING IN THE EARLY 60S?

The minor point of the amount received as salary has here no real relevance. In those days no British working musician – in Hamburg at least – was “big” enough to command anything but a pittance.

Of course, if you occasionally played weird chords you got a bit more; plus you became a favourite with your fellow aspirants…

WHAT TRACKS DID YOU AND THE BEATLES PERFORM AT THE TOP TEN CLUB?

Our repertoire consisted of practically all classic rock’n’roll songs and ballads known to date, plus countless relatively obscure titles from various sources, with the emphasis on black rhythm’n’blues, and country & western. If a song we didn’t normally perform was requested, a short discussion on stage decided whether or not we should risk doing it. Usually we did – especially if the chap was: a) willing to buy a round of drinks for the band (or bribe us with a few quid) – or b) of a threatening countenance and accompanied by some unsavoury heavy-looking mates. This way we accumulated the strangest of impromptu off-beat offerings, some even containing weird harmonies hitherto unknown – even to Tony Sheridan! And we inadvertently became auspiciously good. Without this training, who knows what might have become of them? (John on the busses, Paul a civil servant (labour exchange), George a sweet-shop proprietor, Ringo… well, Butlin’s of course).

WAS THERE A MOMENT WHEN YOU REALISED THAT THE BEATLES WOULD BE BIG?

There was no single moment when I realised that The Beatles would achieve greatness in the sense of the magnitude of an Elvis. One must remember that in 1961 all the powers-to-be in the U.S. and British music worlds were busy uttering prophecies to the tune of: “R’n’r is practically – for all intents and purposes – dead.”, “Real music will follow.” (They were nearer to the truth here). “Guitar groups are definitely OUT!”, and further: “Black music has no future.”, “Vera Lynn will rise again.”, “Could George Formby wow them in the States?”, “Lonnie is OK, but we can’t understand his words…” etc., etc.

They were GREAT in Hamburg (and big in Liverpool – partly because of their interest in weird chords).

Although I probably could have stayed with the group, I had no wish to give up the success I had so far enjoyed; and anyway, on hearing “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me” I was very glad that I had not been shunted into the situation where I might have had to perform something similar!

One often wonders what the Beatles music might have sounded like, had they stayed a more or less purist rhythm’n’blues band, which they certainly were – and a very good one at that – before their rise to fame in the U.K. But alas, we shall never know…

ARE YOU STILL IN TOUCH WITH PAUL AND RINGO?

Yes, we’ve met up again on occasion. A typical remark from, say, Paul, might be: “Sorry Tony, we didn’t really mean you were a silly twat. Got any new weird chords?” From Ringo, inevitably: “Fuck off , Sheridan!”


Tony Sheridan et Ulf Krüger,
rédacteur de Genesis Publication,
en studio, pour l’enregistrement
de 15 nouvelles chansons.

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