Klaus Voormann was born in Germany on 29 April 1938. He was an artist, musician and record producer, who knew The Beatles in Hamburg and later designed the front cover of Revolver.
One of those days we were doing our stuff and some slightly strange-looking people arrived who didn’t look like anyone else. Immediately we felt, ‘Wey-hey… kindred spirits… something’s going on here.’ They came in and sat down and they were Astrid, Jürgen and Klaus.
The son of a doctor, Voormann was born on 29 April 1938 in north Berlin, Germany. He studied classical piano between the ages of 8 and 15, but his parents decided he should study commercial art at Berlin’s Meisterschule für Grafik und Buchgewerbe.
He later moved to Hamburg to study at the Meisterschule für Gestaltung, but started work as a commercial artist, graphic designer, and illustrator before completing his studies.
While living in Hamburg Voormann first met Astrid Kirchherr, whom he began a relationship with. Following an argument with Kirchherr and their friend Jürgen Vollmer, Voormann wandered into Hamburg’s Reeperbahn in the St Pauli district. There he heard music coming from inside the Kaiserkeller club and decided to investigate. Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, featuring Ringo Starr, were on stage; the next act to play were The Beatles, and Voormann decided to stay and watch.
Astrid was the girlfriend of Klaus at first and they’d had a row one night, so he’d gone off in a huff. He was pissed off with her and he came down to this very bad area of Hamburg, where he would never have gone otherwise. He was walking around and he heard this noise coming out of a cellar so he came into the Kaiserkeller, saw us and thought we were really interesting.
Voormann watched both groups, and was left “speechless” by the performances. A jazz fan who had been brought up listening to classical music, it was the first time he had listened to rock ‘n’ roll. The following day he brought Kirchherr and Vollmer to the club to see The Beatles, and all three fell in love with the sounds and energy of the British beat groups.
He went back and told Astrid and brought her and some of their friends – there were ballet dancers with them – and they started coming in on a regular basis to see us. Astrid and Klaus would come in most frequently. They liked our band and she wanted to photograph us.
The trio stood apart from the usual clientèle in St Pauli, dressed in suede coats, woolen sweaters and jeans. At the time the district was commonly populated by sailors, prostitutes, drunkards and other undesirables.
During a break in performances Voormann spoke briefly to John Lennon in faltering English. Lennon suggested he speak to the group’s bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe, whom he described as “the artist round here”. Lennon was initially dismissive of Voormann and his friends, though – like the other Beatles – he later grew to count them as friends. He dubbed the trio the Exis, a joke about their affectation for existentialism.
Astrid and Klaus were very influential. I remember we went to the swimming baths once and my hair was down from the water and they said, ‘No, leave it, it’s good.’ I didn’t have my Vaseline anyway, and I was thinking, ‘Well, these people are cool – if they think it’s good, I’ll leave it like this.’ They gave me that confidence and when it dried off it dried naturally down, which later became ‘the look’.
Sutcliffe was entranced by the German trio. He hoped to talk to them again during the next break, but German laws prohibited young people from being in bars after 10pm. Eventually, however, he did talk to them properly, and discovered that all three of them had attended the Meisterschule für Mode, Hamburg’s equivalent of Liverpool College of Art.
Klaus Voormann left Germany for London in the early 1960s to work as a commercial artist at an advertising agency. He was invited to live with George Harrison and Ringo Starr in their Green Street apartment, although he later rented an apartment of his own. He returned to Hamburg in 1963, founding a musical group, Paddy, Klaus & Gibson. Brian Epstein became their manager following a performance at London’s Pickwick Club.
In 1966 Voormann moved back to London, and was asked by John Lennon to design the cover of The Beatles’ album Revolver. Voormann spent a couple of weeks sketching ideas, eventually settling on line drawings of the four Beatles with photographs around them.
We knew he drew and he’d been involved in graphic design; I must admit we didn’t really know what he did, but he’d been to college. We knew he must be all right and so we said, ‘Why don’t you come up with something for the album cover?’
He did, and we were all very pleased with it. We liked the way there were little things coming out of people’s ears, and how he’d collaged things on a small scale while the drawings were on a big scale. He also knew us well enough to capture us rather beautifully in the drawings. We were flattered.
Brian Epstein reportedly cried tears of joy upon seeing it. Voormann was paid £40 for his work, which was widely praised and admired, and in 1966 was awarded the Grammy Award for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts.
Also in 1966 Voormann assisted with The Beatles’ promotional films for Paperback Writer and Rain. He was also commissioned to design the cover for the Bee Gees’ debut album; the resulting artwork depicted the five group members standing above a psychedelic collage. The same year he joined Manfred Mann on bass, a position he kept until 1969. He had previously been invited to join The Hollies and The Moody Blues.