The Beatles’ first manager, Allan Williams, arranged for the Silver Beetles, as they were then called, to tour Scotland as the backing band for fellow Liverpudlian singer Johnny Gentle, who was managed by London-based music impresario Larry Parnes.
We had to tell Stuart to turn the other way: ‘Do a moody – do a big Elvis pose.’ If anyone had been taking notice they would have seen that when we were all in A, Stu would be in another key. But he soon caught up and we passed that audition to go on tour – not with a furious name at all like the other acts, but with a guy called Johnny Gentle.
During the tour the group members each assumed stage names: Sutcliffe became Stuart de Staël, after the painter Nicolas de Staël, whose style influenced many of his works.
We were terrible. We’d tell Stu he couldn’t sit with us, or eat with us. We’d tell him to go away, and he did. That was how he learnt to be with us. It was all stupid, but that was what we were like.
In August 1960 The Beatles traveled to Hamburg for the first in a series of performances. Joining the group was drummer Pete Best.
Stuart was entering the good-looking period. Earlier than that he looked a bit pimply and art-studenty. He had never been number one in our pecking order. Pimply and small, but onstage in Hamburg his stature grew. He wore his James Dean glasses, a nice pair of RayBans, and he looked groovy with his tight jeans and his big bass. Suddenly there was this transformation, and with his shades and haircut Stu became a complete dude. It was great.
Many Years From Now, Barry Miles
Hamburg was a popular destination for Liverpudlian musicians, who found the crowds of sailers, prostitutes and drunks on the Reeperbahn suitably appreciative. Among the groups was Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, whose drummer would later defect for greater things.
One morning, when I first got to Germany, I was wandering around, wondering where to go, and I bumped into Stuart in Grosse Freiheit. I didn’t really know him at all, but he took me to a cafe that sold pancakes and got me my first meal.
One night a local resident, Klaus Voormann, wandered into the Kaiserkeller club, where he saw Rory Storm play. Voormann remained in the club to watch the second group, The Beatles.
Enthralled with The Beatles’ music, Voormann brought his girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr and their friend Jürgen Vollmer to watch them perform the following night.
Just recently I have found the most wonderful friends, the most beautiful looking trio I have ever seen. I was completely captivated by their charm. The girl thought I was the most handsome of the lot. Here was I, feeling the most insipid working member of the group, being told how much superior I looked – this alongside the great Romeo John Lennon and his two stalwarts Paul and George: the Casanovas of Hamburg!
Sutcliffe was entranced by the Germans, and made efforts to get to know them. He quickly began dating Kirchherr, whose relationship with Voormann had by then become mostly platonic.
He would put his shades on and stand there with his bass – it was all a big pose. At first, they were blown away by Stuart: they evidently weren’t looking for musicianship – it was image. And when Stuart turned out to be a painter, and as John was an art student and they were art students, there was this great connection. So we had drinks with them and chatted, and soon really got to know them well.
Despite the outward show of unity, The Beatles often fought among each other. As the newest members of the group, Sutcliffe and Pete Best were particularly targeted by the other members. There was particular volatility between Sutcliffe and McCartney.
Stuart and I once actually had a fight on stage. I thought I’d beat him hands down because he was littler than me. But he was strong and we got locked in a sort of death-grip, on stage during the set. It was terrible. We must have called each other something one too many time: ‘Oh, you…’ – ‘You calling me that?’ Then we were locked and neither of us wanted to go any further and all the others were shouting, ‘Stop it, you two!’ – ‘I’ll stop it if he will.’
John Lennon claimed the fight was over Astrid Kirchherr.
Paul was saying something about Stu’s girl – he was jealous because she was a great girl, and Stu hit him, on stage. And Stu wasn’t a violent guy at all.