“Sie liebt dich, ja ja ja”: Spencer Leigh’s “The Beatles – Hamburg & the Hamburg Sound”

By on May 14, 2018

In The Beatles – Hamburg & the Hamburg Sound, celebrated British deejay and music biographer Spencer Leigh gives viewers a two-and-a-half hour guided walking tour of Hamburg, a seaport city in northern Germany some five hundred miles from their home base of Liverpool, England.

Watch this 2006 documentary — and other titles in our ever–growing collection of Beatles docs — over on Night Flight Plus.

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Leigh — who has been broadcasting on BBC Radio Merseyside for over forty years — is possibly the best person on the planet to give us a guided tour of the Beatles’ Hamburg.

Among the more than two dozen books he’s written about the Beatles’ various escapades are The Beatles in Hamburg: The Stories, The Scene and How It All Began,The Beatles in Liverpool and The Beatles in America (all three published by Omnibus Press).

Leigh and Paul McCartney have also co-written The Cavern Club: The Rise of the Beatles and Merseybeat.

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Among the sites Leigh visits in Hamburg are nightclubs in the city’s red-light district, the Reeperbahn — on Grosse Freiheit Street in the St Pauli district — as well as the Museum of Hamburg History’s “Hamburg Sound” exhibit (it closed in 2012).

Leigh also talks with Ulf Krüger (author of Star-Club: Der bekannteste Beat-Club der Welt and co-author of Beatles Guide: Hamburg), Gibson Kemp (English drummer and husband of German photographer and artist, Astrid Kirchherr), and the late Uwe Blaschke (German record producer and Beatles collector).

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Leigh also chats with one-time Hamburg resident Kingsize Taylor, whose Liverpool-based Brit pop combo, Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes, also played at the Star-Club back in the day.

Read more about Spencer Leigh’s The Beatles – Hamburg & the Hamburg Sound below.

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The Reeperbahn, looking north into Die Große Freiheit, in Hamburg, Germany, August 1960 (photo by Frank da Cruz)

The Beatles — previously known as the Beat Brothers, playing their first gigs in Hamburg under their new name — arrived in the early evening of August 17, 1960, for the first of forty-eight consecutive nights at the Indra, a nautical-themed strip club much smaller than the Cavern club back in Liverpool.

Each of them were to be paid £10 each week for playing four-and-a-half hours every weeknight — six hours total on both Saturdays and Sundays — on a cabaret stage 18-inches high, which gave club patrons a good look at the strippers onstage.

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The Beatles at the Indra, Hamburg, Germany, August 17, 1960. L-R: John Lennon, George Harrison, Pete Best, Paul McCartney, Stuart Sutcliffe

However, their first Hamburg residency would end in disaster.

“All the club owners were like gangsters,” George Harrison reportedly said, “and all the waiters had tear-gas guns, truncheons, knuckle-dusters. They were a heavy crew. Everybody around that district were homosexuals, pimps, hookers.”

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Harrison would later admit that they ended up sleeping together that first night— all of them in one bed — at club owner Bruno Koschmider’s house.

After that, they slept in bunk beds behind a cinema screen at the Bambi Kino, being rudely awakened to the screening of Disney films every morning, and having to use the cinema’s urinals for bathing and shaving.

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Harrison would later admit he lost his virginity in Hamburg while the other three Beatles secretly watched:

“They couldn’t really see anything because I was under the covers but after I’d finished they all applauded and cheered. At least they kept quiet whilst I was doing it.”

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The Beatles ended up breaking their Indra contract in order to play at the larger Kaiserkeller club (where they would meet Ringo Starr for the first time).

When Koschmider found out, he was so angry that he had George Harrison, who was underage at the time, deported back to England.

Then, when Paul McCartney and then-drummer Pete Best lit a condom on fire backstage at Bambi Kino, they were arrested and also deported.

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I remember getting home to England,” McCartney has said, “and my dad thought I was half-dead. I looked like a skeleton, I hadn’t noticed the change, I’d been having such a ball!”

The Beatles made three more trips to Hamburg, beginning with a three-month residency at the Top Ten Club starting on April 1, 1961, playing seven-hour sets on weeknights, eight on the weekends, for ninety-two nights straight.

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In 1962, they came back to Hamburg twice more, playing the newly-opened Star-Club.

Sometimes they backed up British singer Tony Sheridan, and their studio recordings with him in June 1961 were some of the Beatles’ first released recordings.

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When the Beatles had arrived in Hamburg in 1960, they were wearing drainpipe trousers, winklepickers and matching little jackets, but soon they came under the influence of bassist Stu Sutcliffe’s stylish fiancée, Astrid Kirchherr.

Before too long they were now wearing cheap black leather jackets and adopting what the “Beatles haircut,” styled after the way Kirchher had cut Sutcliffe’s hair (only Pete Best refused to cut his hair like the rest of them).

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The Beatles ended up playing to thousands of emotionally-overwrought female fans who, as Bob Geldof once told Q Magazine, would end upliterally pissing themselves with excitement” (that’s why Geldoff has always associated the Beatles with the smell of urine).

Their popularity in Germany would later lead to their recording of several of their early hit songs in German, including “She Loves You,” although when they sang “Sie liebt dich, ja ja ja” they knew that what they were actually singing was: “She loves dick, yeah yeah yeah.”

Watch The Beatles – Hamburg & the Hamburg Sound on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.