Personalities | The Beatles | The Formative Years (1961) | Key Events


Second Hamburg Stint

The Beatles returned to Hamburg at the end of March for a three-month residency at the Top Ten Club. The money was marginally better and Paul McCartney was able to afford to buy his first trademark Hofner violin-shaped bass, but the hours were longer: seven hours a night, eight at weekends. Sometimes they shared the bill with another Liverpool band, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes and found themselves getting chummy with their drummer, Ringo Starr. They also remained friends with Stuart Sutcliffe and were so impressed by his black leather suit that they had their own made.


Sheridan Sessions

The first ‘official’ recording session by The Beatles took place during their second Hamburg stint when they backed Tony Sheridan, another English singer plying his trade in Germany. Over two days they recorded a dozen or so songs produced by Bert Kaempfert (who would go on to become a major star himself) for Polydor Records. A rocked-up version of the traditional Scottish folk song ‘My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean’, retitled ‘My Bonnie’, was released as a single and reached No. 5 in the German charts at the end of 1961. It was credited to Tony Sheridan & The Beat Brothers as the word ‘Beatles’ was a little too close to ‘Pidels’, German slang for penis. During the sessions The Beatles were allowed to cut two songs on their own: a lively version of ‘Ain’t She Sweet’ sung by John Lennon and an instrumental by Lennon and George Harrison called ‘Cry For A Shadow’. Both tracks were promptly buried in Polydor’s vaults but rapidly exhumed and shamelessly exploited when Beatlemania burst a couple of years later.


Birth of the Mop Top

It was Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe’s girlfriend, who first encouraged The Beatles to comb their hair forward to give them a more identifiable image. John Lennon and Paul McCartney made a half-hearted attempt with the hairstyle but when the pair of them went on holiday to Paris in October and met another photographer friend from Hamburg, Jürgen Vollmer, they saw how it could really work. They soon persuaded George Harrison to follow suit but Pete Best resolutely refused to change the quiff that was his selling point with the girls.


Play Aldershot Palais

For the second half of 1961 The Beatles consolidated their position as the biggest band in Liverpool, frequently headlining shows with Rory Storm & The Hurricanes and their friend Ringo Starr. And when Pete Best was ill and missed a gig it was Ringo who stood in. Beyond Merseyside, however, they were still unknown, as they found out when they travelled south to play Aldershot Palais on 9 December. The gig had not been advertised and no tickets sold. A trawl of the local bars and the promise of a free show lured 18 people to the gig.


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