Although they were excited at having recorded their second single, one that George Martin guaranteed would be a top hit, The Beatles were obligated to return to Hamburg, Germany one more time, to fulfill a contract that seemed, to them, old and useless. Though they might have skipped out on this responsibility, both their honor and Brian Epstein’s integrity kept them on track to do their duty. Thus, on December 18, 1962, The Beatles returned to Hamburg for a two-week stint at the Star Club, their fifth and final series of engagements on the Reeperbahn (the nightlife strip and hub of the “red-light” district).
At some time between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (exact dates unknown), recordings were made of The Beatles as they played onstage. These recordings have often been dismissed as extraneous and amateurish. In 1998, George Harrison testified, “The Star Club recording was the crummiest recording ever made in our name. There was no organized recording. It was a wild affair; we were just a whole bunch of drunken musicians grabbing guitars”1. Nevertheless, there is (of course) a larger story.
1 Miles & Badman, The Beatles Diary: After the Break-Up, 1970-2001, p.592
PART 1: PLAYING THE STAR CLUB.
To begin, there are various discrepancies among several sources concerning the details of the recording itself. The following list seeks to name, if not rectify, these discrepancies:
(1) Why were the recordings made? The claim is that Ted (Edward) “King-Size” Taylor (leader of The Dominoes, a Liverpool band playing at the club on the same dates as The Beatles) wanted a recording of The Beatles, and approached John Lennon to request permission for such. The claim continues that a bargain was struck: John would allow the recording if Taylor bought drinks. Allan Williams, former Beatles promoter who later became involved with this tape (more on this below), was probably the first to write about this claim (in 1975), saying further that it was beer1.
In a recent interview2, Taylor made comments that seemed to contradict this idea. At one point, he intimated that The Beatles just made the tape for themselves: “What used to happen, most bands who went onstage wanted to hear it, so they would walk past it and just switch it on. And sometimes it'd be left on all night. If you wanted to listen to a new member, you'd try it out. You'd just run it back and turn the tape over and over and over.” At another point, he plainly stated that he had no interest in The Beatles per se: “It wasn't done as a commercial thing to do The Beatles because, who were The Beatles? They didn't even have as good a band as mine. So why should I bother to try and record them? I certainly couldn't see The Beatles going anywhere at the time, and nobody around them could see them going anywhere or any further than anybody else”. This is supported by the fact that other bands were recorded on the same tape.
Even so, Taylor reiterated, in a 1998 court case between Apple and Lingasong (more on this below), the drink-for-permission claim. The judge in this case called Taylor’s evidence “confused and inconsistent”3. George Harrison, brought forth as a witness for the prosecution, testified, “The only person who allegedly heard anything about it is the one person who is dead”4.
(2) How were the recordings made? There is general agreement that the device used was a Mono reel-to-reel recorder, with a single low-fidelity microphone, running at half-speed (3 ¾ ips).
It has been widely-spread that the machine was a Grundig. However, Taylor, who purchased the recorder, said, “I'd been to the Berlin Radio Exhibition and I bought a tape recorder, which was two speed, four track. Portable as well, by the way... Phillips four track”2.
The placement of the microphone has some disagreement. Taylor2 said it was “suspended in the center of the Star Club.” Others say it was placed in front of the stage5.
There is a general idea that Adrian Barber, the soundman for The Star Club (and former guitarist for Merseybeat band The Big Three), conducted these recordings. Taylor contradicted this, letting the notion float that The Beatles monitored their own recordings: “It wasn't actually Adrian that recorded it. It was everybody that passed the tape machine... Adrian Barber was in charge of where the equipment was, and suspending the microphone.” This would follow, since the recorder was set up “by the side of the stage”2. Less-reliable sources claim that Taylor monitored the recordings.
(3) What was recorded?
It is widespread that there were multiple tapes. According to Taylor, however, “There was only ever one tape used”2. Taylor is well-supported on this5.
Although 30 songs were released in 1977 (more on this below), 40 performances were actually preserved on tape6 (this conflicts with Gottfridsson’s assertion, in his From Cavern to Star-Club, that 44 performances were preserved).
The songs preserved were scattered over several sets. The common belief has been that the songs derived from four sets, but Krasker’s analysis brings it to three6. Allan Williams estimated “three or four sessions”1.
1 Williams, The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away, p.229
2 “The King-Size Taylor Interview” here
3 Free-Lance Star, May 9, 1998: here
4 The Independent (UK), May 9, 1998: here
5 Billboard article, December 11, 1976: here
6 Krasker, The Star Club Tapes: The Set that Never Existed, 2002 article: here
PART 2: THE TAPE RESURFACES: 1964-1970.
When he left Hamburg, Ted Taylor brought the tape with him back to England. After The Beatles made it big, he approached Brian Epstein with the recordings, which were in their original form, that is, “crummy” (unedited and unprocessed). Brian thus offered Taylor £20, a pittance, which Taylor naturally refused1.
At this point, Taylor lost his verve and stored the reel in a kitchen cabinet. Several years later (possibly 1967 or 1968), his interest piqued again, Taylor (now a Liverpool butcher) approached engineer John Seddon, who owned a small recording studio (in Hackins Hey, Liverpool2), with the idea to improve the sound of the tape. However, little if anything was accomplished, partially because Taylor did not keep tabs on Seddon, partially because Seddon closed up shop soon thereafter3.
1 “The King-Size Taylor Interview” here
2 Williams, The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away, p.229
3 Curley, Beatle Pete, Time Traveller, pp. 83-84
PART 3: THE TAPE RESURFACES: 1971-1975.
This section is fraught with inconsistency, as follows:
(1) The tape remained forgotten for several years. Curley1 wrote that it was unearthed in late 1971. Williams2 placed the date as 1972. Taylor gave at least two different reports, reckoning 19723 but also 19734.
(2) The tape was said to have been retrieved from the abandoned offices of John Seddon, and Williams2 gave an elaborate description of that retrieval.
Taylor told that it “hung around in the cellar”3 but, in a separate account, he told reporters that he found the tape laying forgotten in a cupboard in his home4.
(3) The chain of events to the tape’s re-discovery is different in the several sources:
Allan Williams claimed that “by a million-to-one chance I bumped into this recording guy (Seddon)... and he told me that the tapes might still be in the derelict office. So this guy and King Size Taylor met for a drink one Sunday lunchtime and then got into the office. There, beneath a pile of rubble on the floor of the office, were the Beatles' Hamburg tapes”2.
Taylor said that “I had to go and break into the place actually, funny enough a couple of doors down...well, a couple of streets down from one of the clubs, just throw them into a cardboard box in 1972. I happened to mention to Allan Williams that I had them... where, I don't know”3. Taylor also followed this chain in 19734 (except he said that he found the tape in the cupboard).
Note that by this point in the tale(s), the tape is now “tapes” or “them,” for whatever reason.
Spizer wrote that Williams “learned about the tapes from Ted Taylor” and “the pair arranged through a custodian to enter Seddon's shut down studio, where they found the boxes containing the tapes”5.
Other sources claim that Williams met with Taylor to discuss the possibility of a Dominoes reunion, at which time Taylor made a passing remark to Williams that the Star Club recordings existed, and were in Liverpool; and that, Williams (quite excited) urged the tape’s retrieval.
(4) Williams and Taylor came to an immediate conclusion to sell or release the deteriorated tape. They enlisted Mersey Beat editor and long-time Beatles friend Bill Harry to help with marketing. In 1973, after little success, Harry was asked to leave the partnership1. Also in 1973, Williams gave an interview to Melody Maker, and allowed interviewer Mike Evans to hear much of the tapes, and to write about them (more on this below).
(5) In 1975, Williams (with Taylor still a partner), began talks with George and Ringo2. The details surrounding the offers and counter-offers between the parties varies. In 1973, it was reported that Williams wanted “$250,000 and a percentage of the royalties”4. Williams wrote that they only asked for £5000, but that George and Ringo claimed to be strapped for cash, whereupon Williams launched into a tirade against them6. Taylor said that they put forth a 50% stake to The Beatles3. In any event, the offer was made.
1 Curley, Beatle Pete, Time Traveller, pp. 83-84
2 Williams, The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away, p.229
3 “The King-Size Taylor Interview” here
4 Montreal Gazette, July 13, 1973, where Taylor says he discovered it “a few weeks ago”
5 Spizer, The Beatles’ Swan Song: She Loves You and Other Songs, p.120
6 Williams, The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away, p.232
PART 4: A RECORD IS BORN: 1976-1977.
In late 1975, Allan Williams and Ted Taylor, having heard nothing from The Beatles, approached Paul Murphy, managing director of BUK Records, when the latter was promoting a Tony Sheridan concert in Liverpool. Murphy was immediately intrigued. After establishing that Taylor was the legal owner of the recordings (he had a rejection letter from Brian Epstein), Murphy purchased the rights, and the tape was transferred to multi-track tape (the transfer was to 16-track, but it has been variously reported to be 24- or 36-track). The tape was also subjected to massive amounts of processing and editing before it was thought suitable for release on Murphy’s newly-founded Lingasong Records label. These events took the greater portion of a year, and the amount estimated spent on each track was $12,000.
References this section:
Billboard article, December 25, 1976: here
Billboard article, December 11, 1976: here, where the processors are named.
PART 5: FIRST LAWSUIT: 1977.
It was a scam from the start. Taylor (and thus Williams) was almost certainly aware of the tape’s recording date, and the material (especially the between-song banter) anyway made it clear that this was The Beatles’ December 1962 trip to Hamburg. Williams, however, had been hawking it as April 1962, trying to skirt the fact that the June (or even September) 1962 contract with Parlophone made the tape the property of EMI, Parlophone, Apple, and/or The Beatles. Interestingly (and typically), it was the apathetic attitude of all these parties which allowed the project to go so far; for it was reported in Billboard that both EMI and Brian Brolley of McCartney Productions thought “the situation would have to be accepted.” Furthermore, a confident Paul Murphy commented that all legal obstacles to the issue of the recordings had been surmounted1.
The Beatles did, however, sue shortly thereafter, but the proposed injunction against the Lingasong release was denied on April 6, 1977, the judge ruling that The Beatles had waited too long to object, having knowledge of its release long before they acted to stop it2.
More information concerning the 1977 litigation known as The Beatles vs. Lingasong is: here.
1 Billboard article, December 25, 1976: here
2 Spokesman-Review, April 7, 1977: here
PART 6: FIRST RELEASE: 1977.
Paul Murphy leased worldwide rights to Double H Licensing, which released the 2-record set in Germany on the Bellaphon label, and in America on Lingasong, both 1977. Each pair of records contained 26 songs, although only 22 were common between them, four tracks being unique, bringing the total number of tracks released to 30.
John Lennon received a copy of the German product in 1977. In a letter to Double H, he told them (among other things) that there were four performances which were not The Beatles. Those four were the ones replaced on the Lingasong release. Read John’s written reaction: here.
PART 7: RE-RELEASES 1979-1990.
In 1979, Pickwick Records performed some additional audio filtering and equalization of the songs on the Lingasong US version, and released it over two volumes as First Live Recordings (SPC 3661/ 3662). The set included the song “Hully Gully” that was mistakenly credited to The Beatles, but was actually performed by Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, another act on the Star-Club bill1.
In 1981, after the Lingasong set was deleted from catalog, the rights to the tapes were sold to Audio-Fidelity, and again treated to a further re-mix/re-master. Audio-Fidelity’s UK release, The Beatles Historic Sessions (AFELD 1018), this time with all 30 tracks, suffered from inferior packaging, and erroneous liner notes and other information2.
There were other releases during this period, including Live in Hamburg ’62 (K-Tel), each with varying numbers of tracks.
2 jpgr.com: here
PART 8: RE-RELEASE & LAWSUIT 1991-1992.
In 1991 Sony released a 2-CD set (AK 48544/ 48604, comprising 22 tracks), and in 1992 produced a version called Rockin’ at the Star Club (A 22131, comprising 16 tracks) for their Columbia House Music Club arm, but a Beatles lawsuit that same year prompted its withdrawal, the threat enough to remove it.
PART 9: RE-RELEASE & LAWSUIT 1995-1998.
In 1995, Lingasong issued a CD with all 30 tracks. This time, The Beatles were more organized, and the ensuing lawsuit went in favor of them, the judge granting Apple and interested parties full ownership of the tapes and exclusive rights to their use.
At this court case, George Harrison was called to witness, and countered the “beer bargain” as null and void for several reasons: (1) even if John had given permission (which George doubted), all decisions by the group would have been unanimous, and George had never been consulted on this request1; (2) at the time of the recording, The Beatles were under contract to EMI, and therefore the recordings belonged to EMI, Parlophone, Apple, and/or The Beatles2; (3) “One drunken person recording another bunch of drunks does not constitute a business deal”1. George made other assertions, all common-sense in regards to ownership, and even regaled the court with some memories of those days2.
1 New York Times, May 9, 1998: here
2 The Independent (UK), May 9, 1998: here
PART 10: ANTHOLOGY
Interestingly, although none of the Beatles thought the Star Club tape(s) to be of any value, it didn’t stop Apple from using bits of it for the 1996 Anthology VHS set.
AUDIO SOURCE: Background
What has always puzzled and frustrated fans for decades is the order in which the songs were played, that is, the set-list(s). Of course, the original tapes would solve that. As already mentioned, on August 4, 1973, an interview with Allan Williams was taken by Mike Evans, and it was in this interview that Williams told the order of the first four songs of one of the sets (along with miscellaneous other information). However, Lingasong, in corrupting the original order, left everyone in the dark for the rest.
In 1997, two different research projects, one by Martha Rednow and Ben Gesh, and one by Hans Olaf Gottfridsson, attempted to unearth every bit of Star Club material on tape and to organize the known tracks into accurate set-lists. At first, Gottfridsson, with integrity gathered from his terrific work with the Tony Sheridan sessions (1961, June 22-23, and 1961, June 24), was thought to be on target when he stated that there were 44 Star Club songs in existence, recorded over a span of four sets; and his set-lists were proudly reproduced by many experts, including Sulpy. But in 2002, Beatles historian Eric Krasker took Gottfridsson to task, and found instead that Rednow and Gesh, who posited 40 songs recorded over a span of three sets, were actually correct1,2.
1 Krasker, The Star Club Tapes: The Set that Never Existed, 2002 article: here
2 Interview with Eric Krasker, 2010: here
Happily, many of the original tapes have surfaced in recent years, making it possible to not only hear much of the music in unaltered state (including without the noise reduction and Duophonic processing), but also in context, that is, as a set-list. Purple Chick has been a leader in this field, receiving and using private tapes, rare recordings, and original vinyl to compile the greatest unprocessed collection of Star Club recordings ever made available to the public; with accurate set-lists, when known (some songs from the tapes remain in jigsaw puzzle form, pieces orphaned from their brethren due to absence of knowledge concerning their set-list positioning). Winn, in his book, reproduces Purple Chick’s set-lists.
Perusing the Purple Chick line-up, the tracks are divided over three (or so) sets, the dates still in question, but estimated as follows: (1) the first set is possibly from December 28, 1962, between 3-4 am, consisting of 13 songs, with chatter and intros for nearly all of them; (2) the second set was recorded sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, 1962, and is thought to be an evening set, consisting of 21 songs, with chatter and intros for 12 of them (the first four known from the Evans article), and nine of the songs “orphans”; (3) the third set is possibly from December 31, 1962, and is thought to be an evening set, consisting of the 4 songs extant. Note that this brings the total of songs on the Purple Chick set to 38.
(ref: Winn , Way Beyond Compare; Sulpy, Complete Beatles Audio Guide)
AUDIO SOURCE: What to Get
The best source for all of the currently-available (38 of 40) unprocessed, unedited tracks is Purple Chick’s Star Club (also known as The Beatles Live Volume 1 – Star Club, when it is part of the boot collection The Live Collection, a.k.a. The Ultimate Live Collection).
Now, if you’re like me, and you enjoy the ambience created by Lingasong’s processing, I recommend the 1995 CD.
PHOTOS & INFORMATION: From Hamburg: here.
Although I use quotes from sources, or cited fact, much of the material on this and other pages of my blog is original, from my own pen. This is not cut-and-paste, it is a work of art. Copyright © 2010 Tom Wise