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Baby Steps - Hard Times In Hamburg

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Upon their arrival in Hamburg, the Beatles' living conditions were less than ideal. In fact, they were miserable. As Paul described, “We lived backstage in the Bambi Kino [movie theater], next to the toilets, and you could always smell them. The room had been an old storeroom, and there were just concrete walls and nothing else. No heat, no wallpaper, not a lick of paint; and two sets of bunk beds, like little camp beds, with not very many covers. We were frozen.”

Between August and September of 1960, the band played long, grueling nightly sets for the German crowds. “We probably played four [per night], but we had to stretch it over an eight-hour period, and that's an awful long time to play. I mean, even bands now with three- or four-hour sets is a long time,” Paul recalled. Although it was an exhausting playing routine, it sharpened their musical skills and served to tighten up the band's sound. John later said, “We'd been meek and mild musicians at first; now we became a powerhouse.”

Among other things they discovered in Hamburg was the ability to entertain the crowds with onstage antics. The humor and charm they would later display for millions of fans in movies and TV appearances was starting to take real shape in Germany. They had an amazing ability to attract people's attention and keep it, sometimes through any means possible. “In Hamburg we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing,” John recalled. “We played very loud—bang, bang all the time. The Germans loved it.”

That Famous Bass

To this day, one of Paul McCartney's trademarks is his violin-shaped Hofner bass guitar. He began playing the instrument when Stuart Sutcliffe quit the Beatles to attend art college, leaving an opening for a bass player. George remembered, “At that point, I said, ‘We're not going to get a fifth person in the band. One of us three is going to be the bass player, and it's not going to be me,’ and Paul didn't seem to mind the idea.’’ Paul had spotted a bass player in another Hamburg group using the Hofner bass, and he liked it so much he went out and bought one for himself. He used it on most of the Beatles’ recordings, and it was always present in their live shows.

During this stay in Hamburg, the Beatles had to compete for attention with Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, another group from Liverpool. They were known for their great live shows and professionalism on stage. Unlike the Beatles, who wore black leather and cowboy boots, Rory Storm's band wore clean, matching suits, complete with matching handkerchiefs and neckties. Their drummer was particularly noteworthy—he had a tough look about him, with a gray streak in his hair and a cocky look in his eye. His name was Ringo Starr. Ringo would often go to see the Beatles play very late at night and shout out requests. This was how they first came to know each other. Ringo would cross paths with the Beatles again in the near future, in a way that would change his life forever.

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