I Saw Them Standing There

The emergence of the Trad boom with its instrumentation and the demands by audiences, and in many cases promoters, for 'dance' music led to the development in many areas of the country of groups which moved away from the pop group stereotype of lead, rhythm, bass guitars and drums. The introduction of keyboards, brass and woodwind occurred and so we had combinations like Sounds Incorporated, Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers, the Flee-Rekkers, the Mike Cotton Sound, each group taking Britain's John Barry Seven, Lord Rockingham's XI or America's Johnny and the Hurricanes as their models. In our own locality, the 'immortal' Tommy Burton Combo were able to continue to perform because they had the line-up which could meet most of the demands being made.

As Tommy Burton described the changes which took place within the Combo during the early 60's:

"For a few years we had two sax players, three guitars, a drummer and a trumpeter. That meant we were a bigger outfit than virtually any of other local groups and we had a fuller sound. We could also do most anything, whereas the normal four-piece group was restricted in their repertoire."

"We were able to cover all the Fats Domino stuff, plus anything by groups like Sounds Incorporated, the Flee-Rekkers or the Piltdown Men. In fact, Piltdown Rides Again or the rock version of the William Tell Overture became our signature tune."

"We performed at one Christmas 'do' with the Flee-Rekkers at Kidderminster and we were advised to go down to London because Peter, the leader of the Flee-Rekkers, reckoned our sound was something unique. He tried to get us into the Marquee but my price was maybe a little more than they were willing to pay."

Trevor Worrall who was a bass guitarist with the Tommy Burton Combo in its larger format tells of a time when the Combo, because of their dexterity, were involved in a very interesting recording:

"Our format meant that we were able to play a wide variety of stuff, including Blue Beat. It was in 1964 and there had been a hit in the charts called Mockingbird Hill by the McGill Five. We had been playing at the Afro-Caribbean Club which used to be in Church Street by St. John s Church and we were asked to make a Blue Beat recording."

"We went down to the Lansdowne Studios in London and recorded a version of Lavender Blue and I'm Walking. Les Reed was in charge of the recording. It was released on the Blue Beat label and remarkably it got into the Jamaican charts. I am willing to bet that there was not another group in the area which could possible have recorded in that style. Mind you, the amount we got in royalties was a pittance and made the making of a follow-up pointless.”

The success of traditional jazz bands, the American 'Bobbys' and their British counterparts, and of Chubby Checker and his dance crazes undermined the general commitment of many group players because it seemed that they were going nowhere, very fast. As John O'Hara says about performing with a group around the period of 1962:

"We never did anything of our own, it was always a case of copying this or that record. At the time it seemed the only thing that groups could do, unless you had got a recording contract which of course none of us ever considered. It was becoming a little boring and restrictive."

It was undoubtedly a similar story for so many groups in other British localities, but changes were beginning to occur. Much of the credit for those changes must go to the Hamburg 'red light' area of St. Pauli around the Reeperbahn (Rope Street) and its smaller offshoot, Der Grosse Freiheit. It was there, and in similar German cities, that many of the most successful British beat groups of the 60's, and many of our own local groups, were to get much of their early training.

Grossefreiheit. The street of dreams for so many British groups visiting Hamburg. If the Beatles could do it, why couldn't they?
The Germans had been through their own 'Trad Jazz' phase and had then 'discovered' American rock 'n' roll, mainly at the insistence of American GIs who regularly went to the various clubs during their periods of leave. However, German club owners could not afford to bring over the original American artists, so they decided to settle for young British fellers who were able to copy the original Americans and do a very good job.

The first British performer to make real inroads into the German scene was Tony Sheridan who had been a member of both Marty Wilde's Wildcats and Vince Taylor's Cutters.

He, and a group of other unemployed rock 'n' rollers calling themselves the Jets, went to Germany in the middle of 1960 and began the British invasion. They were hired by Bruno Koschmider, the owner of the Kaiserkeller and Indra clubs in the Grosse Freiheit. Within a few weeks Tony Sheridan had made himself a virtual superstar in Hamburg with his raucous mode of delivery and his outstanding guitar playing. When the Jets returned to England, Tony stayed in Hamburg and became resident at the Top Ten, another of Hamburg's clubs.

Once Tony Sheridan had breached the walls, other British groups followed, especially from Liverpool. Groups like Derry and the Seniors, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Freddie (Starr) and the Midnighters, Kingsize Taylor and the Dominoes, the Searchers, Swinging Blue Jeans, and of course, the Beatles, all crossed the North Sea to the Hook of Holland and took up varying periods of residence in the clubs of the Grosse Freiheit.

It was in August 1960 that the original Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, Pete Best) began their first residency at the Indra Club in Hamburg. They were not highly regarded amongst the Liverpool groups but they were sent by the promoter/club owner Allan Williams because they were willing to accept the rigorous regime of long hours and low pay offered by Koschmider, other groups were not!

The regime required groups to play something like seven hours a night, ten at the weekends, with breaks of fifteen minutes every hour. The living accommodation would usually be in:

"cramped, dingy rooms still full of the previous tenants' litter and sock-smelling frowziness; naked light bulbs coated with dust; improvised ash-trays and piss-pots; lumps of brittle plaster falling from walls so mildewed that it was as if they were covered with black-green wallpaper; not enough old camp beds to go round; waking up shivering to the open-mouthed snores and the drummer breaking wind before rising to shampoo his hair in a sink in the club lavatory."

Such living conditions, coupled with incredibly punishing work schedules and the drink and drugs which were freely available, could either totally destroy a group of teenagers or make them into 'one hell of an act to follow'. In the case of the Beatles, it was to be the 'making' of them. There was to be very little comparison between the raw and very inexperienced group which arrived in Hamburg that first time and the 'tight' and confident group which returned to Liverpool. The Beatles were to play in Hamburg three more times between April 1961 and December 1962.

During those twenty months they were to back Tony Sheridan on the Polydor recording of My Bonnie, acquire Brian Epstein as a manager, make Liverpool's Cavern Club virtually a private fiefdom, fail an audition with Decca, be voted Liverpool's top beat group, sign a record deal with EMI, acquire a new drummer in Ringo Starr, have Northern songs established to publish Lennon and McCartney songs and see their first record Love Me Do enter the British charts.

Twelve months later they had topped the British and American charts, created havoc and mayhem in many British cities and appeared on the Royal Variety Performance. It is not surprising therefore that such success would encourage thousands of other young British musicians, including many from this part of the world, who had fairly recently considered 'quitting', that there might just be a future in beat music.

Roger Bromley, the lead guitarist with Dane Tempest and the Atoms, Soul Seekers, and Cross Cut Saw, describes the effect that seeing the Beatles perform had on him as a group member:

"It was at the Plaza in Old Hill in July 1963. They had been top of the charts with Please, Please Me and From Me To You but it was their excitement which really impressed me. When they first started playing it was as if the whole place came alive. People came up from the bars and the place was packed within a few seconds."

"To me the real importance of the Beatles was that their sound set a standard that every group in the country sought to reach. Their sound was what we all tried to capture. They transferred the market place from America to this country and gave musicians, like us, a new and dynamic confidence which we had never had before."

"One week later we were performing at the Plaza in Handsworth. again for Ma Regan and we saw the Big Three perform and once again we were witnessing something really fresh and different. Just like the Beatles they were able to get so much power into their playing and there was only three in that group."

"Groups like the Beatles and the Big Three and some of the other Mersey groups had an originality that was lacking in most every other group. Wolverhampton had plenty of quality groups but none, except Slade years later, had any originality. Too often they were merely copycat groups."

Roger Stafford, the drummer with the Atoms and Soul Seekers regards the Beatles with absolute awe:

"The Beatles were responsible for most of the changes and developments which occurred amongst the groups in the 60s. There has never been a better group than the Beatles, and there will never be one."

"I remember helping Ringo Starr to carry his drums off stage at the Ritz in King’s Heath. We were due to play the Plaza at Old Hill and Ma Regan sent us over to the Ritz as well. It was not unusual to double-up on gigs, especially when you were on the Regan circuit."

"I've never found any reference to the Beatles doing the Ritz but it was around about the time of Ringo’s birthday which is in early July. I know that because I have still got a note which some girls threw on stage wishing him a happy birthday. I've also still got one of Ringo’s drum sticks, not that anyone would believe me. It does say in the record books that they played the Plaza Old Hill on July, 1963.”

"One of the numbers they did that night was I Saw Her Standing There, so I can honestly say that I saw them standing there.”

Dane Tempest (Graham Gomery) also vividly recalls the night the group appeared with the Beatles:

"We used to play quite often on the Regan circuit. It was the Plaza Old Hill, the Ritz King s Heath and the Plaza in Handsworth. The Old Hill Plaza was the best venue of the three and the one that most people remember. It had a revolving stage and it was great to be on that stage and to be playing as you came round to face the audience.”

"The night we played with the Beatles, they came around and they had this hard, flat sound rather than the typical Shadows sound which so many groups had. It transfixed you. If I can recall correctly they were playing the Big Three’s Some Other Guy and it was tremendous. People rushed to hear it.”

"That night had a devastating effect on us because it made us take stock of everything we were doing. It called into question the style of playing, the sort of repertoire etc. I thought it was great because it meant we were able to go back to some of our original stuff.”

"They did about eight numbers including Taste Of Honey, Long Tall Sally, Chains, in other words a lot of stuff off their first album. That night must have been a bit like hearing the Beatles in one of the German clubs. We all knew we were witnessing something very special."

Return to the
previous page
Return to
the Contents
Proceed to the
next page