First go at writing anything, so be as brutal as you want. They say we all have a good book inside waiting to be written; well this is my attempt at getting some feedback on whether to bother or not! (Sorry if it is a bit long, you should have seen the first draft!)
The Real Fifth Beatle
Since the day that four lads from Liverpool exploded onto the world stage, an argument has raged about who merits the title of ?fifth? Beatle. Many commentators are adamant that the title should be awarded to producer George Martin. After all, he was the man who took the rough hewn writing talent that was the Lennon and McCartney partnership (with a sprinkling of George Harrison), and added a fine veneer in the studio. His influence was crucial in the studio, where his classical background and vast experience of other genres made a big difference in the marketability of the bands music. It was Sir George as he is now dubbed, who suggested that instead of the standard three guitar and drum kit line-up, a full string orchestra be used as the backing for what has become the worlds most played song, ?Yesterday?. He also had a very strong influence in the use of what was then leading edge technology in the groundbreaking Sgt Pepper album, which, even today is still regularly credited by writers and artists as a major influence.
What about ?Our Eppy? as John Lennon irreverently referred to manager Brian Epstein? He was the man who saw beyond the leather jackets and tight jeans of the early rebellious Beatles and recognised a huge talent. He transformed their act from the one performed in the seedy bars of Hamburg. He put them in suits, made them bow at the end of performances and despite having no experience of managing a band, sorted out a record deal. This he managed to do even after being told by a high powered executive at the highly influential Decca studio, not to waste his time as guitar bands were on the way out. So arguably, had he not descended into the ?Cellar Full of Noise? which was the Cavern Club, we would have still been listening to imported American music, churned out to whatever the latest winning formula was currently in vogue at the major labels.
But both of these worthy candidates came onto the scene after the band had already evolved into a four piece. They were of course a five piece in the Hamburg days and therefore the only true holder of the title Fifth Beatle is Stuart Sutcliffe.
As well as the fifth, Stu should probably be correctly dubbed the Reluctant Beatle. He wasn?t really a musician, and nobody could say his heart was really in it 100%; but he became great friends with one John Winston Lennon after they were both accepted into the Liverpool Arts School and the strong character of Lennon soon sucked Stuart into the music world
While Lennon amused himself and a good many of his following at the college with his cartoons and merciless lampooning of authority figures, Sutcliffe was being hailed by his tutors as a prodigious talent in the field of modern art. It was the proceeds of this talent, in the form of a picture sold for ?60 at the nationally renowned John Moore?s Exhibition in 1959, which funded the purchase of a bass guitar, so he could join John?s band. There was a collective sigh of relief, closely followed by universal dismay from the college tutors when the unruly Lennon dropped out of college, but had also managed to convince their great hope to accompany him on a tour playing the bars and clubs in the German port of Hamburg.
Stu soon established himself as the ultra cool, mystery man in black of the line up. Always dressed in black jeans and a black leather jacket over a white T-shirt in the popular James Dean style, He stayed at the back of the stage, impassively veiled behind dark glasses and often playing with his back to the audience. This unbeknown to the audience, was not part of the uber cool image, but more an attempt to mask the fact that he could only manage a few chords. The trickier bass guitar parts usually fell to Paul McCartney, who later in the bands career famously made the part his own with the left handed Hoffner Violin Bass Guitar.
This inevitably caused friction between Paul, the driving force of the band, and John who some say regarded himself as the leader. Events though were about to take place which would suit both Stuarts art tutors and McCartney very nicely. Playing in Hamburg?s Reeperbahn area, the loud rock and roll of the British boys caught the interest of a young German called Klaus Voorman (who later went on to design the cover of the Beatles album Revolver). Klaus was known as one of the Existentialists or ?Exis? who were very popular in Hamburg at the time. Impressed, he returned to the club with other friends including fellow artist Jurgen Vollmer and photographer Astrid Kircherr. Returning most nights with ever more friends to be converted; and always inviting the band members to their table for a drink during one of their infrequent breaks, it was agreed that Astrid would take a series of publicity shots of the band, who at the time were trying to secure a record deal with the legendary A and R man Bert Kampfaert. They decided that a photographic portfolio might help their cause considerably by presenting themselves to him in as professional a manner as they could. The black and white photographs are now seen as the definitive images of the bands time in Hamburg as they forged their trade.
It was inevitable that Stuart and Astrid would be drawn together as kindred spirits by their love of, and talents in, their chosen art forms; and that this would soon blossom into a passionate love affair. Stu became even less interested in the band and was often absent from the line-up for extended periods. This absence famously included the first ever recording session by the Beatles, arranged by Kampfaert, as backing group to singer Tony Sheridan, and where they also recorded some tracks in their own right.
It is said in some quarters that the decision to sack Stu from the band and his resignation coincided exactly. What is known though, is that Stuart had, with the encouragement of Astrid applied for and been accepted by the Hamburg Art School on the recommendation of Eduardo Paolozzi the eminent art professor and internationally famous sculptor. Stuart had by this time moved into Astrid?s apartment and had converted one of the rooms into a studio for his painting, where he set about producing work which has since been greatly acclaimed, culminating in his own exhibition at the College.
Tragically the world was never to see how the talent would have developed as Stuart Sutcliffe died of a massive brain haemorrhage after collapsing in his studio in April 1962. There have been a number of theories regarding the cause of the problem. Some spectators subscribe to the notion an altercation Stuart and John Lennon were involved in, where Stu was rendered unconscious in a Liverpool alleyway, led to a weakness in the brain. Others expound that the abuse of the stimulant drug Preludin, taken by the band to keep them going during their marathon sets on stage was to blame. The latest theories relate to the time bomb of a cerebral aneurism. Whatever the cause, the impact on both John Lennon and Astrid Kircherr was massive. John formed very few emotional attachments to people during his life and the loss of Stuart was a heavy blow to him, especially coming relatively soon after the loss of the mother he was in the process of rediscovering, after spending most of his childhood living with his Aunt Mimi.
Astrid became a virtual recluse dedicating herself to her photography, though ironically she lost the rights to her most famous work. She has rarely but always very poignantly, spoken of the enduring love she has for Stuart and the utter devastation at his early demise. Astrid was present when the world famous Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool unveiled one of Stuart?s paintings and has often visited the city of Stuarts birth. She still lives in Hamburg.
In 1999 Channel four films commissioned a film ?Backbeat? which followed the story of Stuart and Astrid?s love affair, starring Steven Dorff and Cheryl Lee as the star crossed pair. The film used deposed Beatles drummer Pete Best as an advisor and this ensures that apart from some artistic licence, it is a reasonably accurate account of those heady days at the turn of the decade. Astrid also visited the set and has been quoted as saying that they ?stuck to the facts and also the emotions?. She also remarked on how shocked she had been when first encountering Dorff? in character as Stuart, given the likeness.
It would be folly to speculate what would have happened had Stuart not been cut down so early in his life. But it would seem that the storm his former band mates caused in the music scene could well have been mirrored by Stuart in the world of modern art. What would the Fab Five have achieved? Could there have been a role for a mean and moody moptop? We will never know.
So now, if you ever get embroiled in the fifth Beatle argument, you can say that the position was never open to candidates as it had already been filled in the early days by a young lad from Liverpool. One who found a new life in Hamburg and died tragically early, cruelly taken such a young age from the art and the woman he loved so passionately.