The Jets,
The Beatles
And Hamburg

by Rick Hardy aka Rick Richards, original member of The Jets

In late May or in the first couple of days in June 1960 a German club owner named Bruno Koschmider flew to London to seek out a British rock band to play in his club, 'Der Kaiserkeller' which was situated in the notorious red light district of Saint Pauli in Hamburg. He found his way to a coffee bar called 'The 2.Is' in London's nearest equivalent to Saint Pauli, Soho. I say the nearest equivalent because although Soho had a reputation as a tough district, compared to Saint Pauli it was a sleepy village!

The 2.Is coffee bar (entitled after the two brothers named Irani, who although they owned it, played no part in its management) was the hub of the rock business in England at the time. This was remarkable as it was exceptionally small, and the cellar where the groups played could hold no more than a hundred or so standing, even when packed to the doors. The manager Paul Lincoln however, managed most of the top 'teenage acts' in England at the time, so it was no surprise that it was used as a hangout by rock musicians. In the 2.Is Bruno Koschmider met a pianist by the name of Iain Hines who agreed to put a six piece group together for him. Iain had up till then led several bands all of which he called the Jets, and this is what he called the band destined for Hamburg. The story that he made up the name on the spur of the moment is I'm afraid just a myth! The band selected to go consisted of myself (as Rick Richards) on rhythm guitar and vocals, Iain Hines on piano, Colin Melander (Crawley) on guitar and vocals, Pete Wharton on bass, and talented multi-instrumentalist Jimmy (Del) Ward on drums, keyboards and vocals. The now legendary Tony Sheridan was finally asked to come although most of us had reservations about his selection, as his punctuality and reliabilty had already cost him TV appearances. I suppose the fact that he was by far the best lead guitarist on the scene made up for a lot!

We quickly made our passport arrangements, but when we arrived together on the 4th. of June 1960 to get the 10.05am train from Liverpool Street station in London, to the coastal town of Harwich to catch the boat, Iain HInes was missing. We never found out why he didn't turn up, but I believe the reason could have been domestic! So although Bruno Koschmider had booked a six piece band he only got five. Mind you he never complained. He liked the band and it saved him money! Although Iain missed playing at the opening we did bring him over a few months later.

And so it was that on the 5th. of June 1960 the first British rock and roll band opened in Hamburg. After playing for just over a month at the Kaiserkeller came the incident that eventually was to bring the Beatles to this city. Our success at the Kaiserkeller, (and the huge crowds that came with it), had not gone unnoticed by a club owner by the name of Peter Eckhorn who had a large establishment on the Reeperbahn, which is the main street in Saint Pauli. Eckhorn was having difficulty finding a profitable use for his premises and by enlisting the help of a certain Horst Fascher, who had befriended the band, managed to poach us from the Kaiserkeller. We got more money and better accommodation from Eckhorn but I suppose in retrospect we didn't really 'play the game' with Bruno. We were still under contract, but although my memories of the event have faded a bit, I think we just did as we were told! Anyway the upshot was that we played our last date at the Kaiserkeller on the sixth of July 1960 and opened at Eckhorn's club (which we named the Top Ten) three days later on Saturday the ninth of July.

The Jets at The Top Ten Club, Hamburg, July 1960.
The front line left to right: Pete Wharton (bass), Colin Melander (guitar), Tony Sheridan (guitar), Rick Hardy (guitar).
Photo © Rick Richards.

Now Eckhorn had all the business and Koschmider had none. I have a great deal of sympathy with Koschmider. He has been much maligned in print, and in my opinion unfairly so. He had set up the whole Hamburg scene, paid good money to the bands, (much more than German musicians were getting), and now others were taking advantage of his efforts. Koschmider could not afford to let his club remain empty and so he set out once more for London and the 2.Is coffee bar. Here Koschmider met for the first time the Liverpudlian 'would be' entrepreneur Alan Williams; a meeting that proved to be historic.

Alan Williams had coincidentally brought down from Liverpool a band called 'Derry and the Seniors' that evening for an audition at the 2.Is and he persuaded Koschmider to use them as our replacements at the Kaiserkeller. A few weeks later Koschmider engaged through Alan Williams the Beatles to play at another club he owned called the 'Indra'. The Indra although in the same street as the Kaiserkeller (the Grosse Freiheit) was someway away from it where the main crowd never seemed to reach, and consequently didn't get the custom it should have. We (The Jets) went to see the Beatles there and honestly were not over impressed. They were quite raw, had little idea of showmanship and at that time of course didn't do any original material. Bruno Koschmider would shout out at them whilst on stage, 'Mach Schau, Mach Schau' - 'Make a show!' My God how quickly they learned!

Later Koschmider transferred the Beatles to the Kaiserkeller and it was apparent how much they had improved. They were now much more professional but what I remember most from those early performances was the sight of bass player Stuart Sutcliffe playing and singing the old Carl Perkins song 'Matchbox'. He looked really different from the other Beatles. In retrospect he seemed something of a lonely figure, and he didn't even look like the other members of the group. The rest of the Beatles were dressed casually and irregularly whilst Stuart deliberately tried to look like James Dean. I don't think it was a surprise when he left the group. I would describe it as more like inevitable.

I didn't have any trouble getting on with the Beatles, they were just normal friendly people. The only exception was John Lennon. I know I'm going to upset some people by saying this, but I found him somewhat bitter and sarcastic. I remember once whilst making a visit to Hamburg in May or June 1962 when the Beatles were playing at the newly opened Star Club, asking John how Stuart was getting on at art college. His reply was a terse 'He's bleeding dead!'. Of course the Beatles at that time were not yet famous and his passing was of no interest to the media, therefore I had no knowledge of his death. I must admit that I was less shocked by the news of Stuart's demise (which was only a month or so earlier) as by Johns apparent reaction to it. I am sure his attitude was only a front and was if anything a sign of insecurity. Whether he changed after stardom I don't know, but his habit of looking for a smartarse answer I found somewhat distasteful. If anyone thinks that being a super rich superstar prevents someone from being insecure I would disagree with them. Quite honestly with John's early childhood experiences it would be an enormous surprise if he didn't have some hangups, and although it would be difficult for me to remember him with great affection, it is very easy to remember him as a genius of modern song writing and a great campaigner for human rights.

Sometimes when the Jets were at the Top Ten the Beatles would come in during a break at the Kaiserkeller and sit in with us. This would have been after July 1960 and before November 1960 because in late September or early October of that year we finished at the Top Ten and then shortly afterwards the Beatles were deported. During these joint sessions the Beatles really showed how much they had improved. They of course at that period had not yet discovered their song writing talent but they were developing amongst other things their harmonies. I remember John and Paul doing a particularly nice version of 'True Love'. Not a song one would readily associate with them and I don't recall them recording it!.

Hamburg's St. Pauli district was (and still is) a tough area with enough excitement in it without having to fictionalise events, but still journalists who were not even alive at the time, let alone in Hamburg, still insist on believing the most utter rubbish about what happened there. The Beatles never urinated over nuns and even the incident where they were accused of arson in the Bambi cinema which got them deported, was only an attempt to obtain light when they tried to remove there luggage in the dark. I know Bruno Koschmider was responsible for informing the police but personally I think he had had enough of Peter Eckhorn's tactics of stealing his bands. He had already done it with us and he was about to do it again with the Beatles, for they were attempting to move into the Top Ten in the room vacated by us. Just remember he had gone to England to get the bands, arranged and paid for the travel and all Eckhorn was doing was acting like a parasite. This he was able to do mainly I think because of the protection of the Hamburg gangsters.

I've read too that Koschmider was paying us 'peanuts'. Absolute rubbish! We were getting at least double what an average German earned and on top of this we had free accommodation. I know it wasn't luxurious but if we had wanted we could have afforded to go elsewhere. I was with John Lennon when he purchased his famous Rickenbacker guitar from Musikhaus Hummel in the centre of Hamburg. It was a very expensive instrument and he paid for it cash. You can't do that on peanuts! Incidentally John didn't go in to specifically buy a Rickenbacker. It so happened that it was the only American guitar in stock and he went for it. I wouldn't presume to say that my admiration for the guitar swayed John's decicion to buy it, but it's nice to think it might have been! Maybe if for instance they had only an Epiphone or a Gretsch in stock he would have bought something different. I bet that would have made a sizeable difference to Rickenbacker's profitability in the 1960's if he had done so!

I haven't mentioned much of Tony Sheridan up till now and this is because his 'time' in Hamburg didn't really take off until much later when he made those legendary tracks with the Beatles. When he was with the Jets he was just one of four singers available and we were very much a group. It has been erroneously reported many times that Tony Sheridan came to Hamburg as a solo singer and the rest of us were just his backing band. I'm afraid that this was just a spin put out by his then manager when there was no one from the original group around to contradict it.

Halfway through our stint at the Top Ten club Peter Eckhorn decided that he wanted non-stop music. Up until then we had adopted a pattern of playing and taking breaks that we had originally instigated at the Kaiserkeller, namely one hour of playing 'flat out' followed by breaks of thirty minutes. It was decided that I should travel with Horst Fascher (who was now ensconced as the manager of the Top Ten) to England to get two more musicians and allow us to split into two bands. One of them would be the Tony Sheridan Trio consisting of himself, Pete Wharton on bass and a drummer that used to sit in with us now and again Tony Cavanaugh. Tony Cavanaugh was a black ex GI and a very good man with the sticks. The new Jets would consist of myself, Jimmy Ward on drums and Colin Melander switching to bass. The group would be augmented by the two musicians that I would bring over from England, Chas. Beaumont (Charles McDonnell) on lead guitar and the guy who didn't make it the first time round, pianist Iain Hines. That was the idea but the plans were somewhat altered when the car that brought us back to Germany from England was involved in a crash on the autobahn. Horst Fascher and another German, whom Horst had brought along to share the driving, escaped almost unscathed but I sustained injuries serious enough to keep me in hospital for 18 days.. Fortunately the two musicians followed by boat and train a couple of days later, and so avoided the crash.

On my release from hospital Horst showed me the wreck of his Volkswagen. I had been asleep in the front seat at the time of the crash and hadn't awoken until I was being wheeled into the ward after emergency surgery, and so I wasn't prepared for what I saw. The side of the car where I had been sitting in the front seat was completely demolished where the relief driver had driven into the back of a truck. His side of the car was relatively undamaged but I had been literally thrown through the windshield! Horst was sleeping on the back seat but he must have had a rude awakening. When I was in England I decided to bring back with me a beautiful valve guitar amplifier that I had left behind when I first came over. It was now almost a total wreck. The luggage compartment in a VW beetle is in the front and the only thing that survived was the amplifiers loudspeaker. At the time Paul McCartney wanted to build a 'monitor' cabinet and so I sold the speaker to him. I asked forty marks for it but in the finish I accepted twenty, which was at the time I think around five dollars. Today I think he would be able to afford my asking price!

Beat Brothers & Jets reunion in Hamburg, August 21, 1999.
Left to right: Colin Melander, Peter Wharton, Tony Sheridan, Rick Hardy
Photo © Rick Richards.

After the bands had finished working for the night in Hamburg, (which was usually around three o'clock in the morning) we often used to meet at the various bars and clubs that were open 24 hours a day. One of our favorite ones was a place called the 'Nimitz'. The Nimitz had one of those miniature bowling machines that deliver the balls automatically, and Stuart Sutcliffe used to remark how sexy it looked as the balls 'squeezed' their way out of the delivery hole. I hadn't noticed it up till then but of course Stuart was the artist.

Ringo of course hadn't joined the Beatles yet although he was in Hamburg at the same time. He was very good and playing with the ill fated Rory Storm. Rory was an excellent singer and performer but off stage had the most terrible stutter. We were all stunned when we heard later that he had taken his own life. Pete Best was the only drummer that I ever saw play with the Beatles in Hamburg and though he was adequate for live gigs his deficiencies became obvious in the recording studio. Ringo apparantly had the reputation as the best drummer in the 'pool (Liverpool) but I wonder if they would have gotten rid of Pete if they hadn't had pressure applied by the record company. And would success have come exactly as it did?

Just before the Jets finished at the Top Ten a German record producer for the Philips label heard me in the club. He had some songs that he thought would suit me and asked if I would like to record them. The next day I went into the studio and in something like three hours learned and recorded what I thought was a test recording of two songs. They were not rock and roll and quite frankly I was astonished when they were issued! They were not my choice of material but the experience did make me the first Hamburg rocker to record in Germany. I must mention here that the record was released under my real name Richard Hardy, (it wasn't supposed to be), and so I decided to use the name Hardy from that time in case it became a hit. I always was an optimist! I've used my real name ever since except that I kept the 'Rick' part. In May of 1999 I was surprised and delighted to get an invitation from Bear Family Records to attend a record launch of a CD dedicated solely to Hamburg rockers who had recorded in the German language, and which included my tracks. It is interesting to note that of the 28 songs on the album only two are not by members of the Jets - when you count in our adopted member Tony Cavanaugh. Naturally the bulk of the CD is taken up by the 'teacher' Tony Sheridan (13 tracks) and includes the version of 'My Bonnie' with the German intro. As this track includes Paul, John and George I am proud to say that I share a CD with the Beatles!!!

After we finished at the Top Ten in October 1960 I was lucky enough to get an offer to join a package show that was touring the US bases in Southern Germany which led to my staying in the Frankfurt area for around ten years! Jimmy Ward stayed in Europe working and recording with top Indonesian bands until he finally disappeared around 1969. Peter Wharton stayed on for a while playing bass for Sheridan who remained at the Top Ten playing on a casual basis. Colin Melander got himself a day job in Germany but after a while went back to playing bass with German rock bands, and then later with Tony Sheridan when Pete Wharton returned to England to run the family business after his father died. Colin eventually returned to England in 1965. The drummer, Tony Cavanaugh started to concentrate more on his singing, and he too had a good recording career in Germany with five of his tracks on the aforementioned CD.

After spending just over a year in Frankfurt I paid a visit to Hamburg in 1962 (as I mentioned before) about a month or so after the Star Club had opened. The Beatles were in residence as were the Tony Sheridan Trio and the Roy Young band. When I was in Hamburg before, Horst Fascher particularly liked two songs that I did - 'I Go Ape' and 'C'mon Everybody' and when he saw me in the Star Club (he was the manager) he asked me to sing them with the Beatles. I was happy to oblige and borrowed John's Rickenbacker to do it. That was the last time that I played together with the Beatles and as it turned out the only time that I performed at the Star Club. I wasn't paid for it but at least I feel that I'm entitled to wear my Star Club lapel badge!

Tony Sheridan made his first records in Hamburg in June 1961 and it was from here that his career started to take off. He can claim quite rightly that it was not on the backs of the Beatles. The records were hits in Germany before the Beatles were even heard of, nationally or internationally. Of course later on when it became known that the Beatles were his backing group on those early records it did Tony no harm! Whilst we are talking about Tony's records I might mention that on a recent radio show in England I heard the interviewer ask a Hamburg musician if he had ever heard the Beatles play 'My Bonnie'. He answered that he hadn't. Of course he hadn't. It was a Tony Sheridan speciality which he had often performed when we played together in the 2.Is coffee bar back in those far off days of the late 1950's.

In August 1999 I was again invited to Hamburg. This time to guest with a reunion band consisting of Colin Melander bass, Rikki Barnes on tenor sax and Johnny Watson on drums, all of which had played in the 1960's with Tony Sheridan's backing group 'The Beat Brothers'. I managed to persuade my long-time friend and original Jets bass player Pete Wharton to come over and so only Jimmy Ward was absent. We did shows with Tony Sheridan and needless to say we all had the time of our lives, wallowing in nostalgia and enjoying the ample television coverage. We were all treated like living legends!

I am still active in showbizz (you can check out what I do now on my web site if you like. It's and I have a current CD on the English Hallmark label. Pete Wharton is presently employed as a test driver for a major car company, and Colin Melander now works part time as a librarian, after retiring from the Police force in which he reached the rank of inspector. Tony Sheridan still lives in Germany with his German wife where he is a respected cult personality. Of Jimmy Ward we have alas no information as to his whereabouts. Jimmy Ward (real name, James Macken) was Irish and may be back in Erins Isle. Tony Cavanaugh we have discovered is back in his home town of Indianapolis but unfortunately has been confined to a nursing home since suffering an aneurism. Tragically his father states that he has no memory of his past life.

The CD mentioned in the text is called 'Damals in Hamburg' (Once Upon A Time In Hamburg) and is on Bear Family Records BCD 16284 AR.

copyright RICK HARDY SEPT. 2001

Note: This article was originally published in a different form in the Beatles fanzine "Daytrippin'" in the summer of 2000.

© 2001 by Rick Hardy

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