Saturday, 16 May 2020

Astrid and Stu

Klaus Voorman buried his fists in the pockets of his duffle coat ,bowed his head and kept walking. He was stomping the streets of Hamburg after a debate with his friend Jurgan Vollmer and his girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr got a little too heated and flamed into an argument. It was not uncommon for the 20 year olds to get into very long, very serious debates, they all identified as an Existentialist.
The gateway in Existentialism was a feeling of “Existential dread”, a baseless loose feeling of disorientation in an apparently meaningless and absurd world. For the three young German’s, the subconscious guilt of the horrors of the second world war had, on surface at least, robbed them of the folly of youth and turned them into ultra serious, contemplative young people. The Exis’s uniform was to dress head head to toe in black clothes and look incredibly serious. Guilt was still rife, young fun and excitement a taboo. What could change to interject these kids with vitality, with lust, with verve, with life? Klaus turned left, and his feet carried him into St Pauli.

Stuart Sutcliffe sat on the red leather seat backstage at the Kaiserkeller club and ran his calloused fingers over the strings of his Hofner President 500/5 bass guitar and let out a yawn so loud it temporally drowned out the the muffled thudding of the band round the corner. The young Scotsman was knackered. Playing from 8:30-9:30, 10 until 11, 11:30-12:30, and finishing the evening playing from one until two o'clock in the morning was taking its toll.
He could feel Paul's eyes burning into him. There had been another row last night, about Stuart’s inability to play his bass properly. He was right of course. Stuart had started to play with his back to the crowd in to disguise his fumbled bass playing from any proper musicians watching.
“Maybe if he took those bloody sunglasses off he could see what he was doing”he had heard Paul moaning to John. But he was no fool. He knew the the girls loved the sunglasses and tight leather trousers. He noticed them gather closer to the stage when he did his solo spot of‘Love Me Tender’. It had not escaped Paul's attention either. But John always, much to Paul's bile, take Stu ‘s side.
Bruno Koschmider enters the room and starts screaming‘Mach Schau! Mach Schau!’through his moustache.
John squeezed Stuart’s shoulder and they made their way through the gloom and noise , past the stripper, and on to the stage. Klaus lifted his face from his glass and looked up.


Astrid was dressed in a black polo neck and squeezed into a tight, tight leather skirt and fishnets. In front of Jurgan and behind Klaus she descended the steps of the Kaiserkeller into the loud, dark furnace below. She was nervous, the Reeperbhan was dangerous place, full of prostitution, drunks and fighting. It was no place for young Existentialists. But she was curious. Klaus had returned from his sulk practically foaming at the mouth about this English band playing rock and roll. Rock and roll? But Klaus was trained in classical piano! He was insistent though. You have to see them! You must! And not wishing to look scared she agreed. She paid her money and walked into the dark, packed, smelly room.

On stage, John Lennon wearing black leather trousers, a black t-shirt and a toilet seat draped around his neck, stuck his left index finger under his nose and stretched out his right arm. “Hiel Hitler!”he screamed into the mic. The war had also deeply effected John, he was born during an air raid, but it was the death of his mother two years earlier that cut him deepest. Not for John were the guilt or sadness the Existentialists found solace in, his was more of a blind and violent fury with a bitter, sarcastic and cruel chip on his shoulder. 
“Sieg Hiel! You bloody Krauts! Who won the bloody war?”he shouts. The dockers, rockers, pimps and thieves didn’t speak English looked on puzzled as a table of American sailors fall about laughing.

Astrid, Jurgan and Klaus do speak English , and speak it rather well. Klaus looked up at the stage, his eyes glazed, his mouth a huge smile. Jurgan and Astrid shot each other uncomfortable looks.
Maybe we should goshe whispered in Jurgans ear. What? I cant hear you!.

John gripped his guitar a one two three four.

The Beatles tore into a rock and roll number, something about Johnny being good. Klaus was right thought Astrid, there is something about it.
 Just as furiously as the song started it finished and the boy with the bass guitar who had his back to the audience for the whole song turned around to share a joke in Johns ear. Astrid looked at his sunglasses and smile and knew. She just knew.

Astrid goes to bed that night and thinks of a way of getting closer to the band. She bought them all a beer after their set and blushed as they all chatted her up. John distant and sarcastic, loud and funny but oddly isolated. Pete the drummer, the girls favourite back in Liverpool is out of his depth here and he knows it. Paul is polite and curious and charming and George boyish and shy. But it’s Stu who takes her fancy though.
He’s honest enough to admit he’s no musician but he is an artist. A very good one John tells her. Stuart is just along for the ride, to have a laugh with his mates. He doesn’t want to be in the biggest band in the world. That’s more John’s thing. Pipe dreams. He does, he tells her, want to be the best painter.
Then suddenly it hits her. She silently thanks Reinhard Wolf, her old her tutor who persuaded her to drop her fashion design course and take up photography. She has an eye and gift for black and white photography, all of her friends tell her so.
The next day she takes her Rolliecord 24.2 camera and the band to a fairground at the Hamburger Dom muncipal park. It was a master stroke. The lads loved the idea of having a free session for promo photo’s, with the added bonus of getting to flirt with that arty German girl.
She set up her tripod, directed the boys where and how to stand and *click* recorded history.

Up to that point, all pictures of the Beatles were snaps shots taken by mates. All of them fail to capture the magic on stage. The boys always look a little nervous and overly showy, as if dropping their guard for a second would make all these dreams disappear into a puff of smoke. Astrid’s photographs not only capture the period in incredible clarity, but she also manages to hold up a mirror the group. Until then all the daydreams of their image are in their head. Look, say Astrid’s pictures, look how cool you are, look how sexy.

*Click* and all of sudden a sex based music with it’s roots in raw black American R&B star crossed with the clean, modern and cerebral ideas of European expressionism and something changes forever.


Two years later on the plane to Flughafen Hamburg, John takes out an rereads his letters from Stuart. He can't wait to see his pal and there’s lots to catch up on.

The Beatles run in the Reeperbahn came to a sticky end when George was busted for being under age and the group is deported. Back in Blighty the Beatles, having their craft honed after playing hour after hour in Germany, are the best group in Liverpool and attract the attention of local entrepreneur Brian Epstein. As John sits on the plane, plans are afoot to record. Their first single, Love Me Do, will be released in six months time.

The record will, however, not have the playing of Stuart Sutcliffe on it. When George turned eighteen and the Beatles returned to Hamburg last year, Stu decided to leave the band to concentrate on painting, sportingly lending Paul McCartney his bass. Before the deportation Astrid and Stuart fell deeply in love, and though Astrid felt guilty (what is it about Existentialism and guilt?) about doing so whilst still in a relationship with Klaus. She moves Stu in with her and her mum. Klaus, sportingly, takes the break up on the chin. They were too beautiful not to be together.

Stu had chosen wisely. He is awarded a postgraduate scholarship and enrolls at Hochshule Fur bildende Kunste Hamburg, where he studies under the tutelage of Eduardo Paolozzi. Though his moody and dark art sold for serious money back in Liverpool, his Hamburg paintings are influenced by British and European abstract artists contemporary with the Abstract Impressionist movement in the United States. His work from this period will later hang in the Liverpool Walker Gallery as well as the homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Astrid and Stuart continue to live with Astrid’s mum, they exchange rings and become engaged. He paints and she works part time to support him. She knows how good his work is, how important it can be. He complains of headaches but keeps working working working in his studio in Astrid’s loft. The paintings improve daily. The future is fascinating and bright. He misses his friend John, and can’t wait to hear what the band are up to.

The safety belt lights flashes and John folds Stuart’s letter and put’s it in his pocket. When the plane finally lands in Hamburg he races off it in search of his mate Stu. He doesn’t see him, but he does see Astrid wearing Stu’s leather jacket. He see’s she is alone and that she is crying.

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