Gritty photographs of a German dive bar
09:32 am

Anders Petersen was eighteen when he traveled from his home in Sweden to Hamburg’s red light district the Reeperbahn. He wanted to escape his upbringing, shed his comfortable bourgeois skin and try on another to see how it felt. His parents had separated when he was young and he had been brought up by his grandmother in the quiet of the countryside amid fields and cherry trees and a darkening border of a forest. It was an idyllic fairytale world, but boring.

The Reeperbahn was a chaotic world of excitement, and pleasure, and excess, and danger. He met a green-eyed Finnish woman who worked the main drag. They became lovers and Petersen was introduced to the world of prostitutes, drag queens, drug addicts, drunks, pimps, and thieves. He took courage from his lover, from beer and from amphetamines (Preludin) to finally break free of the rules and manners, the lies and constraints of his bourgeois childhood. He had found himself another family who lived their lives without care, without shame, without judgment or censure. Petersen made friends with these characters who shambled joyously through the night at the local bar like the Café Lehmitz. All too soon it was over. His Finnish girlfriend broke-up their relationship and told Petersen to go home before his life was lost in the bars and lights, in the dirt and the chaos.

Dismayed, Petersen reluctantly returned home. But he knew his life had changed and he needed to find a way to express himself. He considered painting, but this, he found, was too lonely a thing. He was a social animal and wanted to be involved with the lives of others. This led him to photography—something he had been quietly considering for some time. He started studying under the great Swedish photographer Christer Stromholm who told him to find the things that were important to him. Be humble, be personal, work hard, and never be satisfied. It was sound advice.

In 1967, Petersen returned to the Reeperbahn and the Café Lehmitz. He discovered some of the friends he had made had died. Now he knew he must document this new family. He sought an in through a friend. One night he arrived at the Café Lehmitz with his camera in hand. He placed it on a table and became so involved with the drinking and talking, the dancing and singing, that he did not notice his camera had been picked up and was being thrown about among the customers like a toy. Some were taking pictures of themselves. Some wanted Petersen to take their picture. Petersen started photographing the people who hung around the bar in a scrum; the couples who argued or flirted with each other over the cheap Formica tabletops; the prostitutes who smiled and wanted you to buy them a drink; the old drunk men who wanted to fight and staggered shirtless shouting at the customers.

Petersen shot with his heart, with his guts, with his instinct. He did it without thinking. It was almost reflexive. Then when the pictures were printed on a contact sheet, he figured out which photograph worked best, which picture asked more questions than it answered, which image best captured an atmosphere, a character, a life, or a feeling. He shot more than he needed. He now has a house and studio crammed with too many photographs.

Over the next three years, Petersen traveled back-and-forth between Sweden and the Café Lehmitz documenting the harsh, brutal, yet tightly knit lives of the people who lived and worked on the Reeperbahn’s cobbled streets. His first exhibition was held at the bar itself with his pictures nailed crudely to the wall and the customers eventually removing their portraits one-by-one until only Petersen’s self-portrait remained.

He published his photobook of the Café Lehmitz in 1978. It established Petersen as one of the greatest living documentary photographers. His style was intimate, unswerving, uncritical, and direct. One of the book’s most famous images—a young tattooed man named “Rose” embraced by a laughing older woman called Lily—was featured on the cover of Tom Waits’ album Rain Dogs. The image definitively captured the image Waits was selling of a Beat poet and outsider artist.

In our slowly homogenized world, where nobody smokes and nobody drinks, where all the streets are the same and the shops are the same, and everyone is safe and free to be a consumer, Petersen’s photographs of the Café Lehmitz captured a now seemingly distant world where people shared harsh brutal lives filled with excitement and danger, derangement and excess, love and happiness, always under the always-present shadow of death.
See more of Anders Petersen’s iconic photographs, after the jump..

Posted by Paul Gallagher
09:32 am
Meet The Liverbirds: The all-girl Beatles who once toured with the Kinks and Rolling Stones

“Girls with guitars? That won’t work,” quipped John Lennon as he watched four girls take the stage of the Cavern Club, Liverpool in 1963. The band was The Liverbirds and Lennon’s attitude was the kind of dumb prejudice these four faced every time they picked up their guitars and blasted an audience with their hard rockin’  R’n'B.

The Liverbirds were formed in Liverpool 1963. The original line-up was Valerie Gell (guitar), Mary McGlory (bass), Sylvia Saunders (drums), together with Mary’s sister, Sheila McGlory (guitar) and Irene Green (vocals). The band’s name was lifted from the liver bird—the mythical bird (most probably a cormorant) that symbolises the city of Liverpool and they were all girls (“birds” in the youthful parlance of the time). The group practiced every day until they were better than most of the local boy bands who were merely copycatting local heroes The Beatles.

The Liverbirds were apparently so good (if a bit rough around the edges) they were snapped up to tour with The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Rockin’ Berries. However, it was soon apparent that the girls—unlike the boys—were were being cheated out of a big part of their fees by booking agents—a crushing disappointment that led to the loss of their lead singer and guitarist to other bands.
It was beginning to look as if Lennon was right, but the girls refused to give up and continued touring with The Kinks. Unlike their northern counterparts, London’s all male bands The Kinks and The Stones were supportive of The Liverbirds—as Mary McGlory recalled in a letter to the Liverpool Beat in 2014:

The Kinks took us down to London to meet their manager, even booked us into a hotel, and told us to come to the studio tomorrow and bring our guitars with us (maybe there might be time to play a song for their manager). When we arrived there, the roadie came in and told The Kinks that their guitars had been stolen out of the van – so this was how The Kinks played our guitars on their hit recording of “You really got me“.

This isn’t exactly how it happened as the legendary Dave Davies of The Kinks points out regarding Mary’s claim over the stolen instruments:

Absolute nonsense- they were a cool band but this DID not happen.

On YRGM I use my Harmony meteor thru the elpico green amp and ray used his tele and pete used his blue fender bass…what a load of bollocks.

However, The Kinks did help save The Liverbirds from splitting-up by suggesting they bring Pamela Birch in as vocalist. Birch was a big blonde bee-hived singer/guitarist. She had a deep bluesy voice which harmonized beautifully with Valeri Gell’s vocals. Birch was a perfect fit for the band.

They were a hit at the Cavern Club. They were a hit across the country. They were a hit on tour. But the band hailed as the all-girl Beatles at the height of Beatlemania couldn’t even get a record deal in England. However, things soon started to shift.
First Kinks’ manager Larry Page and then Beatles manager Brian Epstein wanted to sign The Liverbirds. But the girls were off to Hamburg to play the Star Club. The band was an instant hit in Germany as Mary McGlory recalls:

We arrived in Hamburg on the 28th May, 1964 and played the same night. The crowd was great and loved us right away. The Star-Club owner Manfred Weissleder became our one and only MANAGER.

A few days later he sent us to Berlin to play at a big concert with Chuck Berry, shortly before we went on stage we were told that it was forbidden to play any Chuck Berry songs. Well that was impossible for us, so when Val went to the mike and announced “Roll over Beethoven”, Berry’s manager ran on stage and tried to stop us playing, Val pushed him away and told him to “F. Off”.(She had probably had a shandy). Back in Hamburg, Manfred called us to his office, we thought he was going to tell us off, but no such thing, Chuck Berry’s manager wanted to take us to America. Manfred said he would leave the decision up to us, but then he added – he will probably take you to Las Vegas, and there you will have to play topless! Well of course that was his way of putting us off. After all, the club was still crowded every night.

The band had hits with the songs “Peanut Butter,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Loop-de-Loop,” and “Diddley Daddy.” Although in performance they played the very same Willie Dixon and Chuck Berry covers favored by the Stones and other boys, Birch also started writing original numbers, producing such favorites as “Why Do You Hang Around Me?” and “It’s Got To be You.” Though pioneering and incredibly popular, the girls (now in their late teens-early twenties) still faced the everyday sexism from record industry supremos who thought young girls should be on the scene, but not heard. Not unless they were in the audience screaming. These men wanted girls who dressed to please—not girls who played instruments better than the boys. Girls with guitars? That won’t work. Except for that, of course, it did. Splendidly!
In 1968, on the cusp of a Japanese tour the band split:

Until 1967, we played nearly all over Europe, recorded two albums and four singles for the Star-Club label and appeared on many television shows. Our drummer Sylvia married her boyfriend John Wiggins from The Bobby Patrick Big Six and left the band. Shortly after Val married her German boyfriend Stephan, who had a car accident on his way to visit her and was since paralyzed. So when we got an offer from Yamaha to do a tour of Japan at the beginning of 1968, Pam and I had to find two German girls to replace them. Japan was great, and the Japanese people really liked us, but Pam and I did not enjoy it anymore, we missed the other two, the fun had gone out of it. We thought this is the right time to finish, even though we were still only 22 and 23.

Today McGlory, Gell and Saunders continue with their post-Liverbirds lives. Sadly, Pamela Birch died in 2009. However, this all-girl guitar band should be given credit for pioneering rock and roll, R ‘n’ B and being right up there for a time with The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones.

The Liverbirds perform on ‘Beat Club’ 1965.

More from the female Fab Four after the jump….

Posted by Paul Gallagher
12:21 pm
Bernard Falk: In search of The Beatles’ lost tape

The inimitable Bernard Falk’s quirky tale of a lost Beatles’ tape, and the men who hoped to make some money from its discovery.

The tape was recorded by Beat musician Teddy Taylor in Hamburg, on Christmas Eve, 1962. Taylor was the lead singer with Kingsize Taylor and The Dominoes, one of the dozens of Merseyside bands formed in the late 1950s, that hoped to match The Beatles’ 60’s success. Kingsize sold one million records on the continent, but had lacked any success back home. This sadly led to the band splitting-up in 1964. Taylor went onto the ordinary life as a butcher in Southport, where Falk interviewed him about the mysterious discovery of a “lost Beatles’ tape”.

Falk died in 1990, and is sadly now remembered for his hosting the ill-conceived late-night, interview series, Sin on Saturday, which was famously pulled after only 3 episodes. Clips from Sin on Saturday regularly make top 10 worst program lists, mainly for the legendary appearance of a drunk Oliver Reed, which is a shame, as Falk was a talented journalist, who made quirky, intelligent, entertaining and memorable TV reports. A hint of Falk’s skill can be seen here, when he catches up with likely lads, Teddy Taylor and The Beatles first manager Allan Williams - who famously gave the band away to Brian Epstein. Both are memorable characters and the footage of seventies disco dancing is fabulous.

First broadcast on BBC’s Nationwide, September 17th, 1973.

With thanks to Nellym

Posted by Paul Gallagher
06:26 pm
Stuart Sutcliffe: The Lost Beatle

He couldn’t play the bass, but he certainly could paint. The trouble is, Stuart Sutcliffe never lived long enough to fulfill the destiny his talents promised, tragically dying at the age of twenty-one from a brain haemorrhage.

As The Beatles original bass player, and John Lennon’s best mate, Sutcliffe’s legend has grown over these past fifty years, and this documentary Stuart Sutcliffe: The Lost Beatle examines the short life and long myth of the man who quit the Fab Four to follow his own star.

Told via interviews with an impressive array of Sutcliffe’s family and friends—and through uniquely descriptive quotes from his letters—this hour-long documentary reveals a lot of intimate detail about Sutcliffe’s transition from promising art-school student in Liverpool (and best friend of John Lennon) to reluctant musician (pressed into service by Lennon) to determined painter within the German avant-garde scene. A lot of Stu’s story, as Beatles fans know, is set in Hamburg, during and after the days the group was a house band in the city’s red-light district. Familiar tales of friction between Sutcliffe and Paul McCartney abound. But these are offset by a tremendous amount of fresh insight and detail offered by such important Beatles-saga figures as rocker Tony Sheridan, Klaus Voormann and—most crucially—Astrid Kirchherr, the photographer who influenced the Beatles’ look and who became Sutcliffe’s lover until his death.


Previously on Dangerous Minds

Jimmie Nicol: The Beatle Who Never Was

More on Stuart Sutcliffe, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher
06:58 pm