On a quiet street in Hamburg’s old red-light district sits a small club painted blood-red. It’s not so large, and if it wasn’t for the emblems of musical instruments welded into the iron gates, you wouldn’t think it a club at all. But if you look closely, you’ll see a small sign reading: “Indra — where the Beatles played first.”
Many people imagine that the Beatles hometown of Liverpool forged the Fab Four, and whilst clubs like the Cavern Club offered them a launchpad, it was nearly impossible for the group to get reliable gigs elsewhere in the city. No, it was the fair port city of Hamburg, Germany, which allowed Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, and their then-drummer Pete Best to hone their songs, style, and stagecraft. Back then, they were known as The Silver Beatles, but the group’s residency in The Indra Club was about to change everything.
They didn’t think too much about it. It was an opportunity where there had previously been none. Liverpool was a dead end, so when the owner of The Indra offered the boys a regular spot at his club, they jumped at the chance. But when they arrived in Hamburg, the reality of their situation became very clear. Of their accommodation, McCartney said: “We lived backstage in the Bambi Kino, next to the toilets, and you could always smell them. The room had been an old storeroom, and there were just concrete walls and nothing else. No heat, no wallpaper, not a lick of paint, and two sets of bunk beds, with not very much covers—Union Jack flags—we were frozen.”
Thankfully, this, too, offered The Beatles an opportunity. Up until that point, they’d been having problems with their drummer. Pete Best would often miss gigs, and so eventually, the group decided to fire him, fed up with constantly needing a replacement at the last minute. Two days later, The Hurricanes arrived in Hamburg with their drummer Ringo Starr in tow. Starr wasn’t a stranger to The Beatles, they’d met before back in 1959, and, needing a replacement drummer sooner rather than later, the young Starr was quickly poached.
But The Indra Club shaped more than The Beatles’ music; It also shaped their style. Stuart Sutcliffe, who played bass with the group in Hamburg until his untimely death, began dating a photography student there called Astrid Kirchherr. It was Kirchherr who gave Sutcliffe the mop haircut, which The Beatles would then all adopt.
“All my friends in art school used to run around with this sort of … what you call Beatles haircut,” Kirchherr said. “And Stuart liked it very, very much. He was the first one who really got the nerve to get the Brylcreem out of his hair and asking me to cut his hair for him.”
The Beatles run at The Indra Club became a wild success. So successful, in fact, that they were consequently hired by various other clubs throughout Hamburg, including The Star Club.