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The new issue of Uncut includes a candid interview with Klaus Voormann about his encounter with a 17-year-old George Harrison, during The Beatles’ formative residencies in Hamburg. The German artist and Plastic Ono Band member tells Graeme Thomson tales involving fish finger diets, late-night phone calls from “Herr Schnitzel”, and the making of George’s very own masterpiece…

“The thing to remember about George Harrison is that he was a Gemini. The twin sign. Yin and yang. On Revolver you have “Love You To” and “Taxman”. Two sides. He could be really living this spiritual life – into meditation and getting up at 5am to see the sun come up – and doing it very extensively. Then suddenly he would go crazy! He could swap from the one extreme to the other, and he could find ways to make himself believe that it was the good thing to do. He would talk himself into it. This is why he was always searching for something – because he knew himself well enough to know that he needed something to hold onto.

The first time I saw George he was only 17 years of age. He was very different to how he was later. He was a cocky little boy! This band he was with was completely unknown. It was the autumn of 1960. In this club in Hamburg, the Kaiserkeller, they played for people to dance. George was singing all those funny songs, which he did later on a little bit, when he sat around and played ukulele. He was into songs like I’m Henry The Eighth, I Am, singing it all cockney. He would sing all those Eddie Cochran numbers too, like Twenty Flight Rock.

It took some time to get to know them. We had gone to concerts and jazz clubs, but this scene was completely new to us. We went many times. They had started looking over to us – “There they are again, those Existentialists!” – and we were looking at the stage all the time, seeing all the details. “Look at George, he’s got big ears, hasn’t he! And he has funny teeth – he has those Dracula teeth!”

They were talking on stage in English and our English was not so hot. Eventually [Astrid and Jürgen] said to me, “Klaus, you speak English. Why don’t you make contact so we can meet them?”

John was standing by the stage, and I went over and took the record cover I had designed with me, which was Walk… Don’t Run – by The Typhoons, not The Ventures. I showed it to John, and he said, “Go to Stuart, he’s the artistic one.” Because John was the rock’n’roller, he didn’t want anything to do with art. So I went over to Stuart [Sutcliffe] and we got on like the world on fire. It was amazing, we talked about everything. It was only natural then that in the breaks between shows we went out with Stuart and the others came along, and we’d watch them eat their cornflakes.

We became friends. All of them were very much into music. Rock and roll was the most important thing. The list of songs they were able to play was the largest of all the bands in Hamburg. They were so busy and eager, listening to the records again and again until they got it down. At this stage, all you could see is that they played those songs really well. They were a great rock and roll band, with three great voices. I didn’t know anything about them writing songs, that came much, much later.”


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Klaus Voormann remembers taking the stage with John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s conceptual Plastic Ono Band for their first gig at the Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival festival in September 1969. When Ono, wrapped in a bed sheet, let out one of her signature, guttural wails, the once-enthusiastic crowd was confounded.

“Standing on stage, you could see the way the people react, whispering to each other. Not disinterested but just, ‘Christ, what’s happening up there?'” the 82-year-old recalls.
“[Ono] was wanting the people to know there were people dying [in Vietnam]. She had us imagine tanks are coming, bombs are coming, dead people on the road. When you’re standing behind her, you realise what she’s trying to do. But it was too strong for the crowd. They came to see John Lennon the ex-Beatle, you know? They didn’t want to think about death and war.

Yoko, Dan Richter (assistant), Alan White (drums), Klaus Voormann (bass), Eric Clapton (guitar) and John (guitar) rehearsing for the first time on board the plane to Toronto.Credit:Illustration: Klaus Voormann/ Thames & Hudson

Yoko, Dan Richter (assistant), Alan White (drums), Klaus Voormann (bass), Eric Clapton (guitar) and John (guitar) rehearsing for the first time on board the plane to Toronto.Credit:Illustration: Klaus Voormann/ Thames & Hudson

“The audience – they didn’t throw tomatoes, but they certainly weren’t happy. They were a bit sad, I felt, like, ‘Oh John, this is what’s happened to you?'”
Lennon’s tumultuous personal and artistic transformation after the breakup of The Beatles culminated in two stunning albums by the pair (with Voormann and Ringo Starr as their core musicians) released on December 11, 1970: Lennon’s intense John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, and Ono’s free-flowing Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band.

Fifty years on the albums are the subject of a new book, John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band (Thames & Hudson), a celebration of the couple’s bond.
Born from primal therapy sessions with psychotherapist Arthur Janov (“He had an enormous amount of pain. I’ve seen an awful lot, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the equal,” Janov said of Lennon in a 2008 interview), Lennon’s release is almost suffocatingly stark, opening with Mother, in which his pained yelps (“Mama don’t go! Daddy come home!”) scream to his abandoned childhood.


Instamatic photograph taken by John on the set of Yoko’s Film No. 12.Credit:John Lennon © Yoko Ono Lennon/ Thames & Hudson

“To me, this album is the best of all albums I’ve ever heard. It’s so personal,” says Voormann. “[John] came into the studio with no songs, just sat down together with Yoko – always together with Yoko – and as quick as possible got what he just wrote onto tape. That was his aim and that’s what he did. We all understood.

“Ringo was great and so we just played. Two takes mostly, and the thing was done. It’s brilliant. There’s mistakes in it and it doesn’t matter. The mistakes are OK, you know? Intimacy, that was the key. It’s so personal and so open to life – and you can hear it! Most of the records, it’s all covered by strings and big choirs and guitars, and he just did it really, really simple. It was such a great statement.”

Voormann, who first met The Beatles in Hamburg in the early ’60s and went on to illustrate their iconic Revolver album cover, says Lennon’s relationship with Ono “gave such a burst into John’s life”. In the book, he says: “Something had been very wrong with John before Yoko came along.”

“When I met John, he was like a miracle to me … But he was not happy and he was lost, and that’s how he was all the time, even in The Beatles time,” Voormann says. “Of course he would laugh and joke and do whatever the public wanted, but you could see his frustration when he was onstage in front of a big audience and he’d just lift his head and the audience would start screaming. He was like, ‘Oh s**t, what is this?’ He hated it, really hated it.
“And then he met Yoko. Suddenly this new life was there for him. They were so together. It’s unexplainable; you hardly ever see that sort of thing with a couple. It was so much of a give and take.”

Yoko’s Plastic Ono Band album, released concurrently and recorded with the same musicians, is more esoteric, heavy on improvisational jams and experimental excursions. But songs like Why and Touch Me feel ahead of their time with their No Wave grooves and frenetic proto-punk energy.
Voormann contributed new illustrations to the book based on his recollections of the album sessions, and says his aim was to “show the togetherness of John and Yoko”.
“They were like glued together. They would sit together on a chair, sometimes Yoko on his lap, hugging, constantly communicating with one another. It was like one person, not like there’s John and there’s Yoko. It was one word: Johnandyoko.”

Despite the initial fury Lennon’s career pivot elicited, Voormann says he always respected the album’s conquering spirit.

“I never care, really, what people think. OK, when I look at the charts and I see the Plastic Ono Band LP is not going up there like The Beatles, I understand – but, always, it was: ‘You just wait’. Because I knew it was a masterpiece! So much emotion, so much energy is on that album, I knew it’s going to be a big thing. And that’s what’s happened now, and it will happen in more times to come. People realise this is a masterpiece.”


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Klaus Voormann, legendary musician, Beatles-friend, designer of the Beatles’ iconic Revolver album cover and Grammy Award winner, will be launching a new exhibition in Hamburg. To be shown as part of the Reeperbahn Festival, the exhibition will be open to the public from 19 to 23 September 2018 and will be dedicated to Voormann’s substantial creative work, which started in Hamburg in 1958. The exhibition is based on Voormann’s new book, “Klaus Voormann – It started in Hamburg“, which was released on the occasion of his 80th birthday. In the book, the artist provides insights into his remarkable life and works and also reminisces on his time spent with the Beatles.

“It started in Hamburg”: Klaus Voormann, legendary musician, friend of the Beatles, designer of the Beatles’ iconic Revolver album cover and Grammy Award winner, will be launching a new exhibition from 19 to 23 September 2018 at the Reeperbahn Festival Hamburg. The show is dedicated to Voormann’s substantial creative work and pays tribute to the Beatles’ Hamburg years (photo: genisispublicationguildfort) (PRNewsfoto/Hamburg Marketing GmbH)

Hamburgs plays a central role in the life and work of Klaus Voormann: “I was born in Berlin but my heart belongs to Hamburg. As for my musical and graphical career, it all started in Hamburg.”

Amidst the special atmosphere of the Reeperbahn Festival, between concerts, performing art shows and book readings, visitors will be able to immerse themselves in the “Graphic Arts and Stories” from Voormann’s life and works. The exhibition was specifically designed to be put on display in a marquee within the Festival Village.

Klaus Voormann’s relationship with the Beatles dates back to their time in Hamburg in the early 1960s. This is where the Fab Four started their music-career, spending two intermittent years in the city’s music clubs and laying the foundations for their global success story. The Beatles were an integral part of the legendary Hamburg sound of the sixties. Today, many of these live venues continue to provide a home to young and eager bands, making the district of St Pauli the number one hotspot for live-music in continental Europe. At the upcoming Reeperbahn Festival, countless newcomer bands as well as established artists from around the world will be performing live as part of 600 concerts.


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At the German Echo Music Awards in Berlin on Thursday, Klaus Voormann received the lifetime achievement award.

For the eighth consecutive year, the most prestigious award of the evening went to a Universal Music artist: bass player, producer and graphic designer Klaus Voormann, who received the lifetime achievement award. The two-time GRAMMY winner and so called “fifth” Beatle shaped the course of rock and pop music at various moments in time. Voormann played with Manfred Mann, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, John Lennon (e.g. on “Imagine”), and Eric Clapton. He was a founding member of John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band and designed artworks for an array of artists, including The Beatles (Grammy for “Revolver”) and the Bee Gees. He was a part of George Harrison’s “Concert for Bangladesh” and produced records for acts such as Trio (“Da Da Da”) and Marius Müller-Westernhagen.

“The contribution [Voorman] has made to so many seminal projects worldwide and in so many different ways over the past decades is absolutely outstanding,” said Frank Briegmann, President & CEO Central Europe Universal Music and Deutsche Grammophon.

NOTE: Echo prize winners return awards amid controversy
The controversy over the awarding of an Echo, the German music industry’s most important prize, to a rap duo singing anti-Semitic lyrics has continued to grow, with musicians returning their own honors in protest.
Still, the controversy has not cooled as musicians continue to return their own awards in protest.
Klaus Voorman, renowned internationally for the artwork he designed for legendary bands such as the Beatles and the Bee Gees, had received an award for his life’s work at the ceremony. “What had felt like a gift to me on the occasion of my 80th birthday has revealed itself to be a big disappointment,” said the artist who will be turning 80 by the end of April.
“Provocation is allowed and sometimes even necessary in order to provide food for thought.” But, Voormann added in his statement on Monday, the line has to be drawn when it comes to violent, racist, anti-Semitic and sexist declarations.
Following Voormann’s statement, Christian Höppner, President of Germany’s Culture Commission resigned from the music prizes’ seven-member board. In his resignation, he said, that the format of the Echo prizes was “no longer tolerable in our society.” Referring to the music by Kollegah and Farid Bang, he said it was “not for him. I find the text repugnant.” He likewise said he had noticed an escalation in hate, racism and violence in music over the years.