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Home / Entertainment / ‘We’re lucky for people who don’t throw tomatoes’: Klaus Voormann in the days of the Beatles and Plastic Ono | Music

‘We’re lucky for people who don’t throw tomatoes’: Klaus Voormann in the days of the Beatles and Plastic Ono | Music

IIn September 1969, bass player and artist Klaus Voormann, who had just left Manfred Mann, received a phone call from John Lennon. There is nothing unusual in that. Voormann has known the Beatles for nine years and is part of the band’s tight lap. It was Voormann, Paddy, Klaus and Gibson’s own bands, which Lennon and George Harrison tried to watch live on the night they famous for LSD at a dinner party. Ringo Starr was present at the show and was confronted by the noisy friends in his altered band claiming that the venue̵

7;s elevator had burned down. A year later, he designed the cover of the Grammy Award-winning Revolver.

The point is what Lennon wanted him to do more. Lennon has agreed to perform live at a rock’n’roll renaissance festival in Toronto two days in advance and is trying to gather supportive musicians to play as the Plastic Ono Band. Eric Clapton agreed to play the guitar, but Voormann was more persuasive, on the not unreasonable reason that promoting a festival with an untrained new band didn’t seem to be one of the ideas. more inspirational by Lennon.

“John said, ‘Oh, we’re going to rehearse on the plane.’ So we were there, sitting in the last row, next to a jet, and I played electric bass without an amplifier, ”he said, disconnecting the phone line from his home in Bavaria. . “I can’t hear what I’m doing. I worry more about John than I do. I mean, John – The Beatle – suddenly went on stage with an untrained band. It’s unbelievable. “

Relaxation Zone ... the day after the Plastic Ono Band played Toronto;  from left to right, drummer Alan White, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Relaxation Zone … the day after the Plastic Ono Band played Toronto; from left to right, drummer Alan White, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voormann, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Photo: Mark and Colleen Hayward / Getty Images

Furthermore, Lennon voted not only to play a set of concise rock’n’roll covers suitable for a festival featuring Gene Vincent, Little Richard and Bo Diddley, but also passed the microphone over to Yoko Ono, who performed two ear-splitting improvisations, one of which lasted more than 12 minutes. “Everyone just opened their mouths. They were attending a rock’n’roll festival with Chuck Berry, and then all of a sudden this pioneer was introduced, “he said.” I stood on the stage, behind Yoko, she screamed, screaming and shrieking like a dying bird, and I felt ‘this is about the Vietnam war’ – I actually saw the tank next door and the bombs falling and the dead people, that’s what she was doing But I thought: ‘God, John has to be crazy doing this.’ I mean, we were lucky for the people who didn’t throw tomatoes at him.

However, he said, there are advantages to Yoko’s live performance branding. “When you really know it’s crazy, you don’t think: ‘Oh, what am I going to do on stage?’ You don’t fear, you just need to do it, it’s easy. I mean, ”he laughed,“ you can make every mistake you want – it doesn’t matter. It’s punk. “

Perhaps Voormann should be used to unexpected Beatles-related situations. He is an art student with a love of jazz and cinema Nouvelle Vague and tended to dress up as a young French intellectual when he first met them in 1960. After storming out of his home. girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr in a row, he found himself outside a special seed club in Hamburg’s St Pauli district, converted by racquets emanating from the inside. He’s been listening to rock’n’roll before, although his tastes tend to be more inclined towards Miles Davis, he has never heard it live, and certainly not with raw energy. the young Beatles. However, he said, he was torn when he entered the club, which was clearly “dangerous”.

It’s easy to romanticize the Beatles years in Hamburg – Birth of a Legend, as a live album was recorded there – but Voormann says this fact is really scary. “It’s the dirty part of Hamburg, pickpockets and pimps run all over the place. There are knife fights in clubs. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going in there.’ But in the end, I curled up and went in. “

Rude stuff ... Voormann, Astrid Kirchherr and former Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe at a party in Hamburg, 1961.

The chores … Voormann, Astrid Kirchherr and former Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe at a party in Hamburg, 1961. Photo: K&K Ulf Kruger OHG / Redferns

Then he went back to Kirchherr and their friend Jürgen Vollmer: they looked so out of place that the attendants pity them and “take care of us if there’s a fight”. After being initially rejected by Lennon, they begin a friendship with the band, aided by Kirchherr inviting them to her parents’ house so they can bathe: the band’s living conditions are so bad that they force them to must shower. Shave using water from the club urinal.

Kirchherr began a relationship with the band’s bassist Stuart Sutcliffe and, most famously, the band looked like their new friends, giving up their skin and clothing to move on to brushing their hair towards front: towel. Lennon calls the Germans “exis”, short for existentialists, which are clearly inaccurate.

“We may look like those French artists, but we are not existentialists,” Voormann said. “We don’t do politics at all. We took them to the photo shows so they could see our favorite movies – Jean Cocteau, Louis Malle – and we went to exhibitions and turned them on to French art. “

One night at Kaiserkeller, Sutcliffe handed Voormann his bass guitar and told him to come on stage for him. He is a guitarist, but has no experience in musical instruments. His first time playing bass was on stage with the Beatles, which seemed a bit unbelievable, even when Voormann said the reality was less thrilling. “Well, you see, that sounds wonderful,” he said. “But it’s a rock’n’roll band, they’re playing at midnight, Stuart wants to rest so he can cuddle Astrid on the sofa. So I played under Fats Domino’s number. “

He said he always knew the Beatles were going to get big – “I can’t wait for them to be famous” – but clearly had no idea the scale of what’s going to happen. He arrived in England in 1963, when Sutcliffe died – he left the band to stay with Kirchherr in Hamburg before suffering a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 21 – and Beatlemania was active. Voormann shared an apartment with Harrison and Starr, and was delighted that they could see an old face in the ensuing madness.

After that, he watched the band disintegrate: “10 years was more than enough. Ringo was supposed to stay with the band, he loved everyone, but the rest, got a lot of anger, fighting: they couldn’t do it anymore because it was all in complete directions. different. Abbey Road, it’s a beautiful LP, but… from a emotional point of view, it’s just not right. They have to do it because they have an obligation to the record company. But they did it really professionally and beautifully, and that’s what makes a good band, you know? “

“Oh, we’ll rehearse on the plane” … Voormann’s drawing of the Plastic Ono Band’s flight to Toronto.

Indeed, at one point during the band split, a persistent rumor – and apparently completely baseless – suggested that Voormann would join the Beatles, or rather that Lennon, Harrison, and Starr would be. Form a new band called Ladders, with Voormann replacing Paul McCartney. Instead, he played on all three solo albums throughout the 70’s. He has a special affection for the John Lennon / Plastic Ono band of the 1970s: “Everything is done with two sides, no noise. no, very original and fresh and direct… No one told me what to play. I always play what I feel matches the spirit of the song or the lyrics.

“He always did it, in all the sessions I did: Imagine, Walls and Bridges, Rock ‘n’ Roll. But suppose if I ever played the wrong notes or badly played, he will tell me. The same goes for the Revolver cover: if I don’t come up with a good idea, then I won’t get the job – ‘Sorry, Klaus …’ ”

Voormann then became an on-demand musician – that was he played the famous bass intro in Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain and played on Lou Reed’s Perfect Day, the part after which he missed the part. Large amount of camp currency passes between Reed and co-producer David Bowie. He spent the 70s in Los Angeles, returning to Germany at the end of the decade.

Before leaving the US, he visited Lennon at home in New York and found him on a couple mode, cooking rice to make sushi and expressing his joy at the lack of record contracts or pressure attached. But he was touched by a strange sense of omen.

'I was spoiled' ... Voormann today in his studio in Germany.

‘I was spoiled’ … Voormann today in his studio in Germany. Photo: Alamy

“I am with my son, Otto, who is the same age as Sean. We walked in Central Park and John left Sean in backpacks. We walked out into the basement, where the garage was, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is scary. All the really crazy guys in New York and John Lennon just go around without bodyguards or anything! ‘I was scared for him:’ God, if that’s what he does everyday … I don’t know. ‘

Back in Germany, Voormann worked with Trio, the post-punk band best known for their 1982 hit Da Da Da, but eventually gave up music to focus on composing and art. He has designed covers for The Beatles’ Anthology collections, and in recent years has published a book and a graphic novel about his time with the Beatles and worked with Liam Gallagher on the cover. packaging of debut album As You Were. At the age of 82, he contributed a series of drawings to a new book about Lennon’s first solo career, and the implementation of the John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band album – one of which depicts the chaotic maneuver on plane for the Toronto rock festival, musicians jostle each other at the tail of the plane.

Today, he says, he doesn’t even own a bass guitar anymore. “Playing bass on his own is a little silly,” he said: who can he play with? “I’m spoiled”, he chuckled.

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