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'I designed The Beatles' iconic Revolver album cover after I became friends with them in Hamburg'

Revolver 50 Cover
Klaus Voormann's new book:
Launch 05. August 2016



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'I designed The Beatles' iconic Revolver album cover after I became friends with them in Hamburg'
BY TOM PARRY
3 AUG 2016

Klaus Voormann is one of the oldest friends of the Fab Four and recalls his special relationship with John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney

My Life with the Beatles Klaus Voormann
Artist Klaus Voormann
Klaus Voormann/LUCIAN REINDL

When The Beatles ' landmark Revolver album was released 50 years ago, the iconic psychedelic cover brushed away their cheeky mop-top image.

In place of the clean-cut smiling lads from Liverpool were four brooding faces drawn in black ink and odd, slightly unnerving photographs put together in a surreal collage.

It was the work of German graphic designer Klaus Voormann, a long-term friend of the band who had met The Beatles in their fledgling days in seedy Hamburg clubs six years earlier.

No one knew John, Paul, George and Ringo better , and no one better understood the remarkable transformation they had gone through since they started out playing rock'n'roll covers on the notorious Reeperbahn.

My Life with the Beatles Klaus Voormann
Artwork from My Life with The Beatles by Klaus Voormann
Klaus Voormann

In a new graphic novel, out later this month, Klaus, now 78, has detailed his extraordinary relationship with the Fab Four for the first time. 
Not only did he hang out with the band in Hamburg, he also lived with George and Ringo when they first came to London, and – in the 1970s – played bass on John, George and Ringo's respective solo albums.

Klaus Voormann, left, with Astrid Kirchherr and original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe at a party in Hamburg, Germany, circa 1961
Klaus Voormann with photographer Astrid Kirchherr and original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe at a party in Hamburg
K & K Ulf Kruger OHG/Redferns

“I met The Beatles in Hamburg in 1960,” says Klaus. “I was just lucky to be there; we turned out to be really good friends in the end. 
“It happened by coincidence. I heard their music coming through a little window in a basement, and I thought this is real rock'n'roll music.

Musician Ringo Starr attends GRAMMY-Nominatied Artist Klaus Voorman With Debut Of Original Beatles "Revolver" Cover Artwork Display
Ringo Starr attends a show of Klaus Voormann's Revolver artwork
Getty Images

"It was an old rocker place and I was slightly scared to go in there. But I did, and I will never forget it to this day.

“I went on and off to the basement with my friends in the following months, saying, 'You have to come down and see this band'.

Klaus Voormann
Klaus Voormann as a young man
Jurgen Vollmer/Redferns

"My friend said I should contact them because I speak a little English. 
"At that time it was just after the war and we didn't know any English people. We were sort of scared to get in contact with them. 
"They played in the Kaiserkeller, The Top Ten and The Star Club."

Album cover designed by artist Klaus Voorman for The Beatles' album "Revolver"
The iconic Revolver album cover designed by artist Klaus Voorman
Getty Images

Klaus first approached John Lennon with one of his early record covers for a German band, but was passed on to then bass player Stuart Sutcliffe, whom Lennon called “the arty one”.

Left to right: drummer Alan White, Eric Clapton (seated), bassist Klaus Voorman, John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Eric Clapton with Klaus Voorman, John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Getty Images

“Me and Stuart got on well immediately,” Klaus continues. “He asked me all sorts of things about art and artists. He was open to everything. The others joined in, even Paul did. He wanted to know things.” 
The band played hundreds of gigs in Hamburg from August 1960 to December 1962, returning to Liverpool in between stints.

My Life with the Beatles Klaus Voormann
Klaus became pals with the Beatles after he met them in Hamburg
Klaus Voormann/LUCIAN REINDL

Immersed in the murky underworld of strip clubs and brothels along the notorious Reeperbahn, they honed their craft in front of rowdy audiences. 
After The Beatles' last Hamburg gigs, they signed a record deal with EMI back in Britain and, within months, were the hottest musicians on the planet.

Nevertheless, they were happy to help out Klaus when he came to London in search of work.

“After meeting these people and getting to know them, I wanted to go to England, but I didn't know how,” Klaus recalls.

Klaus Voormann
Klaus playing bass guitar
Getty Images

“I talked to George on the phone, and he asked me to come over. I didn't want to make music; I went to look for a job as a commercial artist. I eventually got a job as a graphic designer. 
“I lived with George and Ringo in their apartment in London. It was not very nice to see because they didn't have any friends or any family in London.

"All they had was their work. Ringo would take me out to the clubs.

"They were already rich and big stars.

Klaus Voormann & Paul McCartney in Hog Hill Mill Studios circa 2008
Klaus Voormann and Paul McCartney in Hog Hill Mill Studios circa 2008
YouTube/thefiremanrushesin

“It wasn't much fun because they were so famous by then that they couldn't move outside. As long as they were in the apartment there were all these kids hanging outside.

"Once, 20 policemen had to come to get them out of the door. That wasn't much fun. 
“I lived in this attic apartment that was really, really tiny and we had the bathtub in the kitchen. That was so weird.” 
In 1965 Klaus returned to music, going back to Hamburg to play in a band, and then later joining the British band Manfred Mann.

My Life with the Beatles Klaus Voormann
My Life with the Beatles by Klaus Voormann
Klaus Voormann

The call from John Lennon to put his art skills to use again was a complete surprise. 
Released on August 8, 1966, Revolver contained John Lennon's revolutionary track Tomorrow Never Knows, inspired by his experiences taking LSD earlier in the year. 
Knowing how this song would challenge their loyal fans, Lennon turned to Klaus to interpret his ideas on the album cover. 
“I was never tied into The Beatles music-wise,” Klaus says. “Although I later played bass with John, George and Ringo on all their solo stuff. 
“I never expected they would ask me to do a record cover for them. When they called it was just amazing. 
“John said I should come down to the studio and listen to what they had on tape.

"The music was really overwhelming for the time, just unbelievable.

My Life with the Beatles Klaus Voormann
The cover of Klaus's book
Klaus Voormann

"I remember listening to Taxman, Eleanor Rigby and Tomorrow Never Knows. That song was just the killer for me. At the time it was just really incredible, and I was thinking, 'How am I going to do an image for that?'. I thought I would have to get my finger out.

“The problem was that I knew the normal fan would be used to a different kind of Beatles music, but now it really went far away.

"I had to do something that would make them realise when they looked at the cover that this would be a new dimension. 
“At first I went and showed them sketches, a pad with lots of illustrations on.

"I had one with the four heads and lots of photos on, which was my favourite, and they all went for that one. I was really happy because I knew I had found a way to present it.

Klaus and McCartney in Hog Hill Mill Studios in 2008
Voormann and McCartney in the studio
YouTube/thefiremanrushesin

“By then I was in the Manfred Mann band and I wasn't doing graphics. Out of the blue, I was suddenly back to graphics. It wasn't easy. 
“When I presented the finished product they all loved it. I did it just the way I wanted and they didn't ask anything to be changed.” 
Klaus kept in touch with the four Beatles despite their packed schedules. He visited all of them at their homes in Britain, and later Lennon and Yoko Ono's home in New York. 
And he played on many of their best albums, including Lennon's Plastic Ono Band LP, which he regards as another career highlight. 
“I treasure most the time I spent staying with George at Friar Park when I left my wife,” he remembers fondly.

My Life with the Beatles Klaus Voormann
Artwork from My Life with the Beatles
Klaus Voormann

“He was a great help for me. We had great times together. We told each other a lot about ourselves.

"It was an incredible time we had together. George stayed a friend until the very end, even when he was very, very ill.

“I often went to visit John in the Dakota Building in New York with my son Otto as well. Our sons were the same age.”

Klaus' graphic novel, Birth of an Icon: Revolver 50, is available on 
www.voormann.com



Klaus in 1966 with Revolver and his first Grammy Award 



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