During The Beatles’ performances in Hamburg, the band, comprised of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best, and Stuart Sutcliffe, would deliver extensive concerts despite minimal sleep. Playing to enthusiastic crowds well into the early morning, the demands of their audience often extended their time onstage for hours on end. Lennon even recalled instances where the marathon performances were so exhaustive that he would find himself drifting off to sleep in the midst of a show.
Snoozing to the Soundtrack: John Lennon’s Naps Amidst His Bandmates’ Musical Performances
During The Beatles’ performances in Hamburg, they occasionally found themselves in the presence of local gangsters who came to watch them play. According to Lennon, the band extended their shows significantly during these encounters out of fear for their lives. “In The Beatles Anthology, Lennon recounted, “All these gangsters, the local Mafia, would show up. They’d send a crate of champagne onto the stage, an imitation German variety, and we had no choice but to drink it, or they threatened dire consequences. They’d say, ‘Drink, and then perform ‘What’d I Say.’ We had to put on a show, regardless of the time. If they walked in at five in the morning after we’d been playing for seven hours, they’d hand us a crate of champagne, and we were expected to carry on.
These performances took such a toll on Lennon that he would often find himself dozing off while still onstage. “As my voice began to ache from the strain of singing, we picked up a trick from the Germans to stay awake—popping slimming pills,” Lennon shared. “I used to get so inebriated that I’d end up sprawled on the floor behind the piano, intoxicated, while the rest of the group continued playing. I’d literally be on stage, fast asleep. We even made a habit of eating on stage because time was so tight. It created quite a spectacle… Imagine the show now: a mix of eating, smoking, swearing, and catching some sleep on stage when exhaustion set in.
Pill-Powered Alertness: How John Lennon and His Bandmates Stayed Awake on Stage
As Lennon pointed out, the band turned to stimulants to endure their marathon performances. “At that stage in our lives, we discovered pills, specifically uppers,” Starr revealed. “Preludin was the go-to, available over the counter. We didn’t perceive it as wrongdoing, but those pills, coupled with beer, were the key to our survival. We’d get really energized and keep going for days.”
According to Lennon, the fatigue seemed to vanish with the help of Preludin. “In Hamburg, the waiters always had Preludin (and various other pills, though I recall Preludin vividly) because they needed to stay awake and endure the grueling hours of the all-night scene,” he recounted. “Whenever they saw musicians struggling with tiredness or the effects of alcohol, they’d offer you the pill. Taking it would bring you back to coherence, enabling almost endless work—until the effects wore off, and it was time for another.
Spirited Gestures: Ringo Starr’s Appreciation for Gifted Libations
In contrast to Lennon, Starr welcomed the gesture of people sending champagne to the band. Although he wasn’t yet a member of The Beatles during this period, he also performed in Hamburg.
“The Germans were fantastic; if they enjoyed your performance, they’d send up crates of beer,” Starr recalled. “And when it came to those with deeper pockets, the out-of-towners or the Hamburg elite, they’d send champagne our way. We didn’t care much; we’d drink it all.