Beatles' 1962 Hamburg tapes headed to auction for $300,000

What’s being described as the master tapes of the Beatles performing live in Hamburg, Germany, in 1962 not long before Beatlemania exploded worldwide is going to auction April 1 and is being offered for about $300,000.

The tape, recorded at the Star Club in Hamburg’s red light district and said to be missing for nearly 40 years, will be offered by London’s Ted Owen & Co. auction house. According to the London Guardian, the original tapes, which include nearly five hours of live performances of 33 songs, were made by the Star Club’s stage manager, Adrian Barber, who had been asked to document the Fab Four’s live show by another Liverpool musician, Ted “King Size” Taylor.

Much of the material on the tapes was released in 1977 as a two-LP set titled “The Beatles: Live at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany — 1962,” which the Beatles tried unsuccessfully to block. Those recordings have since been widely bootlegged.

It captured a historically important early chapter in the Beatles story — just four months after Ringo Starr replace Pete Best as the group’s drummer, solidfying the lineup — but the recording quality was poor. The material consists largely of the Beatles playing rock and R&B hits from the 1950s but included a couple of John Lennon-Paul McCartney compositions: “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Ask Me Why.”

“These tapes are of considerable historical and cultural value, but they are not a Holy Grail for serious students of the Beatles,” said Beatles scholar Martin Lewis, who has worked on multiple Beatles-related projects since 1967 and who produced the first DVD edition of the group’s 1964 film “A Hard Day's Night.”

“They hold some interest because they give us a tantalizing aural snapshot of the primitive visceral power of their live performances in those early Beatles days,” Lewis tells Pop & Hiss. “But the technical limitations of the tapes means that we hear more of their youthful swagger than the proficiency and creativity that would later enchant the world.”

Indeed, the tapes reportedly were once offered to Beatles manager Brian Epstein at a price of 100,000 pounds, prompting Epstein to make a counteroffer of 20 pounds based on the inferior sound quality.

The rights to the recordings have been the subject of several court disputes over the years, some focusing on the permission Lennon reputedly gave Taylor, of Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes, allowing his request to record the band if Taylor picked up the Beatles’ bar tab that night.

“One drunken person recording another bunch of drunks does not constitute a business deal,” George Harrison said during one court proceeding.

The tapes are being put up for sale by Larry Grossberg, onetime business manager for Andy Warhol and Muhammad Ali, because he is now 74 and has said, “It’s time to sell. I don’t want my family to have the burden of going through my things and liquidating everything.”

Grossberg has said he recently came across the tapes again after forgetting he had stored them away.

The auction includes the master tapes for the 26-song album as well as stereo mixes created from the original monaural recording and the 7-inch reel safety master from the original unedited tape that Barber made.

“Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of these recordings," Lewis said, "is that they underscore how prescient their manager Brian Epstein, and later their producer George Martin, were in hearing past the limitations of the Beatles' early performances and envisioning the group's immense potential.”

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