Gary James' Interview With Stuart Sutcliffe's Sister
He was one of the original Beatles. He was right there onstage with John, Paul, George and Pete Best in their early days in England and Hamburg, Germany as well.
John once said "I looked up to Stu. I depended on him to tell me the truth. Stu would tell me if something was good and I'd believe him." Yoko remarked "I felt I knew Stuart because hardly a day went by that John did not speak about him."
Stuart Sutcliffe left The Beatles in 1961 to study art. Just a year later, on April 10th 1962, Stuart Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage. He was 21 years old. Stuart Sutcliffe's contribution to The Beatles has long been ignored. It was Stuart Sutcliffe who was the first Beatle to wear a collarless jacket onstage. Stuart Sutcliffe was also the first Beatle to wear his hair in the famous Beatle hairstyle. And, it was Stuart Sutcliffe who came up with the idea of naming the group The Beatles.
Pauline Sutcliffe, Stuart Sutcliffe's sister doesn't grant many interviews. She did however, agree to talk to us about her brother's life, his legacy, his artwork and The Beatles.
Q - Pauline, you've lived in the States for four and a half years now and you call Long Island home?
A - Yes, I do.
Q - What do you do in Long Island? What is your day to day life like?
A - (laughs) I get up, I make coffee...no...I'm here for a number of reasons. Number one, I adore the place. I am semi-retired now. As you know, I'm the sole executor of the Stuart Sutcliffe Estate and I have brought the collections out here with me where I can manage them now and put more energy and effort into them. I'm also working on a number of exhibitions of the work and at this stage in life, I'm letting more of the work be offered for sale, which, in the past I let some pieces go for sale, but mostly did exhibitions for people to come and have a look at the work. I'm also putting together another book and I'm also co-authoring yet another book, with another colleague. So, I have a very busy time out here. There's also an exhibition that's being created for 2008 for Liverpool, who have been appointed European city of culture and they're doing a retrospective of his work, which is one of the keynote exhibitions for the prestigious year of European city of culture. So, that's going on. The director of Liverpool University is coming out yet again, in two more weeks time to put the ribbons on all of that. He's been out a few days before to put that all together. So, I have a very busy life and a very busy time. I've just been out at business meetings for four hours today.
Q - Who's buying Stuart's art? Is it individuals or a company like Hard Rock Cafe?
A - There's two collections: the artifacts and memorabilia and then there's the fine art. Now, Hard Rock has bought some of the stuff through Sotheby's over the years. They bought his guitar some time ago. Sales are mostly through commercial exhibitions or privately. Recently, with a colleague now who helps run the Stuart Sutcliffe Estate, we now have a website for Stuart. We're starting to sell some pieces, both fine art and art and artifacts and memorabilia through the website. (stuartsutcliffeart.com)
Q - You're telling me, you're selling your brother's original paintings or are you selling re-prints?
A - Originals. I do very, very small limited editions of maybe one or two images now and again. But right now, we're in the business of selling some originals.
Q - Now, how can you do that? Don't you want to keep them?
A - Well, how long have I had them, Gary?
Q - Maybe, forty-five years.
A - It's been a long time. (laughs) I do have my own private collection that isn't for sale and then I have the museum collection that's been all around the world for years. But, I'm now ready to start to sell because he's widely known now. His work is widely known. Lots and lots of people have seen it. So, I now feel able to start to let it go into private hands. Tell me, why did you want to interview me?
Q - Stuart Sutcliffe has always been this mysterious guy in the history of The Beatles. He's mentioned of course, but you never come away with an insight into who he really was. It's my hope that this interview will provide that insight.
A - Let me just relate to some of what you said. You're right. There's been another documentary about Stuart which was commissioned by the BBC in Britain which is called The Lost Beatle. It's now out on commercial release, produced by Digital Classics. In fact, it's just been released in Australia. It's been out here in Manhattan on the Ovation Channel for many years. It's very, very critically acclaimed. It's a stunningly good documentary. I'm involved in it of course, but not only did I approve of it, I like it very much. You know the "Anthology" is very, very sketchy about him and you know historically The Beatles have always been sketchy about him, which is why I did my last book, The Lost Beatle and why this DVD is out, because it's really quite shameful of them the way in which they have understood his contribution to their early history, their name, how they looked and what helped make them different. So, some of the record is gradually being caught right. And this is partly why I'm doing this interview with you too. People who are really interested in filling out the picture of him, I'm interested in talking to.
Q - How much of an age difference was there between you and your brother?
A - Almost four years.
Q - Did you ever go out to see him when he was in The Beatles?
A - Always.
Q - Always?
A - Absolutely. Day one.
Q - Where were they performing when you saw them?
A - Oh, honey, you'd have to read the books. You know, I'm now 63 years of age and was it the Litherland Hall, was it the Caribbean nightclub. Can I remember that kind of detail? Read the books. I was there from Day One.
Q - What was the reaction of the audience to the music they were playing?
A - What is the center of the universe question? Different crowds. Different year. Different day. A dive in Upper Parliament Street where everybody's drunk and it's 3 o'clock in the morning and I wouldn't have been there. Cavern Club. Unlicensed. You couldn't buy a drink in the Cavern. People don't seem to understand that about The Cavern Club, nobody was drunk in there. And nobody was on dope. Pre-dope. Pre-drink. So, all the excitement was purely about the band and the dynamic in the room. They were famous. They were famous before they were famous. They were the hottest thing in England.
Q - You were quoted as having said "My mother told me when she died not to get entangled with The Beatles, not to show letters or memorabilia, but to promote Stuart as a painter. She thought The Beatles were destructive and dangerous and I've found her words to be true." Destructive and dangerous? The Beatles were about peace and love weren't they? What did your mother mean?
A - (laughs) You know something? I think that's one of the cutest questions I've been asked in a very long time.
Q - Cute?
A - Yeah. I mean, you quoted that beautifully and correctly. I don't believe for a minute that you believe that they were always cute and only about peace. You know they were highly competitive.
Q - Yes, I do.
A - Hugely narcissistic.
Q - I realize they were ambitious, competitive and driven. You have to be in order to reach the top. The Beatles were singing love songs, Pauline. Dangerous and destructive? What does that mean?
A - What do you think it might mean?
Q - Maybe they weren't as nice as they could have been when they were rising to the top. Maybe they used people or stepped on people. But, you could probably say that about anybody who became a star.
A - Sure. Sure. What do you think they did to one another? What do you think Paul and John's current feud is still about?
Q - Probably money. Whatever feud exists between Paul and Yoko maybe centers around billing...who gets top billing. Instead of Lennon - McCartney; McCartney - Lennon.
A - Well, they've got enough money, don't you think? I suppose enough is never enough for some people. But anyway, you just hit the nail on the head. You know what you have to remember? The Beatles were the most famous people on the planet, once upon a time. If they said, blow this person off the face of the earth, it would have been done.
Q - I recall seeing Paul give a TV interview in which he addressed the issue of The Beatles' popularity and the material they wrote and sang. He said something to the effect that they could've been singing about Satan, but chose to sing about love instead.
A - Because they were smart and knew they'd get many more fans for peace and love than for Satan, honey. So, they're very calculating, but they're also hugely talented. Brilliant, brilliant people. But, they wielded their power and my mother recognized that, and she didn't want her remaining two children to be in their flight path. It was as simple as that. You have to be proud of a parent who wants to protect her two remaining children when she's just lost one of them.
Q - It was actually Stuart who came up with the name The Beatles after seeing a Marlin Brando movie, The Wild Ones. John, when asked about the group's name always told the story about "the man with the flaming pie."
A - You've got to remember, these guys were high as kites in these interviews and said this with all this media stuff they had to do. They would give irreverent answers to stuff. Finally you read in the anthology, which is a bit of a whitewash, but it's still a nice book, that George says "Stuart thought of it" and Paul says "Oh, John thought of it." They both agree, now that John and Stuart are both dead, that they both got it together. So finally in the Anthology they agree that Stuart was at least 50% responsible for the name. That's good enough for me. I'll take 50% for Stuart since he was given nothing originally. So, that was progress.
Q - We've also been told The Beatles saw those collarless jackets in France and it was George who came up with what is known as the Beatle haircut. But, that's not true either, is it?
A - That one, I don't know. The only ones I know are; Jurgen Vollmer, who was another fabulous photographer, part of their group. He did the "Rock And Roll" album cover. Fabulous, fabulous photographer. Jurgen did have his hair cut like that. Astrid cut Stuart's hair like that for him to be a Beatle. But, she cut his hair like that. He went onstage. George laughed his head off. So did the others. Paul and John, or was it Paul and George, two of them were then in Paris a few months later and Jurgen cut the other two guys hair. But, Stewart was the first Beatle onstage with his hair cut like that, styled by Astrid.
Q - And the collarless jackets?
A - I have the written evidence of Stuart writing to me with designs for collarless jackets. You also have to remember that Pierre Cardin did wonderful design clothing. But, the issue here is, no Pop band, no Rock 'n' Roll band had ever gone onstage looking like that before. Right?
Q - Right.
A - And I have the letters in which my brother has designed the jackets and trousers without pockets, so that the line isn't disturbed in any way. So that they look gorgeous. Astrid made the first jacket that Stuart wore onstage and I've got the evidence. Actually, I only have copies now, because I sold the originals to the National Galleries and Museums of Liverpool, who now have them in one of their museums.
Q - Where did his jacket go?
A - Well, Stuart was actually buried in one of his suits, in Europe. At the time, bodies were dressed in nice clothes. What a subject for a Friday afternoon. Am I answering your questions?
Q - You are and I appreciate that. Did you say or did someone else say that you believe John and your brother engaged in a homosexual relationship? How did you arrive at that conclusion? Did Stuart say something to you?
A - The press had a field day with all of this and I'm sure you know all of that from the internet.
Q - Actually, I don't. I saw just a little on it.
A - Oh, honey. I don't have a lot more to say about this, beyond what I've said in my book. Now, I was not the original source of that. OK? John was the original source, according to other well-known writers or publicists or inner circle entourage. So, I'm not the originator of that, I have not confirmed that in any way. I simply say I'm a very seasoned psychotherapist and given that they had a hugely intimate relationship and also as very young men became involved in a hugely decadent world then at the time, they could've explored something like that together. Who knows? I personally don't know, but I can see they might have done or they might have not done. According to the written material out there, John is the person who originated that story. So, I really just comment on it.
Q - I had never heard about John and Stuart before. I have heard rumors about John and Brian Epstein.
A - Well, there's even new information on that these days. It would seem there's more evidence to say that it did happen than that it didn't. But...who cares? But, the story didn't generate from me. I don't care personally. They were not homosexually inclined in any way. They loved women too much. It doesn't matter to me if they did. I could care less. But, I'm not the source of that.
Q - Did you see the movie Backbeat when it came out?
A - Of course I did.
Q - When I interviewed Louise Harrison, George's sister, she said "It came to a scene where it was supposed to be George and Mom talking. The scene was so far-fetched that it was certainly a conversation that would never have taken place between them. Between that and the color of the lipstick that the guy was wearing, who was supposed to be my brother, I said, well, I've never, ever seen him wear that color lipstick. I don't want to waste my time watching this."
A - First of all, I'm the art-something-or-other on this. That movie has just been re-released on DVD. We're talking 1993, 1994. I have met Louise Harrison a number of times in the 90s at these Beatle convention things. I had a book out and I did book signings. Now anyone who objects to seeing their brother with a bit of make-up on, who is now a Pop star, is being very silly indeed, in my opinion. She'd not heard of stage make-up? She needs to grow up. Hadn't she seen all of the photographs of them putting their make-up on in their rooms before they go onstage? What century is she living in for God's sake? It's actually a very good movie. It's not entirely accurate, but it is a movie. It's not a documentary. It's a very well-made film. Although my involvement was minimal in it, I still think the director did a fabulous job. It's a good movie. If you like movies, it's a great movie.
Q - Is it true that John had a terrible temper?
A - Absolutely.
Q - An uncontrollable rage?
A - Absolutely. From time to time.
Q - Did you ever see him when he went into one of those rages?
A - Absolutely.
Q - What would set him off?
A - I have no idea. Have you read Cynthia's book?
Q - I have not.
A - It's worth reading her book, 'cause she's changed her tune quite a bit. She and I used to be very close, you know. She was always very, very protective of John's inner world. In this book she gives you much more insight into what a complex, emotionally complex guy he really was. Not nearly enough, I might add, but a start. You can't explain irrational anger.
Q - And he was like that before becoming famous?
A - Oh, yes. But, you have to understand, even then he was a very brilliant young man, but very complex and not properly understood. That's why he loved Stuart so much, because Stuart really did understand him. Stuart knew that he was a very special person. Some of his rage was about his disappointments in life, his hurts in life and not being understood very well.
Q - I have this feeling that when John landed in America on February 7th, 1964, he was thinking of the two people who were not there to share his success...his mother and Stuart.
A - Right.
Q - And that smile we see, is pasted on his face.
A - Possibly. You don't need me to tell you how darn brilliant he was. But, that was not seen by most people around him back then and people like Stuart who thought he was a hugely special person, when in fact Stuart was regarded as the most hugely special person at the time, was very flattering for John. Almost pre-Beatles, when they were in Art school together and Stuart was the star pupil, the most talented painter they'd had in the university for God knows how long. John comes in and this brilliant student likes him and wants to be around him, and they start to share and then John moves into his apartment. That was very, very encouraging for John. It made him feel confirmed, you know? Like I'm not this crazy guy. Someone else thinks I'm brilliant and going somewhere.
Q - Was Stuart a reluctant musician? Did he want to be in a band with them? Was it a hard sell to get him to buy a bass?
A - He wanted to be with his friend John.
Q - Did John ever include Stuart in songwriting?
A - Yeah, and there's more evidence coming by the day about all of that.
Q - Any songs that The Beatles would have recorded?
A - Not that have been formally acknowledged. There's some stuff on the "Anthology" that Stuart isn't credited with correctly. There's bootleg stuff out there, and there's some bootleg stuff that's just coming through my sight through a friend of mine and we might do something with it. But again, it's an area in which Stuart was more involved than the world has known so far.
Q - People are always saying Murray The K was the Fifth Beatle or Brian Epstein was the Fifth Beatle or George Martin was the Fifth Beatle. Was Stuart in fact the Fifth Beatle?
A - No. Stuart is the fourth Beatle. It was John, Paul, George and Stuart. Then it was John, Paul, George, Stuart and Pete. Pete Best is the fifth Beatle, without question. And all the others can be the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh...whatever they want. The only Beatles that count in my view are the people that got up on the stage and performed live. Pete is underestimated. Pete was a Beatle for a long time. Some of these bootleg tapes that have been put before me recently, there's no drummer on them, and that's part of why we know they're original because Stuart was in The Beatles before Pete even came along. They've given Pete a bad rap too, so they've not been very generous and gracious in their time.
Q - Did your brother die of a cerebral hemorrhage or as a result of a beating he received after one of the Beatles' gigs?
A - This ground has been trodden over and raked over and I've scandalized half the world with this. It's all gone to rest now, and people are actually starting to look at what I did say. My brother had been beaten up more than once. In fact, many of them had been. It was part of life for Rock 'n' Roll bands in the late 50s and early 60s in Liverpool. There were always gangs out to get them. You've read about it yourself. They've all been beaten up sometimes. Pete rescued him. Sometimes John rescued him. You know, it's just part of that world at the time.
Q - What was the reasoning behind all of these beatings? Jealousy?
A - Well, it was jealousy because these bands were regarded as exotic creatures up on this stage and the girls loved them. And so, the boys in the gangs thought that these boys were taking their girlfriends away from them, which quite often they were. And so it was that boy, boy rivalry. They were only kids you know. Remember, they were teenagers.
Q - Did it ever cross anyone's mind to have a bigger guy around to fend off the attackers? I don't want to say bodyguard.
A - Yeah, but in those days, what were they earning? Five dollars a night? They couldn't afford stuff like that. That's when Neil Aspinall came into all of this. He used to drive them to gigs and do the equipment and that was progress. It was a very, very, primitive, low-paid world out there in those days. And, they worked their butts off for years. They were not overnight successes. When they made it, they'd been grinding. Have you any idea how many hours a night they played in Hamburg?
Q - I think it was twelve hours a night, seven days a week for three months.
A - It was long, long nights, honey. As for the other myth about Stuart not being able to play the bass guitar...absolute nonsense! If you couldn't play an instrument after twelve hours a night, for night after night, what would you do with yourself?
Q - Yet, we read that Stuart was told to turn his back to the audience when he was playing bass, to hide the fact that he couldn't play bass. You're saying he could play bass.
A - You look at all the photographs. I only have one photograph of him turned around. All the rest he's upfront, in the front line-up, full-face onto the audience. Have a look at the new DVD, "Stuart Sutcliffe: The Lost Beatle" and you will hear Klaus Voorman's commentary on Stu as a bass player. It's another myth. But, it doesn't matter. It's not hurting anybody is it? It's harmless.
Q - Well, it's always best to have the truth out there.
A - Well, you see there's so many facets of the truth, aren't there? It didn't hurt anybody. The only person who got hurt by any of these myths is Stuart, and he wasn't around to feel it. And people always come good in the end. Look at how many years later it is. You have a look at this documentary. It's lovely.
Q - Do you think there's a chance Stuart could be inducted into Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame?
A - Well, guess what! A few years ago, they did the most stunning exhibition of Stuart's work. I went along and opened it for them. Alongside they had a brilliant exhibition of John's life and work. There they were, these two best friends, side by side in the Cleveland Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame. What a fabulous place that is. Now, Stuart might not qualify for being inducted because he didn't write enough music. I don't know what the criteria is. But, if anyone's willing to start a campaign, I'll join them! But, those guys have already done a fabulous job for him. If they think he's worthy, I'm sure they think about him.
Q - What would you like the world to know about your brother?
A - I'd like them to know he was a beautiful person with a beautiful heart. A brilliant talent who loved his life, his friends, his work and didn't get enough time to show everybody how much he loved them.