50 years on: 'Hamburg' still spells magic

The Beatles' first gig in Germany in 1960 has gone down in history. Paul Bignell looks back on the landmark gigs where you really had to be there

It was 50 years ago today...well, almost. Sgt Pepper's was merely a germ of an idea.

Yet the sweaty club in Hamburg where the Beatles launched themselves on an unsuspecting world half a century ago remains a shrine, a place of pilgrimage for the faithful of several generations. The Indra Club, thanks to the Beatles, is still a venue and a landmark in world music, for ever linked in the collective conscious with the birth of the many-limbed monster called rock'n'roll.

Last week it celebrated the group by hosting a tribute to the Fab Four, with bands playing many of the songs they played at the club.

Like Liverpool's Cavern Club, it attracts scores of pilgrims every year, curious to learn how the band honed their craft. In this small, scruffy venue in a once-notorious area of the German city, their dressing room was the gents' toilets and their sleeping quarters were in a local cinema around the corner. Yet, despite the difficult circumstances they faced, three years later they would be the world's most famous band, thanks in part to this small, innocuous setting near the river Elbe.

How great a part did the venue play in shaping the greatest act in popular music? John Lennon recalled their time at the club and the effect it had on them as a band: "We had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing. We played very loud, bang, bang all the time ... We got better and got more confidence. It was handy, them being foreign. We had to try even harder, put our heart and soul into it, to get ourselves over."

There have been many other memorable moments since, in venues that couldn't be more different from the Indra Club: the Rolling Stones waving goodbye to the 1960s in Hyde Park or Brian Wilson's emotional live return at the Royal Festival Hall in 2002.

Paul Gambaccini, the DJ and TV presenter, said: "A magical gig happens when everything comes together. When the band are on form, when the venue is suitable for their music – whether that be CBGB or Wembley Stadium – and when there's something in the air. With the Bob Marley and the Wailers gig at the Lyceum that everyone talks about, which I was at, there really was something in the air."

Here The Independent on Sunday and the music writer Charles Shaar Murray offer this definitive guide to some of the greatest gigs of all time.

Pink Floyd 1966

Roundhouse, London

This was Pink Floyd's first official gig and, along with Soft Machine, they appeared at the launch of the underground newspaper International Times. More importantly, it was the first all-night rave. About 2,000 people passed through the doors of Camden's Roundhouse, including Paul McCartney, Jane Asher and Marianne Faithfull. Sugar cubes were handled out and were rumoured to be coated in LSD. They weren't, but many managed to "trip out" regardless.

Queen 1985

Wembley Stadium

The group, fronted by enigmatic, buck-toothed singer Freddie Mercury, opened to massive cheers with "Bohemian Rhapsody" at the Live Aid concert. Mercury got 75,000 people clapping in unison to "Radio Ga Ga" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". Such was the impact of their performance that day that it led to their slot being voted "Greatest Live Gig Ever" in a 2005 poll of artists, industry executives and music journalists, screened on Channel 4.

Bob Marley 1975

Lyceum Theatre, London

What has been described as a "cross-over moment" when reggae met rock, Marley's gig has been cited as his best and most famous. Critics said the showcase captured the musician's raw energy, which his studio albums had failed to convey. His version of "No Woman, No Cry" at the Lyceum was chosen for his Legend compilation album and left the studio version to fade into obscurity. Six years later, Marley was dead from cancer.

Sex Pistols 1976

Lesser Free Trade Hall

If you counted the number of people who claimed to be at this Manchester gig, you could probably fill Wembley Arena twice. In actual fact, only about 40 people attended. Some of those who were (or weren't) there include Morrissey, Joy Division, Mick Hucknall, Tony Wilson and Paul Morley. The gig was seen as a catalyst for the British punk rock movement. They returned a month later when the Buzzcocks made their debut.

New Order 1982

The Hacienda, Manchester

There were many legendary gigs at this most famous of Manchester venues – the Smiths and Simple Minds to name a couple. But in its early years the club was able to stay open largely thanks to New Order's record sales on the Factory label co-founded by Tony Wilson. The group's first gig at the venue in 1982 would see a lineage at the club stretch from minimalist electronica to the "Madchester" years of the late 1980s. The club closed in 1997 and New Order split a decade later – but the legacies of both live on.

The Who 1964

Marquee Club

The Marquee Club was London's premier rock club in the early 1960s. As the legend goes, it was a rainy November evening in 1964 when The Who performed their first gig there, to an audience of 40. The night marked the beginning of a Thursday residency that ran for seven weeks, and they went on to break attendance records during all their gigs at the venue.

Television 1974

CBGB, New York

Punk band Television made their debut at CBGB in March 1974, playing over the next four months and then returning in January 1975, when they began playing there regularly. Many of those present said they were the first band to bring punk rock to the venue. Of course, in 1974, the term "punk" hadn't been invented, so their furious sound was known simply as "street music". After their legendary appearances, they gained a significant cult following.

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London