April 10, 1962 – Stu Sutcliffe was born on June 23rd 1940 in Edinburgh, Scotland; an art school friend of John Lennon, he was the original bassist of The Beatles for almost two years and is credited with Lennon and his first wife Cynthia of naming the group after Buddy Holly’s band the Crickets. As a member of the group when it was a five-piece band, Stuart is one of several people sometimes referred to as “the fifth Beatle”. He used the stage name “Stu de Staël” while playing with the Beatles in 1960.
Lennon was introduced to Sutcliffe by Bill Harry, a mutual friend, when all three were studying at the Liverpool College of Art. According to Lennon, Sutcliffe had a “marvellous art portfolio” and was a very talented painter who was one of the “stars” of the school. He helped Lennon to improve his artistic skills, and with others, worked with him when Lennon had to submit work for exams. Sutcliffe shared a flat with Murray at 9 Percy Street, Liverpool, before being evicted and moving to Hillary Mansions at 3 Gambier Terrace, where another art student lived, Margaret Chapman, who competed with Sutcliffe to be the best painter in class. The flat was opposite the new Anglican cathedral in the rundown area of Liverpool 8, with bare lightbulbs and a mattress on the floor in the corner. Lennon moved in with Sutcliffe in early 1960. (Paul McCartney later admitted that he was jealous of Sutcliffe’s relationship with Lennon, as he had to take a “back seat” to Sutcliffe).
After talking to Sutcliffe one night at the Casbah Coffee Club (owned by Pete Best’s mother, Mona Best), Lennon and McCartney persuaded Sutcliffe to buy a Höfner President 500/5 model bass guitar on hire-purchase from Frank Hessey’s Music Shop. Sutcliffe was versed in music: he had sung in the local church choir in Huyton, his mother had insisted on piano lessons for him since the age of nine, he had played bugle in the Air Training Corps, and his father had taught him some chords on the guitar.
In May 1960, Sutcliffe joined Lennon, McCartney, and George Harrison (then known as “the Silver Beatles”). Sutcliffe’s fingers would often blister during long rehearsals, as he had never practised long enough for his fingers to become calloused, even though he had previously played acoustic guitar. Sutcliffe started acting as a booking agent for the group, and they often used his Gambier Terrace flat as a rehearsal room.
In July 1960, the Sunday newspaper, The People, ran an article entitled “The Beatnik Horror” that featured a photograph taken in the flat below Sutcliffe’s of a teenaged Lennon lying on the floor, with Sutcliffe standing by a window. As they had often visited the Jacaranda club, its owner, Allan Williams, arranged for the photograph to be taken, subsequently taking over from Sutcliffe to book concerts for the group: Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Sutcliffe. The Beatles’ subsequent name change came during an afternoon in the Renshaw Hall bar when Sutcliffe, Lennon and his girlfriend, Cynthia Powell, thought up names similar to Holly’s band, the Crickets, and came up with Beetles. Lennon later changed the name because he thought it sounded French, suggesting Le Beat or Beat-less.
In early 1961 he played with the Beatles in Hamburg, where he met photographer Astrid Kirchherr, to whom he was later engaged.
Sutcliffe’s popularity grew after he began wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses and tight trousers. Sutcliffe’s high spot was singing “Love Me Tender”, which drew more applause than the other Beatles, and increased the friction between him and McCartney. Lennon also started to criticise Sutcliffe, making jokes about Sutcliffe’s size and playing. On 5 December 1960, Harrison was sent back to Britain for being under-age. McCartney and Best were deported for attempted arson at the Bambi Kino, which left Lennon and Sutcliffe in Hamburg. Lennon took a train home, but as Sutcliffe had a cold he stayed in Hamburg. Sutcliffe later borrowed money from his girlfriend in order to fly back to Liverpool on Friday, 20 January 1961, although he returned to Hamburg in March 1961, with the other Beatles.
In July 1961, Sutcliffe decided to leave the group to continue painting. After being awarded a postgraduate scholarship, he enrolled at the Hamburg College of Art under the tutelage of Paolozzi. He briefly lent McCartney his bass until the latter could earn enough to buy a specially made smaller left-handed Höfner 500/1 bass guitar of his own, but specifically asked McCartney (who is left-handed) not to change the strings around or restring the instrument, so McCartney had to play the bass as it was. Sutcliffe enrolled in the Hamburg College of Art and studied under future pop artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Stuart earned praise for his paintings, which mostly explored a style related to abstract expressionism.
He tragically died of a brain haemorrhage (aneurysm) in an ambulance on the way to hospital on 10 April 1962. He was 21 years 9 months 18 days old. The cause of Sutcliffe’s aneurysm is unknown, although it is believed to have been started by an earlier head injury, as he was either kicked in the head, or thrown, head first, against a brick wall during a fight outside Lathom Hall, after a performance in January 1961. According to former manager Allan Williams, Lennon and Best went to Sutcliffe’s aid, fighting off his attackers before dragging him to safety. Sutcliffe sustained a fractured skull in the fight and Lennon’s little finger was broken. Sutcliffe refused medical attention at the time and failed to keep an X-ray appointment at Sefton General Hospital
In 1967, The Beatles included a photo of him among those on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album on the extreme left, in front of fellow artist Aubrey Beardsley.