When Flora MacDonald in 1746 helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from the English to the Isle of Skye, and then to France, little did they know it would help Brian Epstein sign The Beatles! Seriously? Yes! read on.
My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean
The Scottish folk song that recorded that story was called “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean”. When, in 1961, German Producer Bert Kaempfert decided to make a record with Tony Sheridan, backed by The Beatles (as The Beat Brothers), he wanted a song that the German people would know, but was also performed by the British musicians. He chose “My Bonnie” and “When The Saints Go Marching In”.
Recording “My Bonnie”
Kaempfert combined melody with lush orchestral strings and brass. As well as orchestral and jazz-oriented records, he wrote the music for “Strangers In The Night”, recorded by Frank Sinatra, “Wooden Heart” recorded by Elvis Presley, as well as hits for Nat King Cole and Al Martino. Kaempfert must be one of the few, if not only, to have worked with Elvis, Sinatra and The Beatles.
Bert worked for Polydor, who often recorded at a school theatre in Hamburg Harburg. But this was no ordinary theatre, as I found out when I visited there in 2017. Kaempfert had The Beatles and Tony Sheridan, who had been playing this song together at the Top Ten Club, set up on the stage. This is where myth and fact combined to create urban myths!
Some say Kaempfert removed Pete Best’s bass drum and other drums, because he was so bad. This, they claim, became the first of many producers to be dissatisfied with Best’s drumming. There is no evidence for that.
What we do know is that Bert Kaempfert was happy to use The Beatles as a backing band, having seen them several times at the Top Ten Club. We also know that he never used heavy rock ‘n’ roll drums on any track, as he was into Easy Listening music. He therefore asked Pete Best to only use his snare drum and hi-hat cymbal, which he used to great effect, as you can tell when you listen to the record. We have evidence of that. Best’s drumming is superb!
Because there are so many myths, misunderstandings and deliberate mistellings, I was determined in our book, Finding the Fourth Beatle, to ask real drummers what they thought of Pete Best’s drumming on “My Bonnie”. As I said in the book; I am not qualified to offer a professional opinion on drummers, as I am not a drummer, just an author.
Feedback from the drummers
“As Pete Best is not using his bass drum or floor tom, he does a really good job. Maybe Pete at that stage wasn’t experienced or talented enough maybe to play quieter. That is great drumming and a really good, high-speed drum roll in perfect time. How could anyone criticise that?” Mike Rice
“Very tight drum rolls at speed which is hard to do and keep in time. Especially as he didn’t use his full kit, he is very inventive in the use of the snare, with good flicks on the hi-hat, using it like a crash cymbal. A very technical piece of drumming, expertly executed.” Derek and Andrew Hinton
“My Bonnie” and other Songs
What songs were recorded, and in what order, is not known as there is little paperwork completed at the time. It is generally accepted that seven songs were recorded with Kaempfert. On the 22nd June, and possibly on the 23rd June 1961, four songs were committed to tape: “My Bonnie”, plus a German vocal as “Mein Herz Ist Bei Dir”; “The Saints (When The Saints Go Marching In)”; “Why”, written by Sheridan, and “Cry For A Shadow”, George Harrison’s skit on the Shadows, with a virtuoso solo performance, credited to Harrison/ Lennon.
The Beatles were also invited to perform another song, and John chose “Ain’t She Sweet”, one of his favourites, and one that would probably have fitted in with Kaempfert’s desire to record easy listening, old-time songs, that the German listener could identify with. However, what John produced was the harder, rockier sounding vocal performance that they would have done on stage, which didn’t really do him, or the group, justice. There were to be no vocal harmonies that would become their trademark in years to come.
It is also thought that they recorded “Take Out Some Insurance On Me, Baby (If You Love Me, Baby)”, probably at the same sessions, but there isn’t any documentation to confirm this. Sheridan, ably assisted by Paul on bass and Pete on drums also recorded “Nobody’s Child” as well.
This was the Beatles being recorded for the first time as a group, in a studio, with a bona fide producer.
“My Bonnie”, Brian Epstein and The Beatles
To complete the story, Brian Epstein became interested in The Beatles when local fans started asking to order “My Bonnie” by The Beatles. This brought them to Brian’s attention, who, as a record retailer, was interested in a local group who could sell records. (Read the interview with Alistair Taylor for more on that story).
And so, the story that started with Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape from the English way back in 1746 led to Brian signing The Beatles.
For a detailed look at the recording of “My Bonnie”, it is featured in Finding the Fourth Beatle.