Dear Mr Voormann and family,
Dear Mr von Oertzen,
Dear Mr Schulz,
Ladies and gentlemen,
“We were all on a ship in the sixties, our generation,
a ship going on to discover the New World.
And the Beatles were in the crow’s nest of that ship.”
John Lennon‘s depiction of the Swinging Sixties, which were destined to reshape the whole structure of society, could not be a better way of describing your achievement, Klaus Voormann, and your career as an artist.
The 60s called in question antiquated and stuffy ideas, and saw the emergence of a new and far more unconstrained lifestyle. There was a new kind of music, and there was a new political movement. The two were closely linked. Music expressed a feeling of unease with an inflexible social order. And music also moulded the mood of a whole generation in both cultural and political terms.
In retrospect we can see that the 60s changed the Western democracies and created more liberal societies in which diversity and equal rights became important fundamental values.
People cast doubt on previously unchallenged moral values and cherished traditions. They talked about all sorts of things, asked awkward questions, made their presence felt, went on demonstrations, and made demands on the government and on society as a whole. Not only in university seminars, but also in clubs and out on the streets.
Nowadays people tend to belittle public debates of a protracted and critical kind.
However, debating and negotiating compromises and what we like to call common goals and values are and continue to be the basis of democracy and of a free and open society.
The pop music critic Frank Apunkt Schneider once said that one of the most important features of pop music was the idea of being disgruntled and dissatisfied with something.
And he continued, that pop music in post-war society before 1989 was the most successful kind of Allied reeducation programme. It taught young Germans “that there was something more attractive and appealing than what their parents had been given in the Third Reich. Something which they shared with young people everywhere in the world.“
The Beatles were at the very heart of this movement, and their music was destined to change the Western democracies. And all this gathered momentum in Hamburg, where the Beatles started on the path which led to them to becoming one of the most famous and successful bands in the history of music.
The Kaiserkeller club, the Reeperbahn, the Kiez red-light district and the Beatles.
These names make one want to know what was going on in those days not all that far away from where we are today.
For you, Klaus Voormann, since you belonged to the “inner circle” of the Beatles, it was part of your daily life.
“It started in Hamburg” is the title of your retrospective, which is probably nowhere more at home than here in St. Pauli. It is a place which has a unique aura and is a symbol of nonconformity, of difference and diversity, of intoxication and of music.
Of course it is also a symbol of commercial exploitation, chauvinism and crime, but that is the other side of St. Pauli which we are not going to talk about today.
It was here, in the middle of the St. Pauli district, that you first met the Beatles. It was a fateful moment which was to have an influence on the rest of your life.
You played with the Beatles and later you did their artwork for them. It was the start of a long friendship which lasted for decades. Your impressive artistic and musical output is closely linked with that of George Harrison, Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr.
Ladies and gentlemen,in his book “It began in Hamburg” Klaus Voormann states “the cover artwork of the album ‘Revolver’ is without doubt my greatest masterpiece.”
In 1967, as the first German prizewinner, he received the Grammy Award for the best album cover and artwork. It took its cue from the black and white images of the English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898). The cover artwork of “Revolver” ensured that in visual terms the album was also what it was destined to be in the development of pop music culture, a revolutionary stylistic shift and a real milestone.
As Paul McCartney once pointed out, “There are sounds [on Revolver] that nobody else has done yet, I mean nobody ever.”
The “Revolver” song ‘Tomorrow never knows’ is considered to be a radical step towards the musical future and was a harbinger of the sometimes much more decidedly political character of the later Beatles songs.
But was that so unusual in an age which made a point of turning private matters into political issues…?
A new album plus a new kind of music and a new cover all add up to a new world, and this is probably a good way of describing the impact that “Revolver” had at the time.
Music can help to bring about social and political change.
The Beatles were certainly convinced that this was the case, and so was Klaus Voormann.
Dear Klaus Voormann,
you once told us that you were born in 1938, and that during the war and in the post-war period you grew up in a middle-class family in Berlin which took an interest in art and culture. From the very start you were inspired and encouraged to develop your creativity.
In Hamburg you first headed for the “College for Design”, which proved to be a stepping stone for a career in graphic design. Deutsche Grammophon, which in those days had its offices in Hamburg, gave you your first commission for the cover of “Walk . . . Don’t run” by The Typhoons. Countless record sleeves, guitar paintings, illustrations and graphic novels were to follow.
Choosing “the Reeperbahn Festival” as the venue for this retrospective is also such a good idea because your musical career started here on St. Pauli and only took you to the United States at a later date.
It needs to be said that you have not only been a graphic artist.
You have also played the bass. In fact, as a bassist you have made an important contribution to the development of music since the 1960s, even though you have gone almost unnoticed in your role as a ”sideman.”
Apart from The Beatles you have played with other fantastic musicians such as Lou Reed, Carly Simon, Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Dr. John and Jerry Lee Lewis.
And you produced music, most famously the group Trio and their song “Da da da”.
But it is the artwork for what you received the most prices.
In 1966 Brian Epstein, the manager of The Beatles, praised your “Revolver” cover and added, “The cover is the bridge that we need.” A bridge to a new age of music, which was also mirrored in the graphic design.
Klaus Voormann is a builder of bridges, an artist who keeps reinventing himself with his enormous expressive range and seizes on the ideas around him.
He also allows himself to drift along, so it seems, and continues to be interested in new artistic ideas or indeed to come up with them himself.
Ladies and gentlemen, Klaus Voorman came to Hamburg at a time when everything seemed possible. Art helped society to express itself in new ways and to become more political.
And art beat a path to much-needed social change.
In recent weeks and months we have all been called upon to defend the diversity and openness of our society.
And here artists have a special and important role to play.
Art and culture are in a position to build bridges by showing us other ways of looking at things and other lifestyles.
However, art and culture also make it possible to reach agreement about cohesion and coherence, about what holds society together. Not only with the help of rational discourse, but also through undisguised indignation and inspiration.
Thus music goes from the ear directly to the spinal cord and thence, as neuroscience has demonstrated, straight to the brain.
In other words, art enables us to comprehend things in the light of experience.
Nights spent on the dance floor have often done more for mutual cultural understanding than ten debates in university seminars.
Dear Klaus Voormann,
you and other members of your generation have helped us to understand why art is so important in a democracy.
And why it is important to protect its freedom come what may.
I am very grateful that you have set us such a good example.
With its numerous concerts and art exhibitions and workshops the “Reeperbahn Festival” in the four days ahead will once again be both a stage and a platform with which to build bridges that lead to a vibrant open society and for many artists a stepping stone to international acclaim.
And in fact art – as this retrospective demonstrates – is now even more important than in previous years.
Thank you so much for being here today, Klaus Voormann, and for making it possible for many people to have an opportunity to see your retrospective.
“It started in Hamburg.”
To my mind there could not be a better place for this retrospective.
Thank you so much.
And remember the words of Paul McCartney’s new song “Despite Repeating Warnings”:
“Those who shout the loudest
Will not always be the smartest
But they have their proudest moments
Right before they fall”