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When The Beatles played shows in Hamburg, bandmates John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best, and Stuart Sutcliffe played long concerts on little sleep. They played to excited crowds until early in the morning. Sometimes, the demands from their audiences kept them onstage for hours and hours. Lennon said they sometimes performed for so long that he would fall asleep in the middle of a show.

John Lennon said he used to sleep while his bandmates played music

When The Beatles played shows in Hamburg, gangsters occasionally came in to watch them. Lennon said that when they did, The Beatles played long shows because they feared for their lives.

“All these gangsters would come in — the local Mafia,” he said in The Beatles Anthology. “They’d send a crate of champagne on stage, imitation German champagne, and we had to drink it or they’d kill us. They’d say, ‘Drink, and then do ‘What’d I Say.’ We’d have to do this show, whatever time of night. If they came in at five in the morning and we’d been playing seven hours they’d give us a crate of champagne and we were supposed to carry on.”

A black and white picture of The Beatles performing onstage while a crowd dances in front of them.
The Beatles | K & K Ulf Kruger OHG/Redferns

These shows became so exhausting for Lennon that he would fall asleep onstage.

“My voice began to hurt with the pain of singing. But we learnt from the Germans that you could stay awake by eating slimming pills so we did that,” Lennon said. “I used to be so pissed I’d be lying on the floor behind the piano, drunk, while the rest of the group was playing. I’d be on stage, fast asleep. And we always ate on stage, too, because we never had time to eat. So it was a real scene … It would be a far-out show now: eating and smoking and swearing and going to sleep on stage when you were tired.”

John Lennon and his bandmates began relying on pills to keep themselves awake

As Lennon noted, the band began to take stimulants in order to stay awake for their long shows.

“This was the point of our lives when we found pills, uppers,” Starr said. “That’s the only way we could continue playing for so long. They were called Preludin, and you could buy them over the counter. We never thought we were doing anything wrong, but we’d get really wired and go on for days. So with beer and Preludin, that’s how we survived.”

Lennon said that any hint of exhaustion melted away when they took Preludin.

“In Hamburg the waiters always had Preludin (and various other pills, but I remember Preludin because it was a big trip) and they were all taking these pills to keep themselves awake, to work these incredible hours in this all-night place,” he said. “And so the waiters, when they’d see the musicians falling over with tiredness or with drink, they’d give you the pill. You’d take the pill, you’d be talking, you’d sober up, you could work almost endlessly — until the pill wore off, then you’d have to have another.”

Ringo Starr liked it when people sent up alcohol

Unlike Lennon, Starr liked it when people sent champagne to the band. He wasn’t a member of The Beatles at this point, but he also played in Hamburg.

Ringo Starr  wears a suit and sits in an armchair.
Ringo Starr | John Pratt/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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“The Germans were fabulous, because if they liked you they would send up crates of beer,” he said. “And if there were people with money, out-of-towners or the snobs of Hamburg, they would send champagne. We didn’t give a damn, we’d drink it all.”