After a day seeing the sights at Liverpool I got in the car to head home to Manchester. For some reason the motorway had been closed. I tried driving an odd route through suburbia and found myself heading toward Huyton. I decided to head to the parish church as I knew the “lost” Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe was buried there (also hoped passing some time would mean the motorway would soon open.) I’d been there before and only found ancient graves round the back then driven away disappointed. I didn’t know then that the main cemetery was across the road through a small steel gate.
I parked up by the church ready to search again. I had not eaten much and was slightly weak so I grabbed a Kitkat and decided I’d eat it when I’d Stuart’s headstone. Hours earlier I’d been at The Beatles Experience at Albert Dock and seen a photo of him. I soon got to consume the Kitkat as the graveyard was small and I found the headstone in five minutes. Here it is.
Stuart was the bassist in The Beatles before Paul McCartney. At the time they were “The Beetles”, a name invented by Stuart and John Lennon as they loved Buddy Holly’s band “The Crickets”. Before the group became known globally they lived and played in Hamburg, Germany. However at this time the group were not much different from others playing with instruments they were paying off weekly.
Stuart left the group to study art at The Hamburg College Of Art (lending his guitar to Paul McCartney until Paul could buy his own left-handed version.) He banged his head but didn’t know something was seriously wrong with him. He suffered headaches that temporarily blinded him and collapsed one day in an art class. Doctors suggested he return to Britain to get examined in a hospital with better technology. He did but they found nothing wrong with him. He returned to Hamburg but collapsed again and died of a cerebral haemorrhage (a ruptured aneurysm.) He had died in his girlfriend’s arms before the ambulance reached the hospital.
There seem to be two versions of how he banged his head:
1) He was kicked in the head in a fight after a Beatles performance (John’s little finger was broken as he fought off the attacker.) He refused medical attention and even failed to keep an X-ray appointment at Sefton General Hospital. If he’d had a scan the fracture might have been spotted and the death prevented.
2) His own mother heard Stuart had fallen down the steps leading to the attic at his girlfriend’s mother’s house in Germany.
The other Beatles didn’t hear of the death for a few days. Stuart’s mother flew to Hamburg with the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein to bring the body back to Liverpool. Stuart’s dad didn’t hear of his son's death for three weeks. He was sailing to South America and found out when he docked in Buenos Aires (his dad is buried in this grave, too.)
There are four television documentaries and five books about Stuart Sutcliffe. Who knows how different The Beatles would have been had Stuart stayed with them after they returned to Liverpool and wrote all those hits?
I ate the Kitkat and stayed in the graveyard for about 20 minutes. From any spot you could see just about all the other graves. I saw about ten war graves dotted around and went to read every one (and do a salute.) There were some rooks playing on nearby branches and one magpie on the grass. One for sorrow two for joy, I thought, and looked round for a second magpie. I didn’t see one so “one for sorrow” was true here: a kid in a grave at 21.
It had been an odd day. I’d been around the Beatles seminal spots with a friend (Mendips, Strawberry Field gate, etc.) We had called in The Cavern for a drink. Shortly after I heard Cilla Black had died at her home in Spain. We’d only just seen photos of her as the cloak room girl/waitress at The Cavern.
It took a long time to get home as the motorway was still closed but I drove back under a late evening sun with the Fab Four for company.
About to enter the grave to the cemetery. I’ll eat the Kitkat (holding it up) when I find the headstone…
I found it quite quickly…
Eating the Kitkat as planned…