Hamburg, the Beatles and the sweet music of success…

As regular readers will know, I’m a big believer in the theory that it takes 10, 000 hours of practice to be good at something.

But, while practice makes perfect, there are other factors that can control success and give some of us an exceptional advantage over others in our field. While I don’t claim to be successful just yet, any talent I have when it comes to writing stems back to the hours of practice I put in as a youth.

My parents’ house was so far out of town I had little else to do on some evenings but write and be creative.

But, let’s use a more interesting case study…’The Beatles’. If you haven’t heard of them…then…where have you been? They defined popular music and elevated it to the dizziest contemporary heights imaginable.

Many people still wonder, even now, what it was that made them so good. I believe that part of it was due to some gigs they played in a German city…

An unlikely twist of fate took them to the city of Hamburg when they were very young…and it was that same twist of fate that helped give them something of an edge over the other bands and solo artists of the day.


Back in the day, as a small band of high school kids, The Beatles were lucky enough to get an invite to play in Germany. And, they took it – one of the reasons being that they had access to a lot of alcohol and sex over there. The other reason (more relevant to this post) is the access that it gave them to clubs who wanted them to play live music to big crowds.

When it came to gigging, the Hamburg clubs differed to the English ones in a key way. Back in Blighty the guys were asked to play a set for an hour, or maybe two if they were lucky.

But, in Hamburg, the club promoters wanted them to play all night – meaning that they’d often be going for 6-8 hours!

Imagine that…gigging for eight hours! I can only imagine the sweat.

Not only that, but as the guys’ popularity skyrocketed in Germany, the Hamburg clubs wanted them to play every night of the week. Some fifty-six hours of performing. In total, after several trips, they played for 270 nights in just over a year and a half.

This meant that the guys had to improve their stamina, their stage presence and, above all, they had to learn more songs.

They couldn’t get by with just playing their go-to ‘hits’ they had to learn loads of new songs and even different genres – such as a few jazz numbers. This gave them a discipline on stage that other bands at the time just didn’t learn – plus, it gave them plenty of time to practice until they made it perfect.

As John Lennon said; “in Liverpool we’d only ever done one-hour sessions, and we just used to do our best numbers, the same ones, at every one. In Hamburg, we had to play for eight hours, so we really had to find a new way of playing”.

So, as someone who wants to make it as a creative – you need to look out for your Hamburg. Something special that gives you an edge or an experience over the others. Whether it be using weird dreams you had as a kid to influence your art, or maybe booking a month off work and going to your grandparents’ quiet holiday house on the coast to write uninterrupted.

The research for this post mostly came from Malcolm Gladwell’s fantastic book ‘Outliers‘, I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in success and talent.

by Ashley Brown 2017


A kinder, gentler philosophy of success…

It’s weird sometimes to think that, even in this digital day and age, we have philosophers.

But…we do. The guy in the video, Alain de Botton, is one of the ones that I like the most.

As a creative you may well berate yourself at times for not quite being where you want to be right now.

I know I do.

So, watch the talk above and see how it makes you feel!

Lessons from Charlie B…

“I don’t make movies for critics, since they don’t pay to see them anyway.”
– Charles Bronson.

It’s funny how sometimes the simplest quotes make so much sense, and that they’re often the ones you remember. A family friend, while really ill, said the simplest thing to me a few years back, “the one thing you need in life is good friends”. He’s sadly no longer with us, but that quote – as simple as it was – is one that’ll stick with me through the ages.

Once in a while you do just need someone to point out the obvious to you, or the things you think you already know – because sometimes you take that knowledge for granted, to the point where you don’t even apply it.

However, that’s not what this post is about – although maybe I should do a blog on that subject too! I don’t know if you’ll recognise the chap in the featured picture (mainly because, dear reader, I don’t know who you are!) – but, just in case you don’t his name’s Charles Bronson.

He was in loads of westerns and crime movies from the 50s through to the 90s and was perhaps the most hard-bitten, anti-hero to ever walk amongst the reels and projectors of Filmland.

This simple quote about critics has stuck with me since I’ve read it. Sure we may all want critical acclaim, but the critics don’t control things as much as they used to – the power of e-publishing and open media has changed that.

Plus just getting a book published means it’ll make its way onto the New York Times Bestseller List anyway so…

So yeah, write for your fan-base, write for the people who want to read your books. There are thousands of great writers who churn out classic after classic just for their fan base, and they likely make a decent buck or two from it.

Think of all those terrible Mills & Boon pulp romances – they sold 3.3 million paperbacks in 2010, and god knows how many online editions. If you love money, there’s a love story in buying some shares in those guys!

Success comes in many formats – receiving a gold mark from someone who is paid to be critical (and not to enjoy) is just one of them.

Of course, if you’re a blog critic please feel free to give this blog a great review and heads-up so I can become the greatest writer who ever did live.

That was your lesson, class dismissed.