Two historic days, two photographers, two defining periods in music history, both coming together in one single exhibition, Two Days in the Life of The Beatles.
Before discussing the incredible success of this exhibition at Idea Generation Gallery, we can't possibly continue without reminiscing on the 19th February 1963, Liverpool. It was one of the last times The Beatles' performed at The Cavern Club; between 1961 to 1963 The Beatles made around 292 appearances at the club. Their rise in popularity meant that they had outgrew this small cellar and went on to play in some huge venues across the world. Just before their rise to fame, renowned photographer Michael Ward captured the band with 24 shots in total and undoubtedly captured a turning point for the band, as on this very day their first UK number one was announced. Ward happened to snapshot the men behind one of the biggest musical landslides the world has ever seen, 'Beatlemania', the very day it came into fruition, even though he had never heard of the band. Ward quotes, "People seem to make it very complicated, but it’s all really very simple – I just happened to be there". He accompanied the band as they moved from location to location across the city – from Pier Head Docks, to Brian Epstein’s office, to of course, the Cavern Club.
Jump to only 5 years later on 28th July, 1968 when Tom Murray was asked by legendary war photographer Don McCullen to join him for a photo shoot of a popular rock and roll group, having had no idea that the band would be none other than The Beatles. This day became known as the 'Mad Day Out' due to being incredibly fast paced and frenzied. Murray had only shot two rolls of film with no flash and no tripod, in various locations around London including Thompson House, Wapping Pier Head, St. Pancras, and Old Street Station, at the absolute height of their fame and musical domination. The band decided to take a break from recording the White Album with this photo shoot, and just almost 4 months later on 22 November 1968, the White Album was released. Non-surprisingly, it became the fastest-selling album in history; Capitol Records reported advance orders of 2 million in the US, with many stores selling their entire stock in one day. For Tom Murray and Don McCullen to have captured the essence of the band, with the results being a riot of colour and character and capturing the vitality, energy and mischief of the mighty quartet, it was a moment in history that shall never be forgotten, both in musical history, as well as for Murray. “Don never told me who we were shooting. He said ‘Bring along your camera – you might get some nice snaps.’ Boy, was he right.” - Tom Murray.
Both Michael Ward and Tom Murray, alongside picturing both the essential time periods of importance for the worlds most beloved band, made their portraits so effortlessly perfect to the time period and essence of The Beatles. Ward's black and white portraits encapsulated the era with exemplary style, taste and precision. With backstage shots of them practicing, to onstage shots in The Cavern Club with the iridescent crisp white light orbiting them, like the band is stood on the moon. Ward stated, "The first thing that hit me about the Cavern was, "There's no light - how can I take pictures in this place?" I held the camera at 1/15th of a second - I don't think there are many pictures taken without flash in the Cavern." Furthermore, he captured the band wandering the streets of their hometown, still in black and white, bleak but somehow full of life and innocence. Picturing the band before world domination, unfathomable success and fanaticism engulfed the band whole. Ward's photography altogether is superb, and aside from one or two frames, the historic photographs of The Beatles lay unseen for four decades. His photographic archive includes portraits of musicians, visual artists and actors, including Julie Christie, Pattie Boyd, Marianne Faithfull, Gary Cooper, Hugh Grant, David Hockney and Pauline Boty. Ward would go on to enjoy a 30-year career with the Sunday Times, creating photo essays in the world of business and politics, as a war correspondent, and behind-the-scenes in theatre and fashion. His work will always be treasured, and his contribution to timeless history thanked by the many.
Tom Murray's lens and eye for taking such picturesque and stunning portraits is spectacular, especially his pictures taken of The Beatles during the mad day out photo shoot. He put so much life into each shot, and the colourful pinks of Paul's suit, the psychedelic patterns George sported through his very sixties attire, Ringo's popped up bright yellow button-up shirt paired with a dark blue suit, and Lennon's puffy grizzly bear brown fur coat. Each and every single element shone in these images, especially with the scenery around the band. The most stand-out portraits are of the four sitting around Japanese anemones and hollyhocks, with the flowers beautiful coral pink tones matching harmoniously with Paul and the band's striking aesthetics. Murray, using his every effort whilst completely starstruck, created some of the most iconic imagery seen from the golden age of The Beatles. As well as capturing such historical imagery, Murray has some beautiful behind the scenes stories to share. “John wanted to be photographed next to Karl Marx’s tomb, but when we got to Highgate Cemetery the gate was locked, so they stood in front of a little house nearby, and we shot them there.” Murray learned later that two young girls inside the house had shouted, “Dad! Dad! It’s the Beatles outside!” But their father hadn’t believed them, and by the time he got to the window they were leaving.
Part of what made this exhibition so spectacular was the showcasing of the contrasts between the two Beatles eras, just by showing two 24 hour spans of time in the world of photography. Although the exhibition included imagery from two legendary photographers and photojournalists, they are somehow worlds apart, with Michael Ward being commissioned to take the Liverpool band's photos not even knowing who they are, with post-war black and white photography, to Tom Murray's disbelief that he's in fact taking portraits of the most popular band of all time in the peak of their careers, in full colour encapsulating their bright and silly personalities and cartoonish attire. For Idea Generation to have hosted such memorable moments for both music photography and music history, and put it all into an exhibition is one to remember.
Two Days In The Life: The Beatles exhibition opened from from 29th May to 5th July, 2008 at Idea Generation Gallery, London.
Blog by Libby Mitchell