I was chatting to Jim, an aquaintance in the gym, yesterday and he mentioned The Who. “Greatest rock band in the world”, I said. He agreed – and we agreed, not necessarily musically, too many great bands for a ‘best’ to exist but greatest in terms of spectacle, laser lights, Townshend’s windmilling right arm, Moony thrashing the drums, Daltry flailing the mic.
“I took the last picture of them together as a band before Keith Moon died”, I said. I thought Jim might be interested. Pink Floyd in their song of isolation Hey you! mention “people with itchy feet and fading smiles”. I suddenly felt exactly what they meant. I was the bragger, the bluffer, the boaster. Everyone was embarrassed. I dropped the subject but I felt sore as much as embarrassed. I did take the last ever pciture of The Who together. It was at Kilburn Empire where they were rehearsing. It was in August 1978. The picture sells over and over again. I shot it in the lobby of the cinema on my Hasselblad and using a pair of Bowens studio lamps. Daltry joked, as I was getting them in position, “new band then, are we?” I shot it on Ektachrome 64. Honest.
It’s a constant difficulty this. People do talk about their work. I was lucky enough to be in a job that took me all over the world, I worked with film stars and rock legends, politicians and criminals, beautiful models and starving refugees. Someone has to do the job and I was one of the ones who did. A mechanic can talk about changing the brake pads on a Ferrari but if I talk about having a coffee with Kirk Douglas, I’m a liar or a dreamer. I’m used to it now and only occasionally does my guard come down. I suppose it’s why my best friend is an ex-journalist, now film scriptwriter. We can talk about anything without sounding – to one another at least – like name-droppers.
The thing is, you work with these people. You’re not mates, you are not in and out of their houses. I worked with Paul and Linda McCartney for a couple of years in their Wings period, some of the most enjoyable and exacting work I ever did. I went to two of their houses, one in the Mull of Kintyre in Scotland, the other in east Sussex in south east England. Both occasions were working. People like the McCartneys have enough friends and keep a distance from people they work with. It wasn’t obvious, Paul and Linda were a friendly and appreciative couple and they paid me handsomely. But they did expect results and I gleaned that my predecessor as their photograher had become a little over-familiar.
I worked with Rod Stewart and Ray Davies and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Dusty Springfield, Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich. How that for name dropping? And those were just a tiny few. The ones of them still alive won’t remember me any more than I remember the roofer who patched my roof 20 years ago.
I have a fund of funny and sad stories about my work and experiences but no-one to tell them to. Or rather, I didn’t. Because there’s you. You may not read my incredibly hilarious and amazingly entertaining tales but I can’t know that. I can assume you’ve read it all. And the reason that there’s no reaction, no feedback is that you are stunned, rendered speechless by my glamorous friends and lifestyle and my brilliant raconteurism.
It reminds me of when it finally dawned on me why, when I stayed in glamorous hotels across the world, none of the glamorous women in the bar would acknowledge my existence. It was a bit of a downer. But then the reason dawned on me. When I walked into the room, they took one look and resolved then and there to have nothing to do with me. Because they knew that after a few moments in my company, they would fall deeply, irretrievably in love with me. And then I would leave for my next assignment and they would be left heart-broken, picking up the pieces of their shattered lives and living only for my return. It was too great an emotional risk. Better to ignore me.
Here’s a funny thing I remember. It was at Twickenham Studios and the McCartneys were shooting the video for Mull of Kintyre. They had flown the Campbeltown Pipers down to appear out of the ‘misty’ background and march past and around Paul, Linda and Denny Laine, playing the theme on bagpipes. The stage area was raised by about a foot, so as the pipers marched past the camera, they stepped down from the little stage and stopped, ready to go to the back of the set for the next take. It was quite a complicated setup to shoot and would take quite a few takes to perfect. What no-one except the Pipers knew was that they had crates of McKewans Scottish Ale at the back of the set and each time they went back for a new take they drank a can.
The last take, the Pipers marched past Paul, Linda and Denny but one of the leaders tripped stepping off the little stage. The others marched on regardless only to find their way impeded by the now horizontal leading pipers, over whom they proceeded to trip. I was looking at at writhing sea of kilts, legs, sporrans, bagpipes and bewildered horizontal pipers. I will never forget the faces of Paul, Linda and Denny. The beauty of it was that it all happened just past camera. And the video was great.
The saddest story was of Keith Moon. I was meeting him with journalist John Blake, now head of Blake Publishing, in a private room on the top of a bar in Leicester Square, London. Keith had been off the booze for a couple of weeks and was feeling good and that was what the interview was about. John had finished his interview, Keith had left and I was packing my cameras away. One of the roadies came up to me laughing. Keith was really boring when he was sober, he said, so he’d slipped a double vodka into his glass of water. Maybe I’m over-reacting but it seemed one of the most casually evil acts I’d come across.
Anyway, I’m going to finish off by name dropping, bragging, bluffing and boasting. This is my proudest picture. I could say this is me with Spinal Tap but that’s not the way I see it. This is Spinal Tap with me.