Back in the U.S.S.R.
Never Before Seen Beatles Photos From 1964
They’re one of the most documented bands ever, but once and a while we get to see them in a new light. Documentary filmmaker Leslie Woodhead uncovered these photos he took of the Fab Four back in 1964 when they were recording in Manchester. He tells the story of the photographs in an excerpt from his new book, How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin.
I had only recently rediscovered my rock photographs, and the show in Vladivostok would be the first time I had put them together for an exhibition. Bringing them all the way from England, nestled between the shirts and underpants in my suitcase, had made me revisit the time, almost fifty years before, when I had taken the pictures. Could it possibly have been so long ago? I could still see those afternoons in the Manchester TV studios when I was a kid with a camera. The Beatles, the Stones, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis came to record shows in the studios where I was a trainee director, finding my feet in the routines of nightly magazine programs. As the sixties began to lift off , an extraordinary parade of people who would soon become rock royalty passed through the studios to plug their latest records. The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, the Kinks, the Hollies, and countless others came and went, most of them without causing much of a stir. The Rolling Stones did upset one producer, who declared that their hair was unacceptably long for a family program and tried to have them ejected. Crisis talks ensued, hair was preserved, and the Stones did their thing.
My boyhood passion for photography had recently been rekindled by a new single-lens reflex camera, and from time to time I wandered into the studios where the visiting rock folk were performing to grab pictures. Following that first filming with the Beatles in August 1962, I had renewed the acquaintance when they came to perform “Please Please Me” in January 1963. Over the following year they returned regularly to the Manchester studio, and when they came to perform “I Should Have Known Better” in October 1964, I grabbed a single roll of film, exchanged a few words with the boys, and moved around the studio snapping a couple dozen shots as they rehearsed the song. I finished the roll of film, and then went back to working in another studio on a program about the history of cycling. Over the next few months, I looked in on other rock people with my camera and took a few more rolls of film. And then, unaccountably, I lost my rock photos.
Where the hell were they? Why didn’t I take hundreds more pictures? How could I have been so casual about having a front- row seat as the giants of 1960s rock ’n’ roll paraded past my camera? From time to time I kept looking, but after a while I reckoned that between office juggling and house moves, they must have slipped through the cracks in my life. That was how it was, after all, with making documentaries. I would be consumingly involved with a project for a few weeks or months—guerrilla war in Africa, earthquake in Peru, nomadic tribes in Ethiopia, jazz in New Orleans—and then one night the film would be broadcast, and the next morning it was gone. All those intense relationships, the war criminals, the saints, the film crews, the never- ending cycle of engaging and moving on. I took thousands of photos wherever I went, but I kept remembering the missing rock photos. Where were they? Were they any good? Might they be worth a fortune?
And then, not long ago, I had found them. I opened a drawer and there they were, shut away in a plain envelope. I peered at the shadowy images preserved on negatives—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis. They had slumbered in my drawer over the decades, like pharaohs snoozing in their tombs. I was ecstatic. I hunted down a man who could print the negatives, a rare craftsman in an age where digital cameras had made black- and- white negatives as irrelevant as typewriters and carbon paper. In a London basement, I watched as Peter Guest—who prints Linda McCartney’s archive—coaxed life back into my old negatives. The Fab Four swam up out of the developing bath, youngsters again on the verge of everything.
Reprinted from How The Beatles Rocked the Kremlin. Copyright © 2013 by Leslie Woodhead. Used by permission of Bloomsbury USA.