The Last Beatles Photo Shoot

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13th Aug, 2013

You could have cut the tension with a knife (0r with George Harrison’s giant hat) …

They had just finished recording the last album they would ever make together, and relations between the four band members of the Beatles were at an all-time low. George Harrison had walked out for five days during the recording of Abbey Road and threatened to leave the band all together. Lennon called the experience of recording the album “hell … the most miserable … on Earth”. Soon after the last track was laid down, they had their last photo shoot. Despite the bright and beautiful backdrop, there was no hiding the dark mood that day.

In August of 1969, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison joined John Lennon at his newly purchased 72-acre estate with Yoko Ono in Sunninghill, Berkshire. They were photographed by Ethan Russell and Monte Fresco in the run up to the release of the last two albums the group would ever release, Abbey Road (September 1969) and Let it Be (May 1970).

Linda McCartney was also present at the shoot, heavily pregnant at the time. She even shot some of her own 16mm footage with Paul’s camera that turned out to be the last film ever taken of the band.

Throughout the pictures, including some ‘behind the scenes’ ones taken by the Beatles assistant Mal Evans, you can see George Harrison looking particularly withdrawn from the rest of the group. He was not a happy Beatle.

Of the moment Harrison walked out on the band’s recording session at Twickenham studios, director of the Beatles Anthology documentary, Michael Lindsay Hogg recalls the tension:

“See you ’round the clubs,” he said.

That was his good-bye. He left.

John, a person who reacted aggressively to provocation, immediately said, “Let’s get in Eric. He’s just as good and not such a headache.”

–Luck and Circumstance, Michael Lindsay Hogg

In these photographs it looks like the photographer might have had to ask a sulking George to stand up and join the group for the shot. A little joke might have lightened the mood…

George later gave his side of the story of his walkout in the Beatles Anthology:

They were filming us having a row. It never came to blows, but I thought, ‘What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.’

Everybody had gone through that. Ringo had left at one point. I know John wanted out. It was a very, very difficult, stressful time, and being filmed having a row as well was terrible. I got up and I thought, ‘I’m not doing this any more. I’m out of here.’ So I got my guitar and went home and that afternoon wrote Wah-Wah.

It became stifling, so that although this new album was supposed to break away from that type of recording (we were going back to playing live) it was still very much that kind of situation where he already had in his mind what he wanted. Paul wanted nobody to play on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!’

Then superimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time. John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.

It’s important to state that a lot of water has gone under the bridge and that, as we talk now, everybody’s good friends and we have a better understanding of the past. But talking about what was happening at that time, you can see it was strange.

Yoko Ono wasn’t hugely popular with the other members of the band, to say the least. And to make things worse, where there had previously been a “no girlfriends in the studio” rule, John had begun insisting on bringing her to their sessions.

After George’s walkout in the summer of 1969, the band went back to work after lunch and Michael Lindsay Hogg recalls the moment Yoko joined in on an impromptu jamming with the band.

“Yoko sat on the edge of the rostrum on the blue cushion which had been George’s and howled into his mike.”

Ringo Starr also remembers the jam session:

“George left because Paul and he were having a heated discussion … When we came back he still wasn’t there, so we started jamming violently. Paul was playing his bass into the amp and John was off, and I was playing some weird drumming that I hadn’t done before. I don’t play like that as a rule. Our reaction was really, really interesting at the time. And Yoko jumped in, of course; she was there.”

Beatles Anthology.

After the murder of Lennon in 1980, Harrison rewrote the lyrics to his song, “All Those Years Ago”:

I’m talking all about how to give
They don’t act with much honesty
But you point the way to the truth when you say
All you need is love.

Living with good and bad
I always look up to you
Now we’re left cold and sad
By someone the devils best friend
Someone who offended all.

We’re living in a bad dream
They’ve forgotten all about mankind
And you were the one they backed up to
The wall
All those years ago
You were the one who imagined it all
All those years ago.

Deep in the darkest night
I send out a prayer to you
Now in the world of light
Where the spirit free of the lies
And all else that we despised.

They’ve forgotten all about god
He’s the only reason we exist
Yet you were the one that they said was
So weird
All those years ago
You said it all though not many had ears
All those years ago
You had control of our smiles and our tears
All those years ago

Images thanks to the Beatles Bible

The Beatles Anthology is available to buy on Amazon.

The Beatles on iTunes

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