After 60+ years of The Beatles, you wouldn't think there'd be anything left to see or hear by the band that hasn't already been seen or heard before, but if 2023 has proven nothing else, it's certainly proven that that's very much not the case...and, no, we're not just talking about "Now and Then." Indeed, this year has also brought us an amazing collection of photos that Paul McCartney himself took during 1963-1964 but had never before offered up for display.
Of course, he's released them in a book - 1964: Eyes of the Storm - but earlier this year McCartney put them on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London, and now he's brought the show to the States. The exhibit is kicking off its US tour at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, and - what luck! - it just so happens that one of Q's senior editors is based only a few miles away from the museum, thereby enabling him to attend the press preview and be part of the tour of the exhibit given by McCartney's photographic curator and archivist, Sarah Brown.
If you'd like to check out the Chrysler Museum's website and get details on how to visit the exhibit in person, just click right here. But if you'd like to follow Sarah along on the tour for a bit - if not necessarily all of it, because we've got to leave some surprises for you, haven't we? - then read on...
"In 2020, while working on his late wife Linda McCartney's photography exhibitions that I curate and manage, Paul kind of mentioned these photographs that he happened to have and asked if they were still in existence, if we had them in the archive. And I was pleased to say we did, and that they were pretty good pictures! And what he was pleasantly surprised to find was how well they'd been preserved in this archive - they'd been digitized - and also how they really brought back such tremendous memories for him. So how Paul describes this exhibition is a personal journal, really, of him from November 1963 in Liverpool and London, England, traveling to Paris in January, then to New York, DC, and Miami. And for context, Beatlemania the term was coined by the British press in October 1963, so this is really the beginning of this phenomenon that we now know as Beatlemania. And what's really nice is that we've seen so many pictures of the Beatles throughout time, but this is the first time that you're really getting a look at it from the inside out.
"The title, Eyes of the Storm, Paul and I were chatting about what he wanted to call the exhibition, and he kind of said that he didn't see there being any other way to sum up the pandemonium of those three months, this very condensed period of time where they did so much, other than being the storm, and the eye of the storm. But then when he looked at the pictures, he really felt, 'Actually, this is eyes. This is not only me and my eye and me being in the center of the storm, it's my bandmates and our families.' And then it's also the photographers that were taking pictures of them. They were surrounded by photographers all the time, which you'll see. And a nice thing to know about that is that people say to Paul, 'Well, wasn't that claustrophobic? Didn't you feel like an animal in a cage?' And he would say, "No, it's exactly what we signed up for. It's exactly what we wanted. We wanted success." And this timeline shows how much they did in this really short period of time. But, you know, there were years and years and years of hard work and crafting even more this moment. So this wasn't a sudden new thing to them. This is something they'd been really working hard for.
"There were about a thousand photographs from this really tight period of time, but we didn't have all of the negatives. They've sadly been lost. But what Paul had managed to keep ahold of is all the original contact sheets. So what we had to do was... For some of the pictures, we had to take scans from the original contact sheets to then get the beautiful prints that we've got on the walls, which took a lot of scanning, technology, and working with printers in London to get them. And Paul is really involved. Paul has chosen every single photograph in the exhibition, he's chosen the wall colors, he's chosen the frames. We worked really hard on this alongside the gallery in London and our team in London. So I think you're really getting a personal insight into not only this moment in time but him working today, which is a really nice thing.
"Also, not only does the exhibition show this whirlwind period of time, these intimate moments that nobody else could've captured, but it also shows Paul's interest in photography, his appreciation for the medium, and his interest and intrigue in technology, not only in 1963 and 1964 but today. Like, 'How can we make these the best they can be?' And if you hear some music [over the wall], that's in the last room, and that's a film that he made specifically for this exhibition."
"We're in Liverpool and London [in this room], and this red... We call this 'Theaterland Red,' which...red paint is to evoke the cinema chairs, the red curtains of the stages they were performing on. The Beatles were not performing to big stadiums yet. They were performing in old cinemas and small theaters in a lot of small English towns, and they were working really, really hard. And this is where Paul first picked up a camera. And what we have is a lot of interior shots here. It's a lot of behind the scenes: Ringo looking bored, Ringo eating his dinner, George sitting in a dressing room... These moments that no one else could've captured unless you were a part of the band. A nice thing to also note is that he's captured pictures of fellow performers. They weren't big enough yet to be performing just by themselves, they were performing on bills with many other British bands, and Paul... That's obviously what he was interested in - his other musicians - and he gave them a lot of profile in his pictures, which is really nice to see.
"Another way to describe this... Paul mentions in a quote [painted] here on the wall how this is very much an England of his parents' generation. This is only 20 years after the war, England is still going through food rationing since World War II, and people like his parents never traveled. People didn't leave England. And you'll see throughout the expedition, I hope, how the photographs do change throughout this period of time. Like, in Paris, it's much more film noir and new wave cinema, and then we get to America, where everything is bigger and bolder.
"You'll see we've got prints here that have what you call grease pencil markings. That's because we don't have the original negatives, so you can see what we've done here is take scans from the contact sheets to get these on the wall. And the markings are Paul's from the 1960s, as is all this writing on the wall. These are all from the back of the contact sheets from the 1960s. So Paul would get his contact sheets back to look at the photographs he'd taken, and he'd mark them up to remind himself, obviously, what the pictures were of. He said his intention was to get prints made for friends and family, but life got in the way, and being in the biggest band in the world, he never quite got around to that! So that's why we do have markings, but they've never appeared anywhere else until now!
"In Liverpool and London, they performed something called the Christmas show, which ran through till the middle of January, and then after that the band very quickly went to Paris, where they did 18 days of shows, twice a day, and I think they only had two days off. So, again, that's just to remind you about how hard they were working. But also, they really did get to enjoy the city, and you can see how Paul has captured it from what he says is a tourist angle. We've got [French architecture] and, as you can see, we've got passers-by. A nice thing to notice is that these passers-by in France, they're very nonchalant, they're not bothered that the Beatles are passing them. They're very French. Too cool for school. [Laughs.] And Paul loves that about it. He loves that they're not in hysteria seeing them.
"And what we've done in this room... This whole room is taken from contact sheets. We didn't have any negatives. Oh, and another nice thing to mention is that Paul asked if we could do anything more sustainable for the exhibition, if we could reuse materials, so the National Portrait Gallery came up with the idea of reusing vintage frames from their collection, which is what you see. All the gold frames are pulled from the Portrait Gallery in London's collection, and Paul got to choose what photos went in them.
"What I like about this room also is that it's very new wave cinema. We see it becoming a little bit more sexy, a little bit more cool... The Beatles look a little bit more serious than goofing around in Liverpool and London, But at the same time, that Beatles humor is still there. They've got these silly hats on from a photo shoot they did, and we also really see the photographers coming into play here. On the pictures here, you can see how they were surrounded by photographers, they would do photo shoots... And Paul is very quick to say that he is not trying to be a master photographer. Paul is saying that he was in the right place at the right time, taking pictures of his friends for memories, and that he's an amateur photographer, they just so happen to be pretty good pictures. That's what we've been asked to remember.
"A nice story here is that he took this during a recording session, and when they had the show open in London, this man's son got in touch to say that this was his dad, and that he was the bass player for Johnny Hallyday, the huge French musician. And a nice thing that all kind of comes full circle is that for John Lennon's 21st birthday, him and Paul hitchhiked - I think in 1961 - to Paris, and they went to see Johnny Hallyday play at the Olympia Theater, which is then where the Beatles would perform. We have the marquee up on the wall here. So not only three years later did the Beatles get to perform at the Olympia where they went and saw Johnny Hallyday, but he came to watch them, and then they did a session with his musicians, and Paul took this amazing picture of Ralph DiPietro. His son said, 'There's no pictures of my dad playing music. Everybody was always so focused on Johnny!' But, of course, Paul spotted the bass player and took a great picture of him.
"One last thing before we move on is, we've got something really special here. These are facsimiles, but they've never before left the Paul McCartney archive: these are the original handwritten lyrics to 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand,' which the Beatles found out in Paris that it had gone to #1 in the US. And that's when Paul said, 'Okay, we can go to the US now. We've got a #1 there.' So it's really special to have these on show. And then this is just a really fun thing that our archivist also found while researching for this show in the archive, but it's Paul's diary from when he hitchhiked in 1961, and it's written like a poem. It's very funny. I really recommend you read it. And if you use the Bloomberg Connect app, there should be a transcription of this on there, too, if you can't quite read his handwriting. But it's very funny, with him describing what it was like to be at Johnny Hallyday's gig as well as his doodles for what the Beatles logo would look like."
"Now we're going to take you to New York, which is really where we see the kind of Beatlemania in Paul's pictures coming to life. This is also the cover of the book that accompanies the exhibition, which has some fantastic essays in it that I really recommend you read for further context. This is in their car going down the Avenue of the Americas in New York City, and you've got people chasing them. And this is where we start to see the kind of more tourist angle to the photos coming. We've got this photo of Columbus Circle because the US, to the band at the time, they saw it as the land of the free, they saw it as this place that hadn't been physically touched by the war. It was modern, it was bolder, it was bigger...and you'll start to see that in Paul's photographs. He was really interested in wordplay and billboards and things that we just didn't really have in the UK at the time.
"Throughout the exhibition we also have some nice quotes by Paul, which I really recommend you read. This one explains how seeing all these mounted policemen and screaming fans outside the Plaza Hotel where they were staying in New York, he really thought it was exciting, like they were the stars of a film. Like I said earlier, they were just mesmerized by this. They also didn't know how long it was going to last. They didn't know the trajectory they were on. They knew they loved what they did, but they didn't realize they were going to become this pop culture folklore that really happened. Paul said he also took pictures as just a way to remember the moment, because he didn't know how long it was going to last. So that's what we've really got in New York. We've got these scenes of them arriving at the Plaza and the pandemonium to interior shots of them in the Plaza Hotel.
"Also, you start to see Paul being interested in the American face. As a British person, it's kind of, like, 'Oh, these are different people to me. Let's look at that!' And the uniforms of the policemen were so different to what we had in the UK. Again, there's this tourist angle coming in, as well as photographers reminding them that they were never truly alone. One nice story says about this picture is that he can still hear what they're shouting, which is, 'Hey, Beatle! Hey, Beatle!' Because nobody knew their names yet, so he said they all just called them 'Beatles' the whole time. So when he looks at this picture, that's all he can hear: 'Hey, Beatle! Hey, Beatle!'"