By Peter Lindblad
Only later would he come to realize what a momentous period in Beatles history he had been privy to.
“I was a freelancer at the time, and I was running an old Bentley,” recollects Ward, now nearing 80 years old. “And there was a magazine called Honey, which is extinct now — and that’s not a bad thing. They told me to drive up to Liverpool to photograph The Beatles. So, I drove up and met them in the pub and took a lot of pictures… [many] in The Cavern. I didn’t get to know them real well. It was right at the beginning of their careers. I didn’t much like their music. I thought they were awful. I was a jazz guy.”
Still, Ward was a professional, and he had a job to do, even though Honey was “… kind of a teenage girls’ magazine,” according to writer Andrew Thompson, and The Beatles were hardly the phenomenon they would become.
So, Ward followed John, Paul, George and Ringo around their hometown, snapping rich, gorgeously shot black-and-white images of them hanging out on Liverpool landmarks until the boys couldn’t stand being out in the frigid temperatures.
Those photos — many of them never seen before — comprise an extravagant, silk-bound, new portfolio boxed set from Genesis Publications titled “A Day In The Life: Photographs of The Beatles by Michael Ward.” (For ordering information, visit www.genesis-publications.com.)
What’s even more significant about the photos is the date on which they were taken: Feb. 19, 1963. That day, The Beatles found out their second single, “Please Please Me,” had hit #1 on the U.K. charts.
“At that time, they’d had ‘Love Me Do’ kind of getting into the Top 20 but no higher than that in the back end of 1962,” says writer Andrew Thompson, who penned the 64-page booklet that accompanies the large-print photographs. “So, they were very much an unknown quantity for most of the U.K. That evening, they played at The Cavern — and I think it was the third to last time they ever played there — and so, it was very much a transitional point in their career.”
From his research, as far as he could determine, Thompson figures The Beatles heard the news that afternoon at Brian Epstein’s office by way of a telegraph. Many of Ward’s photos were taken in the morning before word of the chart success reached the band.
“We arranged the shots in the booklet to kind of run chronologically… from what Michael told me, they started off down Pier Head down the waterfront and taking shots down there,” says Thompson, a Liverpool native. “And then, they moved their way back up to Brian Epstein’s office, which is further up in the city (A map in the front of the booklet explains where in Liverpool the photos were taken).”
That night, before a packed house, with The Beatles waiting to go onstage, Cavern compère Bob Wooler told the crowd about what had transpired earlier in the day.
“I read several accounts of people who were in the audience that night who said that the news was greeted, not badly, but with quite a lot of alarm,” says Thompson. “The crowd were quite aghast that this was happening, because it just confirmed what they already knew: That this band, who was incredibly popular locally and had a great relationship with the fans — where the fans could come and chat with them, and the fans maybe even saw it perhaps even more than The Beatles did … that something was changing here, and they weren’t going to be playing The Cavern so many times in the future.”
For his part, while he was shooting The Beatles in the morning, Ward agrees that The Beatles were blissfully unaware of what fate had in store for them. “They were sort of like zombies, feeling their way,” says Ward. “It hadn’t hit them yet how explosive it was about to be for them.”
As for the photo shoot itself, Ward, initially, didn’t think much of it. Honey “… only used one [photo] that I can remember. I didn’t think it was worthwhile as far as I could see.”
His subjects, The Beatles themselves, were generally cooperative, Ward remembers, but not all the time. The frigid temperatures had something to do with that.
“That winter in England… it doesn’t get as cold as say the northeastern United States… but the winters can be pretty cold, and that winter is kind of famous over here as being one of the coldest winters on record,” says Thompson. “That day was one of those winter days, and they’re cold. You maybe can’t see it, but they are cold, and [Ward] was cold. So [Michael] is meeting them and saying, ‘Right, let’s go around town and stand you up on these monuments and various things and take photographs.’ And after about 10 minutes, he said they were getting a bit fed up, you know? They’d kind of had enough with the [whole thing] on what started out to be a very cold day.”
Frozen as they were, The Beatles couldn’t help but have a little fun, and their hijinks that day showed that, in real life, they weren’t any different from what people saw in the 1964 film “A Hard Day’s Night.”
“The day he tried to take photos of them, [Michael] told me stories of how he could get three of them to look at the camera, but John Lennon would always be chatting to the girls, who saw him just out of the shot,” says Thompson. “Or, how about one of them, as you could see, would be drinking tea or eating a sandwich.”
Completely natural in front of the camera, The Beatles “… weren’t about to start sort of doing the traditional showbiz pose you saw Elvis and a lot of rock ’n’ rollers doing,” says Thompson. “These were completely natural shots of a band who didn’t really care if he was there or not. They were themselves, and perhaps, that’s the beauty of these shots, because they didn’t appreciate just what was about to happen to them.”
Interestingly enough, according to Thompson, Ward almost got the famous Abbey Road album cover shot seven years prior. He had them in a crosswalk, “… and, all of a sudden, Paul McCartney disappeared out of view, ’cause he just decided he wasn’t going to be in the photo. He’d had enough, and there wasn’t any chance of him doing it again. They said that was the final shot he took that day, and Paul… he especially had had enough, and he was going in somewhere warm, and that was it — end of photo shoot, for the outdoors anyway.”
It wasn’t the end for Ward, however. “I forgot all about them until I was watching television when they came home from America, and there were these huge crowds welcoming them home,” says Ward. “I thought, ‘I’d better get those negatives out.’”
Ward, who would go on to the Sunday Times, where he worked for 30 years as a photojournalist, gave some of the photos to the independent British photographic press agency Rex Features. “I only gave them four shots, though, and put the rest away,” says Ward, “and there they remained unseen for a long, long time.”
Among the 24 rare, large-format photos included in “A Day In The Life” — which is a limited-edition book, hand-signed and numbered by Ward, with only 750 available worldwide — about 10 have never been seen, according to Ward.
As much as the photos are about The Beatles, they also show the sites of a city that wasn’t known for much before the mania that surrounded the Fab Four. And at that point in time, when The Beatles were still playing a fiery, rough-and-tumble version of early rock ’n’ roll — as pop-oriented as it was — they and the city seemed perfectly suited to each other. And the touch of graininess that adorns Ward’s images — and that other photographers would kill for — captures the essence of a place, a time and a band that were about to be forever altered.
“I wasn’t around, but a lot of people said England in the early ’60s was black and white,” says Thompson, whose mother used to see The Beatles at The Cavern. “The weather is mostly grey. The buildings are mostly black from the smoke and exhaust fumes and whatever. The place was very monochrome until the advent of color TV and color film and ‘Swinging London.’ The city got a real pasting from the Germans in the war. It got bombed really heavily, and a lot of those buildings were destroyed back then, and you can see in the background of some of the photos big, wide open spaces, and they’re not buildings that have just been demolished. They’re buildings that went 20 years earlier in the Second World War.”
The Beatles would lift Liverpool up, and give the city a source of civic pride Thompson still feels to this day.
“I really like [Ward] and think he’s a great photographer, so I’m going to say he knew what he was doing, but he says not, so I can’t argue with him, because if he says, ‘No,’ then it’s a no. Whether it’s a happy accident or by design, it doesn’t really matter, because the images belong very much to the period. You can look at them, and yeah, you know the four guys in the foreground, but you can just kind of look at the images and say, ‘That’s England, and that’s the ’60s.’ And they’re very iconic in that respect.”