Gary James' Interview With Photographer
Ian Wright

Ian Wright was there for the British Invasion. Well actually, to be technically correct, he was there before. He photographed the British groups as they were rising through the ranks. Ian Wright has released a select group of photos for the world to see in his book On The Brink Of Fame, Pop Stars In The Swinging 60s.

Q - Talk about being in the right place at the right time with the right stuff. That was you! But did you realize it at the time?

A - No, you couldn't because it only evolved afterwards. These are just what I call my work that I did that was commissioned by Harold Evans, now Sir Harold Evans. This was the first supplement he ever did in 1961 - 1962. You couldn't have envisioned that that was gonna happen. I remember talking to John Lennon, who when I first met him, they weren't famous. They were what was known as the bottom of the bill wages on the variety show. That's when I first heard of them. He asked me to send photographs to his Aunt Mimi, taken of them and any cuttings because she, like my mother, was keeping a scrapbook just to see how far they went. So really they weren't expecting to become famous. But they were trying to keep a record of where they'd been, photographs of what they've done, just to have a record to show that they had done something.

Q - I'd always read that John would say to the others, "Where are we going lads? To the toppermost of the poppermost," or something to that effect.

A - One of the problems is, I was only sort of 15, 16 years old when I first got out there. I didn't actually interview them. My knowing of them and The Stones and all these other people that I met, I met them before they actually realized how famous they were. They didn't have a hit. They weren't even in the charts. They were getting 80 a week, $160 a week at that time for the four of them. They had to pay all of their own hotel expenses and they had to do two shows a night, seven days a week on a variety show. They were getting bottom of the bill wages.

Q - This was in London?

A - No, no, no. This was a nation-wide tour. They were on a bus. They were on the Helen Shapiro Variety Show. Helen Shapiro was top of the bill. Then you had three Kestrels, four Beatles, three Vernon girls, twelve Tilla girls, sort of Las Vegas showgirls, dancing trouper girls. They weren't even in the charts when I first heard them do a five song set in February '63. "Please Please Me" didn't get in the charts 'til March of that year.

Q - You didn't travel with them on the bus did you?

A - No. I was on the bike.

Q - On a bike?

A - Yes. I was on a bicycle. I was too young to drive.

Q - So, did you go around and see them at different gigs?

A - Yeah. There was, how can I put it? A definite calendar of events. They would only play at certain theatres that could sort of handle at least 1,000 plus and most of the day jobs were cinemas. And then in an evening when these tours came into town, they would close the cinema down and put the show on. They'd do two shows a night, one at half past six and one at half past eight. Within my little region of Northeast England, I was taking these pictures, I was 250 - 260 miles Northeast of London. We were out in what you would call "the boonies". That's where I started, at this little newspaper which has long since died and the supplement has long since died. Harold Evans eventually moved to America and was President and Publisher of Random House. He co-founded Conde Mast Travel Magazine. He's still alive, kickin' and well. I just helped him collaborate on his memoirs and he's 80 now. But that was his very, very first supplement that he ever did. It was called The Teenage Special and he gave me two pieces of advice: "Go out and photograph everybody on the bill 'cause you don't know who's gonna become famous" and the second thing he said was: "Keep all your negatives."

Q - Hey, good pieces of advice!

A - Cool.

Q - How did you find The Beatles to be? Were they friendly? Were they quiet?

A - They weren't quiet, no. All of them obviously were a different personality. I didn't know them at all when they were in their leather jackets and jeans and they were tramping around Hamburg. When I first met them on that first U.K. tour, they were only three days into that tour. I took a picture of them from the auditorium, onstage. Just one picture, because I never heard of them. I didn't know who they were. Then, I heard them play "All My Lovin'", "Please Please Me", "Twist And Shout", "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Mister Postman". I just thought to myself, who the hell are these guys? This is terrific! I heard Lennon on the harmonica. And instead of actually leaving between the shows to peddle back home, because it would take me sometimes three hours to peddle back, peddle there and peddle back on my bike; I strapped all my cameras, because in those days I had a big plate camera. That year it was the worst winter in England in 100 years. I was peddling through snow storms and frost and ice. It was horrific. But, after I'd heard this sound, I was hooked. I knew there was something good there. I knew this was just fantastic. So I went backstage. They were in the dressing room and the dressing room door was closed. I knocked on the door and I didn't know which one it was who opened it, but later I realized it was John Lennon who opened the door. I told him who I was and I said "I've got a great idea for a photograph. Are you guys up for it?" He said "What is it?" And right opposite the dressing room door was the theatre lift, with the old fashioned concertina doors. I said "Look, I want to put you guys in the lift and the top of the caption above the photograph, it'll have "On The Way Up." I had no doubt these guys were gonna skyrocket. They just needed the timing, in the right place at the right time, and they were just gonna take off. I knew it. All Lennon said to the rest of them was "Get in the lift lads. He wants to take a photograph." So they posed in the lift. I just did the one photograph and they started to walk out. I had to stop them walking out because I didn't know who they were and I needed to get the names left to right. And it was Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr. Now John was the leader. John was the oldest of all the four Beatles. He was very insecure because he was from a broken home. He was very distraught when his mother was tragically killed in a car accident when he was very young. He was the one that would get in your face. He was the one that would push everybody around. He was the one that was right in your face, but in a nice way. This was this insecurity that was coming out. He was going to kick you before somebody kicked him. So, he was sort of the leader of the pack. He was a former greaser, a former Teddy Boy. John didn't take shit from anybody. But he was really nice. All Paul was interested in was birds, women. That's all he was chasing. He always had a girl on his arm. George would just sit in that dressing room and have three cigarettes going on at once. He was a dreadful chain smoker. He's be just playing that Gretsch (guitar) and he'd be strumming away and he would have cigarettes going on all around the room. Then you got to the sweetheart of the group - Ringo. Always just an absolute little jewel. I mean he was so sweet, so nice, so captivating. He said to me on the second tour, after I got to know them, "Hey Wrighty, do you like salmon?" I said "Yeah, I like salmon." I said "My mum makes 'em. John West". (was the maker of the tins of salmon) He said "Yeah. We have that at our house in Liverpool. Me mum made salmon." He said "We were at a big, fancy presentation the other night at the Dorchester Hotel. They gave us something called salmon." I said "What do you mean 'they gave us something called salmon'?" He said "Well, it came in strips and they called it smoked salmon. I never had that before. You don't get that in Liverpool. It tasted bloody awful!" So what you got there was a mixture of four characters, all different. All so funny. All so witty. Brian Epstein had engendered into them, he'd given them a piece of advice - "You will be courteous. You will be well-mannered to everybody you meet, hotel staff, fans, the press, the people at the theatre, the lighting people, the sound people. You will be courteous, polite and well-mannered. You're on your way up now, but if you don't make it, you'll meet all these people along the way back down." That's basically how they were. That's how I found them. Every time I saw them, I saw them a few months later on the Chris Montez / Tommy Roe tour, soon as I walked in, Lennon came up to me and I've always been known as Wrighty and it was him who gave me the nickname. As I walked to the backstage, there were no backstage passes in those days. Usually in those early days I was the only photographer that was remotely interested and probably daft enough to peddle all the way to those venues and photograph these concerts. I walked in and he said "Now then Wrighty, me Aunt Mimi got those photographs." He said "You gotta take some more of 'em. C'mon, were number one in the charts with Please Please Me. Get a picture of us. Get a picture of us. There's a Mexican guy on the bill tonight called Chris Montez. He's crap." This his how I got to know him. These were the sort of conversations I'd have. They were just as comfortable with me as I was with them. None of us had earned our apprenticeships. We were all young kids. We were all more like the same age, trying to make our way in the world. Then the third tour came up and I photographed them again with Roy Orbison and Gerry And The Pacemakers on the bill. By this time they'd had three number one hits. They were absolutely flying. But Lennon never forgot me. Every time I would walk in he would say "Now then Wrighty, you want a picture? You want us in our civvies? You want us with our guitars? You want us in our stage suits? Just tell us what you want! Anything you want Wrighty. Send more pictures to me Aunt Mimi." They were just ordinary, normal sort of guys. Really they were.

Q - When I interviewed Victor Spinetti, he thought Paul was the leader of The Beatles. You say it was John.

A - Well, that was my impression of it. But you gotta bear in mind Victor wasn't with them in '63. Victor was with them in '64 when they did A Hard Day's Night.

Q - I've also heard it said that people didn't necessarily like the personalities of John and Ringo. But you say they were nice guys.

A - Oh, Ringo was a sweetheart. I remember coming out of that Chris Montez thing and he sort of got lost. He hadn't got on the bus. Ringo had been left at the stage door. There was a few fans there (that) wanted autographs. Ringo was left stranded on this stage door. (laughs) I was pushing me bike out past Ringo and he said "Are you off home Wright?" I said "I am. I'll get home." Then all these kids started a little scream, not a Beatlemania scream yet; "Can we have your autograph? Can we have your autograph?" He said "I'll stand here and sign all the autograph books, but get in a single line." I took a picture of him and he had this line of kids all around the block wrapped around the stage door. He just stood there and signed all the autograph books for them. The other thing Ringo was really funny about: when they finished a show, of course the audience would shower the gods with autograph books and teddy bears and all sorts of gifts would come flying over...jelly babies for George and things like that. When the curtain went down and the second show came up, the cleaners would come onstage and sweep them all up. Well, John the doorman would collect them all the autograph books and get the lads to sign the autographs. And then he would charge all the kids a couple of bucks to get them back the next day. Ringo would go around and pick up all the teddy bears and dolls and everything and put 'em all in the dressing room for the cleaning ladies to take home.

Q - How old were you when you first met The Beatles?

A - I would've been just 16 in a couple of months I think.

Q - That was remarkable that you could knock on a backstage dressing room door, get John Lennon to answer and get The Beatles to pose for a picture for you, at 15 years old!

A - You see, what was so special about that? There was nothing special about it. There was loads of groups out there trying to do what they were doing. It didn't make any difference. The managers of the theatres and nightclubs were delighted to have the press in there and consequently I got to know all those people. I got to know all the doormen and all the people who were at the theatres. As soon as I'd arrive, they'd look after my bicycle for me. They'd put it in the stage door entrance for me. I could find me way around all the theatres and nightclubs blindfolded. I was out every night. We had such an enormous amount of venues. That's why a lot of these people came to the Northeast of England. We had working men's clubs, nightclubs for gambling just like Vegas. We had ballrooms for one night stands. We also had the theatres for the touring variety shows.

Q - Did you ever meet Brian Epstein?

A - Yeah, yeah, yeah. I met him the night Kennedy was shot. I was with The Beatles on November 22nd, 1963. They were top of the bill by then. Four number one hits. On November 22nd the L.P. "With The Beatles" had world record pre-sales of 300,000. It was released that day, the day Kennedy was shot. Epstein, when they had those sort of little milestones in their career, would allow them to bring their girlfriends and their mums and dads, and Epstein and (Neil) Aspinall and all the rest of the gang would all turn up. Then after the second show, they would all go out to a lovely whoop-de-do dinner to celebrate. But they didn't that night because given the time difference between Dallas and Stockton Teaser The Globe Theatre, they were actually on stage the time Kennedy was shot and they more or less finished by the time he died in the hospital at one o'clock Dallas time. I was the only photographer there that night. None of the pictures from that night were ever published because Kennedy took precedent. Nobody was remotely interested in The Beatles. Those photographs were never published until being published in the book (On The Brink).

Q - Did Brian Epstein or The Beatles ever remark about the Kennedy Assassination?

A - No, because what happened was, when that did occur, it was between the two shows. I'd seen them all throughout the afternoon and I'd photographed them backstage with the girlfriends and Epstein and Aspinall and Mal Evans. Then I photographed them onstage. Then I think it was Phil Burrows or Roger Cook or Roger Greenaway from The Kestrels, they were one of the first ones that had heard the news that Kennedy had been assassinated. The whole atmosphere just changed. And this was right between the two shows. Soon as I heard that, I was on my bike and I was away. I went straight back to the office because I thought if this is important, maybe they'll put these pictures in and this would be part of the news of that. Harry Evans wasn't interested. He just didn't want to know about The Beatles, even though he was a big Beatles fan himself. He just had no interest in them at all. So they never got published.

Q - Were there screaming girls in the audience at that first Beatles show you saw?

A - No.

Q - They just sat there and applauded after every song?

A - Very politely, yeah. There was different types of screaming too. The Beatles was hysterical screaming when it actually took off. There were middle-age people there in the audience because it was a variety show. They had ventriloquists. They had a comedian and dancing girls. It was a family variety show. So, it never happened. I did start to see it in the second tour with Chris Montez. Certainly it happened once it became the Roy Orbison, Gerry And The Pacemakers and The Beatles. It was absolutely hysterical. But there was different types of reaction. The Beatlemania screaming was hysterical. The Stones, totally different because Mick had worked it out that he would do two or three show numbers when they came on with his maracas and his tambourine. They would slowly build it up to a crescendo. Soon as he would come on and do "Jumpin' Jack Flash" or one of those early numbers, the audience just absolutely, like a wave unmasked, got up to tried and invade the stage. Then you had Roy Orbison, The Big O. He'd be up there singing "Only The Lonely". These girls, it was orgasmic sighs and screams. They would actually slide out of the seats onto the floor. Each act had a different sound reception from the audience.

Q - The Beatles liked having their picture taken by you in the early days, but how about later on, say in 1965?

A - I wasn't with them then. The last time I saw them was in August of 1964.

Q - Did they still welcome your picture taking?

A - Well, I'd gone through that. I'd photographed "Beatlemania". I went to do this concert and the little lad who had been there on his bicycle just by himself wasn't a little lad anymore. I got to the railway station that came up on a steam train They'd just finished A Hard Day's Night and they came on a steam train. When I got to the railway station, I wasn't a little kid anymore. I didn't have that exclusivity with them anymore. When I got there, I took a photograph of the photographers on the platform which we guesstimated that were 120 photographers, camera crews and radio people waiting for them to get off the train for this concert. Then they went into the theatre and John was wearing that green and yellow jacket on "the butcher" album. He bought it in Miami. They came out of this door at the theatre and he saw me there and he put his thumbs up. He pushed his thumbs right at me, thumbs up and said "You know Wrighty, you were right. Could you bloody believe all of this?" There must have been, out of the window on the sea front, it was in Scarborough which is a resort town in Yorkshire, police estimated there was between 35,000, 45,000 people on the High Street. And that's all John said to me. "You're absolutely right Wrighty. Have you seen anything like this?" That was the last time I saw them.

Q - Could you have kept your friendship going or was it just impossible to get through to them at that point?

A - Well, he recognized me. He knew who I was, but there was just so many people that wanted a part of them by then. They were ready to do Help!, their next film. They had all those great hits, '64. They had more hits than you and I had dinners that year. That was the greatest year for popular music, 1964, and The Beatles reigned supreme on both sides of the Atlantic.

Q - Let's talk about some other groups. Did you know Brian Jones of The Stones?

A - Yeah. I was on The Stones first U.K. tour in 1964. That's when I first met Mick and I got on well with him. Brian Jones, his actual name was Brian Hopkins-Jones. He founded the group. He was the leader of the group in the beginning. To cement his mentorship over the group, he actually had it written in his contract. He'd get an extra 5 a week for being the leader of The Rolling Stones. There was a definite difference there you see. There was a demarcation there between what you had with The Beatles, Gerry And The Pacemakers and Billy J And The Fortunes and The Fourmost and all of those groups. They were popular music groups...Pop music. Then you went on to the other side and you had the Rhythm and Blues side. They had a different way of speaking. The Beatles would talk in Liverpudlian accents, but they were quite witty. Very funny. But then you would walk over to the other side of the rope to the Rhythm and Blues camp where you had The Yardbirds, The Animals and The Rolling Stones. They spoke in a completely different way to them. Mick was still in to this "You know, man. What a cool cat that is. It's really far out, man." This was because these were Rhythm and Blues people. They felt they were far more superior than the Pop groups. They felt they were far more academically head and shoulders above them. Jagger was actually a very, and still is, an extremely intelligent fella. No interviews. My conversations with him, I got to know him extremely well and we had a common denominator which was the sport of cricket. We're both cricket aficionados. We loved the game. We played the game. So does Bill (Wyman). When we were backstage, we were talking about cricket. He would say to me "If we don't make it, man, you know this isn't far out and we don't get a hit, man, you know, I told my Dad I was packing it in after six months, man." I said "What would you do if you if you don't make it?" He said "Well, I'm studying at the London School of Economics." He got this grant from the British government to attend the London School of Economics, because he passed seven AA levels in England, very high standard of education. I always give Mick Jagger a ten for everything. When they were on the road touring, and they were in the old bus, the old van going up and down the motorways, it didn't matter where that group was, in Great Britain, wherever they were that night, Mick Jagger, Monday thru Friday would walk through the doors of the London School Of Economics and he would go to school at half past nine. He never missed one day. Never missed one day. He said to me "If we don't make it, I think I'd like to get into your profession." I said "Yeah, it's a great profession." He said "No, no. What I want to be is a bi-lingual economist / journalist for the Financial Times working between Paris and London." He's fluent in French, in all four mediums, hearing, reading, writing. And this is a guy at 19. This guy would've been brilliant at whatever he decided to do. It was all because of his economics and his cachet to become the leader of The Stones that turned all the finances 'round when they were bankrupt. It was he who pulled them out of it and started The Rolling Stones label in 1971. It was all of that acumen he learned at the London School Of Economics over the eighteen months that he was actually there. He didn't graduate because, guess who gave them their first hit song? The Beatles.

Q - "I Wanna Be Your Man".

A - Which came off (the) "With The Beatles" album. And so, there was a crossover between them. They all got on extremely well. There was no animosity between them. There was no animosity between The Stones and The Beatles at all, but Jagger, who was the most consummate pro, they had all that press about being scruffy vagabonds. They weren't like that at all. But he made that work to the cachet of The Rolling Stones. That's what he did. He made that work. They've become probably the most successful Rock band in the world.

Q - Did you photograph Frank Sinatra and Jimi Hendrix?

A - Yeah, both.

Q - What kind of guy was Hendrix?

A - Well, he wasn't famous when I photographed him either. Chas Chandler, who was the bass guitarist who I knew from The Animals 'cause Newcastle was one of my beats. Newcastle was one of the places I used to go to photograph everybody. I knew Chas from the original Eric Burdon, Alan Price, Hilton Valentine and John Steel, Animals days..."House Of The Rising Sun" and all that stuff. Chas was his (Hendrix's) manager. He had found him in a bar or something in New York and brought him over to England. He organized his first U.K. tour. "Hey Joe" wasn't even in the charts. He phoned me up, Chas, and said would I go and take a picture of Jimi Hendrix and two guys who were called The Experience, Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding. He said "It's gonna be the first night of the U.K. tour and it's gonna be in Darlington", and that was my hometown. I photographed Hendrix in a pub. I took one picture of him and I took one picture of the three of them and that's all I took...two pictures. Chas was very grateful. He said "You'll stop and have a drink, will you Wright? You'll have a beer? Just listen. They're absolutely great. Nobody's ever heard of 'em, but they aren't half good." So I waited in the downstairs pub in this hotel called The Imperial Hotel. I couldn't understand Jimi. He was "Yeah, man. Far out, man." He talked like that. Very difficult to understand. And then he started playing this music. People in this little Rhythm and Blues pub, they just couldn't understand it. There wasn't any reaction. All that happened was the music got louder, louder and louder. After three minutes, everything went out. The amps went out, the fuses went out. The street lamps all around the hotel blew fuses and went out. His first performance on his first U.K. tour lasted about three and a half minutes and he fused all the lights everywhere.

Q - Was he so loud that it hurt your ears?

A - I don't recall that. They'd been doing a recording session for a BBC Pop show called Top Of The Pops. They were on their way to Newcastle to meet up with Chas' old mates. They were going to Club A Go Go in Newcastle, where The Animals were first founded, after this gig in Darlington. They had with them The Moody Blues with Denny Laine and The Spencer Davis Group and Stevie Winwood. You've never seen anything like it, with all these guys, these mega stars that they are now. You should've seen them all running up the stairs trying to get all the gear out and into the van and escape up to Newcastle. It was quite hilarious.

Q - Were you ever tempted to take more than just one photo of these people? What if the one photo hadn't turned out?

A - Well, these were one of the problems I had. Ella Fitzgerald gave me one minute, one photograph and get out. Now, if she had blinked when the flash went off, that was it. I'd had it. You could carry only so many slides. This wasn't 35 mil (millimeter) with a motor drive. You only had 12 shots on a roll of 120 for a Twin Lens Reflex camera. When I first started with the plate camera, I only had 20 plates in the camera bag, so I couldn't duplicate. So, I couldn't mass produce photographs of people. And then, how did I know apart from who was top of the bill of the show, how on earth did I know who to speculate on? Oh yeah, in hindsight (it would have been) great to have taken tons more pictures of The Beatles...but they weren't famous!

Q - Tell me about photographing Sinatra.

A - As history knows, the Sunday Times was taken over by Murdoch and they changed and they moved and I left. It was '83 or '84 and I moved to the BBC. You've got the TV Guide. Our equivalent in England is the BBC's Radio Times. So, I was a still photographer for Radio Times. Every year, because I was in America then, they would send me, whichever member of the Royal Family it was, they would send me their pick of celebrities for what is called the Royal Command Performance, which they have once a year in November to coincide with Armistice Day after the First World War and the Second World War. I think it was '84 and it was the Queen Mother's pick and I got the list and on it was Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Liberace and Larry Hagman 'cause he was in Dallas and it was at the time of "Who Shot J.R.?" It was the Queen Mother's favorite program. That's why she picked Larry Hagman and his mother, Mary Martin. So they sent me out to photograph Sinatra in his home. Of course you have to bear in mind these pictures are taken in the middle of Summer because we had to have the lead time for the magazine and the show that came out in November. So I went out with a whole gang and gaggle of people who were more of a hindrance than a help from the company called Rogers And Cowan, who were a P.R. company in Beverly Hills, who earn a lot of money for being absolutely obnoxious and obstructive. But not even Sinatra would turn down the Queen Mother of the Queen. And I arrived at his house in Palm Springs. It overlooked a golf course. There were all this cacophony of noise and people yelling at Sinatra and talking to him very great he was and good he sounded and he'd never been better. Just stroking him and stroking him. All of a sudden after about five minutes of this, he sort of put his fingers across his throat and everybody shut up. He said to Warren Cowan himself, "Who's in charge of this?" Cowan said "We are. We're your representatives Mr. Sinatra." He said "Who's in charge?" And he said "Oh, it's this gentleman here, myself and a lighting guy." The three of us are just quietly sitting in the corner watching this circus unfold before our very eyes. He said "Mr. Wright is the photographer." He said "Mr. Wright, come with me." He took me out of the room to a smaller room. His wife Barbara was sitting there with another lady. There was this beautiful oval window, a bay window that overlooked the golf course. Bear in mind this is August. It's 128 degrees outside. And there's this beautiful mahogany table, round mahogany table in the window. On the table is a fully dressed Christmas tree with a fairy on the top. All the lights. Little presents underneath the Christmas tree. I said "I know the answer will be no, but could I ask you why?" And he said "Mr. Wright, if you came from Hoboken, New Jersey, every day to you would be Christmas Day."

Q - I like it.

A - Yeah. He was brilliant. He was absolutely smashing. That was Sinatra. The other funny line that he came up with is when someone did a little chit chat with him. "You have everything in the world Mr. Sinatra. What is the most important thing in your life?" He looked with this absolute look of "You idiot!" And he said one word: "Breathing". (laughs) He was terrific.

Q - Why did you choose to live in Las Vegas of all places?

A - My wife had connections here. It's a hell of a lot cheaper to live here than it was in Hollywood Hills. We wanted somewhere peace and quiet to pull all the book together and do all the archiving of all the negatives and everything I had. And also, her best friend lives here. It was a combination of quite a number of things.

Q - Is your wife in show business?

A - No. She's an interior designer.

Q - I almost forgot to ask you, what was it like backstage when you'd go back and ask to photograph these groups? What were the conditions like?

A - The dressing rooms were the worst. In most theatres there would be one uni toilet. So, if you've got 12 Tilla and 3 groups with four guys in each, there's 12 in one room that's 12 by 12 with a sink, one tap, one bar and soap, all trying to get changed out of their civvies into their stage suits, you can imagine what it was like in there. Stale booze, cigarettes. And they were all using the sink to pee in. You couldn't get to the toilet. There'd be a queue a mile long. So, all they did was have a wee in the sink. It was absolutely, bloody disgusting, but that was life on the road. That sums up life on the road being a Rock star or a Pop star in the early '60s.

Q - I bet The Beatles had fun with those showgirls.

A - Oh, I should think Paulie would've had a bloody lot of fun with them. He always had a bird. He had a big sex drive. He always had a favorite bird with him. And then he went out with Jane Asher. She was Peter Asher's sister. Peter Asher was the other half of Peter And Gordon. They wrote the song "World Without Love", which was a number one hit for Peter And Gordon. That's another interesting thing; the amount of songs they wrote and gave away to Billy J. Kramer, Cilla Black, The Fortunes and The Foremost and Peter And Gordon and The Rolling Stones. The reason they did it was that they were so overjoyed at the success they were having and the talent, they discovered they could write these songs, that they didn't want anybody else to fail. That's why they gave all those songs away. They wanted all their mates to be famous and as popular and have number one hits like them. They didn't want them to fail. They felt they were all in the same boat, they were all peeing in the same sink, they were all drinking out of the same on bottle of beer and they were all in it together. It was marvelous, marvelous camaraderie that they had.

Q - Did you keep in touch with John or any of The Beatles through the years? Phone calls? Letters? I know you said you didn't see them.

A - He (John) never forgot me, even when I moved to New York with The Sunday Times. We wanted to do a piece about him after he got through all the problems with his Green Card, turning everybody the wrong way 'round with his activities with Vietnam and all the rest of it. Eventually he got his Green Card and he started work once he got married and settled down the second time 'round with Yoko. We wanted to do a feature about his new album, "Double Fantasy". Harry wanted to do a color piece about this. He said "You might be able to get through to him 'cause there's so many brick walls, I can't get through to him." I had some numbers from sending those pictures to his addresses in Liverpool (England). Some of them had gone to cousins and various other relations. I sent some telexes and letters to these addresses. I was away somewhere. I can't remember where I was, but I was definitely out of New York the day that he was shot on December 8th, 1980. I got back over that weekend and I have a feeling I was coming back in from the South Pacific. I got back to our office on 42nd and Lexington. I got in on the Monday morning and there was a memo for me from John Lennon. It was the day before he was assassinated by Mark David Chapman. All he said was "To Ian Wright. I'm living with Yoko at the Dakota Apartments." And he left his private telephone number. He hadn't forgotten me. You don't get better than that, do you?

Q - No you don't.

A - I kept a copy of the memo. It's reproduced in the book.

Q - What great stories, what great memories you have. What an incredible interview this has been.

A - This is what I want to do. I want to try and get them promoted out even more by lectures and exhibitions. Morrison Hotel Galleries have been brilliant to me. They've done exhibitions for me. I do know that when we put the photographs together in backdrops for 'live' shows with either Spencer Davis or Denny Laine or Eric Burdon, how the pictures come alive even more. All the Beatlemania photographs really have struck a chord with the people in London. They just categorize it now as a piece of social history, because there's a lot of material nobody's ever seen before and a lot of material nobody ever thought to photograph.

Q - And now you're off on a cruise?

A - Oh, I'm working. I don't know how many lectures I've got to do. The first one is always The Beatles. It's an hour with Power Point, music and all of the anecdotes. I finish off with the story about the memo he sent me the day before he was assassinated. It cuts to Allan Tannebaum's photograph that he took that day, the day before he was assassinated. He took the last set of photographs of John and Yoko in Central Park. It cuts to that and then the song "Imagine" comes up and at the precise moment he talks about love and peace, it fades out to darkness. No sound. The whole theatre is in total darkness. It's really crushing. I start to cry again.

© Gary James. All rights reserved.