Two Days in the Life: The Beatles

Idea Generation Gallery, 11 Chance St
Until 5th July

by David Price

One of the biggest problems people of my generation have with The Beatles – other than Paul McCartney’s solo work and ever more irritating facial expressions – is the sheer weight of history that presses down on everything that they did. You can’t put on Revolver and judge it as music, the way you’d judge the new Girls Aloud. The Beatles are sacred, and saying a Beatles song is shit is like pointing out that Shakespeare’s jokes aren’t funny.

So it’s rather refreshing to drop some of the baggage and start from scratch, as Michael Ward did in ‘A Day in the Life’, the first of two photoshoots that make up this exhibition. Ward, they say, didn’t know who the Beatles were when he met them in February 1963, on the day their first UK number one was announced. And his photography, stark, fascinated but undeferential, reflects that.

He shoots them roaming the streets of a black-and-white Liverpool, looking as uncertain and nondescript as their home city, then rehearsing with unglamorous concentration before their last show at the Cavern. And we’re able to see the band, as Ward was doing, for the first time – four young musicians with thrilling potential, on the very cusp of greatness.

On the other side of the fame coin, we have ‘The Mad Day – Summer of ‘68’, a set of colour shots by Tom Murray. And five years have turned the Beatles into the well-worn cultural monolith we now know, with the photographer indulging the Fab Four’s goofing and dressing-up.

Paul spits out some water; Paul cuddles a dog; the band cluster around a sleeping tramp and pull sombre faces (John, bless him, looks distinctly unimpressed in the background); the band climb on top of Old Street station, while the adoring photographer shoots his heroes from ground level. Until Paul almost falls off, that is – hands and feet waving like a music-hall buffoon. Good old Paul.

Go and take a look at these two utterly different sets of photos, taken at either end of the Beatles’ recording career, and see for yourself what a difference five years can make. And why a gold waistcoat with pink trousers and no shirt is never a good look. McCartney, I’m looking at you.

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