Interview | At the Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet with Michael Joseph

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Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet, The Banquet, 1968 © Michael Joseph

Beggars Banquet is the album that changed everything for the Rolling Stones,’ the band state on their official website, rollingstones.com, ‘the band truly came into their own, and the Rolling Stones’ music of today is a reflection of what happened in the studio in 1968, they reached their musical manhood.’ For such an epochal album it is entirely appropriate that the photographs that the band commissioned to accompany it from the photographer, Michael Joseph, are equally significant, widely considered to be amongst the best photographs taken of them. The images, currently on show at Proud Chelsea, carry an extraordinary, multi-layered power and beauty. They have an arresting and dramatic painterly quality to them, an evocation of the work of Old Masters such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel – whom Joseph cites as particular inspirations – in the interior shots and George Stubbs in the exterior ones whilst also taking inspiration as Joseph explains, from the photographs of the 1960s design and photography partnership, Horn/Griner, and ‘the wackiness of William Klein not least with his use of including 35mm edgings into the image’.

The shoot took place over two days, Friday the 7 and Saturday the 8 June 1968, at two locations, Sarum Chase in Hampstead, north west London, and Swarkestone Hall Pavilion, Derbyshire. At the time the Rolling Stones were in the midst of recording Beggars Banquet‘s opening and perhaps most famous track, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’. The recording sessions – which are documented in Jean-Luc Goddard’s film, One Plus One – had begun three days earlier at Olympic Sound Studios in Barnes, south west London, and would continue for three days after the photographic shoot. Of all the tracks on the album it also seems appropriate that it was this that the band were recording concurrent with the photographs as it is as equally multi-layered and unconventional as Joseph’s photographs, with an epic historical sweep and musical a style and diverse inspirations including, as Jagger cites in the 2012 documentary, Crossfire Hurricane, Baudelaire, Bob Dylan, and Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita, of which Marianne Faithful had given Jagger a copy of the first English translation which had been published the year before.

Sarum Chase, coincidentally adding another layer to the painterliness of the photographs, had been the home and studio of the portraitist and painter of historical and ceremonial events, Frank O. Salisbury. The architectural historian, Nikolaus Pevsner, described the 1930s neo-Tudor mansion as, ‘pure Hollywood Tudor’, and the scene that greeted the band in the mansion’s great hall when they arrived at the location sounds akin to a Cecil B. DeMille Hollywood film set, as Joseph says:

When the Stones arrived punctually at 11am, I was coaching the animals – a goat, a sheep, a cat and three variously sized dogs – with my megaphone, my Sinar 10×8 large format camera was on an impressive monopod and we had very impressive lighting, a giant swimming pool light on a tall stand and a few strobe strips at odd angles, and the table dressed with bizarre stuffed animals, food including a suckling pig and luckily a few bottles of a very good claret that I had from a previous shoot. They were awestruck!

The location had been sourced and dressed by the stylist for the shoot, Jackie Crier, who also dressed the band in their fabulous tatterdemalion attire evoking a striking mix of seventeenth-century Commedia dell’Arte characters and eighteenth-century Dickensian ne’er-do-wells by way of 1960s Swinging London flourishes. Indeed in their review of Beggars Banquet on its release in December 1968 Time magazine no doubt inspired by Joseph’s photographs described the Rolling Stones as, ‘England’s most subversive roisterers since Fagin’s gang in Oliver Twist‘. The band’s roistering reputation may also have informed the conversation Joseph had when he went to recce the location with a representative of the British Council of Churches to whom Salisbury had bequeathed Sarum Chase on his death in 1962. Joseph was concerned that the banquet and animals might leave a mess but the B.C.C.’s only concern, he says, ‘was if there might be “ladies” in it’. When Joseph questioned him further about this he says the reply was, ‘”Well, Mr Joseph, if any of the ladies are naked we charge £10 extra”‘.

Crier and Joseph had been introduced by David Puttnam, now Baron Puttnam, who at that time had a photographic agency and represented them both alongside other photographers including David Bailey and Brian Duffy. Joseph and Puttnam had first met when the latter was working at Collett Dickenson Pearce & Partners (CDP), a glamorous and highly influential advertising agency which played a key role in the cultural shifts of the 1960s and whose alumni include Charles Saatchi, Sir Alan Parker and Sir Ridley Scott. Joseph began photographing high profile advertising campaigns for CDP in the mid-1960s continuing through to the 2000s for clients including Benson and Hedges, Christies, Nivea, Pirelli and Schweppes. One campaign which Joseph cites as bringing to the attention of the Rolling Stones was for White Horse whisky:

My White Horse campaign was so wacky for 1965, one shot featured Paulene Stone in a  white bathtub  in a lavish set with a white horse breathing down her neck, another featured a panelled boardroom scene, which inadvertently had a Mick Jagger lookalike sitting on the table, surrounded by advisors, smoking cigars and a white horse at the head of the table. I don’t think any other photographer had such wacky stuff at the time.

With only two hours to photograph the band on the first day and live animals in the mix as well Joseph decided to utilise the megaphone technique that he had perfected photographing ten different sized dogs for a Lufthansa campaign just prior to the Beggars Banquet shoot. ‘I made all sorts of noises through the megaphone to keep them amused and they obeyed me implicitly,’ he says, ‘luckily the Stones also behaved likewise! They could relax and I’d shoot on “three” and a few odd noises later!’

Mick & Chick, 1968
© Michael Joseph

That the Rolling Stones were enjoying the process of working with Joseph is borne out by Mick Jagger inviting Joseph and his girlfriend at the end of the first day to travel to the next day’s location in his car. ‘He has two jump seats in his Daimler,’ Joseph recalls, ‘and most of the two hour journey up the newly opened M1 was spent racing the rest of the band in a similar Daimler to Swarkestone Hall Pavilion!’ The seventeenth-century pavilion stands in a large field called The Cuttle near the ruins of Swarkestone Hall. The exact purpose of the building is a subject of conjecture but it may have been a grandstand, summerhouse, or appropriately for the shoot a banqueting house. In racing to the location they arrived quite a while before Crier who was travelling in a van with both the Sinar camera and the props for the shoot. The bonhomie continued as Joseph explains that he was, ‘immensely pleased how co-operative everyone was in shooting numerous little cameos with my Hasselblad, which I thought could be useful, but were also to keep the Stones occupied whilst we waited as I felt if given a chance they may scarper to a local pub and never come out!’

The shots that Jospeh had planned for the Swarkestone location were intended to to be for the cover of Beggars Banquet. When Crier arrived they shot the back cover shot first, the band playing cricket in the long grass of the field. In the background she and Joseph place a white, three-legged piano which she had discovered. The piano is both wonderfully incongruous in the rural scene but also adds to the narrative allure of the photographs as though the band have emerged the morning after a decadent banquet. The final shot of the shoot was to have been the front cover and features the Rolling Stones lying in the grass in front of the pavilion with smoke atmospherically pouring from its windows. A little while after he lit the smoke bombs, Joseph says, ‘we heard a police siren wailing and then two jovial coppers came over to say they’d had a fire reported, but they were pleased to see the band posing – sadly they left before I had a chance to ask them to be in the shot!’

Although these photographs were intended to be the cover images a disagreement between the band and the record company meant that not only were neither used but the image that the band put forward instead – a graffitied toilet – was also not used until the album was reissued. When the album was released in December 1968 it appeared in a purely typographic cover styled like an invitation: ‘Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet RSVP’. Joseph’s photograph from Sarum Chase of the band around the banqueting table was used however in the sleeve’s gatefold. Although it was not entirely as Joseph had planned. Overnight, between the two shoot days, he had one of his photographs of the scene, which he had shot on Kodak Kodalith, a super high contrast 35mm black and white film, printed up and whilst having tea after shooting the final shot at Swarkestone he showed the print to Jagger. ‘Did Mick go over the moon!’, Joseph says, ‘He had never seen anything like it. But he felt it was boring in black and white, so he took it away and to my horror he hand-coloured it very garishly…’ Jagger’s hand-coloured version of the photograph is how it appeared on the album sleeve and, as Joseph concludes, ‘the rest is history’.

Historical perspective adds another layer to Joseph’s beautiful and extraordinary photographs. It is fascinating to see the Rolling Stones so relaxed, at play, in many ways in celebratory mood at the tipping point of the tracks and album that became their ‘coming of age’. But there is also a poignancy – perhaps an element of the last summer of youth – compound by the fact that less that a year after the shots were taken Brian Jones had died. That said the photographs are both of the their time, but equally stand out of their times with a transportive quality that immerses one.

By Guy Sangster-Adams


Beggars Banquet: Photographs by Michael Joseph
Proud Chelsea (www.proudonline.co.uk)
Until 30 July 2017