For most of us, a one-to-one with Jimi Hendrix would have been unforgettable. We’d relive, regurgitate and dine out on that moment.
Yet photographer Paul Berriff, a teenager at the time, has never made a meal of the meeting, and only recalled his rendezvous with the great guitar hero when rifling through old negatives that had been gathering dust for half a century.
Finding the 21-year-old rock icon, resplendent in a crushed velvet suit and sitting in a shabby dressing room at the Leeds Odeon, was one of the highlights of a “good sort out” that has yielded a hoard of hidden treasures.
Alongside Jimi is a remarkable line-up of pop stars, all “papped” and posed by Paul between 1963 and 1964 in a variety of Yorkshire venues. They’ll all be supersized and on show later this month in the Rock Legends exhibition at Salts Mill, a must-see for music lovers in general and baby boomers in particular.
Paul’s Rolleiflex camera caught The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, complete with a wrinkle-free Keith Richards. It captured Mick and his great love Marianne Faithfull. Sandie Shaw is pictured with her stocking feet up, fag in hand, looking far more rock ’n roll than the woman who later sang Puppet On A String. Roy Orbison posed in his trademark shades. The Kinks were snapped at the Odeon just months before they hit the big time with their third single You Really Got Me. Adam Faith, Gerry And The Pacemakers, Freddie And The Dreamers, Lonnie Donegan, Gene Pitney, The Searchers, The Walker Brothers and The Hollies are all there, unencumbered by PR machines and bodyguards before their careers went stratospheric.
Not that 16-year-old Paul was starstruck. A copy boy at the Yorkshire Evening Post, with ambitions of being a fully-fledged press photographer, all he wanted to do was practice.
“I had a paper round when I was at school and I’d always huddle in a doorway and flick through Life magazine and Picture Post. I’d look at the photographs and think, ‘I’d like to do that one day’. I decided to use the pop scene as a photo essay, a project to help me practice. I made contact with the theatre managers using my lowly press credentials and they let me backstage.
“The dressing rooms were really dingy, lit with one 40 watt lightbulb, but I was determined to use available light rather than flash, which can kill the atmosphere of a picture. I look at the photographs now and I am amazed at how good they are,” he says – so good that his boyhood dream came true recently when New York’s Life magazine used his picture of Paul McCartney at Huddersfield’s ABC on their back cover.
The editor of the Yorkshire Evening Post spotted his talent too and promoted him to press photographer, which is why he abandoned his pop project in 1964. The 850 negatives were filed in a box, where they stayed for the next 50 years. First out of hiding were photos of The Beatles, a find first reported by this newspaper and now on display at The Beatles Experience in Liverpool. They will be making their Yorkshire debut at the Salts Mill exhibition.
When the Fab Four fervour died down, Paul, who worked for the BBC and later became an Academy Award winning filmmaker, thought he’d better have another look in his archive.
“I’d taken the boxes with me everywhere. They’d even been to America with me. When we bought our cottage in Bedale seven years ago, we didn’t have anywhere to put my stuff, so they were out in the yard under a tarpaulin for a year until I got my studio. It’s amazing they survived.”
The images have prompted a trip back in time for Paul, who remembers having his tea, always at 6pm sharp, then setting off in his best suit to catch the No 76 bus from his parents’ home in Headingley to the city centre. His mother’s warnings of “Don’t be late” echoed in his ears but he rarely was. Concerts started at about 7pm and were over by 9.30pm. The last bus was 10.30pm in those days.
Between 1963 and 1964, he went backstage at Leeds Odeon, the ABC in Huddersfield and the Gaumont in Bradford and in Doncaster, although he also unearthed a picture from 1967 when he visited the Abbey Road recording studios in London, to take pictures of Pink Floyd recording Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
“I was a music fan. All teenagers were in those days. The music scene was a catalyst that changed our lives but I couldn’t remember taking some of the pictures I found. The Kinks looked so young I wasn’t 100 per cent sure it was them. ”
His own youth undoubtedly helped. “That kid’s here again with his camera,” was the usual reaction. Paul McCartney was particularly good with me. He’d always ask how the photography was going, but everyone was happy to have pictures taken.
“There were so many groups bursting on to the scene, two or three every week, and they were all competing against each other,” says Paul.
Robin Silver, of Salts Mill adds: “This exhibition not only chronicles the birth of some of the greatest names in rock and pop history but also gives an insight into social history and the fashions of the day.
“It’s remarkable that a kid with a camera could get backstage and take pictures like this. You can’t imagine that happening now.”
Rock Legends is at Salts Mill, Saltaire, from October 25 - January 12, 2014. Entrance is free. www.saltsmill.org.uk. Limited-edition prints will be available. For more visit www.paulberriffproductions.com.