Rare photographs of the Fab Four, taken on a freewheeling day in London in 1968, are on display at Soho Contemporary Art
In 1968. As The British photographer Tom Murray tells it, Don McCullin—a distinguished war photographer and a Sunday Times colleague—asked Murray if he’d drive him around while he photographed a musical group. “I knew more about music than he did,” Murray recalled. “I thought I might get a few snaps, so I grabbed a Nikon and two rolls of Ektachrome.” When they arrived at the Times, Murray said, he heard someone playing ‘Lady Madonna’ on a piano. “We went in, and there were the Beatles, and I said, ‘Oh, shit.’ Don said, ‘Didn’t I tell you?’ ”
McCullin took a picture that appeared on the cover of Life two months later, and then they all went looking for interesting locations—an adventure known to Beatles scholars as the Mad Day Out. “They were recording ‘The White Album,’ and they hated their publicity photos,” Murray said. “John wanted to be photographed next to Karl Marx’s tomb, but when we got to Highgate Cemetery the gate was locked, so they stood in front of a little house nearby, and we shot them there.” Murray learned later that two young girls inside the house had shouted, “Dad! Dad! It’s the Beatles outside!” But their father hadn’t believed them, and by the time he got to the window they were leaving. “It was a Sunday afternoon, and on Sundays in those days London was shut, literally shut,” Murray said. “If there had been mobile phones, we’d have been surrounded in thirty seconds, but that never happened. George would suggest something, and then Paul would suggest something, and we just drove around. We did cause two slight rear-end accidents, but nobody else noticed.” Murray shot the same things that McCullin shot, but from different angles—including an unforgettable scene of the Beatles sitting next to and leaning over an oldish man seated on a park bench, sound asleep.
Prints of twenty-three of Murray’s Mad Day photographs are currently on display, in two different sizes, at Soho Contemporary Art, near the corner of Bowery and Houston. (The larger ones sell for six thousand dollars; the smaller ones start at three thousand.) “That day was a gift from God,” Murray said, as he signed and numbered a print. “If I’d known who we were going to shoot, I’d have thrown up twice and taken four cameras and a hundred rolls of film.”
A gallery employee carefully lifted the picture he had just signed.
“I don’t want to be rude about it, but most of Don’s pictures from that day are crap,” Murray continued. “Mine are bloody marvellous, though. Gone are the days when I used to say they were O.K. They are the best.”
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