THE BROADER PICTURE / Ciggies and superstars

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The Independent Culture
BACKSTAGE at the Astoria, Finsbury Park, 20-year-old George Harrison breaks off from tuning his guitar to puff at a cigarette. The guitar is a Gretsch, the cigarette cork-tipped, something that few working-class lads would have been seen smoking before the 1960s. Behind him, a relaxed John Lennon looks on, buttoning the cuffs of his stage-shirt. The year is 1963, and the occasion the Beatles' first Christmas show.

The Astoria, which was to become the Rainbow Theatre in the early Seventies, was then an Art Deco picture-palace presenting stage shows only rarely. That the four young Liverpudlians had supplanted conventional pantomime for the season shows the speed with which they had captured the nation's imagination. Thirty years ago tomorrow, on 5 October 1962, they made their recording debut with 'Love Me Do'. The following year, 'Please Please Me', 'From Me To You' and 'She Loves You' topped the charts and they became household names.

I had been sent to take photographs by Jazz Beat, a London monthly whose commitment to the idea could be gauged by their decision to dispatch the office boy to conduct the interview. My feelings about the assignment were mixed. I was a jazz purist, and the Beatles were strictly pop. John Lennon didn't help matters. He peered dismissively down his aquiline nose when he found us, unannounced, in their dressing-room. But Paul McCartney, ever the diplomat, got us settled, and began a thoughtful discussion. A meal was sent in from the local Greek cafe. George and Ringo Starr had eggs, beans and chips while we talked.

From their earliest days the group had played material by black artists. Chuck Berry and Little Richard were their favourites, but they also expressed admiration for the Motown music of Marvin Gaye and the Miracles. Both John and Paul spoke of their scorn for musical snobbishness. Categories, they insisted, were futile. 'Every record I have in the house,' John said, 'they all seem to come out of the church, even Little Richard. They just change the words. They may say 'baby' instead of 'Lord', so I really can't tell the difference - except I know that if they're singing about Jesus and the Lord, it's gospel. If they're not, it's R&B or rock.' George and John expressed an interest in jazz. And, having finished his egg, beans and chips, Ringo poured the tea.

I didn't go to see the show, but I succumbed eventually to the noise and the fun. A couple of these photographs were used at the time by an American fanzine; none of them has been seen in Britain before. -

(Photograph omitted)