By summer 1966, I had been working pretty regularly with the Stones since my first session with the band in April 1965, and after touring North America with them for eight weeks at the end of 1965 we had got to know one another pretty well and I felt very at home with them all, although Brian was always a bit tricky.
In the first half of 1966, the band were getting some real money finally and had decided to splash out and buy new homes and cars. It was another action-packed year for the band and they toured Australia, Europe and North America before I got some time with them in August.
It had been decided that I would shoot an ‘At Home’ session with each of the guys in their new houses. I think this was partly because they hated the idea of unknown photographers visiting their private sanctuaries and because time was so short that it seemed like a practical solution.
The press office would then have a selection of this type of image and could fulfil any magazine request without having to bother the band.
For many years these photographs were kept in supermarket carrier bags stashed under my desk, getting in my way, and I frequently wondered why I continued to hold on to them.
It wasn’t until the early 1980s when there began to be any interest in my archive and I started trying to sort out the bags.
However, when I came to pull all the ‘At Home’ material together I was rather disappointed to find that all I had of the series with Brian was two transparencies and no black and white negatives. Then a couple of years ago I was very fortunate to get my hands on about a dozen more transparencies of Brian as well as several of Keith and Charlie that had somehow been absorbed into a now defunct photo library.
Keith had bought a lovely house called Redlands in West Wittering in West Sussex and I had a very enjoyable day down there with him. It was in a high degree of refurbishing chaos! Keith was in a Lord of the Manor frame of mind with a horse in the paddock, a small rowboat on the moat and his collection of antique weapons mingling with his album collection on the panelled walls. He had also bought a beautiful Bentley S3 Continental motor car that he had christened Blue Lena after the great American singer Lena Horne, which looked very at home outside the very pretty house.
Charlie and Shirley Watts had bought a lovely and very old house on the outskirts of Lewes in East Sussex. It was packed with antique furniture and Charlie’s collection of American Civil War memorabilia, and seemed very settled, calm and relatively grown-up compared to Mick and Keith. Charlie didn’t drive so instead of the obligatory car shot we got Shirley to bring her pony into the garden and took some shots of the two of them with the horse.
Brian was living in a dark and strange flat in Courtfield Gardens near South Kensington. The atmosphere was always a little weird around Brian, partly because you were never sure which Brian you were going to get, but on this visit he was in good form and was cooperative and seemed to want to help make the series of photos as interesting and as reflective of his personality as possible. Although Brian loved his Rolls-Royce he had been banned from driving and the car wasn’t at the flat at the time, so regrettably no shots of Brian with his Roller!
The flat was chaotic with ‘stuff’ everywhere just strewn around, piles of clothes and fabric, some with sleeping people underneath, as well as musical instruments, equipment and piles of books and records. On one wall he had painted a very strange fresco showing a gravestone in the sea with a dramatic rendering of a golden yellow Phoenix rising into a stormy sky beside it, all very stoned and bizarre. Curiously, Brian was a Pisces and a lot of people assumed that the grave was his.
Bill had moved into a rather splendid suburban mansion, leaving the rather rough and tough Penge in South London for the much calmer and semi-rural village of Keston, a few miles south and on the edge of the South Downs. This house reflected his more settled domestic situation and was home to Diane and his young son Stephen, although we made sure to keep them, and any sign of them, out of the photos! Bill had also splashed out on a car and we shot a roll with his brand new MGB in front of the house.
Mick had been living in a mews flat around the back of Baker Street with his then girlfriend, the lovely Chrissie Shrimpton, sister of London’s top model Jean. But he had just purchased a huge Mansion flat in a famous block on Marylebone Road called Harley House, around the corner, so I shot in both properties.
They were both in a certain degree of chaos, one as a result of moving out and the other moving in! It all added atmosphere to the series of shots that we did, and we were perfectly happy to work around movers and decorators with Mick enjoying taking the piss out of this rather cheesy genre of picture story. Mick had splashed out on a fabulous Aston Martin DB5 and we were able to take some shots in the mews as part of the story.
Goin’ Home with The Rolling Stones ’66: Gered Mankowitz | Published October 2020 by R|A|P realartpress.com