Wonderful Then, Wonderful Now

In the sunset years of my teaching career Fridays were always music days. I’d regale my sixes and sevens with tales of pop music folklore. These were perhaps well known to my generation, but not so to most of them. I’d relate sagas of the greats and not so greats. I’d tell them of the rock ‘n’ roller who started off our local industry and taught us how to shout with the best of ’em. I’d tell of the four Liverpudlian lads who conquered the world and had my students scream in the introduction to ‘Revolution’ in time with John Lennon – no easy feat, but they loved having a go. There were always lyrics provided so they could sing along to the tunes. They’d belt out ‘Friday on My Mind’, for instance, to celebrate the fact the weekend was almost on them. Another annual regular was teaching them to stomp in time with ‘Surfin’ USA’ and sing along to the California Sound’s paeans to sun and surf. They were already adept at ‘twistin’ the night’ away to Sam Cooke. I’d tell the tale of that man always dressed in black having his life turned around by the love of a woman and I would introduce them to the greats of our indigenous performers – Archie, Kev and Uncle Jimmy. Another Jimmy would also get a look in each year as well. I’d have them examining the lyrics of his Bobness’ ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and an old Canadian’s ‘Hallelujah’ to see if they could figure what made the two tunes, so often credited as being the best ever written, tick – they couldn’t. Can the rest of us?

And the other regular story was of a beautiful young model who inspired three of the greatest love songs ever written, scribed by two firm friends who were besotted by her. ‘Imagine if you can’, I’d say, ‘having these two guys fighting for your affections – and doing it through the allure of their poetry put to music. Imagine you being the reason ‘Something’, ‘Layla’ and ‘Wonderful Tonight’ came into being.’ They’d have the words, I’d play the songs and they’d vote on which was the most appealing to them. Usually it was ‘Layla’.

Many of us will know that that youthful woman was Pattie Boyd who married first George Harrison, the pensmith who gave us ‘Something’, only to to be wooed away by Eric Clapton, who gifted us the other two classics. She was a stunner, was Pattie. If you watch carefully ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, the Beatles 1964 movie, she’s in it playing a schoolgirl, chasing the Fab Four all over town. She later went on to have a career as a model – then a long way down the track wrote a best-selling memoir, aptly titled ‘Wonderful Tonight’.

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But these days there’s another claim to fame for her. She’s touring the world in another guise. For, you see, she recorded for posterity, with her camera, her brush with fame by being married to two rock gods. All through her time with Clapton and Harrison she snapped intimate photos of them during their down time, as well as in performance.

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Of course, the fiftieth anniversary of so much of what went on during those heady days is on us and she’s in high demand to show her work around here, there and everywhere. Her product was included in Scorsese’s 2011 biopic ‘George Harrison: Living in the Material World’ and she is making guest appearances all over – a business she frankly admits she struggles to pull off due to her inherent shyness. These days she’d much rather be behind a camera than doing any sort of posing or Q and As.

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Back in the sixties, though, she was in high demand to appear in shoots for the greatest camera-smiths of the era, eventually using her fees to purchase a range of photographic equipment to try, to some degree, to emulate them. It became a consuming passion. The great David Bailey taught her some of the finer points of the art with what she describes as sweet helpfulness. Later. her association with the quiet Beatle, as well as the man carrying the appellation ‘Slowhand’, gave her a head start as she could catch these men in their more private moments – although her product didn’t see the light of day, in the public sense, for some time. After the breakdown of her marriage to Clapton in 1989, Boyd decided to try and take her hobby one step further by enrolling to study photography and dark room printing, erecting a purpose built studio in her garden. These days she’s getting on, but still works as an occasional freelancer for magazines and is happily adapting her expertise to the challenges of the digital age.

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Now her illuminating oeuvre is in the ether for all to see – and there’s some marvellous stuff. It is hard to go pass the image of hers, from 1968, of George after meditating in the Himalayas; or of Eric in ‘Yet Another Hotel Room’. There’s more up to date work, too, including Keith R and his daughter from 2004 and a delightful portrait of the sadly departed George Martin from ’03. Of course, if you’re in the money, copies are available for purchase – the Martin will set you back 1250 (pounds, that is).

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What I didn’t know, back in those classroom days, is that one year after her official parting with the greatest living guitarist, he wrote to her. He informed Patttie that his new album, the terrific ‘Journeyman’, featured yet another song relating to her, ‘Old Love’. It dealt with the aftermath of their years together. He asked her not to be offended by it:-
‘To know that the flame will always burn
I’ll never get over
I know that I’ll never learn.’
Boyd was mildly miffed, but there is much irony in the fact that Clapton’s collaborator on this new set of songs was none other than Harrison. Further on down the track, Clapton put together the tribute concert for George after his passing. So we now have some sublime visual reminders of this Beatle and his times – the ‘Concert for George’, ‘Living in the Material World’ and Boyd’s photography of their time together.

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Of all her images, the one that this scribe is most taken by is that of Eric C, in late afternoon silhouette, his back to us, playing to the adoring masses at the Blackbush Festival, Surrey, in 1974.

In the 1980’s Pattie met Rod Weston, a property developer. In 1994 they officially became an item. In 2015, at the age of 71, she finally married for the third time, to Rod. This fellow hung around.

Pattie Boyd’s Photography web-site = http://www.pattieboyd.co.uk/

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