I’ve had a request for this story. I’m sure I’ve posted it here before, but it may have been on the old blog and as it’s impossible to search the site, here it is again.
Sometime in early 1981 I got a phone call from a friend who worked as a porter at the Tate Gallery on the south bank in London. “Come ’round the back door when we close tomorrow if you want to meet George Harrison” was all he said. It turned out that Beatle George had booked the gallery after hours for a photo shoot. That’s all I knew.
So, armed with a bag of LP sleeves and related items I turned up at the Tate just as they were closing. I later found out that the boss in charge of the backroom boys, porters and the like had asked if anyone wanted to work back a couple of hours to accommodate George and his party. Most of the long-serving old blokes didn’t want the overtime, but my mate and some of the younger guys jumped at the chance and probably would have done it for nothing.
When I arrived George was already there with his manager and a few others, including everyone’s favourite mad percussionist Ray Cooper (who, it transpired, came up with the whole idea for the shoot). The idea was to photograph George up against a 3D relief artwork by Mark Boyle titled “Holland Park Avenue Study”. Dating from 1967 the piece was basically a 239cm square x 11.5cm thick representation of pavement and road made from (it says here) “Earth on Epikote and fibreglass”. The idea was for George to sit on the floor and lean against the artwork on the wall and, suitably cropped, it would seem like he was lying on the street itself. Caroline Irwin was the photographer.
While everything was being set up I spoke to George’s manager/PR man (I forget which) and asked about the chances of getting autographs. He assured me it would be OK and asked to see what I had brought. He gave the OK to everything except a copy of the 1976 Best Of George Harrison LP (the UK version with cover showing George sitting on the bumper of a hot rod car). “If you give him that to sign, he’ll probably tear it up in front of you!” said the manager. It turns out that George hated that album, feeling insulted that EMI had filled only one side with his solo material and padded out the other with his Beatles hits.
As we waited I overheard George relating how he’d been pulled over for speeding in his black Porsche on the way into London that afternoon. “So when the cop asked for my address, I said ‘which address do you want, my LA address, my New York address, or my Surrey address’?” he said in that oh-so familiar languid scouse drawl which could have come straight from a scene in “A Hard Day’s Night”.
Finally the photo shoot was over and I produced my bag of assorted goodies for signing (minus the Best Of LP). I’d taken the Faster single picture disc insert, a copy of Wonderwall and the booklet from the Concert For Bangla Desh. It was this last item which caused the most excitement. George grabbed it and after flicking through, became quite animated and insisted on showing it around. He called Ray Cooper over saying stuff like, “Look at Eric on this one” and generally behaving like he’d never seen it before.
The “Holland Park Avenue Study” picture was used for the original version of George’s Somewhere In England album, but the cover was changed when the CD appeared years later, however.
I still have the Faster picture disc, but parted with the rest of the signed items years ago. Yeah, I wish I still had it all, but a guy’s gotta eat.
Footnote. As George was leaving he called my mate over, thanked him for looking after his party and keeping the gallery open late. Then as they shook hands he quietly pressed a fifty pound note into his palm. And that’s fifty 1981 pounds, folks. Whadda guy.