I shot the Stones

A lucky shot of Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman, taken shortly before I was ejected from the TOTP studio - Robert Davidson

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I shot the Stones

In 1964, The Moody Blues released a soulful rendition of the Bessie Banks song, ‘Go Now’. The single was a success, reaching Number 1 in the UK Hit Parade in January 1965. They had been invited to perform on Top Of The Pops, so I was sent to take some pictures.

While this was all being set up, in the interim, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and the rest of the Rolling Stones were having a sound check. I took some pictures, but not of the whole band, due to the width of the studio. The lighting was extraordinary, because it was for TV. I was using my trusty Rolleiflex, a medium format camera with two and a quarter inch square negatives.

In a sense, I felt invisible. Particularly, shooting on a Rolleiflex, I didn’t feel as though I was there. I was able to look down. Not having to behave like you would with a single lens reflex, looking straight into their eyes. With a Rolleiflex, you’re looking down into a box, you don’t have eye contact with the subject. They don’t feel that you’re taking a picture of them. It’s the ideal way of taking a picture, almost like a spy camera, but in plain sight. It doesn’t have a telephoto lens though, so you’ve got to get up close.

In those days, if you did manage to get something printed in a magazine or paper, they never returned either the prints or the negatives. Subsequently, many of these pictures disappeared. And although I wasn’t good on the marketing side, I was very good at taking pictures. Many of my best pictures were from that era. Part of me wanted to remain anonymous, yet another part wanted to make money. However, I wasn’t driven by that. I was driven by the thrill.

Most of the bands I knew had a life of fun, music and travelling. I got to travel with them and be part of their entourage, while at the same time being slightly distanced as well. This actually suited me fine. I find crowds difficult and don’t enjoy facing lots of people and being the centre of attention. I shy away from the spotlight. Photography works better for me. I can hide behind my camera. It was my shield, behind which I could do anything. Sometimes frightening myself with the risks I took with a camera, I would go that one step further. I had to be at the front seeing what was going on.

In this case, once again, I had gone that one step further. Photography was not permitted in the television studios; I found myself ushered, unceremoniously, outside. Fortunately, on this occasion, the shots I had got remained in my camera.

Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman 1965 © Robert Davidson Photography

Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman at the Top of the Pops studio

This rare image of Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman at the BBC Top of the Pops studio will be auctioned at Sotheby’s in October 2018 – fifty-three years after the picture was first made.

Coming soon: A2 Poster of the full image, and a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Mick Jagger.

For enquiries about my photography, prints, talks or anything else, please send me a message!