Barrie Wentzell: The Stories Behind the Images

by Photo Life

In our December/January issue, Joyce Singer-D’Aprile’s “Get On With the Gig and Have Fun” profiled photographer Barrie Wentzell. Wentzell has spent his career photographing the biggest legends of the music industry, and he shared about his career and experiences with us in the article. And, as promised, here are the stories behind the images in the article!

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa, 1969, Hotel room, London. I was a fan of the Mothers of Invention, led by this enigmatic wild man with a Groucho Marx moustache, guitar and such original music that meeting him was always a treat. This picture is from an interview we did at a London hotel. Frank would call up when he was in town and invite us over to listen track by track to his latest opus. I believe it was “Hot Rats.” Frank was one of the most interesting chaps to talk with, as he seemed to have an acute perception of the real “State of Play” out there, which he forecast wasn’t as pleasantly blooming as the “Flower Power Generation” hoped for. © Barrie Wentzell

The Who

The Who, 1969, Melody Maker Awards, unknown hotel in London. Every year the Melody Maker readers would vote for their favourite artist, band, group, etc., and we would have a poll winners’ party in a swish hotel with Jimmy Savile or John Peel hosting and giving out the awards. This year The Who won as best band, and I took some snaps of this happy band celebrating. Derek Taylor from Apple Records was there and invited us to come over to Savile Row as he had “something wonderful” to share with us. This turned out to be us lounging in the Apple office drinking champagne, smoking the best while listening to the yet to be released “Abbey Road” album! © Barrie Wentzell

Diana Ross

Diana Ross, 1965, BBC Studios, London. I was at the BBC studios to shoot some pictures during the taping of the weekly TV show ‘Top of the Pops” and had popped up to the rooftop bar during a break. Diana was sitting at a table talking to a reporter from The Melody Maker, and I asked her if it was ok to take a few pictures of her while she was being interviewed. She smiled and said that it would be fine. After she left, the reporter suggested that I send some pictures to The Melody Maker, which I did, never thinking that they would be used. The following Wednesday I saw the paper at my local newsstand, and there was my photo on the front page along with my name credited. Wow! A few days later I got a call from Bob Houston, Melody Maker’s assistant editor, offering me a job as chief freelance photographer, which I gladly accepted…thanks to Lady Diana Ross! © Barrie Wentzell

John & Yoko

John & Yoko Flag, 1971, Tittenhurst Park, Ascott, Buckinghamshire. I visited John and Yoko one afternoon accompanying a foreign news reporter. Yoko had just published a book called “Grapefruit,” and John was standing shoulder to shoulder with her fielding press and publicity duties. We spent a long time in their kitchen during the interview while the laundry was running, the food was cooking and the kettle was whistling. John and Yoko were exploring ideas and plans for making a better world. Afterwards they showed us their “White Room,” and John specifically requested me to take this picture. At first glance it just appeared to be a mural of the American flag, but when I realized what it was really about I became a bit apprehensive. John had mentioned earlier that they were thinking of moving to New York and were planning an anti “Tricky Dickie” aka Nixon tour. I protested but he insisted. John was inspirational, showing great courage and conviction in his and our pursuit of “Giving Peace a Chance”! © Barrie Wentzell

The Kinks

The Kinks, 1968, Hampstead Heath, North London. I met The Kinks at Kenwood House on Hampstead Heath, as it seemed to be Ray’s favourite location for shooting. One of the colour images from this session later became the back cover of “Village Green Preservation Society.” This was the last shoot I did with the original band, which included Pete Quaif. I’m not sure how I heard of that photo shoot on Hampstead Heath, maybe it was a call from the Pye Records PR department or maybe from Ray Davies himself. I know it was one of Ray’s favourite places to do photos and interviews, as we’d often had tea and a chat at Kenwood House on the Heath. I do remember that I was with a couple of other photographers on this shoot, but had no idea it was for the “Village Green Preservation Society.” We strolled over the Heath for an hour taking pictures of the band on a lazy, hazy, sunny day. At the end of the shoot we all went up to Kenwood House to partake in tea and current buns. A week later I got a call from Ray Davies to ask if I had any colour shots of the shoot, I said yes and he said he’ll come by to take a look. He arrived at my Soho studio later that day and said quick come with me to Pye Records so we can take a look there. As we were speeding up the Edgware Road he told me about the album idea. The old pubs, houses, steam trains, village greens and old London were all disappearing before our eyes, very sadly romantic, nostalgic and true! I left the colour transparencies with the Pye Records art department and Ray went off up north for a Kinks gig and I went home. When the album came out, I saw one of my colour pictures on the back cover. The cover pictures were by one of the other photographers and were overlaid with “psychedelic” effects. I somehow forgot to ask Pye for payment and the colour back from them, which wasn’t unusual back then when it was considered an honour and a privilege to do things for free. It was many years later that I did get paid for use of photos in the re-issue of “Village Green.” © Barrie Wentzell

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix, 1969, in his flat on Brook Street, Mayfair, London, during an interview for Melody Maker. Chris Welch and I went to Jimi’s flat on Brook Street to do an interview before the upcoming shows at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall. His girlfriend had furnished the flat in the most tasteful hippie style. Jimi had told us over a cup of tea that the house was once George Frederic Handel’s residence. I was photographing the whole time as we sat there talking about music, life and the universe. The next day, I went down to the rehearsal for the Albert Hall performance and shot a few frames, but for some reason I didn’t shoot at the show. For once, I just felt like enjoying the magic of Jimi! © Barrie Wentzell

Elton John

Elton John, 1972, at home, Berkshire, England. In December 1972, Chris Welch and I went down to visit Elton in his new home near Virginia Water in Surrey to do an interview for the Melody Maker. Elton welcomed us with a glass of champagne, which I spilled onto his Persian carpet. I apologized and Elton just laughed and said, “Don’t worry, I had Keith Moon over last night, and he’s already christened it.” We were taken on a personal guided tour of Elton’s house, and I was shooting as we went around with him. After we’d spent some time chatting for the interview, his mum popped her head round the kitchen door and with a big smile asked us if we’d like some baked beans on toast? “Yes, please,” was the reply, and we enjoyed a splendid bean feast with champers. © Barrie Wentzell

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen, 1974, Belgravia, London. This was the first time I had met Leonard Cohen. I’d heard his debut album “Songs From A Room” when it came out and found it totally depressing, although it was a “fave” of the lonely people on dark, rainy Sunday afternoons in bedsits everywhere. I went along with Melody Maker writer Roy Hollingsworth to do an interview, and we found Lenny relaxing by a window with his bare feet up on his manager’s desk. To my great surprise, rather than sad, he turned out to be one of the funniest and witty characters I’d met. Since that day I’ve loved his music and can even enjoy “Songs From A Room”! He is still one of the finest songwriter/poets on the planet today. © Barrie Wentzell

Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash, 1968, hotel room, London. Johnny was in town with his wife, June; her sister; and their mother, Maybelle Carter. The Carter family was an early pioneer of folk and country music, and Johnny seemed honoured to include them in his shows. He was serious and commanding as he sat there speaking about his music and how much he appreciated the family’s support. A very respectful and humble guy who was just beginning to make his impression on the world’s stage, and what an impression he did make. This image seems like one of the giant heads of stone at Mount Rushmore carved out of bare rock. It truly should be added, as Johnny was a man made of true grit and granite. © Barrie Wentzell

Ritchie Blackmore

Ritchie Blackmore, 1970, Plumpton Festival, Surrey. I travelled with the Yes band to the festival with my daughter, Saskia, who was just a tot. We were sitting a few yards from the stage and while Saskia held her fingers in her ears, I took pictures of Deep Purple. A strobe light started flashing during Ritchie’s guitar solo, and, as I could not manage to “snap” on the moment, I set the camera shutter on slow speed. I had no idea what I’d get but when I developed the film I was delighted at the multi-image it gave. Towards the end of the set Ritchie started to push over his amps and speakers; I saw this huge speaker cabinet heading our way and quickly grabbed my daughter and cameras and just managed to move in time before the impact hit the exact spot where we were sitting. Ritchie loved the picture and apologized for nearly taking us out. “Man, I get so carried away on stage,” he said. I learned to keep a safe distance from some performers after that when they were performing. © Barrie Wentzell

The Beatles

The Beatles, 1967, Brian Epstein’s house, Belgravia, London. This was the first time I’d met and photographed The Beatles. It was at the launch party for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band at Brian Epstein’s house in posh Belgravia. There were lots of people there from the press and elsewhere, and The Beatles were walking around talking, laughing and celebrating the “Summer of Love.” I was taking a few shots inside the house and got this profile shot of Paul, John, Ringo and George in a friendly mood as they chatted to the press. © Barrie Wentzell

Ian Anderson

Ian Anderson, 1973, Wembley Arena, London. This was shot from the front of the stage during one of those amazing performances at the Wembley Arena. I loved to shoot there as the stage and access were good and the lighting was great, which was unusual in those days. I really liked this “Pied Piper” shot and believe it was used on the cover of Melody Maker. © Barrie Wentzell

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