‘George Harrison was miserable from frame one to frame 500,” says Ethan Russell. “He was so over it. I don’t think he did anything but scowl for three hours.” The photographer is recalling the day he unknowingly took the last ever shot of the Beatles together. It was 22 August 1969, and they were all at John Lennon’s countryside estate near Ascot.
“Paul was trying to hold it together,” he adds. “He had his arms crossed like, ‘Come on, lads!’ But the concept of the Beatles just didn’t sync with who they were any more. I could have asked them to smile, but it would have been totally fake and I’m glad I didn’t. This marriage had come to an end – and boy does it show.”
The fact that this hugely significant photograph isn’t even one of Russell’s best speaks volumes about his career. Over a prolific 10-year period that culminated in 1978, Russell shot the world’s biggest rock stars, usually at their most candid. He had a ringside seat at what’s often seen as rock’s golden era. Russell wasn’t just friends with Lennon and Yoko Ono, he knew their cat as well. And when pandemonium gripped 1969’s Altamont free concert, where a fan was killed as the Rolling Stones played, Russell was airlifted out with the band.