Photographer Colin Beard was the founding photographer of Australia’s iconic pop music magazine, Go-Set in 1966.
He travelled the world and filmed many of the major rock ‘n’ rollers in the eye of the youth pop scene of the swinging sixties.
Colin, a Mt Mellum resident, recently displayed 168 of his remarkable images at an exhibition at the Orange Regional Gallery in NSW.
Colin spoke to the Hinterland Times about those heady times and the occasion when he broke an appointment with The Rolling Stones.
“I was one of the founders of Go Set magazine with Tony Schauble and Phillip Frazer. We met in a Melbourne discotheque and I had just bought a camera. I was photographing my friends, a rock’n roll group, and they asked if I’d like to take photographs for Go-Set.”
Colin’s first pop star photographs were of Tom Jones for the first edition of the magazine. Then Tony and Phillip got Colin on his first ever flight to Sydney to photograph the Rolling Stones. It was their first Australian concert in February 1966 and he couldn’t get anywhere near them.
“I made myself a little press pass and managed to get into the Stadium, but as soon as I flashed the pass at a bouncer I finished up on the street.
“I was getting pretty desperate, but I caught up with them back at their hotel. In the lobby this guy said ‘Parcel for Mr Jagger’. The journalist I was with, Doug Panther said ‘I’ll take it’. So we got through security and, inside the door, Mick Jagger said, ‘You can take photographs, but you only have 10-15 minutes. We have a plane to catch’. So, I went from room to room and I only had a couple of minutes with each one. I then flew back to Melbourne and was in the dark room all night.
I was really learning as I went along and having read a series of articles in the old Pix magazine, I was able to process my own film.
Anyway the Stones came to Melbourne and I went to the press conference. By that stage there were copies of Go Set hot off the press and spread around at the press conference. Mick Jagger came up to me and said these are the best photographs we have ever had taken.
At 26 Colin was an ‘oldie’ compared to the pop stars he was photographing. Also, he didn’t particularly like rock ‘n’ roll, preferring classical music and jazz. But he started to fill the 32 page weekly magazine throughout its first year, until British Airways came along with a promotional offer.
They sent Colin and his young writer associate, the 19 year-old Lily Brett to write and photograph pop stories in the UK and America. Lily has gone on to establish an international reputation as an author based in New York.
“When we got to England Melody Maker and New Musical Express magazines saw my photographs and gave us all their contacts for the use of my prints. Well, it meant that we were able to go on tour with the likes of The Troggs, Spencer Davis Group, The Hollies, The Small Faces and The Who. I got to know Pete Townshend very well – two angry, working class kids!
“On one occasion I rang up the Stones’ publicity manager and said we wanted to interview and photograph the Stones. He said they are off duty now. They’re at their own homes, and they won’t want to come in to London. He rang us back the next day and said I can’t believe it, I mentioned your name and they’re all coming in.
Anyway, Lily and I got caught in a traffic jam across London, and we were an hour late. It seems the Stones waited for quite a long time, but we missed them by five minutes. So I stood up the Stones and Lily was furious with me.
But I liked the Stones because of their rhythm and blues roots. And Mick Jagger is a lovely man. I really liked him. And I loved the way they appeared – long hair, a bit rough looking. They’re rather respectable now of course, because they were followed by punk, the Kiss, Madonna and far more outrageous groups than the Stones.”
Colin and Lily then flew to New York and met the journalist Lillian Roxon. Lillian was then working for the Sydney Morning Herald in New York covering the pop scene. She once famously asked Beatles manager, Brian Epstein at a press conference, “Are you a millionaire?
“Lillian set me up with a blind date in New York, Linda Eastman, who later married Paul McCartney. Like me, she was then a rock’n’ roll photographer so Lillian thought it was a very good match. We went to the Electric Light Disco together but Linda and I didn’t get on at all.
We also accepted Lillian’s suggestion to fly to a pop festival that was about to happen in Monterey, California. This was 1967. We thought it sounded like a good idea. It sounded glamorous but really, we hardly had any money. So often in those days it was a case of buying food or film.
“Well, when I woke up that first morning in our motel room and heard this beautiful contralto voice echoing over the park … ‘some pills make you taller, some pills make you small, but the ones your mother gives you don’t do anything at all’ – Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane. I thought wow… what is this, what have we hit? So Lily and I raced over and there were all these people with painted faces, long hair; girls with babies on their backs. There were thousands and thousands of people.
“We managed to get judges passes through Derek Taylor, the publicity manager for the Beatles. He knew of us from England and so I was right in front of the stage and it was the most phenomenal experience.
“I had photographed Jimi Hendrix in England and he was there at Monterey along with The Who, Janis Joplin, Otis Reading and Ravi Shankar. Jimi was very hard to talk to but I got a lot of photographs, including shots of him sitting in the audience which, amazingly, no-one else got.”
Colin is very conscious of having been in the cockpit of the youth pop scene in the 1960s. He was filling Go Set with photographs and working 20 hours a day, with little time to think about what he was doing. Glenn A Baker, the pop historian, who opened Colin’s Orange exhibition said that every group paid tribute to Colin’s freshness and originality. Glenn also picked up on Colin’s engineering background in pointing out the carefully structured compositions with angles and edges.
“I took all the rockn’roll stuff with a Pentax Spotmatic and a standard lens. Mick Jagger (cover photo) was taken with a 55mm lens and I had to push the film like hell in the dark room. These days I am keeping up with technology, and use a Canon 5D digital camera.
“I wasn’t overawed by the different groups, and I had a great belief in my photography. I said to one group that was pumped up with its own importance and was very rude, ‘ Look, I’m as good at what I do as you are at what you do. You’ve got to learn to respect that. And if you don’t, I don’t want to photograph you’. Anyway, when that group came to Melbourne their manager heard about their rudeness and got them to apologise to me.
“Photographing the pop scene was the happiest and most intense time of my career but it certainly wasn’t the apex. I was number one fashion photographer in Australia for seven or eight years. I did covers of Vogue and all the covers for Dolly magazine in its first year.
“I now enjoy teaching (Sunshine Coast School of Photography, visit website: www.photolearning.com.au) and I tell students every time you take a photograph you should make a statement. You must show something that people have never been able to see before. All good photographers show the magic of something. They should always transcend. That’s what I’ve always tried to do anyway.”
Colin’s exhibition of 60s pop icons is coming to the hinterland with an exhibition at the Main Street Gallery in Montville at the end of September. It is also slated for showing in France and the UK.