I was 18, a photography student. And very fortunate to have the chance to be the main photographer at John and Yoko’s well known “Bed-In for Peace,” in Montreal.
I knew the radio announcer from CFOX Radio in Pointe Claire, Quebec, Roger Scott, who would be hosting a live broadcast from the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, on the first night of John Lennon’s visit in Montreal. Roger was a Brit, like me. He did the evening show and loved the same music I did. I got an assignment from the photography school I was attending, to photograph someone (anyone) at work. I called Roger and asked if it would be okay if I came and shot photos of him at his station. He agreed and I stayed all through his show talking and taking pictures. So when I asked him if I could shot the LRB (Live Remote Broadcast) he agreed that I could take photos for the station. But, unfortunately, he couldn’t get me in.
How was I to get in now that I was the “Official” CFOX photographer? Still, how to get in?
I had a mentor, Gerry ― Jerry was showing me what it was like to be a photographer. He was twice my age. I had met him through a ‘dealer’ I knew. Gerry had left New York City with his 20-year-old girlfriend, his Malamute (with the freakiest eyes), and his camera equipment, and he moved to Montreal. I was never able to clearly understand why he came to Montreal.
I called Gerry, and he gave me the name of Richard Glanville-Brown, of Capital Records. I called him, and he agreed to give me 15 minutes with John and Yoko during the live broadcast. Can you imagine? I was absolutely ecstatic! I was going to meet John Lennon, and I was going to be part of the live radio broadcast event with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
I arrived at John Lennon’s suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel at 5:30 pm, having slipped my way through throngs of adoring fans who filled the corridors of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. A security guard sat at the entrance to the suite, so I announced that I was the photographer for CFOX Radio. I was then ushered into an outer room adjoining the “Bed-In” room, and was told that the Montreal press would be finishing up with John in a few minutes. Roger Scott (my radio friend), Charles P. Rodney Chandler (announcer, CFox Radio), and I would then be introduced to John Lennon and Yoko Ono before 6 p.m. I would be given 15 minutes to take my photographs; then I would have to leave.
Derek Taylor (John’s secretary), came to collect us and we were brought into the room! Derek introduced Roger and Charles to John and Yoko, and then me. John’s and my eyes met, and I felt I ‘knew’ him and that he ‘knew’ me, and we both sort of giggled as he said “howdy Roy, how you doin’?” I said, “it’s an honour to meet you!” John laughed, and replied, “no, the honour’s all mine,” and he shook my hand!
There I was, sitting in the room with John Lennon, Roger Scott, Charles P. Rodney Chandler, and Yoko Ono. Roger was on the air interviewing John, and I was seated in a corner of the room not more than ten feet away, shooting images. After about ten minutes of interviewing John, Roger had Charles P. Rodney Chandler play one of John’s songs. During the break, I couldn’t resist the temptation to sit right next to John and ask him a question: “John, tell me what the meaning was behind Strawberry Fields Forever”? “Well Roy, it was like this. We had eleven songs for the album and we needed one more song, so we wrote Strawberry Fields.” “You mean, there were no deep psychedelic messages about love, peace, eternity, and all that” I asked. “No, nothing like that, it was just a song, Roy, just one of many songs. Other people gave them special meaning, depth and intent; we just wrote songs. The record company just kept telling us to put out more records and write more songs. We were just a bloody machine.”
That was one illusion completely destroyed! I had believed every single word of every song that was on every album came from Valhalla directly to the Beatles, with no intermediary steps. Boy, was I wrong!
So between songs, Roger would interview John, and during the songs I would pepper John with questions. All the time snapping pictures with my beautiful Leicaflex 35mm camera. At one point, early in the evening, I ran out of film. I went over to ‘Chuckie’ Chandler, as he was affectionately known in the radio world, and borrowed a few dollars to buy some film. I dashed down to the lobby, picked up a new roll, then rushed off to the lobby to buy a roll of B/W film. I raced back up and stayed until 11 o’clock.
As I was leaving, Derek Taylor, John’s secretary, approached me and said that John was interested in looking at the pictures I had taken. Could I possibly come over with some black and white proofs the next day? No problem at all, I said! Although I had no darkroom and no way of developing the images, somehow I knew that I would be there the next day with the prints! Eventually I managed to get the use of a darkroom and enlarger, for a rental fee. I rushed out and bought some photographic paper, got back to the darkroom and printed two 8 x 10 contact sheets.
The next day I returned to the QE Hotel and Derek brought me back into the room, where John looked at the images. “These are fuckin’ awesome, Roy, I want one of each of them.” He said, “I’ll have 8 x 10 prints” of each of the pictures I had taken. As I was leaving, Richard Glanville-Brown (Capital Records executive) took me aside and asked if I would do a set of prints for Capital Records. No problem, I replied. So now I had orders for 76 pictures at $10 each. That is $760 in one day, in one sitting, on the first professional job of my life in photography. An ounce of pot cost $25 back then; I rushed out and bought a half ounce of black hash from Gary, “The G Man.”
Thus began an eight day adventure with John, Yoko, and friends, which included the writing and recording sessions of the world renowned, iconic song “Give Peace a Chance”!
Life has presented me with numerous challenges since those halcyon days, through all of them I survived, but it was not until I admitted that I was an alcoholic that I regained the wide eyed clarity with which I took these images.
Today I am committed to the eradication of substance abuse in our adolescent population. I speak about substance abuse and provide one on one counselling and support for adolescents, wanting to turn their lives around. I will not chage a fee for service I will only ask that my expenses be covered as I have a pension to cover my housing costs.