Michael Putland

Michael Putland was the official photographer of the Rolling Stones tour of Europe in 1973. He worked extensively with the band for over a decade, travelling with them around the world. Here, he shares some of his memories of touring with the greatest rock and roll band of all time in Europe ’73.

How did you become the official tour photographer for the Stones?

I used to do a lot of work for Atlantic Records, who were their record company at the time. There was a wonderful lady called Annie Ivil, who was the press agent there, she went on to be vice president in the States actually. One day she called me up, just when I was starting to get a lot of work after the usual penniless-ness, and said, "Hello darling, I wonder if you'd like to tour with the Stones?" So I said, "Well give me a couple days to think about it." I was absolutely thrilled. It was the 1973 European tour.

Had you seen many Rolling Stones shows before that tour?

I was a huge fan. I loved their music. That's what I came from, that rhythm and blues and jazz blues. I used to see them in quite small clubs, in fact I went to the British Legion in South Harrow in their early days (17th September 1963). I went to the venue but couldn't get in, as those screaming girls had just started following them around and the place was swamped. Walking down the road I spotted Keith in a van. He wound the window down and said, "Do you know how we can get into the venue?" I said, "I'll jump in with you and show you how and maybe I can come in with you." So we drove up to the entrance, he got out, and didn't let me in!

When did you first meet the band?

I couldn't get arrested, I couldn't get work, I couldn't do anything, this was in 1970. A friend of mine had bankrolled me with a studio. I owed him £200 which was a fortune in those days. I told him I would have to leave the studio as I just could not pay for it. We were both upset and got really drunk. The next morning I went back to the studio to clear up my equipment which I was going to sell. Then the phone rang and it was a magazine called Disc and Music Echo. Dear, wonderful, lovely Julie Noakes said, "We've got an assignment for you." I had been badgering them for assignments for years. I told Julie I'd just decided to pack up, but she said, "You ought to do this. It's Jagger." So the Stones have somehow always been there for me. It was a journalist's round table where I shot him, I took terrible photos, but Disc gave me work every week after that. It all developed from that, that's how I got to meet Annie at Atlantic and then of course be the Stones' tour photographer. Fate intervened. I could've ended up driving a cab.

What were your first impressions of them all?

Mick was very charismatic and a huge star. I was a little bit on edge with him because I was the new kid on the block as a photographer. But I'd sit and talk to him about cricket. He's always been very sweet to me, they all have.

Tell us about the 1973 tour.

It was wonderful, they were the hottest band in the world. It was very exciting. But I was very tense about getting the right pictures. The first gig was Vienna on the 1st of September. It was an extraordinary show. Funnily enough I was actually quite professional about it. I was just taking the pictures. I didn't get hung up on the lifestyle, because by that stage I'd toured with a couple of bands. It gets tiring, you're running from a laboratory in one city, making prints and couriering them back. You're a bit divorced from everything really. I did three or four days on and a couple of days off to get the film developed. By then we had a team and a darkroom.

What were the soundchecks like?

I went to all of the gigs and the soundchecks. The soundchecks were very laidback, in those days Keith would come on stage right before the show started.

What were the challenges in shooting the Stones?

The live stuff, Mick always moved so fast, you had to be right on top of it. And you don't have the light you do at concerts nowadays, you had less light to play with which made it difficult to arrest movement. I look back on the photographs and wish I'd done better, but there were a handful of great images that reflect the tour nicely. My regret is that I could never get them off stage to do a group shot.

How did the stage set-up affect your photographs?

They had these super trooper search lights on the stage and a mirror above, so the lights would shoot up to the mirror and come down onto each individual member of the band. During "Jumping Jack Flash", Mick would jump up and down with his hands above his head and palms facing the audience and the mirror would turn. As they turned the mirror, the spotlight would gradually take in the first few rows of the audience and go all the way back, it was extraordinary, the power of the man. As the light went back you gradually saw everyone jumping up and imitating him with their palms forward, patting the air. It was extraordinary really.

Nick Kent wrote in the NME about one of the Empire Pool shows, "Mick Jagger should have distributed cyanide capsules to the audience. Nothing, absolutely nothing could ever follow a show like that." Were they really that good?

They were that good! I remember during "Midnight Rambler", Mick would bring it down to almost a whisper and then bring it back up, it was amazing. They were a great band. I'd been a fan of theirs, and seen concerts of theirs, by that time, for probably ten years. They were always incredible, but there was something about the band's energy on this tour...

What's your favourite memory of the tour?

Berlin was amazing, the last night of the tour. It was a great gig and I got the best picture of the whole tour, with Mick running around throwing water and rose petals into the air. Although Keith's got his back to you, you can see them all in there. At the afterparty I got chatting to Mike Appleton, the director of legendary BBC music programme, the Old Grey Whistle Test. We were at this party at three in the morning having a lovely time, I'd certainly had a few drinks and I'm sure Mike had too. The president of Atlantic Records in the UK at the time was dancing with a girl with almost no clothes on. Now I've always been interested in birds, and somehow the subject came up of the Wildfowl Trust in Slimbridge, where I used to go as a kid. Mike's brother was in charge of the breeding cycle of the Chilean Flamingo. We got so into this subject that we barely noticed there were two completely naked women making out beneath our feet. I just found it the funniest thing in the world, and it up summed the tour.

The next morning at Templehof Airport I had a big silver camera case. I walked across the tarmac, sat on it, buried my head in my hands, got up, walked a bit more, put it down again and finally made it onto the plane. I sat at the back with Annie Ivel and she said, "Mick and Bianca are asleep in the front," I said "I can't photograph them asleep", I thought I was pushing the boundaries a bit. I do not know how I made it down to the front of the plane, I had had so much to drink the night before. By the end of the evening I'd drunk so much I didn't know whether I was standing on my head or my feet. That last gig and party was fabulous, it was very rock and roll.

What did you do after the tour finished?

I came off the Stones tour and immediately went on the Osmonds tour. They were lovely, really sweet, but it wasn't what I was used to. It was very good financially to shoot them, they were huge. I remember the PR for Polydor saying, "You look quite ashen Michael", I was sitting at the back of the plane drinking milk because there was no booze!

1973: Tour Photos