Christopher Sykes introduced by Alex Ross
Rahul Nair, Official Zee Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger
The Rolling Stones need no introduction. They were the pioneers, they were the unruliness of rock and roll, and they were a phenomenon beyond comprehension, serving as a beacon of hope, passion and revolution for millions across the world. Christopher Sykes, author and photographer for the Rolling Stones, took the audience on an illustrated journey down memory lane, behind the scenes of the famous 1975 United States tour, and what it was like to be on the road with the Rolling Stones for three months.
‘I’m normally used to speaking to 8 people and a dog,’ joked Sykes, addressing a packed audience of hundreds. He described the 1975 tour as ‘the biggest rock and roll tour ever put together.’ Sykes was a Formula1 photo-journalist back then, and the financial manager of the band was the grandson of the owner of the Formula1 team. Sykes flew to the States to meet the band and show them his work for their approval. It was a matter of being ‘in the right place at the right time.’
The first time he met the band was at the Andy Warhol estate where they were rehearsing. He was awestruck to meet them, and added to that, Warhol himself showed up to click portraits of Rolling Stones’ front man Mick Jagger. Skyes ensured he didn’t leave without a phone number, and over the next few weeks made repeated attempts to talk to Jagger, but could never get through. One drunken night, disheartened, he dialed the number one last time, and Jagger picked up. He signed him up for the tour on the spot: ‘My face lit up like a light beam.’ The first concert in Milwaukee was attended by 62,000 people, which for a ‘27-year-old rock and roll virgin was a nerve shattering, wild experience.’
Sykes’ photographs created a nostalgic portal for the audience to enter another time and space. Seminal moments in music history were shared, like intimate shots of the Starship (the band’s opulent private jet), the iconic t-shirts that the crew used to wear, the lotus petal stage in New York, the giant inflatable penis that Mick Jagger walked out on stage with, Elton John and Bob Dylan jamming with the band. Sykes also showed a series of photographs he described as ‘a crash course on how to completely destroy a limo… rock and roll behaviour at its best.’
The Rolling Stones symbolize the breaking away from tradition and carving out a niche for themselves. The tour changed Skyes’s life, both personally and professionally, but it also made him realise that the profession was not meant for him, since to be a band photographer requires being obsessed with the music, if you are to sustain doing the same thing night after night.
Photo Credit: Chetan Singh Gill