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FROM THE BEATLES IN A SEWER TO LEARNING ABOUT LIFE

September 19, 2016

A MAN WHO PHOTOGRAPHED LIVERPOOL’S FINEST 1960s TALENT

For those who can claim an overload in influential people in their life, this blog is for you.

Harry-Watmough-3


I count myself most fortunate and have lost count of the amazing people who have guided my every step to my present number of summers.

I could fill a phone book with these bright stars beginning with my mum and dad; each contributing an episode to be treasured.

Sadly lights do dim and go out leaving a great void of emotions, something we all experience and survive with cherished memories.

Well, that’s the sad bit over, now for the good part.

One of my most significant mentors was a distant cousin, linked by a matrix of connections through marriage, but one I moved to Liverpool at the tender age of 17 to work for.

Harry Watmough, (pictured above)  brother to my fathers sister’s husband Sam, trombonist in the great Joe Loss Band, with a well respected name in the City.

Harry-and-Sam

Liverpudlians to the core, and hailing from the proximity of official Scouse land, the famed! Scotland Road, Harry and Sam (pictured left) were iconic examples of their father, Wally, who, like my own Liverpool grandfather, was the centre of the universe.

Harry was a photographer with a studio in Moorfields in Liverpool, in the same building as Brian Epstein’s Nems Enterprises. The cover photograph above is one he took before Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Star on the drums. The literal home of the Beatles and many others but in 1963/4, still sizzling with great potential and before the full Mersey Beat burst on the scene.

The distance from Essex to God’s City was made after emerging from a west end photographic apprenticeship and looking for an exciting job.

Family gossip linked the two needs and resulted in being invited to fill the post of ‘assistant’ to Harry and the unbelievable wrench from home.

Looking at it from Harry’s side, he had a 17 year-old lad, filled with the nuts and bolt knowledge of the mechanics of photography, but very short on the life experiences.

I can now look back and see just what my good friend did for me. He gave me that missing knowledge in the only way he knew, through the magical world of taking pictures.

From the very start, our relationship was warm and not boss/employee. He was in fact a surrogate big brother but with the same inherited sense of humour and fun that I had shared with my Liverpool relations.

Working at times seven day a week, it never seemed like work, for apart from theatrical work, Harry was a GP photographer and included doing weddings for the huge Jewish community in Childwall. Many brides insisted on that nice Mr Watmough, capturing their special day on film, but only on Sunday’s.

They were often 12 hour day long sessions which flowed into Monday to process the vast number of photographs.

Bearing in mind these days were still emerging from the  birth of photography, where rolls of film were used like dripping on a slice of bread, creating a celluloid mountain that needed a tight system of filing.

The work was constant and varied. Harry’s speciality was stripping in a letraset title bearing the band name and contact details fitting under the photograph, then printed in all sizes from 10×8 to Half a postcard, which were popular and used as visiting cards for the groups.

Believe me trying to control a group of lads on Pier Head and get a reasonable photograph was a life threatening art form in itself, but ballistic in terms of satisfaction at the end result.

The problem I first faced was photographing some of the 3,000 plus groups in Liverpool at the time. They were adolescents thinking they were the Beatles and being photographed by a similar long-haired callow youth. Harry’s influence on me was instant and successful. He treated his subjects with affable humour and an underlying threat of instant injury if the mark was stepped over. Watching a master at work could not equate to any amount of reading, he generated a respect on his subjects where they worked for him and not against. Oddly enough he found the Beatles difficult and this was at the time when their drummer was Pete Best who was the only sensible one amount them.

Liverpool and Harry Watmough had the sort of effect that legends are made of. I know I would not be the person I am without that magical influence of Scouse humour and solid foundation that makes being a human being sensible and gifted with self assurance and importantly, a sense of pride.

He had great faith in my abilities and often threw me in at the deep end in a sink or swim mode. One such was to photograph a group in the Cavern in Matthew Street. during one of the constant gigs.

The venue made world famous by the Beatles, was a sewer, smelt like one and when crowded with rocking and jiving youngsters, the lack of air conditioning made the walls drip with condensation mixed with the essence of decades reflecting its former usage.

My failure was in trying to get a reasonable image of the group with a large format camera. The condensation formed a thick fog on the plates which left the image a soggy mess totally unrecognisable as a photograph.

He made me return on three occasions after each failure, deciding he would show me how to do it on the fourth.

Pondering over his obscure images the morning after he said: ‘It’s a bugger isn’t it’

I never did get a decent photograph, but I did try in mid winter and never had time to warm the camera up which is what I should have done, but it was like photographing a streaming kettle in a Turkish Bath.

Sadly it all came to an end when the success of Liverpool started to fade with Epstein moving his empire down to Argyle Street in London.

It was a slow demise even with the strength of the Mersey Beat being bigger than any city.

The Beatles went onto world domination which moved south along with the need for larger and glitzier promotion teams.

Photography in Liverpool struggled to cope with the moving spotlight and in the end the volume of lost work could not be made  up. I well remember being told one day that it was difficult to pay me any more and I had little choice but to move home to Essex.

It was one of the saddest days of my life, even the prospect of going home could not make up for the magical time I had experienced.

Harry gave up photography and found an accounting job in the Petroleum industry in Devon.

Though I have not said it, I am sure the reader will have gathered from the text that a great light has diminished.

Harry died in early September with his Funeral by definition a sad occasion, but when the memories kick in, the rib tickling begins, and that is how we will all remember that recent day in Taunton, the last resting place of Harry Watmough, photographer.

The one thing that I expected to happen, did not in actuality, but at the last musical tribute in the service of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ I must admit I mind dubbed it for Eric Idle’s ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ . That was how Harry lived his life and the image he gave all who knew him with the final wicked little smile.

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