Eight Days a Week is the story of The Beatles’ last world tour, through the eyes and lenses of Robert Whitaker, then staff photographer with Brian Epstein’s NEMS Enterprises. Between 23 June and 5 July 1966, the Fab Four played six concerts in Germany, avoided a typhoon by landing in Alaska by accident, played five concerts in Japan, and made a stopover in Hong Kong en route to the Philippines for the final two concerts of the tour. Manila was a frightening experience, in the words of Neil Aspinall, their road manager and personal assistant: “It put one of the last nails in The Beatles’ touring coffin”.
Whitaker’s images, and the occasional explanatory paragraphs of Marcus Hearn’s text, are concerned with John, Paul, George and Ringo as phenomena rather than musicians, and the bulk of the book provides an intimate and fascinating visual record of press conferences, plane flights, onstage performances, and how The Beatles passed their time in hotel rooms and backstage. To anyone who is a Beatles’ buff, the book is indispensable; to anyone who isn’t, it holds plenty of surprises. What comes across most strongly is the extent to which The Beatles – then at the height of their fame – were prisoners of the system in which their genius flourished. Wherever they went – Munich, Essen, Hamburg, Tokyo, and especially Manila – they were virtually under guard 24/7 or, in this case, 24/8.
There were no shopping trips, no outings to top restaurants, no sightseeing tours, no cultural visits. During the tour they endured an almost celibate existence – though John Lennon did pay at least one visit to the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s notorious red-light district. It was a walk down Memory Lane. As a callow youth, Lennon once sang a song in a Reeperbahn club with a toilet seat round his neck. “I may have been born in Liverpool,” he once said, “but I grew up in Hamburg.” Admittedly, on this last world tour, the tight schedule allowed little time for such jaunts, but Whitaker’s probing images make it clear that, as far as the music industry was concerned, the four young men were not there to have fun but to make money.
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