My first foray into music photography was way back in the late 90s – gulp over 25 years ago now – when I was working as a music journalist in London. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. I was a staff writer for Dotmusic / Music Week and also freelanced for NME and Muzik (both RIP). The 90s were a heady time to be in the music world and at that time London felt like it was the center of the world. It was a wild time of hedonism and thankfully free from social media and phones with cameras documenting every moment. As I was one of the early writers who specialized in writing for the then nascent internet I also took photos at shows with my digital camera. Here are some special memories:
The Corrs Glastonbury 1999
This stands out for me as one of my special and early moments in rock photography and cemented my love of being in the action in the photo pit a few feet away from the artist. The Corrs were a big band in the 90s in the UK – an Irish group consisting of two sisters and a brother and they were playing a sunset set on The Other stage. Glastonbury is huge so I remember a big part of covering all the bands was the amount of distance you walked between different stages battling a sea of humanity. I arrived just in time for The Corrs show. It was the perfect setting and timing. The end of a warm day, the sun glowing (unusually for Glastonbury) and a woozy with cider large crowd. By large crown I mean huge – probably 60,000 people. If you turned around the heads of the crowd stretched back for what seemed like miles, disappearing yonder over the hill. The Corrs walked on stage and the crowd erupted. During the intro of their hit ‘What Can I Do?’ Andrea Corr looked at me for a few bars and I got a really good shot of her. I felt a weird kind of energy, as if she was channeling all the thousands of people looking at her back to me and my camera lens. It was a special moment which kind of moved me and one which I will never forgot. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.
Side note – I went back to Glastonbury the year after in 2000. At that time David Bowie did a show, also I believe on the Other Stage. At the time, I remember thinking – stupidly I know – he’s a bit of a has been, I need to cover newer and younger bands and hence missed it. I’ll be able to see Bowie again at some later date, I thought. Since then it the show as gone down in history as an epic performance. It was one of the first shows where he played a greatest hit kind of set. Of course David passed away a few years ago and I very much regret not seeing him at Glasto. I did see him in 1997 at Net Aid in Wembley where he did a couple of songs, although not the same as seeing an extended and now legendary Glastonbury set.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Camden Palace, London (Industry Showcase) 1998
This stands out as it was an industry only show in a venue I had spent a lot of time in – Camden Palace (now Koko). As a teenager I had been a regular here at their Twist and Shout night (60s, rare groove, funk, soul and RnB) so to see a band of this status in a smaller venue was a real treat. Camden Palace was also famous for being the venue for Steve Strange’s Blitz Club night when it outgrew it’s previous and smaller Soho venue. So here I am, a few feet away from one of the biggest bands in the world and got some great shots of Anthony and Flea. My only regret is the digital camera I was using had a very low resolution as the technology was still fairly new then.
Tom Misch / Jorja Smith
Flash forward a good few years – well over twenty and one of the first shows I saw as I, ahem, relaunched my photography career was a double bill of UK talent with Tom Misch headlining and Jorja Smith in support. What! This was quite early in their careers circa 2018. I actually discovered Tom whilst in a Starbucks after they were playing his music. It was a cool blend of jazz funk that had elements of George Benson with great songwriting and a lot of talent. I asked the barrista who it was and then I Googled ‘Tom Misch’ to see he was playing the OC Observatory the following week. I got a photopass and proceeded to be blown away by two talents. Jorja Smith was mesmerizing – very small but with such a powerful voice and presence. Again to be standing less than five feet from her in the photo pit felt like a special privilege. She was so talented and had the crowd – and me – in the palm of her hand. Next up Tom Misch proceeded to smash it with his virtuoso guitar playing, sophisticated arrangements and song repertoire. A very special double bill.
I have photographed IDLES three times and each time they get better. It’s not really my music as I am not really into the heavier sound, but man does it make sense live. Each one of the band gives 500% and the whole show is a frenetic spectacle. Again being in the pit you really get a unique slant on the whole spectacle, particularly with a band like IDLES with crowd surfers falling from the audience into your space. You don’t know where to look, the energy and visuals are so intense. Then I remember after the third song – its customary to only photograph the first three songs – the guitarist Mark Bowen jumped into the pit and did a kind of sweep with his guitar – whilst still playing and flushed all the photographers out. Kind of aggressively also but he had a point – three songs and your time is up. If you can’t nail it in that time then you’ve blown it (unless you have a good telephoto lens and you can shoot from afar). I understand for the artists, they wouldn’t want a phalanx of photographers shooting for the whole set.
There are countless more anecdotes and memories I could share but these four situations really stand out for me. Of course, I do wonder if there are much legs left in rock photography as the punter right behind you in the crowd is videoing and taking photos in 4K with their latest iPhone so you wonder how long before we’re extinct. Until then you can find me right in the middle of all the sweaty action, trusty SLR in hand. I’m still just at excited whether it’s a small unknown band in a local venue or a big act on the main stage, I’m still eager to freeze the moment in time. I still rush back home excited to see the photos and if I nailed the shot. You want that iconic shot. The guitarist on his knees playing the solo whilst looking right at the camera. The vocalist leaning into the crowd who reach up with their arms in devotional worship. The bass player leaping up doing the splits mid air. You want to capture that energy and moment – preferably completely sharp, well lit and skillfully composed. I am forever propelled by the search for the perfect shot.