“John’s got Brewer’s droop - he get’s intimated by the dirty pigeons. They love a bit of it.”
I’ve been doing this ‘taking photos of people playing guitars’ gig a while now and, as expected, I’ve become somewhat disconnected from the concept of ‘stardom’. This may be perceived as arrogance or nonchalance (which isn’t my intention) but, generally speaking, I don’t get a ‘buzz’ shooting a lot of bands these days. Whilst what music photographers do may appear like an amazing opportunity, after time a degree of normality sets in whereby you become immune to what others outside the profession or industry may see as romantic or exciting - just like any other vocation, really.
Don’t get me wrong, I still LOVE what I do, but the exciting of photographing X from Y band has been displaced with a challenge of nailing a shot, getting the right composition and angle, catching the light just right, getting everything mega sharp et al. It’s still exciting - just in a different way.
I suppose it’s best summed up by a conversation I had by someone telling me I was “so lucky” to photograph The Stone Roses at Heaton Park a few years back - a decision that ultimately resulted in a barrage of abuse from a bunch of photographers and artists I’ve barely heard of or care about. I digress. I responded with a simple, graceful anecdote:
THEY ALL SHIT.
Spending a substantial amount of time on the other side of the barrier you become desensitised to ‘celebrity’, and instead take a band for what they are - a bunch of people. In a lot of ways, this desensitisation has helped me in a professional sense. I don’t see ‘celebrity’ any more when I work with someone deemed ‘famous’ - I just see a man/woman/band. This makes conversing a whole lot easier, which is essential when working on shoots (or when you don’t have a spare hand to open the door to the press office at Leeds Festival because you’ve gone to buy an overpriced pie and watered down lager, and instruct Jake Bugg to “grab that door for us, will you mate? Got a pie”). I imagine sooner or later I shall work with someone who plays the “do you know who I am card” and I’ll ultimately land in hot water, but for now I’m happy riding my luck.
So, soap box to one side, I had the opportunity to scratch Blur from my bucket list last week. And yeah, all that stuff I just said about ‘fame’ being nothing? Bollocks to it. I mean, it was Blur! ACTUALLY RUDDY BLUR!!
Yeah, last week my theory went right out of the window. I was mega excited at the opportunity to shoot a band that made up the sound track of my youth - Just in the same way I was the first time I shot Feeder, Stereophonics (don’t judge me!), Red Hot Chili Peppers, Muse, Slash, Blink 182, Foo Fighters, KISS, Manic Street Preachers, Jimmy Eat World and pretty much every other band I listened to in the 90s. I was a reet giddy kipper!
I’d been fortunate enough to shoot Damon on a couple of occasions previously - last year he headlined Latitude on his own, and a few years back he played Manchester Arena. But this wasn’t just Albarn - it was ruddy Blur! Coxon, James, and the drummer who’s name escapes me but he’s a lawyer now apparently (Rowntree?). The full set. The whole, original from vintage, used but still mint set!
Given the show was a warm up to their forthcoming appearance at Isle of Wight, I was a little concerned that the set list would just be a dry run for the new album. Whilst this wouldn’t have been a bad thing, I wasn’t here for the new album, and neither were the bulk of the excitable Blackpool crowd. They wanted Parklife and Universal and Country House and Song 2 and Beetlebum and Coffee & TV and There’s No Other Way and Parklife again! And that’s what we got. Kinda.
The show got of to a colourful start, with Damon playing the usual part of crowd-enticer/water cannon in between verses - the place was rocking. Literally rocking - the old ballroom floor was like jelly. Damon jumped down into the crowd for a short while, and the tone for the night was duly set. Before breaking into the second number for the evening (‘There’s No Other Way’) Damon took a minute to catch his breathe, say hello to everyone, and show his appreciation of the impressive venue “this is the best looking venue in Britain”, he proclaimed.
Midway through the second song, things took a slight turn for the worse - part of the security barrier started to give way under the pressure of the surging, bouncing fans. The security team did their best to push it back and secure to it, but they didn’t really stand a chance. There was no option but to pull the plug - at least temporarily. This put a slight dampener on matters, but the band duly apologised and laughed it off, and ten minutes later the third song was on full swing. It was a great gig to shoot, and I had a tremendous time shooting it. Driving home with a beautiful sunset in my mirror, Gene Simmons Rock Show on the stereo, and a big beaming grin on my face.
I stand by my point that ‘stardom’ is in part self-manifested. But, when it comes to bands from my youth, bands that played to me when I was on that side of the barrier, it all comes flooding back and I realise again just how damn lucky I am to do what I do.
DUH. DA-DUH. DA-DUH. PARK-LIFE.