Saturday, 8 May 2010 Determining exactly when and where this all started for me is very easy. It was at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park , London on January 13th 1973.
Back then, I wasn’t a photographer, not even a keen amateur, just an advertising agency art director with a flatlining career. Thinking back though, right from my early teens I was always interested in looking at photographs and I’d often cut out and keep the ones I liked from newspapers and magazines. So I guess there must always have been something there.
In 1967, when I left school and enrolled at Ealing Art School, I don’t think I was even curious as to how a camera worked. Those of us on Ealing’s Ground Course (a first year of general art studies to establish where one’s talents might lay) were required to spend half a day a week using a camera and learning the rudiments of photography. Sadly, it all went in one ear and out the other with me and whenever I had the need to use the medium, perhaps for making a photo-litho or a silk-screen, I’d go to Bill Patterson, one of the photography tutors, and say, ‘would you mind just running through this bit for me one more time?’ He’d usually sigh, take the camera or film from my hand and say, ‘Give it to me, I’ll do it.’
He was a lovely man but perhaps not blessed with the required patience to deal with a lot of whacky students, so I tended take advantage of this quality in order to avoid any unnecessary toil. Which was perfectly fine, except that it meant when I left art school four years later, I hardly knew how to process film and I certainly didn’t know what all the little numbers on the front of the camera meant.
Fortunately, I went straight from college into the advertising business, so I thought I didn’t need to. But a couple of years, and a couple of job changes later on, I found myself working in an agency that had a camera account – that of the late and not very lamented Miranda SLR - and I was told to use one and try it out, so as to get to know better what it could do. (Not so much, as it happened, but we obviously didn’t say that in the ads).
So one night a few weeks later, when I went to see the above named gig, I just happened to have the camera and some film with me. The seats my girlfriend and myself had bought were terrible, almost the very back row, and it was like watching an ant performing on stage. So I thought - I’ve got a camera, why don’t I just go down to the front, climb into the pit and pretend to be a photographer? In those days there was virtually no security at rock gigs, so it was perfectly possible.
So, rather unchivalrously leaving my girlfriend where she was, I ran down to the front and, effecting the air of someone who did this sort of thing for a living, hopped over the low wall and watched the rest of the gig from behind the borrowed Miranda. It was a tremendous buzz, being just a few feet away from some of my musical idols. Bathed in the same coloured lights as them and in front of thousands of people just like them, I could see and hear every little detail. And it was an infinitely more profound and worthwhile experience than sitting in the seats right at the back.
When I got the photos I'd shot processed, I found that completely by luck and with no element of judgement whatsoever, they weren’t that bad. Okay, by no means good but not that bad.
And so, very gradually over the next couple of years, I started leaping over barriers and clambering onto stages and shooting live bands wherever and whenever I could...
(to be continued).