Elton John's Bedroom
It's difficult to describe the gracious and generous way in which Elton John treats people, everyone will tell you the same thing, he's simply one of the friendliest people you could ever want to meet. The chance came up to shoot him for the NME and it was supposed to take place at his Record Company, but the day before the shoot he changed his mind, he suggested instead that we do it at his house.
He lives out near Windsor and a driver was sent to collect me, I had never been treated quite like this before, I sat in the car wondering what he would be like, what would I say, he was a huge superstar, why on earth would he invite me out to his house?
Turned out he thought I might prefer his home as a place to do pictures, this was unusual, most stars of his stature would never do this, they would want to keep you away from their house not invite you to go there. I arrived and was ushered into the kitchen, it was bigger than my parents home, and there were records everywhere. Piled up on the table, in boxes on the floor, I had never seen so many, in fact a lot of musicians have very few records, why bother listening to someone else when you make your own?
But Elton is a fan, a huge fan, and music meant everything to him. It turned out that he had a standing order with Tower Records in LA, they were to ship him a copy of every record released. That may sound extravagant, even a little crazy but to Elton it made sense. His record collection was simply second to none, he had purchased the collection from Bernie Andrews, a Radio One producer, he must have had 20,000 LP's. It was stored in a room that was built like a maze, corridor after corridor of LP's neatly filed and literally floor to ceiling, it seemed to go on forever. I spent a long time in there just looking at the records, I had never seen anything like it, except at a record store.
I should explain, whilst chatting over a cup of tea he had told me to take a look at his house and decide where I wanted to take pictures, nowhere was off limits and he said to just explore the place and let me know my choice of rooms, I found a Disco (the previous owner was an Arab) there was an indoor swimming pool with a giant chandelier, a living room full of Art, a massive dining room, a gym, stables, garages full of cars, a small recording studio, I really was spoilt for choice.
Then I went upstairs, this was the largest house I had ever been in, I kept exploring and I ended up in his bedroom suite, not by looking for it, I just happened upon it. It contained these huge speakers, priceless works of Art, and this old bed, something that looked like it belonged in a castle, I figured this was the place where I most wanted to shoot. I mean he did say anywhere, and the idea seemed perfect, papers like the Sun would have given anything to take pictures of him there, but that was the thing, I only ever had my pictures published once, in the NME, everyone knew that about me and that's why I was trusted, to me it made total sense, I did some of the worlds biggest stars and the only place they appeared was a music paper, it meant I was never a threat, I could get these fantastic photos and nobody had to worry about them turning up everywhere, the Fleet Street photographers respected me for it too, although they thought I was completely nuts.
I went back downstairs, told him I had seen his bedroom and asked him about the bed. He said it was from the 16th century, I said it was my favourite room, he said no problem and I went to set up my lights. Looking back it was maybe a presumptuous thing to do, but he was so kind and welcoming that I never really gave it a second thought. We did the pictures quickly, it was all over in a matter of minutes, I think I was probably very nervous, but he really did not seem to mind. He joked that I had been in his bedroom and escaped unscathed, I knew he was desperate to come out about being gay, maybe it influenced my choice of rooms, maybe thats why he let me photograph him in there.
We took pictures elsewhere but by comparison they were kind of boring, after all it's not every day you see a 400 year old bed surrounded by Modern Art.
I went back to the house a number of times to do photos for him, he seemed to enjoy having me around and often invited me to stay for dinner, there was just one catch, if you stayed you were given a woman's name, Rod Stewart was Sharon, my friend Frank Murray was Ruby, I was Bette.
Nick Lowe - Buffalo 1978
For any British band touring America in the 70's the first thing you did after checking in to the Hotel/Motel was to hit up the Thrift Shops and Pawn Stores.
Back then there were still gems to be had at both, and musicians rigorously checked them looking for guitars and other instruments, on this particular day Charles Shaar Murray found a Telecaster in great condition, in fact he lent it to Nick so that he could play Heart of the City in the encore at Elvis's show that night at the University.
Thrift Shops, also known as Sally Ann's (Salvation Army) were great places to find cool stage clothing, and also winter coats, much needed as this trip occurred during the great Blizzard of '78.
These were the days before Johnson and Johnson started being the place for Rock Star Threads, us chaps could not get enough cowboy shirts, leather jackets, cashmere coats and a whole lot more.
The Thrift shop in this photo is in Buffalo, and the temperature was 15 below, but Nick Lowe is a hardy chap and never even bothered to wear a jacket over his legendary musical note sweater.
Nick Lowe - Toronto 1978
When Jesus of a cool was released Charles Shaar Murray and I went to the US to do two cover stories for the NME, one on Nick and the other on Elvis.
The American record company was nervous about the LP's title and chose instead to call the album Pure Pop For Now People, a catchy little phrase that worked quite well as an alternate title.
Nick had brought Mighty Martin Belmont from the Rumour with him and was due to do a couple of special gigs to promote the LP.
Rather than a full set Nick chose to join Elvis for the encores in Buffalo University and at the El Mocambo in Toronto. He also did a special radio show for CHUM FM.
The people at the El Mocambo put up a special sign for this event, Springtime for Basher it proclaimed, using a line from the Producers along with the nickname many if us knew him by. It came from his simple instructions to bands he was producing in the studio, "bash it out—we'll tart it up later".
It was too good an opportunity to miss and so I asked Nick to stand outside the club and throw a few shapes, Nick did this with ease, the expression was one Nick used to describe the art of guitar playing in front of an audience.
"It's easy being in a band, all you do is go onstage and throw a few shapes"
Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Steve Nieve - Buffalo 1978
In April 1978 one of the biggest Blizzards in decades hit the East Coast of America, it covered the ground in over two feet of snow. I was on tour with Elvis Costello and the Attractions and we were in New York when the blizzard hit. It snowed for eighteen hours and when the snow stopped it was obvious that there was no way we were going to be able to drive the bus to the next gig.
Elvis hated flying and would normally do anything to get out of traveling by plane, but we had no choice as we had to get to Buffalo in upstate New York in order to play a show at the University that evening. The travel agents worked like crazy to get us tickets and eventually we were able to fly there via Boston.
You always see those classic photos of bands with planes and I was lucky that in those days you often had to walk from the plane to get to the gate. Knowing this was the case in Buffalo I made sure I was the very first person off the plane. When Elvis saw me lying in wait for him he laughed, not something you usually saw him do back then, but we were good friends so I saw a different side of him.
In front of EC is his keyboard player, Steve Nieve, behind him is Nick Lowe, also known as Basher, writer of hits and the producer of EC's first three LP's. I have to say that this is one of my all time favourite photos.
Elvis Costello at the Hoover Factory 1978
One of the songs on Elvis Costello's Demo Tapes for Stiff Records was called Hoover Factory. It was written about the giant Art Deco building out just outside London that EC saw every day on his way to work as a computer operator at Elisabeth Arden. It's a simple song, and quite unusual in subject matter and lyrics. In early 1978 the Sunday Times commissioned me to shoot Elvis for the colour supplement and I thought it would be an interesting place to go and shoot. Given that nobody knew the song at that time it also provided yet another of the little "in jokes" that were so often contained in his record sleeves.
We both went out to Western Avenue and did a bunch of different photos outside the Hoover Factory gates, many were full length and featured the vast building in the background, EC wore a number of outfits, from an American Brass Bandleader's jacket to a bright blue sweater with stripes.
It's the latter which is featured here, knowing him as well as I did he did not mind me using a wide angle lens and being only about 15 inches from his face. Looking back at this image he seems so young, and that impish look in his eyes makes for a great photo of the best new British singer/songwriter to have come along in decades.
Bob Dylan and Graham Parker - Blackbushe 1978
I was in America with the Rolling Stones when I got a call from Promoter Harvey Goldsmith, he wanted me to fly home and be the official photographer for the Bob Dylan concert at Blackbushe Airport.
I jumped at the chance of shooting Dylan and jumped on the first plane home, I went straight from Heathrow to the gig. But when I got there I was given the news that Bob had his own photographer and I was out if a job, his Tour Manager told me to put my cameras away and be sure not to take any photos of Bob, even when he was performing.
I was mightily depressed by this news and wandered around backstage in a daze. I bumped I to Graham Parker and told him my tale of woe.
Then, a voice behind us says "Hey man, I just want to say, man, that I really love your albums, man."
We turn around and see Bob Dylan standing there, GP, suffering from shock looks Bob in the eye and says "Hi, do you know my photographer, Chalkie" I offer Bob my hand and receive the worst wet fish handshake ever.
I ask Bob if it's OK to take a photo of them and he happily obliges, shaking like a leaf I take three frames. Bob and Graham then have a long and short but meaningful conversation before Bob bids us both farewell and wanders off into the sunset.
Thin Lizzy - Sydney Opera House 1978
I travelled the world with Thin Lizzy, I did numerous American, British and European Tours, but I also went to Japan and Australia with the band.
The concert in Sydney was going to be televised live, a stage had been built on the steps of the Sydney Opera House and it was a free concert. This meant that more than a hundred thousand people showed up to see the performance.
This gave me the chance of one of the best backgrounds to a live photograph you could ever get. I positioned myself between the amps onstage and waited for the band to go on.
The first number was Jailbreak and the crew had built three ramps for the guitarists to use to get closer to the audience. Philip, Scott and Gary immediately used these ramps for the first chorus, Philip machine gunned the crowd in true Wilco Johnson style and the audience erupted in applause.
I rattled off about a dozen frames before the band came back onto the regular stage, I realized that my job was probably done, nothing could beat this photo for atmosphere, it really summed up the dynamic stage presence the band had.
Of course I shot more film, but this one frame, in black and white and shot in daylight is almost as good as the color image of Philip on his knees that graced the cover of Live and Dangerous.
Philip in the Diner - Philadelphia 1978
Taking photographs of your friends means that you can often get a truly relaxed photo, they trust you and it's all in the eyes, if the eyes are true and real then the photo looks so much natural.
I went all over the world with Thin Lizzy, including numerous American Tours, this photo was taken in Philadelphia one Sunday afternoon, we had a day off and Philip and I went for looking for a place to have breakfast.
This diner sums up that era of Americana for me, breakfast were always good in these places, a long way from a traditional English Breakfast but still delicious with bacon, eggs, home fries and toast made from any kind of bread you wanted.
With a juke box control on the counter these diners were the perfect place to hang out for a while, feed the juke box with a bunch of quarters and you could listen to all your favourite singles.
Sadly there are only a few of these diners left now, but William's Famous Bar B Q in Philadelphia is one I will always remember.