David Byrne - The Face

David Byrne - London 1981

There is something about David Byrne that makes you take good pictures, almost like you don't want to bother him with something that's not interesting, I worked with him a number of times, but the 30 minute session we did for an early issue of the Face was the most productive.

It was shot in the basement of the Warner Bros building in Soho. There was a gym down there and quite often I built a little studio in the space, I did the Pretenders, Laurie Anderson, even Aha in that basement.

We told David the ideas and he cooperated fully, we decided to shoot on black to emphasize his face, after all it's one of his most interesting features, we shot him distorting it, pulling the skin this way and that, ending up with the classic frame of him opening his eye, quite literally in fact.

We also experimented with double exposures, combining profiles with straight on views, now you would do it in photoshop but back then it was all in camera. And also one set of pictures where I used three consecutive frames to shoot his body, to show his height, and to make something other than a simple 3/4 length photo shot the usual way.

It's amazing what you can do in 30 minutes with the right person, David Bowie is someone else that inspires you to try anything, and to trust your judgement and forget any normal poses.

I always remember Brian Eno's observation, That it will be so great when Byrne and Bowie are really old, they can sit together on an island and still look cool. Of that I have no doubt.


David Gilmour - LP Cover

David Gilmour - London 1983

When I received a call to see if I was interested in photographing David Gilmour I could not reply in the affirmative quickly enough. Not only that but it gave me the chance to work with Storm Thorgerson of Hipgnosis fame.

Storm was the one who inspired me to become a photographer, the sleeve for Atom Heart Mother featured a cow, no band photos at all, how cool was that. I fantasized about being the photographer, what a great way to earn a living, I was only 15 but my mind was made up, this is what I wanted to do. The chance to work with Storm and David 12 years later made that dream come true. 

The word came from on high, "Tell Chalkie to get a Water Cooler" but we don't have them in the UK so I told him no. He refused to budge, we got one from America, I asked why? He said I have got this Photo, trust me. We were booked into a white background studio, I could not fathom this water cooler bit, but, whatever he wants I'll do it.

The Water Cooler arrives, we fill it with water, we wait three hours for Storm to show, I ask to see this picture, he hands it to me. It was James Dean, outside a store, leaning on a Water Cooler. He was radiating handsomeness. My heart dropped, David's not used to this studio photo stuff, no way can I turn him into James Dean instantly. And Storm wanted to start with this. 

But I was touched by the fact that he thought I could turn his friend into James Dean, that David could become James Dean. David is David, he's very special, but I could not possibly do that without teaching him how to act in front of the camera, not just be himself, and teaching him that would take a few hours.

Storm starts ordering everyone around, barking orders at the crew, they get nervous moving the cooler and knock it over, the glass shatters, the studio gets flooded. I'm relieved and smile at David, he smiles back and opens a guitar case, out comes the Red Strat and he sits in this cheap plastic chair and entertains us for 45 minutes while they mop up the studio. 

Starr takes an SX70 Polaroid of him doing this, in my friend Scott Crolla's groovy shirt, then we realize he needs stubble, he's so clean-shaven that he lacks his look, he has none of that slight grubbiness he needs, so I tell Storm and we cancel the whole thing. Just one SX70 had been taken, thousands of pounds had been spent. 

We regroup in the Canteen at Abbey Road, figure out the growth time, then it came to the crunch, I had to persuade Storm not to come to the reshoot, he needed to trust us to do our work in private, our little portrait studio was in the garage of a Mews House, it was tiny. David came, Starr did his make up this time and nobody else but Storm's trusty Ambassador, Andrew Ellis was present,

It features the difficult photographic technique of lighting from below, needed to cast a slight shadow up onto his cheek and to generally add a bit of drama, he's such an incredibly nice and handsome person that I felt we needed to make him a little tougher looking. We gave him my battered old leather jacket, put him on a chair and went in close on his face, he happened to move his arm quickly and his hand crossed his face and looked like he was thumbing a lift, Starr managed to catch this frame and ultimately it was used as the cover. She liked people smiling, I liked them moody, so the portrait you see here went on the inner bag and the happy one on the cover, after all David is a pretty happy kind of chap, so it fitted in well.

It was also pretty cool to have his Electric Blue Porsche parked outside our crummy garage for the afternoon.

One of the things that comes as a bonus when photographing guitarists is that you can ask them to bring a couple of instruments with them, it does two things, it gives them something to hold and covet in front of the camera, it also gives them something to do when backgrounds and lights are being changed. And they do what they do best, they play their guitar. It's a very privileged thing to hear them noodling about whilst they are waiting, and, you get to see some pretty amazing guitars too.

Also worth mentioning is that when he reformed Pink Floyd seven years later with my dear friend Guy Pratt replacing Roger Waters on Bass, they Toured the US after a month of rehearsals in an empty Aircraft Hanger at Toronto Airport.

Sitting in a pair of Directors chairs Storm and I watched the final night of rehearsals with the full Stage Show including Lasers, the band played a two hour set to an audience of less than ten people. To say it was a mind blowing experience would be understating things, the best bit was during the encore when they played Comfortably Numb, with it being the last night they took a chance and opened the Hanger doors just as David got to the guitar solo, the lasers projected out into the night sky creating an incredible light show, then, just as the song was finishing a Jumbo Jet went by and the Floyd's stage set was dwarfed by the size of this massive plane.

The reason for the tiny audience was that in order to get to the gig you had to be driven across the runways at Toronto's Pearson Airport in a special vehicle, it had two huge flags sticking up from the roof in order to make it visible to the Pilots of all the Jets that were taking off and landing, obviously that's a highly restricted access route so it meant very few people other than the Band and Crew could get there...

Sir George Martin and Sgt Pepper

George Martin - Air Studios 1985

There are certain people in the Music Business who are genuine legends, those who help build the records we all love, people who know how to extract the very best performances out of the artists, they labour for months to make the very finest recordings, these people are the Record Producers.

When George Martin phoned up I was truly honored, this was a man I had heard many stories about, my friend Chris Thomas had been his Engineer on the White Album, without George the Beatles may never have reached the heights that they did, he wanted his portrait taken, the prospect filled me with excitement and enthusiasm, especially as he is also an extremely handsome man.

We arranged to take the photo at Air Studios where he said he would be working, it was a place we had been to many times, we often set mini studios up in the bathroom, or the relaxation area, or if available in the recording studios themselves. We showed up a little early so we could set up the mobile studio but he saw us thru the glass, he came out of the Control Room and told us that he was busy for the next 45 minutes, but, would we like to join him. There were two EMI Security Guards by the door and on the Mixing Desk was a two inch Master Tape, written in pencil on the box were these simple words.

The Beatles - Sgt Pepper

It turned out that he had to approve the first CD release of Sgt Pepper as it was twenty years since its release on LP and he wanted to listen to the master all the way thru just to be sure that it sounded OK, he played the tape, we sat mesmerized behind him. When it was over he rewound the tape a little to hear Day in the Life a second time. This time he pulled off everything except John's vocals, it was an eerie but incredible thing to hear, and brought a tear to our eyes listening to it. Once it was over we listened to all the backwards music at the end of the second side, in Studio Sound and with George sitting there it was like magic, one of the best and most privileged moments of my life.

I'm not sure people realize that George produced a lot of Comedy and Novelty records before he worked with the Beatles, these are just a few...

Rolf Harris - Sun Arise
Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren - Goodness Gracious Me
The Archers Theme
Shirley Bassey - Goldfinger with Jimmy Page on Guitar
Bernard Cribbins - Right Said Fred
All the Goons recordings
Millicent Martin - That Was the Week that Was
Flanders and Swann - The London Omnibus

And as if that was not enough he also produced Jeff Beck's groundbreaking album Blow by Blow..

Actually, there is one other story that is worth telling...

In 1978 I got my first commission from Paul McCartney, it was to shoot his Xmas card at Abbey Road, a friend had just given me the Beatles Demos for Decca that were rejected, it was on the aptly named "Deccagone" Label. I figured it might be a laugh to play it during the shoot, I was fearless back then and after two Songs Paul look at me with a quizzical eye, "is this what I think it is?" He asked, I told him it was, " George" he shouted from the Studio Floor, George Martin appeared at the top of the stairs and Paul asked me to give him the Cassette, "Do me a favour and copy this will you" he instructed "and make sure Chalkie gets back his tape, it might be quite valuable"

Dr John Cooper Clarke - Poet

John Cooper Clarke - The Kew Gardens Studio

Of course if I had to nominate my favourite Mancunian from our generation, it would be John Cooper Clarke, we had built a Studio in the Garage at the house I shared in Kew with Phil Lynott, this was the beginning of the end of an era for me, once I had started Studio Photography I never left it, John was the inaugural Shoot, what can I tell you about it? Well he was just non stop funny, that wonderful deep Mancunian accent, the motor mouth delivery, total fun, he was awesome then and he is awesome now. Not only that but he looks just the same, birds nest hair and those piercing eyes, but the voice! How can you ever forget the voice! In fact, if i'm ever in need of cheering up I simply play "I Married a Monster from Outer Space" and my blues fly out of the (Studio) window...


Brian Eno

Brian Eno - Virgin Records 1978

The Clash - NME Cover 1976

The NME put the Clash on the cover for the first time in April 1977. I wanted to make sure it was something special, a photo people would remember.

The Clash has their clothes made by Sebastian Conran, he had a sewing machine set up in a room next to Bernie Rhodes office at Rehearsal Rehearsals in Camden. Bernie felt the clothes were an important part of the Clash's image and they always had group shots done full length for maximum effect.

But that fact bothered me, and it made me want to do something else, to shoot their heads, close up, and put that on the cover instead. I negotiated carefully with Bernie for this, placating him with lots of full length pictures shot outside first, and then I shot this photo against a white wall in his office.

It was the first photo I had ever shot against white, it was what I had always wanted to do, ever since I saw the inside sleeve of Meddle back in 1971, it allowed you to isolate the subject against white, makes for nice and clean cover too. I had bought an inflatable soft box that attached to my flash gun, Tony Parsons held it above my head while I shot the variations.

Yes, variations, the Clash were democratic, right, so I did a version with each band member facing the camera. This kept everyone happy although I knew all along it would look best with Paul in the centre, he was the handsome one, in fact I only showed the paper that version. 

All three variations were done on fourteen frames of film, mainly because the flash took so long to recharge, also because film was expensive. The result is one of my best covers, and the first one on white.

The Ramones on the Bowery

The Ramones - New York 1977

In April 1977 Mick Farren and I came to New York to check out the punk scene for the NME. We went to all the well known Clubs including CBGB's, Max's Kansas City, the Bottom Line, Danceteria and the Mudd Club.

Joey Ramone lived close to CBGB'S which was on the Bowery in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Initially we took photos on the roof of Joey's apartment building but although it looked like New York it did not really have the right feel.

I had spotted this alley when walking over to Joey's place, it was a block from  the Bowery and seemed perfect to me, it was full of trash and totally run down, back then huge parts of Manhattan were like this, the money had run out and the city was bankrupt.

I dragged the four Ramones to the location, I did a number of group shots, aided by their Artistic Director the late Arturo Vega. It seemed odd having somebody else telling the band what to do, all they did was stand there in a line, but it made them relaxed so I was happy to let him help.

To me this sums up the American Punk scene at that time, leather jackets, t shirts and jeans was the look they all had, it's a shame the Ramones never had the true success they deserved, but their influence should never be underestimated.

David Bowie at Victoria Station

David Bowie - Victoria Station 1976

This photo became the centerpiece of what came to be known as 'The Victoria Station Incident'.

David Bowie hates flying, so when he returned to the UK for some concerts as the Thin White Duke in 1976 he arrived by a special train. It pulled into Victoria Station in the middle of a quiet Sunday afternoon, that's if you call a bunch of girls screaming at the top of their lungs quiet.

He walked a few yards from the train carriage to a waiting open topped BMW which then whisked him to another platform where the car reversed towards the hordes of screaming girls. It stopped near us photographers, David stood up in the back of the car and waved to the crowd, then, he drove of to an undisclosed location.

Unfortunately because of the gloomy late afternoon light at Victoria Station I used fill in flash on the four or five frames I managed to rattle off before he split.

When I showed the image to the NME the following day they decided to enhance his left arm by drawing a hand on the image, because of the flash it was partly missing. But when we saw the paper on Wednesday it looked very much like he was giving a Nazi salute.

The press picked up on this and put it together with some quotes on fascism he had made in Europe and lo and behold David was vilified as a Nazi. I feared it might harm our relationship but he shrugged it off saying it wasn't my fault, that I'd just caught a wrong moment and that he was indeed waving at the crowd. Nobody believed him of course and the Victoria Station Incident became part of a Bowie folklore.

Sid and Nancy

Sid and Nancy - Cricklewood 1978

When I shared a house with Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy there were often musicians around, that veritable duo Cook and Jones from the Sex Pistols were frequent visitors.

Sid and Nancy came over with them a couple of times, they did not behave like they did in public, they were well behaved and polite, they loved watching black and white Elvis Presley movies on Philip's video recorder, which was a rarity back then.

Some nights we would go to bed whilst they were still watching the TV, I would go downstairs in the morning and they would be gone but the living room would be clean and tidy, they had even emptied the ashtrays, not exactly what you would expect them to do.

They were always respectful to Philip although Sid was not really interested in getting tips from him on bass playing, one night I asked them to pose for pictures in our bathroom, they duly obliged and the photo appeared on the front page of the NME.

To me they were a couple that were very much in love, and Nancy did everything she could for Sid, he was quite funny really and they never caused us any trouble, their end was tragic beyond words, but it fitted the legend that they had already carved out for themselves. 

Pete's Broken Guitar

The Who - Houston, Texas 1989

There are few things in this world that are worth more broken than when new, but Pete Townshend's Rickenbacker is one of them.

It was their 25th Anniversary Tour of America and the band were going to put out a live album, they needed a sleeve and I wanted something better than the obligatory live photo.

I had heard that Pete had recently smashed a guitar out of frustration, the damned thing would not stay in tune. But instead of making a big spectacle out of the act he did it offstage, leaning it up against a wall and whacking it with his foot, the guitar snapped in half and the body broke into three pieces.

It seemed the perfect thing to shoot for the LP cover, We borrowed John Entwhistle's spider necklace and got one of Roger's beaten up microphones. We built a small studio in the dressing room, Starr styled the photo of the three objects and as we were finishing I knocked out a couple of frames of just the guitar.

I think it sums Pete up quite well, and it makes a pleasant change as a way of portraying one of the worlds finest Rock Stars.

Happy Birthday Mick!

Pete Townshend  as the Statue of Liberty 1983

A long time ago, in a galaxy far from here, Mick Jagger celebrated his 40th birthday, and Pete Townshend wrote an OpEd in the Times to celebrate this monumental event.

Unbeknownst to Pete, Jaan Wenner had purchased the piece for Rolling Stone and we were dispatched to take a suitable photo. 

Pete has always done anything we asked and it was decided that he should become the birthday card, and as the photo was for America the idea of imitating the Statue of Liberty came up.

We gave him a candle to hold in one hand, and a copy of Robert Greenwood's book, "Up and Down with the Rolling Stones" was placed in his other hand. To complete the card, Starr wrote the message "Happy Birthday Mick" on Pete's chest with lipstick.

By this time the light was going down quickly so we used fill in flash and took the photo in the garden of his house in the country.

The result is a happy, and fun filled photo. Perfect for a birthday card from one mega Rock Star to another.

David Bowie Slideshow

David Bowie - Hammersmith Odeon 1973

These photographs are taken on the last night of the Ziggy Stardust Tour in 1973.

They sum up for me, everything that was great about that Tour, David's flamboyance, Mick Ronson's guitar hero poses and most importantly the interplay between the two of them.

Ronno was the perfect partner and foil for David, they interacted so well that it all looked completely natural and spontaneous, almost like they were doing it for the first time. Whilst David cavorted round in a number of outrageous outfits Mick threw these great shapes all through the show, nobody ever played the part of the guitar hero better in my mind.

David is wearing the short kimono outfit that he started the show with. I always admired his ability to wear a short skirt and you see him here conducting his audience of adoring fans. He makes it all look so easy.

Of course the center photo reveals the most controversial moment in the show, that's if you don't understand that David's simply playing the harmonica solo during Gene Genie whilst on his knees in front of Mick and with his head in Ronno's crotch.

Back then this was considered trés risqué, nowadays it would be considered mild in comparison to modern teen idols.

It's such a shame that David broke up the Spiders from Mars immediately after this show, he had already recorded Aladdin Sane and was ready to move quickly to his next phase. This tour was one of the best I have ever seen, I feel lucky to have been there at this final show.

Nick Lowe LP Cover

Nick Lowe - Clapham Common 1979

I seem to have known Nick Lowe for as long as I can remember, first coming across him in the early 70's when he was a member of Brinsley Schwarz, he then produced LP's by Elvis Costello and Dr Feelgood amongst many others. His first LP, Jesus of Cool was renamed Pure Pop for Now People in America by the powers that be, he followed that up with Labour of Lust whilst at the same time appearing in Rockpile, a band he had formed with Dave Edmunds in 1975.

One time when we were at Top of the Pops I spied Andy Williams on the other side of the studio, Nick was wearing his famous Riddler Suit and we went over and ambushed Andy in order to get a photo of the two chaps together. The photo that appeared in the NME is legendary although Andy had absolutely no clue who we were.

This photo was taken in the back of a small van, Elvis Costello had just played a gig for Rock against Racism at Clapham Common. Nick and I were wandering back to the tube station when the van pulled alongside, the back doors opened and we bundled in to a van already full to the brim with EC and the Attractions, it was used on the cover of his compilation album 16 All Time Lowes.

Johnny the Lydon King

John Lydon - London 1981

The first time I photographed Johnny Lydon in the studio he turned up with Keith Levine, this was Public Image time, he was complaining loudly and was uninterested in having his photograph taken, I struggled to get anything worthwhile from him, in fact I gave up after seven frames of the twelve frame roll, I unplugged the Strobes, but, just as he was about to get off the stool he turned profile and I quickly grabbed this frame using only the modeling bulbs as lighting. I then suggested we call it quits, I saw no point in wasting each others time.

But in retrospect it's a really good photograph, and it sums up the anger and frustration burning up inside him. It also shows his refusal to compromise, and his hatred of the "Business of Music" which is how he described the relationship he had with his record company.

Nick Lowe goes Thrift Shopping

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 - Buffalo 1978For 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 throwing Shapes

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"