Posts tagged as 'Bob Marley'
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Thursday, 19th Jul 2012
Justin Thomas has spent the last 35 years working as a music photographer, documenting some of the industry's finest and most influential artists through his intimate behind the scenes portraits and captured moments of on-stage theatrics. This Friday sees the opening of When You Hear the Music, Trouble Disappear, an exclusive solo exhibition held at West London's Graffik Gallery that highlights some of the photographer's most iconic images. We caught up with Justin ahead of the show's opening to talk about his methods, most memorable images and the shots that got away...
What draws you to photographing musicians?
I’m drawn to bands who move. I’m looking for that moment when Bob Marley flicks his head back and all his locks flail out like tendrils, when the stooping KEEF brings down his arm or Wilko Johnson does the splits in mid-air with his Strat pointing straight out like a machine gun.
Bob Marley at the Crystal Palace Bowl, June 7th, 1980
It's a challenge, and when all the elements that make a good photo come together at the same time, composition, exposure and capturing THE moment, it’s extremely satisfying, especially if you have captured it exclusively - a unique image, yours. There's a lot of luck involved in 'live' photography, 9 times out of ten you'll misfire, but digital cameras give you the freedom to shoot at will, which was a luxury I never had when I was starting out - I didn't even have a motordrive. I think that enhanced my sense of anticipation. Photographing musicians, is, like most other forms of photography, about pushing your finger down a fraction of a second before you think 'it' is going to happen. It’s about anticipation...if you've seen the picture already, you've missed it.
Is there one shot that has particular meaning to you, or you would describe as your best work?
I particularly like the Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross frame. I had been very moved when Stevie came back for the 2nd part of his 3 hour Wembley show after the interval.
He was led to the lip of the stage, and then left on his own. He was using his feet to balance, half on, half off the stage, while he rocked his body to the sound of his harmonica. There were moments when he was so involved in his music that his upper body was almost parallel to the stage, so much so that I thought he might fall on my head. It was very endearing watching him, knowing that he might fall 12 feet down. He looked very vulnerable in his ecstasy.
Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye & Stevie Wonder at Wembley Stadium, 7th September 1980
On the final encore he brought on Marvin and Diana, and it brought tears of joy to my eyes. Motown, was, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest label of all time-joy unlimited, and here were the Kings and Queen. The only thing that might have topped it would’ve been if Aretha had popped up on harmonies. I love the composition and Marvin in the middle, pin sharp; smiling sweetly...can I get a witness?!
Has there ever been a moment where you’ve missed what could have been an iconic shot?
It was about 1978 and I’d been in North London to shoot George Thorogood and the Destroyers and they’d put on such a blinding show that I used up all my film.
It was a bad mistake.
Me and my mate decided to go down the Music Machine to catch the end of Link Wray and Robert Gordon's set - two fabulous gigs in one night! At the end, my mate went backstage to shake their hands, but took ages. I went to see what was keeping him and the first person I bumped into was Sid Vicious. I couldn’t believe I had no film left, at which point my mate elbows me in the ribs and goes, ‘It gets worse, look who’s just walked in behind you’ – and when I turned around there was Bob Dylan himself! The king of punk and America’s greatest singer-songwriter together in this tiny little room in Camden Town – can you imagine how many copies of that shot I could’ve sold? One good thing did come out of it though, and that was noticing just how small Dylan actually is. I mean, this bloke is a hero of mine, always has been, but he’s just a little fella. That moment really helped me with my approach to the job after that because I realised that no matter how big the stars look on screen or on stage, they’re just flesh and blood...'just like everybody else'
The Jam at Towhouse Studio, Shepherds Bush, 1979
What’s the most difficult factor when photographing live music?
There are loads of difficult factors involved in shooting live photography - having flagons of piss thrown at you by bored audience members at heavy metal concerts like Castle Donnington spring to mind. I was the house photographer at Brixton Academy for 10 years, and it would not be uncommon to have a full pint of beer come flying over into the photo pit and exploding all over your camera; at other times it might be somebody's foot kicking into your head on the way back into the mosh pit.
When I started out doing punk bands, I’d run my hand through my hair on leaving the venue and it would be coated in spit.
The Specials at The Hope & Anchor, Islington, 1979
Is there one musician you haven’t shot, who you’d like to?
There are many artists I wished I’d photographed, but THE one, was the greatest performer and guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix. I wanted to go to The Isle of Wight festival when I was 14, but my mum wouldn't let me. No-one has or ever will come near. I went to see Jeff Buckley as a punter once at The Astoria and was completely blown away by the way he turned the place into a church...a very spiritual occasion...but in a way I’m glad I didn't take pictures 'cos I appreciated his performance so much more. When you are taking photos you don't notice the performance so much 'cos you are concentrating on getting 'THE' shot.
'When You Hear the Music,Trouble Disappear' is open 20th July - 18th August 2012 at Graffik Gallery, 284 Portobello Road, London, W10 5TE
All images courtesy of Justin Thomas/Graffik Gallery.
Tuesday, 15th May 2012
Soul Shake Down Party
During the mid seventies I often went to places like the Q Club on Praed Street, Columbos, Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s, The Trafalgar, Union Tavern and the Lacy Lady in Ilford. In those days you only ever ventured on to the dance floor if you had style and the right moves. The way you looked and your dance moves were the currency of the day—and what you got with that currency was girls. But the soul scene began to leave a bad taste in my mouth. It had started to develop its own prejudice. People started to look down on those who didn’t dress the same; the scene had become elitist and I wasn't really comfortable with that. Just listening to the music and emulating the black American blueprint wasn’t working for me. It didn’t exactly translate to my life, which was something of a dilemma. Luckily around the same time I began to discover Rastafari through reggae and sound-systems like Jah Shaka, Moa Ambassa and Coxsone. Sound-system was a way of imparting information; spiritually, politically and culturally. Up until the early seventies singers like John Holt, Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs ruled in Jamaica, but then reggae began to change. ‘Deejay’ music—a rapping style created for the sound-systems developed led by the mighty three I-Roy, U-Roy and Big Youth. When Bob Marley’s album Catch a Fire hit town in 1973 that was a major revelation. It explored a more radical and political side of reggae and was definitely more of an album than a collection of singles. Even the packaging, with the Zippo Lighter sleeve, was also something different. Up to that time most of the reggae sleeves looked like cheap Jamaican postcards.
Dub really came into its own during the early 1970s. On the B-sides of Jamaican Rocksteady singles the word ‘Version’ began appearing—describing an instrumental remix of the A-side that had begun as a test for sound levels (and for somewhat obvious economic reasons was pressed on the B-side as it saved recording another song). Dub was the next logical step, essentially born from a studio technique where drum and bass took centre stage. Utilising two-track, and sometimes four-track set-ups, people like King Tubby and Lee Perry used reverb and echo delay to shape the sound and took the giant step of using the mixing desk as an instrument in itself. Osbourne Ruddock (aka King Tubby) was an engineer at Duke Reid’s studio and began to cut dub plates of tunes with bits of the vocal left out to play on his sound system. He originally did this to offer his audience different versions of their favourite tracks. These fragments of vocals were ‘flashed in’ either from the A-side or a deejay would do an intro and just ‘ride the riddim’. They created a sound that was then pressed onto dub plates (one-off acetates) and played by the local sound systems via valve amps and towering bass bins live and direct to the people. Then there was Big Youth, a former cab driver in Jamaica, who served his apprenticeship with sound systems around Kingston before becoming known as the ‘master deejay’. Big Youth (Manley Augustus Buchanan) was one of the first to include Rasta chants with his militant deejay lyrics. His first recording with Keith Hudson as producer, “Ace Ninety Skank”, was a number one hit in Jamaica. It was his album Screaming Target from ’73 that caught my attention. Little did I know, people like Paul Simonon and John Lydon were also listening to that album. Shortly our own two cultures would clash.
I went to Bob Marley’s legendary gig at the Lyceum in ’75 which was released as a live album. It was the closest I have ever got to a religious experience and the single most exciting music moment of my life. The full impact and reality of what we had heard on his records all came together in that show. It was no longer an abstract thing that you could interpret one way or another. Here was the man onstage delivering it live and direct. It gave me the confidence to be myself. Bob Marley brought the politic to the forefront of reggae with a militant Rasta rebel vibe. After the gig I followed Bob Marley in my car back to his hotel in Harrington Gardens, off Gloucester Road. I don’t know what possessed me, I marched into the hotel with all the other Rasta brethren. Everyone was sitting down and I found a little spot in the corner. Bob was holding court in his room and was smoking and ‘reasoning’ with all the Rasta elders. Finally, it was three or four in the morning and Bob had out-reasoned and out-smoked everybody. He looked around the room and saw me with my baby dreads and my pathetic little bag of smoke. I was called to the table and ‘reasoned’ with him until sunrise. A few days later I went back to get a picture of Bob with myself before he returned to Jamaica. I had a Polaroid camera and all the band and Bob were like, “Bloodclaat instant picture”. Polaroid technology had not yet reached Jamaica. Everybody wanted a picture of themselves and Bob. Ten pictures down, I still had not got my picture of me and Bob. Jeannette was there and she ran out to get some more film. Sure enough, another packet of Polaroids had gone and I still had not got my picture of me and Bob. Finally, with the third packet of Polaroids I got my picture.
A year or so later, when Bob Marley was staying in Oakley Street off the King’s Road after he had been shot in Jamaica, I went round to his house to collect some money he owed me wearing my bondage trousers. He was to all intents and purposes in exile over here and we ended up having an argument about punk. On seeing my bondage trousers, he exclaimed, “What ya deal wid Don Letts dem nasty punk rockers, yu look like a bloodclaat mountaineer!” To which I replied, “Dem crazy baldheads are my mates Bob”—or words to that effect and took my leave. But y'know I always figured I got the last say because when Bob became more familiar with the real deal (as opposed to the Daily Mirror version of punk) during his UK stay, he was inspired to write and record the tune “Punky Reggae Party” a few months later.
You can read all posts by Don Letts HERE