PHOTOGRAPHING MUSIC ICON RICHARD ASHCROFT
A personal story about photographing music icon and The Verve front man Richard Ashcroft and how music helped inspire a photography career. With images from Richard Ashcroft Natural Rebel tour in Manchester by celebrity, music and event photographer Wes Simpson
In school I always excelled in ‘the Art subjects’ as I found it was a way to express myself but strangely I was advised to drop art because it would never take me anywhere. Living in a small industrial town on the outskirts of Liverpool, I thought my career options were limited. There wasn’t any real local artistic influences, and unlike sporting activities where they had local clubs, I found outlets for my artistic hobbies were limited.
I was always interested in the world of cinema and music. I spent most of my free time watching films and listening to music. Firstly, it was pop music and Michael Jackson but then I discovered ‘real bands’ like Nirvana, The Smiths, The Beatles and The Stones Roses and Oasis.
What I found appealing about this was they provided a connection; they were young working class lads around my age that looked and talked similar to me, following their dreams and making music that I could relate too. I have always loved music and how it can help switch your mood. It has the power to help you smile, cry and dance, but more importantly you can anchor a memory to a song and an album can provide the soundtrack to a time in your life.
True music appreciation for me came when a band called The Verve came along. It was summer of 97 and I was playing at being an art student with no clear career path. The country was in mourning following the death of Princess Diana and until ‘Candle in the wind’ was re-released by Elton John a song called ‘The drugs don’t work’ by The Verve connected a country and provided me with my first real experience of the true power of music.
Music inspired me to become a photographer
The following year was a big turning point for me when I went to see The Verve at Haigh Hall in Wigan, which was billed as their home coming gig and was completely sold out. Waking up on the day of the gig with no ticket to access the concert didn’t deter myself and best friend John, when we decided to take the chance and headed to Wigan to see if we could get a ticket outside the venue. Determined to see our favourite band (By hook or by crook) we got tickets, which provided a life long narrative that anything is possible!
Unknown to me at the time, the concert would help to encourage my direction in my photography career path. It is interesting and powerful how death, mortality and time plays a part in these things, because here I was watching a young guy called Richard Ashcroft (the lead singer of The Verve ) who seemed invincible on stage. Singing a song called ‘The drugs don’t work’, a song in which the nation took to their hearts to help heal their grief of a passed Princess. This gave me an understanding of how little time we have. This is our moment and the time to follow your dreams is now.
A media career followed
It’s now 2018, I’ve had a beautiful, successful career following my dreams working in the media industry. I have toured the world with opera star Russell Watson and worked on TV shows such as Shameless and Hollyoaks as a cameraman with a personal highlights of filming a television documentary with rock group U2 and photographing music icon Paul Weller. This then lead to me starting my own photography business in which I have been lucky enough to have established myself as an award winning photographer who has travelled the world photographing people due to my unique gift to capture emotion and pre-empt an imagine in my mind before I’ve pressed the shutter.
Read: the personal story of how I became a photographer Here
RICHARD ASHCROFT NATURAL REBEL CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY
In December 2018 I had the opportunity to photograph my idol, former Verve front man – Richard Ashcorft at The Albert Hall in Manchester for his Natural Rebel gig. I arrived eagerly at the venue in plenty of time and was given a press pass. I took a quick tour of the hall; and found I was placed in the press pit – the section at the front with a number of established press photographers. I should have been delighted to be within touching distance of my music idol. But something just didn’t click and I guess due to my documentary style of wedding photography, I wasn’t overly excited by the prospect of producing press style images. I wanted something different, something more personal.
I’ve always been fascinated with behind the scenes style of images of famous people, the type of black and white images you see in old magazines from the world of music, fashion and cinema. This style of photography that has always fascinated me (and still does to this day). Iconic images such as Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Flying Skirt’ by Sam Shaw, ‘4 Days in New York’ by Ed Feingersh and the works of Herb Ritts and Cartier Bression. Then on to slightly newer photographers such as Mario Testino, Vincent Peters and the iconic black and white advertisement commercial images of Calvin Klein and Guess jeans featuring Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford to name a few. Obviously, it wasn’t possible to get that type of image from a concert without backstage access, however I did want to try and take pictures of a ‘live performance’ that were a bit more natural and personal than standard ‘press photos.’
So my gut instinct was to take a chance and to shoot the concert from the audience prospective. I wanted to try and emulate the feeling from the very first time seeing Richard Ashcroft all those years ago at Haigh Hall. That passion, energy and excitement! So I crazily gave up the opportunity of being only feet away from my idol, being with all the other press photographers. I took a chance and ‘befriended’ the sound/lighting guy and ‘blagged’ security that I had permission to shoot the gig from next to the lighting booth.
Richard Ashcroft live in Manchester – “Looking at the heavens with a tear in my eye”
MUSIC IS POWER
The Manchester gig didn’t disappoint. Ashcroft with a voice of rustic gold, poetry for lyrics and a performance of pure passion and enthusiasm took the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions from nostalgia trips of ‘Sonnet’ and ‘Song for the lovers’ to a haunting rendition of his latest track ‘That’s how strong.’ Just in case there was anyone left in the building questioning his brilliance, Ashcroft brought the Albert Hall show to a close with his stadium sized anthem – ‘A bitter sweet symphony’. It was a pleasure and a ‘bucket list’ moment photographing Richard Ashcroft the ‘Natural Rebel’ and I defiantly felt like a *Lucky Man!
What is fascinating is that Richard Ashcroft talked in a recent Radio X interview about going to watch the Stone Roses in Warrington when he was a teenager and how the night provided inspiration for him to follow his own dreams. Because of this he understands how a concert can change someone’s life and how the power of music can influence and change the course of an individuals destiny.
My connection between music and photography is that I have witnessed that both have the power to soften hearts, strengthen relationships and bring people together. My goal with photography is to take pictures that makes you feel the way music does…
To laugh, cry, hold your breath and trigger memories.
*Special thanks to Katie Gwyther & Terry Blackburn