A personal story about how music helped inspire a photography career and the joy of photographing British music icon, The Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft!
With images from Richard Ashcroft Natural Rebel tour at Albert Hall, Manchester by Wes Simpson.
MUSIC INSPIRED ME TO BECOME A PHOTOGRAPHER
In school, I always excelled in ‘the Art subjects’ as I found it was a way to express myself, but strangely a career adviser; advised me to drop art because it would never take me anywhere.
Growing up in a small industrial town called Skelmersdale on the outskirts of Liverpool and Wigan, I felt ‘arty’ career options were limited. There weren’t any real local artistic influences, and unlike sporting activities where they had local clubs and places to go, I found outlets for my artistic hobbies were limited.
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, The Stones Roses and Oasis.
What I found appealing about this type of music was that there was a connection; they were working-class lads that looked and talked similar to me, following their dreams and making music that I could relate too.
I have always loved how music 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.
THE VERVE AT HAIGH HALL
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 homecoming gig and was completely sold out.
Waking up on the day of the gig with no ticket for accessing the concert didn’t deter me and best friend John when we decided to take a 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! and unknown to me at the time, the concert would encourage me to take a photography career path.
THE DRUGS DON’T WORK
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 had taken to their hearts to help heal their grief of a passed Princess.
This experience highlighted how little time we have. That this is our moment and the time to follow your dreams is now. It was the first time I’d felt the true power of music and it truly moved me.
MEDIA CAREER FOLLOWED
It’s now 2018 and I’ve had a beautiful, successful career following my dreams working in the media industry. Firstly, I trained as a camera operator and worked on TV shows such as Shameless and Hollyoaks as a cameraman with personal highlights of filming a television documentary with rock group U2 and photographing music icon Paul Weller.
I later landed a job in the music industry which involved touring the world with opera star Russell Watson.
BECOMING A PHOTOGRAPHER
All this experience lead to me starting my own photography business. My ability to capture emotion combined with an incredible gift of being able to visualize an image in my mind before I’ve pressed the shutter has seen me become one of the most sought after photographers in the North West of England won multiple awards and seen my work featured in celebrity magazines such as Vogue and Hello!
Further reading: How I became a photographer
RICHARD ASHCROFT CONCERT PHOTOGRAPHY
In December 2018 I had the opportunity to photograph my idol, former Verve frontman – Richard Ashcroft 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 several established press photographers.
I guess I should have been delighted to be within touching distance of my music idol. A “Lucky man hey!” But something just didn’t click and I guess due to my documentary style of wedding photography, I wasn’t overly excited a the prospect of producing press style images.
I wanted to photograph 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.
The style of photography that has always fascinated me (and still does to this day) are 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. Modern photographers such as Mario Testino, Vincent Peters and the iconic commercial images of Calvin Klein and Guess jeans always catch my eye.
TAKING A CHANCE
Obviously, it wasn’t possible to get the type documentary of images I like from a live concert without backstage access, however, I did want to try and take pictures of a ‘live performance’ that was a bit more natural and personal than standard ‘press photos.’
My gut instinct was to take a chance and to photograph the concert from the audience perspective. I wanted to try and emulate the feeling from the very first time seeing Richard Ashcroft all those years ago at Haigh Hall. The passion, energy and excitement!
I crazily gave up the opportunity of being only feet away from my idol, in the press-pit. Taking a chance, I ‘befriended’ the sound guy and ‘blagged’ security that I had permission to shoot the gig from next to the lighting booth…
Richard Ashcroft live in Manchester
PICTURES OF RICHARD ASHCROFT ALBERT HALL
Richard Ashcroft Albert Hall, Manchester gig didn’t disappoint. Ashcroft with a voice of rustic gold, poetry for lyrics and 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 bittersweet 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 on YouTube 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.
Ashcroft in the interview states that 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.
MUSIC IS POWER
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 make you feel the way music does…
To laugh, cry, hold your breath and trigger memories.