A personal story about how music inspired a photography career.
Richard Ashcroft photos and following your dreams!
Do you believe that attending a concert can change someone’s life or the power of music can influence and change the course of an individuals destiny?
A personal story about how the power of music helped inspire a photography career. The joy of following your dreams and how things come full circle when I photographed the British music icon, former The Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft!
The below article showcases live performance images from Richard Ashcroft Natural Rebel tour at Albert Hall, Manchester by Wes Simpson.
How music inspired me to become a photographer
Growing up I was always visually creative, so it’s no surprise that my interest in drawing and painting later lead to a career in photography. Having self-diagnosed myself with having mild-dyslexia, I found being ‘arty’ was a way to express myself.
In school, I excelled at ‘Art subjects’ however, I was advised by my career adviser to drop Art and design (the only subjects I liked) and to concentrate on academic subjects, (the ones I struggled with) because that would lead to a “real job” and art would never take me anywhere.
It’s funny now because having had a successful career as a destination wedding photographer, every time I’m in the airport travelling internationally for work, I look at the departure board and think about that teacher, and say to myself “Art will never take me anywhere hey!”
Music was a creative outlet
Growing up on a council estate in a small industrial town called Skelmersdale on the outskirts of Liverpool and Wigan, I felt ‘Arty’ career options were limited. But at the same time, I knew selling drugs, working in a factory or on a building site wasn’t for me.
The problem was, there weren’t any real local artistic influences or role models, and unlike sporting activities where they had local clubs and places to go, I found outlets for my artistic hobbies were limited.
Trying my best to stay out of trouble, I spent my free time watching films, painting and listening to music. Firstly, it was 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. They were 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.
Inspired by the music I decided to go and do A-level’s in Art and Design at St John Rigby College in Orrel, Wigan before graduating from Edge Hill University with a BA Hons Degree in Art and Communication.
In-School I didn’t place any value on education, I guess because it was free! But when I went to college it was my time I was giving up and then later on at University, it was my own time plus a financial cost. This, plus the fact I studied subjects I liked meant that I was more successful.
The Verve at Haigh Hall Wigan
During my time at University, I went to see The Verve at Haigh Hall in Wigan. The now ‘iconic concert’ was billed as their homecoming gig was completely sold out.
Waking up on the day of the concert with no tickets for the sold-out event didn’t deter me or best friend John when we decided to take a chance, and headed to Wigan to see if we could get a ticket off a tout.
Determined to see our favourite band (by hook or by crook) we got in. I can’t disclose how because it’s a tale of legends. However, this provided a life long narrative that anything is possible! and unknown to me at the time, the concert would inspire me to make a career in photography.
The Drugs Don’t Work
Standing in the middle of a field at Haigh Hall in Wigan, I can remember watching a young Richard Ashcroft (the lead singer of The Verve). He appeared invincible on stage as the full capacity crowd hung on his every word and sung back lyrics to hits including Bitter Sweet Symphony.
It is interesting how death, mortality and time plays a part in things. One of the stand out moments from the concert was when Ashcroft sang ‘The Drugs Don’t Work,’ an anthem the nation had taken to their hearts during that summer to help heal the grief of a passed Princess when Lady Dianna tragically died.
For me, 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…
A media career followed
Fast forward to 2018 and I’ve had a successful career following my dreams working in the media industry. I trained as a camera operator and worked on TV shows such as Shameless and Hollyoaks 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 these experience lead to me starting my own photography business. I aimed to challenge the statuesque and set a new standard of photography experiences in my region.
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.
To date, I’ve 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 things come full circle when I got the opportunity to photograph my idol, former The Verve frontman – Richard Ashcroft at The Albert Hall in Manchester for his Natural Rebel album tour.
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 photos you see in old magazines from the world of music, fashion and cinema.
The style of photography that has always fascinated me are iconic images such as Marilyn Monroe ‘4 Days in New York’ and the works of Herb Ritts and Cartier Bression. Modern photographers such as Mario Testino, Vincent Peters. Iconic commercial images of Calvin Klein and Guess jeans always catch my eye.
Taking a chance
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 I had from the very first time seeing Richard Ashcroft all those years ago at Haigh Hall. The passion, energy and excitement!
So, 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 pictures, 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 one of his latest tracks, ‘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 definitely felt like a *Lucky Man!
The Stone Roses
What’s 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. Ashcroft credits how the night inspired him to follow his dreams.
In the interview, Ashcroft 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 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.