Photos from the Moshpit with Tony Mott
Photos from the Moshpit & other strange places
Tony Mott speaks
By Ian Browne Shamrock News
Kezia Geddes, the curator of the Lismore Regional Gallery, invited me to attend a talk by Tony Mott about the fascinating stories behind his ‘WHAT A LIFE’ photo exhibition on show there until August 13. Kezia opened the speech and described how: “Even though we have all grown up with Tony’s images, he has such an easy way with people.”
You can purchase his latest book @ www.tonymott.com. I will let Tony take it from here:
Sydney’s vibrant music scene; the Divinyls - a creative passion is spawned!
My real name is Tony Moulds. It was recommended to me by a lady from a record company that I needed to change my name if I wanted success in the industry. I explained that my favourite band was ‘Mott the Hoople’ and she said: “Great, change it to that.” I replied: "What, Tony the Mott the Hoople?” In 2009 Mott the Hoople reformed and I was completely thrilled. I was hooping so loudly in the pit I was told to keep it down! It’s probably not best to photograph your idols.
I grew up in Sheffield. In the early 80’s, I arrived to Sydney from England as a French Chef. I have always lived in Redfern. I had lived in London and New York, but at the time Sydney was the best place on the planet to see live music. In fact, when The Cure toured in 1981, they stayed for three months and never played the same venue twice! After work, I used to head out on a Friday night to take photos of The Divinyls. They were not so well-known at that stage, and with the lights and movement at the gigs, I thought it must be a challenge to get a good picture. I was shooting black n white film shots at the time. I took photos of The Divinyls for three months, trying to catch the moment. No one was judging me. The Divinyls’s manager asked to see the photos and purchased one for $20. He also told me that he would put my name on the door at the gigs. I was very green at the time and I kept on paying. I thought your name on the door meant the poster at the door of the venue with my name on it! The manager asked me why I was still paying.
Chrissy Amphlett is the best female performer I have ever seen. Not the best artist, but the best performer. She was a screaming banshee, I feared for my own safety, and that of the crowd. So, photographing Chrissy was both a pleasure and pain! Australia was unique in that they had ‘street-press’ music mags, like Sydney’s Drum Media. So there was work available. The Divinyls paid me to take portraits. My first successful portrait was of Chrissy Amphlett. I took a photo of her in a white dress, and she never forgave me for it, as she wanted to be seen in black.
Rock Stars and their various eccentricities!
Tony Mott took off his hat when stating the following, rustling and spiking his hair up.
The Rolling Stones are very generous band, possibly because I do a very good Ronnie Wood impersonation. Mick Jagger refers to himself as being half-Australian as his mother was born in Sydney, and lived in Marrickville, and that’s why he was happy to act in the role as Ned Kelly here. The Rolling Stones employed me as a ‘fly on the wall’ photographer. My first ever Rolling Stone magazine cover photo was of the Rolling Stones on tour in Germany.
I went through High School in Woolooware, Sydney, with Mick’s cousin David Hollis. We are still in touch. In the late 80’s, Dave showed me photos of he, Mick, and then wife Jerry Hall at the family BBQ in Cronulla.
I have attended sound checks alone with the likes of Elvis Costello. He came down off the stage and apologised to me afterwards! Avril Lavigne is a very nice lady and easy to work alongside. Her mother was her manager at the time, and Avril was only 17! On a shoot, a beautiful Russian lady approached me and wanted to chat. Avril’s promoter panicked and rushed us all out of the building, which turned out to be a brothel owned by the record company. Considering Avril’s age, it would not have looked good. I never did the see the Russian lady again.
I was to shoot Perry Farrell who was in Porno for Pyros at the time, and he sat me down and asked me if ‘we had trust’! He then asked me to close my eyes. I did for a while until he again asked me if ‘we had trust’. He then yelled out: “So, we don’t have trust!” He again asked me to close my eyes. I did so and kept them closed this time, at least until he grabbed hold of my genitals announcing loudly: “Now we have trust!” He suggested we didn’t need lights for a shoot in the Victorian outdoors as the UFO’s would provider the back lighting! I really believe there could be a possibility he is insane. One of his crew said: “Don’t encourage him, as he really believes this!”
Green Day are quite easy to shoot. They are zany and fun. Marilyn Manson was gentlemanly and very pleasant. I brought along the dead roses for the shoot and he really liked that. I was doing a photo-shoot in Sydney with Ozzy Osbourne, who I really like, not because of him, but because of Black Sabbath. Anyway, I asked if he minded me opening the curtains to let some light into the dark room. As I opened the curtains slightly, Ozzy jumped up excitedly and ripped open the curtains to a sight including the Opera House and the Bridge- announcing: “Fuck me, look at the view out there!” He had been in the room for three days and hadn’t thought to open the curtains!
I was doing a shoot with Ben Harper in Sydney’s Newtown. I told him one of the old buildings there was an Aboriginal art gallery. He replied: “What a strange place to have an Aboriginal art gallery, here in New Zealand!” I told him that we were in fact in Sydney. He replied: “No, we are in Auckland!” I then explained that he had flown into Sydney that morning. He told me that he remembered something about the flight! Ben likes a smoke…
Rock stars don’t believe they are eccentric. I asked Bjork to: “Do all your eccentricities for the camera.” She replied: “I’m not eccentric!” Then she took off inside, suggesting that the light had to be just right for the shot. She appeared a few times before moving away inside as the light still wasn’t right! When it was, she immediately showed off her eccentricity for the camera, screwing up her face. Only Bjork could make a photo like that work.
Just because someone is a ‘rock star’ doesn’t necessarily mean they are comfortable being photographed. Robert Smith was nervous; he was shaking. They don’t like just standing there, so I get them to lean onto a keyboard to keep them happy. Missy Higgins was uncomfortable with the camera and never smiled. I toured with her on a bus trip. I saw her smile and quickly grabbed the shot. Gurramul Yunupingu is a lovely guy. Photographers like the subject to stare straight down the lens. He does this with ease (for obvious reasons and with respect), but he wouldn’t take his leather jacket off, as he loved it, and it was very important to him.
I was asked back stage to meet Bob Dylan after a concert. I mentioned that I wasn’t happy with the light during the concert. He began muttering something about the ‘middle ground’. Thinking he might not be happy with the photos, I again suggested I had difficulties with the light while shooting. Again, he kept on mumbling something about the ‘middle ground’. The crew suggested he probably thought I was the sound guy! Delta Goodrem was easy to photograph, though not my type of music. She comes with her make up artist. But the magazines can bastardize your photos (he showed his front cover magazine shot of Delta with tacky titles placed over her). Toni Collette said she had never been photographed as herself. She stated: “I have been photographed as a sister, a slut, but never as myself!” She was nervous, so I did the shoot in her bedroom where she wore her favourite dress (seen sitting on the floor of her bedroom in a long flowing green dress, staring sadly at the wall in front).
Bon Jovi is handsome, I’m not gay, not that there is anything wrong with that, but he is famous and so nice. There has to be something wrong with him! You never get a bad photo with him. ACDC won’t go to any trouble for you. You just turn up and shoot. I did a shoot with Concrete Blonde as they sat at the cemetery in Waverly by Banjo Patterson’s grave! Pink is easy to photograph. (Tony showed a photo of Pink upside down on stage) - Pink spends an enormous amount of time upside down on stage! I took photos of Blondie on her 48th birthday in New York and she didn’t have a single line on her face! She said she had never spent a day in the sun, it just wasn’t her thing.
I knocked on the door of Nick Cave’s apartment. He answered the door and said: “What do you want?” I replied: I’m Tony Mott.” He replied: “I know who you are, but what are you doing here?” I explained how the record company had sent me to photograph him, he had no idea I was coming. He announced: “Okay, but I’m not leaving the flat!” He didn’t take off his pyjamas, but he did at least put a shirt on. Later on, the record company stated that they had been trying to get a photo of Nick for the past 10 months, but he wouldn’t have it. If they had told Nick I was coming he would have refused.
I toured with U2 a few times. Queen paid for a helicopter to fly me above a crowd of 250, 000 in Wembley! Henry Rollins is fantastic to shoot. He is so intense on stage; it is great capturing that intensity. It is ironic; he is such a nice and humorous guy. KISS is the easiest band in the world to photograph! They do it all for you. Gene Symonds stands there all long-legged with his tongue hanging down. They are like a cartoon, just fantastic. PJ Hervey is a joy to photograph. I went to do a photo shoot with Tom Waits but he wouldn’t wake up. I’m sure he was very drunk, he hasn’t woken up since!
When the boys from Silver Chair were young, you just got in and got it down quickly. They had the attention span of a peanut! It’s funny, I was doing a shoot later with Daniel Johns and he was 33 already! I did a very casual 10 second photo shoot with Dave Grohl joking about, sticking his index finger up, while leaning on a van. It made the cover of the Rolling Stone!
I toured with Michael Jackson. He was peculiar to tour with. But he, Prince and Freddy Mercury are best performers I have seen. Freddy was a phenomenal performer, though the rest of Queen have the charisma of a sardine! I remember Miles Davis sticking up for Prince when he was being criticised, suggesting: “If Prince had played the trumpet, you wouldn’t even know my name!” I was never a fan of The Smiths, yet when I saw them live I got it. They are great live, but I find it funny seeing surfer chicks in Brisbane listening to Morrissey singing about his miserable life in Manchester!
Paul McCartney may be a Beetle; he is famous, but a hippy. I did photo shoots with him in Sydney and I didn’t mention The Beetles once, but he did. He wanted me to shoot him in all the locations around Sydney where he was with The Beetles years earlier. Tex Perkins has played in 42 bands! I photographed Tex at his squat in Woolloomooloo for The Cruel Sea’s ‘Black Milk’ album cover. It was all very casual but it worked out well. Iggy Pop is one of the greatest icons. When I first met him he was miserable. I don’t know what happened in the interim but when I met him next he was great! He has the energy of a 20 year old! He is manic. I was to take photos of him as he came off stage- after smashing up a piano, covered in bruises and blood! I was nervous, yet, as soon as he headed in backstage all wired up, he just switched back to normality, and was ready for the photo!
“Dragged into the Digital Age Kicking & Screaming!”
Problems I’ve faced while photographing the stars
I have travelled to 40 countries. My passion in photography is taking portrait shots in black n white in places like Nepal and India. I really love capturing landscapes alien to the West, in places such as Burma and Mali. I was in Timbuktu not so long ago, and when I arrived, I was completely blown away by the scenery. Influences in photography for me include London photographer Penny Smith. She did a lot of the NME punk covers such as The Clash’s ‘London Calling’ album cover. She has a very different style to me though.
I get no pleasure from my photo being taken. I appreciate other photographer’s styles. At a photo-shoot for a book launch of mine, I told the photographer: “You do what you want to do, I’m not telling you what to do.” Taking photos of bands, going to anyone’s gigs, has never felt like work. It’s probably better photographing bands you don’t like; it’s easier just being technical. I prefer black n white images, but capturing the light is easy within the digital era. Black n white is out now. With Madonna, I couldn’t get the light metre right while shooting her in a white corset. It took three days of shooting! Live, I have no control over the lights. I was shooting Johnny Rotten in London and I had 100 punks jumping on my head, literally! It took me three nights to get that well-known photo of Johnny Rotten. I like to take various shots of a band in different light. Live, you are always trying to anticipate what is about to happen to grab the right moment. If you were only looking for one or two black n white photos, if you got 10% successful photos back, then it was a great night. With digital photos 90% are good!
I took a very simple photo of The Spazzys, who were a female Ramones-like band from Melbourne. They were just standing against a brick wall, but it was effective. I took a bunch of photos with Bernard Fanning. They were simple, the band stood in the background near the beach, and I shot over to them through the circle of my thumb and forefinger. He liked them too, but the record company didn’t like them. Bernard’s manager and the publicist argued. I like to please the band and their manager first, the record company last.
I toured with the Big Day Out every year. At the Big Day Out in Sydney, I was shooting photos of John Butler jumping into the air on stage. I needed to rush to another stage to capture Drew Barrymore onstage with The Flaming Lips. In my rush I deleted all the photos of John Butler Trio! I was standing there devastated when a Goth chick muttered something to me. She said that: “There is no such thing as delete!” She was right, I had them retrieved- technology saved the day.
My first international band was The Eurhythmics. I was still green and naïve at the time, and just because someone’s famous, it doesn’t mean that they will tell you what they expect. You are the photographer and it is up to you to direct the photo-shoot. Some photos work out well accidently. I took photos of Michael Hutchinson with the wrong setting, but with a great grain. This style is usually rejected by magazines but they were used on the front cover of Rolling Stone! He dragged me out the back of a hotel one day and showed me his Harley Davidson. He put on his helmet suggesting that he loved how he could ride around Sydney incognito. Michael had sex with a lady in Centennial Park on his bike.
It’s funny, but while shooting bands on their own turf, they just don’t like the typical icons being the subject. Sydney bands don’t want to be shot in front of the Bridge or Opera House, Melbourne bands refuse shooting on trams. New York bands will not be shot in front of the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. Yet, if I shot Cold Play in front of the Bridge in Sydney, it would quadruple sales overseas! I photographed Guns N' Roses before they were popular, when they played way down the list on the bill. They banned photos when they became big.
A Change in Business Practices
There was a time during the busy years when I would be shooting 300 bands live a year! This included 20 new bands live each year. Now, no one is signing new bands. There were 172 music magazines in 1988. 158 of them have since gone! My photos now land up on other people’s websites, my low resolution photos. When they are overseas it is hard to do anything about it. There are copywrite laws, but no one is doing anything about it, there is no interest. If you approach them they just say: “So what, I’m not paying for it!” For my own purpose I shoot black n white film, it’s better than black n white digital. I like the grain, but publishers don’t want it. US publishers rely on the public’s photo contributions nowadays. Some media outlets just got rid of the photo department all together!
I went to someone’s house for dinner only to discover one of my photos blown up and on his wall! It was the Johnny Rotten photo, and it was signed by me! The host seemed very sheepish about it. Well, I couldn’t remember signing it. I could have demanded a pretty good bottle of wine to go with dinner.
Check out Tony’s book: Alphabet A-Z Rock ‘N’ Roll Photography by Tony Mott: “Some Rock, Some Roll, Some Other Things!” @ www.Tony Mott.com