Interview: Kevin Cummins, Paul Slattery and Ian Tilton, Stone Roses photographers

June 11, 2012 | By:


Rock Industry got the chance to talk to three iconic photographers, Kevin Cummins, Paul Slattery and Ian Tilton. These three icons shot the Stone Roses through the iconic Madchester era of great British band The Stone Roses. Their Exhibition kicks off On June 13th in London showcasing some of the most recognisable images of the band throughout history until 12th August so make sure you go check it out!

1)    What was it like photographing and being part of the scene in the late 80s/ 90s?

IT: I knew it was special while it was happening, because I’d seen the hippies in the sixties and punk in the seventies and how short lived it had been. I caught the wave and surfed on the energy of the late 80s and 90s and experienced everything I could with camera at the ready, because I knew it would end up a ‘wash out’ once the corporates got hold of it and there would be a negative back-lash. That has always happened throughout the history of Rock N Roll.

KC: Hectic. Like being in a car without brakes and without a driver …

PS: I wish I could remember- it was a very hazy time…..
2)    The stone roses were iconic but your photos are also just as responsible for the attention the manchester scene got… what was your favourite shot? One that stood out and to this day still sums up the atmosphere

IT: Ian Brown live onstage at Spike Island, holding the large globe of the world. It was the height of their fame and the second Summer of Love. It’s the definitive uncontrived, documentary shot of Spike Island, the Stone Roses and of the era really.

KC: Different pictures have a resonance to different people. Either because they were there or because it inspired them to listen to the band or because they had it on their bedroom wall … The paint shots have come to define the band – which is gratifying as that’s what I set out to do with that session.

PS: On the side of the stage at Spike Island

3)    How did you start in photography

IT: I wanted to do Marine Biology and had a place at Newcastle Uni but I went deaf due to a serious ear infection and couldn’t pursue that career. I did the next best thing I was passionate about and good at- loud music and photography. Please read interview with Claire Caldwell at the end of your questionnaire. The interview explains it and you have permission to use all of it of parts of it in your feature

KC: My grandfather and my father were both keen amateur photographers and both used to process and print their own photos. I learnt to print at 5 – my father bought me my first camera for my 5th birthday. After my A levels I studied photography and I used to shoot bands whilst at college. It rolled on from there I suppose.
PS: Frank Barrett now the travel editor of The mail on Sunday was editor of “Fuse” magazine at North London Poly where we both went back in the mid 70’s. I’d just bought a second hand Mamiya 500 and he showed me how to develop film and print  photos.

4)    What advice would you give aspiring photographers who want to get into music photography?

IT: Do it and be passionate about it. It’s unrealistic to expect to earn a living form it because there are so many competent photographers doing it for free. How times have changed. It will help you if you can do other things too – like design or web design, or film – y’know, stuff that’s related to photography.

KC: I’ve honestly no idea. Persevere. Insist on keeping your own copyright. Try to be different.

PS: Find a band you like and shoot loads of photos in small venues.

5) What would you never leave for a shoot without?

IT: MY TROUSERS

KC: A credit card.

PS: A large bag of dope

6) Tell me about your experiences of the stone roses…. what do you remember most about your time photographing them?

IT: What a great question. It’s all in my book out in the summer – twenty thousand words of great stories, feelings and quirky memories and hundreds of fantastic photographs

KC: All of it. I remember their old manager Gareth Evans being as wide as the english channel …

PS: Too many big spliffs

7) How much of a fan were you? was that your reason for photographing the band?

IT: I was a fan from the day the band gave me a copy of “Sally Cinnamon”. I played that vinyl twelve inch over and over, it is such a great pop song.  First time I heard them was their first single which I didn’t like at all. They also wore really un-cool bandanas which put me off. When I first met them it was at my studio in Chorlton-Cum-Hardy (down the road from John Squire’s house) and they had radically changed for the better, haha.

KC: I was a fan – yes. I generally only like photographing bands I like – otherwise it makes life a bit dull if you have to spend all your time with people like Simon le Bon.

PS: my old mate Phil Hall who did their PR new I had been to japan several times and I just couldn’t refuse going on a Japan tour.

8 ) Favourite stone roses song?

IT: I have a few ; ‘She Bangs The Drums’ for sheer positivity of feeling. ‘How Do You Sleep” has gloriously vengeful and ugly lyrics – pure dark drama. “Love Spreads” – a dirty guitar sound tribute to Led Zepp. This tune gives me uplifting energy everytime I hear it.

KC: She Bangs the Drums (today)

PS: What The World Is Waiting For

9) Tell us about how you the exhibition came about? why London and not Manchester?
PS: Ask the organiser

IT: I also have a massive show in Manchester running concurrently. Exciting times!

KC: I live in London …

10) How did you pick the work you wanted on show?

IT: A collaboration between MOJO magazine’s talented Picture Editor Dave Brolan and myself. A good balance between rare and ‘never been seen before’ images that the fans will love . Of course we used my iconic Roses images – I did all the first album photographs and I did the first ‘Monkey Face ‘ photo at my studio in Manchester. It was a really difficult choice for me. I did 14 sessions with the band (more than any other photographer) so I have hundreds of images and we had to edit this down to make a great exhibition in collaboration with Kev Cummins and Paul Slattery’s great images. We have achieved this and I feel really proud of my contribution.

KC: With immense difficulty. It’s really difficult editing yourself.

PS: With difficulty. Always hard looking at your own work.

11) What didn’t make it?

IT: Some psychedelic colour infra-red photographs. Ones with the bass player before Mani. Lots of great documentary backstage photographs unfortunately. Some handsome photos of Ian Brown that have never been seen before – however I have a series of Stone Roses postcard box-sets that have these these images on.

KC: The photo everyone will tell me they were expecting to see – whatever that happens to be.

PS: Some very good photos
12) Does it feel weird looking back? I know when i look at how far ive come in my photographs i see so many flaws in my older work… do you get that feeling?

IT: I was as perfectionist then as I am now regarding my photography. I always try my best in the moment. Flaws are interesting because we are fallible and human. I have written about this in one particular Roses session in my book. I’ve co written this book called “SET IN STONE’ with the writer Claire Caldwell, published by Omnibus.

KC: Not at all. It’s slightly melancholic – it’s like reading old diaries. However, there’s been such a thirst for musical nostalgia over the past 20 years, I’ve not had time to put the photos away yet.

PS: Doesn’t feel weird at all. The great thing about photography is that there is no such thing as perfection so there is always room to improve.

13) What do you do now? still shooting lots of gigs each week or has the passion slowed?

IT: There’s a massive interest in all my photographs from around the world – I was the first to photograph Nirvana and did Guns N Roses as well as the Madchester scene bands. I have shows on at the moment in the UK and in L.A. of my vintage archive.
There is so much interest I now have a range of Ian Tilton t-shirts, postcards, bags and even guitar plectrums! It’s mental.
www.iantilton.net

I am still passionate about music and I photograph bands live and in my Manchester Studio. The live music scene is prolific and there are great massively talented new bands that deserve to be mahoosive – Deadbeat Echoes, The Janice Graham Band to name just two.

KC: i never shot lots of gigs each week. I’m still working with people I like and my archive sells around the world.
PS: I was out yesterday shooting extremely rare Burnt Tip orchids at Clattinger farm nature reserve in Wiltshire. In 60 hectares of beautiful lowland meadow there are just FOUR plants. As far as bands go I was lucky to photograph during a golden era between ’76 and 95 . Most bands these days are absolutely dire and have zero charisma, and mean fuck all to me. They appear on the front page of the Guardian guide and “Later ” in the same week. It’s all about PR. However there ARE a few great bands still around not that you’d know about them and I have been photographing The Len Price Three over the last eighteen months. This is a band that would wipe the floor with The Hives and use them as dishcloths. They are undoubtedly the best live band in this country.

14) Where do you see the next 10 years for bands? are scenes like that a thing of the past?

IT: It’s all about creating music and not getting paid to do it. Sales on new music is failing and has been for years -that’s what has happened. The live circuit is what its all about – camaraderie, comradeship and creativity, In the moment; People connecting with the artist and with each other. One love.
KC: At the moment it’s hard to say otherwise. Everything is so immediate. There’s no underground. Bands split up before they’ve had time to release a single. Nobody has any time to mature  – if they make a mistake there’s 5000 people abusing them via various social media sites.
PS: Well if it’s like the present crop things will be dire. Why do you think The Roses are reforming? Because even old men of nearly 50 can piss on the present crop of PR driven shite.
15) If people weren’t alive or old enough to remember the Madchester Era why should they visit the exhibition?

IT: I think people will come and see it on two or three different levels – as Stone Roses fan; As photography fans – and lets face it – there are sooo many people that love photography and want to be photographers and film makers. It will give them insight and inspiration. It’s also about style and youth culture and as time moves on my pictures have become historically interesting. Recently I have had three Uni students doing their degrees and MA’s about my work and how it relates to street fashion and cultural history.

KC: It’s never gone away. Manchester bands continue to influence music both here and in the US. It’s not like it’s been filed away for the past 20 years then discovered in a dusty cellar …

PS: One love

Words: Dave Massen

BONUS

Ian Tilton’s Story of Deafness

From an interview by Claire Caldwell (Andalucía, Spain. Dec. 2011)

 

How did you cope with having hearing difficulties and taking photos in the Rock and Roll environment?

 

I suppose with there were some advantages and some disadvantages (laughs).  I’ll start with the positive first.  At live gigs I could get to some of the places that other photographers didn’t want to go like in front of the loud speakers.  I wear hearing aids so I just turn the aid off and stand right in front of these pulsating, massive stacks of eight ft wide speakers and I can feel the music through my body and I can hear the noise through my skull but I don’t hear much through my ear. So if the angle in front of the speaker is the best angle to get the shot then sometimes I’ve got the advantage!

When I first started in photography that’s what I did, I’d go out to see bands, loud bands because I could feel the sound through my body and I loved that, particularly the sound of the drums.  I absolutely loved sitting near them and feeling that vibration, loud raucous music like Metal and I enjoyed punk.  When I was at home I could listen to ballads as well because I could put the speaker of my tape player right up against my head, turn it up full blast and I would hear it through, not my ear bones, but my skull.  My ear bones were damaged and the doctors found out later on that the nerves were damaged as well.

But unfortunately there aren’t that many good things about deafness; one difficulty is my confidence… It really rocked my confidence for years.  I’d say from fourteen eighteen I was deaf, y’know I could hardly hear a thing.

 

How did it happen?

 

‘I got an ear infection when I was fourteen.  They don’t know how I got it, but it was misdiagnosed, my doctor syringed my ears and it really bloody hurt.  He didn’t believe it was hurting me and carried on.  I was squirming with pain when he was syringing them with water, when actually what he was doing was pushing the infection deeper in.  It infected my ear bones and nerve cells, permanently damaging them.

Later I had a series of operations to try to salvage what was there, but it was too far-gone.  So I’ve only got 5 percent hearing in my left ear and 20 percent hearing in my right.  So I wear hearing aids.  I find it particularly difficult when I’ve had a cold or flu because I go even more deaf and that lowers my confidence still.

Imagine going out to work or going out to meet friends and not being able to hear their questions are or share their conversations.  Try it by stuffing some cotton wool in your ears and go about your normal business of your day.

I can lip read a bit, this is not easy, and it can take a helluva lot of effort concentrating hard, looking at people’s mouths to supplement what I can hear.  Conversation can be really unpleasurable, an anxious effort. When I’m particularly deaf I don’t want go out anywhere. So it can feel quite isolating. I make people aware when I’m particularly deaf and I might say how they can improve effective communication by doing this or that.  But some still don’t make allowances because they forget and don’t really understand.

I’m a social creature y’know and I prefer to mix with people, I enjoy people and their company.  I enjoy sharing the creative process and working with others so it’s not natural for me to isolate myself.

I think part of the reason I stayed in the profession of photography and kept on doing what I do is despite all the difficulties through being deaf is that y’know I have been resilient which is part of who I am.  I’ve been a battler and I’ve used my anger from when I was bullied as a teenager to go ‘Right, I’m gonna make something of this, I’m gonna show those bullies that I’m gonna break out of that, that no one is going to hold me back, no one is going to bully me.  I’m not going to let my lack of self-confidence stop me being the best photographer that I can be.

I’ve since been back to study for three years and have become a counselor, but back then photography was all I had.  I had a big interest in Marine Biology and botany. I’d taken my exams and I’d got an offer of a place at Newcastle University to do General Science and Marine Biology. But while I was waiting for my exam results I was told by the Ear Specialist I’d never be able to go swimming again, that underwater diving was absolutely out of the question.  So I had to give up my dream of being a marine biologist and do the next best thing, which to me was photography. That was the only other thing I was interested in. Well that and music but he said playing loud music was out of the question too!

I had to be a photographer because that is all I could do.

So by determination and by good fortune I managed to get myself onto the Professional Photography course at Blackpool and Fylde College, near to where I was living. The term had already just begun but I phoned up the College every day to ask if anyone had dropped out and could I have a place if they had. After a fortnight two first year pupils dropped out and they gave me one of the places. It felt like a miracle and it changed my life forever.

After that three-year course I moved to Manchester because I loved the music scene there and I set up straight away as doing photography – music, portraiture, theatre, fashion and some commercial/advertising, but my heart wasn’t in the commercial stuff even though I was fully capable.

It was tough at first though. There were times in the first eighteen months in Manchester that I questioned if I should give it up. I felt like ‘this isn’t really working, I can’t make enough to make ends meet, I can’t make a business out of this.  I love doing it but maybe I’m going to have to stop and do something else’.  It took eighteen months until I thought, ‘Ah Thank God, things are rolling, things are getting to be ok now’.  The momentum was rolling.  Everything I’d learnt in photography, everything that I’ve done is now coming to fruition and I can afford the cameras, I can afford that piece of equipment I need. A photographer I knew had a family who had a building business, I’ve never been sidetracked like other photographer’s who may have had a hand in the family building business and the possibility of earning far more money in the building trade than as a photographer.   Therefore they were sometimes actually at a disadvantage, it looked like an advantage, but it wasn’t. I had to do it I had no choice. So many jobs were out of bounds to me because I was deaf, so I had to be a photographer, didn’t I?