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Analogue - Rock Portraits by Tom Sheehan, Lomography Gallery Store East | reviews, news & interviews

Analogue - Rock Portraits by Tom Sheehan, Lomography Gallery Store East

Analogue - Rock Portraits by Tom Sheehan, Lomography Gallery Store East

From Björk to the Bunnymen, 40 years of rock star portraits by much-travelled lensman

Tom Sheehan: 'A lot of artists are surprised to find a photographer who's actually interested in music'photo: Florrie Sheehan

I've known rock photographer Tom Sheehan since we worked together at the Melody Maker in the 1980s, but even I didn't know that his stellar career stretches back "almost 40 years", or so it says in the programme notes for his new exhibition, Analogue, at the Lomography Gallery Store East in Spitalfields. Anyway, anyone who's ever been anyone in the great pop and rock malarky has been memorably photographed by Sheehan (or "painted with light," as he might facetiously put it). His work has appeared in Melody Maker, Mojo, Q, UncutThe Times and Sunday Times, Time Out and many other places, and has adorned the album sleeves of the likes of Coldplay, Radiohead and The Charlatans. 

Sheehan has several secret weapons up his sleeve. He has a knack for getting the perfect shot with incredible speed, after decades of being forced to do 10-minute photo sessions by petulant, preening pop artistes. His bantering, jocular manner, peppered with his own idiosyncratic rhyming slang and streams of baffling nicknames, conceals a weighty knowledge of art, design and photographic technique. And he knows more about the arcane byways of popular music than most of the people he photographs, and indeed most of the people who write about it. However, for God's sake never get into a drinking competition with him. Here, from the horse's mouth, are the stories behind some of the pictures included in Analogue.

Neil Young

This was December 1989 when he came over to Europe and he played Hammersmith Odeon. I took the picture at the Mayfair hotel. We were in a room with no space whatsoever so I just put him up against this bit of wall in the room, just one light, one flash, and he was drinking some water. I said "take a swig from the water, do this, do that," trying to direct him in some sort of way other than just standing there. I had about eight seconds or whatever but I managed to shoot about 18 frames of black and white and half a dozen colour. I like it because I said to him "Neil, give me the old mad staring eyes."  Elliot Roberts [Neil's manager] said "he doesn't wanna see those," and I said "who's shaving this pig? I've only got a small amount of time, please don't eat into it."

Echo & the Bunnymen

This was Janaury 1981, when the Bunnymen were making the film Shine So Hard and they'd  had gone up to Buxton, Derbyshire to play a concert on a Saturday night. I went up with Ian Pye from the Melody Maker, we got this train into Buxton and it started snowing and it looked so romantic, it was brilliant. I'd photographed them a few times before, and they were so fuckin' surly and miserable but great at the same time. Will Sergeant [guitarist] has got to be about 55 or 60, but I bet he's never had a smile on his face for 40 years. As time has gone by it would appear to be an iconic shot. I happened to be lucky enough to take a picture when thery were doing something monumental in their career, playing that gig and also making the film -  and wearing camo of course.

Bruce Springsteen  

As you might recall, this was  taken in Colt's Neck, New Jersey in 2002 just before The Rising came out. You and I went out to interview him for Uncut magazine. When we arrived Bruce came out to greet us himself, which I thought was a really charming thing for anybody to do. The place was like an old farmhouse full of old Shaker furniture, and it was like the nerve centre, because he had a studio there and everything else. While we were walking around looking for locations Bruce was talking about having Nils Lofgren in his band and we were saying how great Grin [Lofgren's 1970s band] was. I loved Grin way back in the day, and Bruce was just amazed that anyone could remember who the fuck Grin were. I think a lot of artists are probably surprised to find a photographer who's actually interested in music.

Mick Jagger

Me and Colin Irwin from the Melody Maker went over to Paris to interview Jagger for his first solo album, She's the Boss. We were shoved into a room which was covered in gold discs and posters and promotional items, and you're going "where is there a plain space?" I took a few pictures off the wall, and Jagger came in. He and Colin did the interview and they spent a lot of time talking about cricket, you'll be pleased to hear - the miners' strike and cricket. When he came in Jagger had that jacket on, and over the jacket he had like a horse blanket. After a few frames he took off the horse blanket and he was down to this jacket. Then then he took the jacket off and he had a mauve shirt on underneath. Then he took that off and he had a lemon tee shirt underneath, so you got four different set-ups in minutes. That's the skill of a true professional, let's say. Or someone who doesn't want to waste too much of their time, which is also commendable.

Thom Yorke

This was taken at a Radiohead soundcheck backstage in France and it was for Time Out. I shot it on transparency film, then cross-processed it to fuck it up onto colour negative so you end up with a colour negative, and then I did a print on lith paper in black and white. There you go, it's black and white the long way round. I've got loads of shots of Thom laughing, though Radiohead are always perceived as being a bit kind of mad and morbid and miserable. They're the funniest band I've ever been away with. They're tremendous company, all bright fuckers and just really into all sorts. My missus always said "Tommy, whenever you go away with Radiohead you always come back so fulfilled and so happy."

Björk

This would have been about 1984, when Björk was with the Sugarcubes. She was very concerned on that day that she'd bought some shoes that had cost her a lot of money, and she wanted the shoes on the cover of Melody Maker. I said "well they very rarely use head-to-toe shots" and she said "but these shoes cost me such-and-such!" There was Einar and the others in the group, and I said "why don't you guys go to the canteen, I'll do some solo pictures and I'll call you one by one." I just used a couple of little setups, nothing too grand. We know what she's like now, but this was the time of "Birthday" and it was single of the week. But Björk was fine - fiery-stroke-determined, and knew exactly what she wanted, which is always good.

Overleaf: The Stone Roses, Morrissey and more

 

The Stone Roses

This would have been 1989, though the first album wasn't actually out. The Jackson Pollock-like effect is a perspex screen, only about three foot square but I clamped it on some stands and shot through it.  I was thinking "hang on mate, they're wearing blouses and Lionel Blairs!" [flares] Subsequently I photographed Ian Brown in his solo career, I met John Squire through his band Seahorses and through his painting as well, and obviously Mani with Primal Scream, so the relationship goes on. The Roses weren't particularly hard work. They were enthusiastic. At that time I don't think I had a child. One of the many joys of being a parent is you can deal with musicians, because you've spent a lot of time wiping people's arses.

Morrissey

I think this was November 1984 in the Picadilly Hotel in Manchester. The room had two beds and loads of pictures on the wall, absolute shite, and green hessian wallpaper. So I had to take some pictures off the wall, and I thought let's go for a classic portrait to make him look handsome, so he's looking awayand staring up, and it's just one light over here, it's dead simple. A little bit of shadow just to create a little bit of depth, and you know you've got it because he's got a quiff like this, and the eyes are great. And he also had this really tremendous dogtooth jacket on. Then I  got fed up with this setup and I said "why don't we just wrap you up with this sheet?" and I pulled the sheet off the bed and wrapped him up. He said "Why?" and I said "Well you look like Rodin's The Burghers of Calais or something", and he went "oh, alright!" The next day [publicist] Scott Piering rang up and said "Morrissey felt you bullied him into doing those sheet shots, could you not use 'em?" so we didn't. But when I hang up the Brownie I'm going to sell 'em to the highest bidder.

Michael Stipe

This was just prior to Green coming out, "Orange Crush" was the first single off the album and this was in Athens, Georgia in R.E.M.'s studio. This geezer had left this backdrop from a photo session with Rolling Stone, so I had this roller colorama which they pulled down, but as you can see it's all dimpled and fucked up and damp. Stipe was feeling really poorly that day, but I thought he looked quite good with the long hair, before he started losing it, tied back with the pony tail and that. Stipey is one of those people that are so studied in their dishevelment, if you will, they know exactly what to do. He's an absolute performer. He'll walk into a room and know exactly what you want - not too much, you won't get the true-life confessions, but he'll always give you a shape or he'll give you a quote, which is totally professional.

Arthur Lee

Did you see those shows when he played the Garage in 1992? It was brilliant  - there were literally grown men at the back crying. How could I know in 1966 when I heard "My Little Red Book" [by Lee's band Love] in Camberwell that I'd ever meet him, let alone photograph him? It's astonishing. We were at the  Portobello hotel and we'd gone up in a lift. It was very small, and his room was about the same size. There's the broken string on his guitar, and of course he'd written that song "Five String Serenade". He wasn't really what I expected, because you go into these things and you just play the game as it appears in front of you. But to me this is the sort of picture I dreamed of taking as a kid, and I think I achieved my own personal goal because it's someone who is sadly no longer with us but who has made tremendous music and will continue to touch people.

John Lydon

This was around the time of The Flowers of Romance by Public Image Ltd. It was taken in Lydon's flat in Gunter Grove. There was me, Paolo from the Melody Maker, Jeannette Lee, Keith Levene and John in the flat. There was this candelabra in the hallway with these gothic-looking candles, and I said to John, "throw yourself behind those lights, will you?" He went "oh fuck off Sheehan, you're too fucking late, Anton Corbijn's already beaten you to it." I said "well I ain't fucking seen it, just do it willya?" Bang. And it's a fantastic picture not because I say so, but because unbeknownst to me the light on each side just divides the face up into four quarters. When I printed it up I didn't realise it, then I went "wow, this is amazing". Lydon is perceived as being cantankerous, but I wouldn't say so myself. He could have a go at a person, but a lot of it was done for comic effect.

U2

U2 were making their first album, Boy, in Dublin, and I went over with Paolo Hewitt. We went down to Windmill Lane studios and met the chaps, and even at that young age they were completely accommodating, that wonderful kind of Dublin welcome. The next day they took us to a pub called Sheehans, and they took pictures of me outside. Bono was showing us the area, and a kid threw stones at us and he said "it's a terrible thing in Dublin, no-one wants you to succeed, they want to keep you down." Anyway on the last day they all took us out to the airport and I said "let's rattle off a few more frames", and that's when I took this picture. I remember seeing Bono again in London, after the Melody Maker had reviewed one of their albums that wasn't due out for another six weeks. His publicists were very worried about this. I said "sorry about the review, mate." He said "Tommy, it's ok. You're welcome in Dublin any time."

Björk was very concerned that she'd bought some shoes that had cost her a lot of money, and she wanted the shoes on the cover of 'Melody Maker'

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