published: 18 /
Dave Goodwin talks to photographer Nick Elliott about his two recent books of music photography and his role as photographer at the Cambridge Folk Festival
Over the past year or so, Pennyblackmusic has had the chance to delve a lot into the world of the music photographer, and we have had run articles and interviews with outstanding talents such as Sheila Rock and Chris Stein. This month is no exception as we have had the privilege to chat to rock photographer, Nick Elliott, who has carved out an enviable reputation for himself for producing powerful iconic pieces of photographic art in his own inimitable avant-garde style.
Before becoming involved in the music industry, Nick had a very successful career in editorial and advertising photography, being commissioned by top London fashion and advertising agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi, TBWA and Yellow Hammer for major above and below-the-line campaigns such as the Liberal Democrats, Coca-Cola, British Telecom, British Airways, Walt Disney, Lloyds TSB Bank, Sheraton Hotels and Jaguar.
After winning several awards, Nick specialised in the music industry photographing some of the most iconic artists in the business, and his images have frequently been featured on album artwork as well as being published extensively across the media for over twenty years. Nick’s work is highly respected,and his images are in high demand as fine art limited edition prints having exhibited in over a dozen art galleries in the UK, Europe and USA.
Nick's first book, ‘TEN - A Decade in Images’, which came out in 2011, featured a collection of the artists that Nick had worked with and had captured performing over the last ten years at the Cambridge Folk Festival. He currently has a new book out entitled ‘50Folk’.
The Cambridge Folk Festival itself, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014, is one of the premier music events in Europe and one of the longest running and most famous folk festivals in the world. Held each year since 1965 in the beautiful setting of Cherry Hinton Hall, it attracts around ten thousand people, many of whom return year after year. This year‘s main acts include Joan Baez, Passenger, Frank Turner, Joan Armatrading, the Proclaimers, Wilko Johnson, the Unthanks, Gretchen Peters and the Skatalites.
We caught up with Nick to talk about the Cambridge Folk Festival, photography in general and the pros and cons of being one of the world's premier league photographic artists.
PB: The Cambridge Folk Festival has been going for fifty years now. ‘TEN - A Decade in Images’ features photos from 2000 to 2010, so I'm assuming that you got involved around the Millennium How did that come about?
NE : Yeah, that's right. Well the original sponsors were a company called Charles Wells Brewery who were based in Bedfordshire. To cut a long story short, they were the main sponsors for about eleven years I believe. They commissioned me to do some stuff for them in 2000 which was with Robert Plant, who had got one of his many rec-incarnations of his blues roots on the go, and I hooked up with him and that was my introduction to the Cambridge Folk Festival.
I remember that year there were a lot of big name headliners like Glenn Tilbrook and Dr John, and I was working with various different media, record companies and PR companies. Since then I've been back almost every year.
PB: So you're not like me then, hanging around until six ‘o'clock waiting for your photo pass?
NE: No, I don't get involved in that anymore, if I can help it (Laughs).
PB: To stay with that first shoot, how nervous were you and who did you shoot? Tell me about the kind of photos you wanted to shoot,
NE: To be honest, I'm not that interested in photography but what I am interested in is art. The whole thing about what I do goes a lot deeper than just photography. I mean the whole kind of essence of how I got involved in the music business, which is what I specialise in now, is a very long story and that would take you all afternoon to record that! What I do is about passion, a romance, and wanting to leave a mark, to be the best. That's why I do it. I don't go out there just to take pictures. It goes a lot deeper than that.
On the nervous side, I don't get nervous. Not at all. I set out to specialise in the music business. Many years ago, I worked in advertising at the time shooting high profile fashion, car and cigarette accounts for some of the biggest agencies on the planet, but I have always been around the music industry and music is my second passion to photography. The reason that I specialised is the effect these guys had on me, these legends like Rory Gallagher, Humble Pie, Led Zep, Jimi Hendrix. The list goes on! And I just decided one day that it was time to start something new. So, I decided to set out and work with these guys that were my heroes as they had been such a major contribution to the person I now am and my life.
PB: You tend to restrict yourself to certain genres. What is it about those genres that in particular inspire you?
NE: I know and understand the music business very well. I've played in bands and looked after bands and had all kinds of different associations with bands, but at the end of the day it's an art. I appreciate that music is also an art and that could come from anyone from Olly Murs to people like Alice Cooper. You’re right though. I have genres that I fix to which are rock, classic rock, blues, folk and roots. But having said that, I won't rubbish people like Lady Gaga because she's fucking good at what she does, although I wouldn't buy her album and I wouldn't want to shoot the woman.
PB: Do you still use 35mm film?
NE: The tradition of that art is my background. I started out as a press photographer many, many years ago. I shoot 100% digital now though to be honest. I went screaming into that genre because I was very late getting in to it, but, yeah, my background is wet room, dark room, black and white film
PB: If you look at the photos in both books, you don't just stick to the stage or pit and a lot of them feature the artists posing for you personally at the Cambridge Folk Festival.
NE: The shots are from everywhere. I try and shoot across the music business. I'm well known for the live stuff, and my reputation is also very much about the mono, the black and white, which I specialise in. I consider myself a concept photographer so bands will come to me with various different projects like brand new EP launches, or whatever, and then we put together a whole visual concept that builds up around that particular project.
PB: Out of all the artists over the years, who was the most exciting to shoot at the Festival and why?
NE: It is always the next person, the person that I am about to shoot because everyone brings something to the table. There is no one stand-out person and I think it would be unfair to say that it was him, her or that band. But I can tell you, through the hundreds of people that I have worked with, I have fulfilled lifelong ambitions. So, by meeting and working with these people, and even standing in their company for a minute or whatever, I have satisfied some of my wildest dreams.
One stand-out was Bob Geldof. I did some stuff with him and he is exactly how you would expect Geldof to be. People like Bob, and the likes of Robert Plant, are very articulate, welcoming, and nice. There’s never been anyone I've ever met though where I've thought, “You're a fucking arsehole.”
PB: You must have seen some changes in the Cambridge Folk Festival. What have been the main ones that you have seen?
NE: Cambridge, as you rightly said, has its 51st birthday this year, and I first went to it many, many years ago. We are talking the 1970s now, and in those days they ran it off the back of an articulated truck. They still call it the Cambridge Folk Festival now, but as a brand it's nothing like that now. There is a lot of folk on there, but one of the things I like about it, and one of the things that really caught my eye, was the showcasing of American artists, and legendary, legendary, players like Kris Kristofferson who played it a couple of years ago. These guys don't even get out of bed and gig in America. And to do anything in the UK is very. very rare and if they do it’s usually the Cambridge Folk Festival.
PB: How did ’50Folk’ take shape and come together?
NE: The first book, ‘TEN’, was a joint venture with the Cambridge Council, and was a sort of celebration of being there for ten years. ‘50Folk’ is a little bit more festival-orientate, and my own personal celebration of the fifty years of it.
PB: Thank you.