500 concerts and counting!
Songkicker and concert photographer, liveon35mm, recently reached the great milestone of attending 500 events. We had a chat with him about some of his favourite concerts over the years, how he got into concert photography and his experience of seeing Pink Floyd amongst an audience of half a million…
Tell us a bit about your interest in concert photography and how you got started?
I had just moved to UK which, for an Italian live music lover, was a similar experience to Pinocchio entering the Land of Toys. I had done some concerts in Italy but never thought of it too seriously. Then one day a friend introduced me to the editor of a free Cambridge magazine who helped to sort out my first photo passes and my two big passions: music and photography, got together. The first show in a pit was early 2004 – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club opened by The Cooper Temple Clause at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. You don’t forget the adrenaline of standing first time with your camera 30cm from your heroes. That was love at first sight and still is.
Months after, a friend started a music blog, called The Line Of Best Fit, I helped him and in the years contributed to its success with over a hundred photo galleries. In the meantime, more websites recognised my photography and asked to collaborate. The Quietus, The405, MusicOMH all publish my shots regularly and, since I moved to digital, I had a few pics out on some magazines and the national press too, like the Guardian and the Independent.
Why film? It was my only option, I only owned film gear, as simple as that. Believe it or not, I surrendered to digital photography in 2010. I was going to shoot the Kumbh Mela in India (photojournalism is my other photography field) and to leave with a bag full of film rolls to the largest human gathering on earth wasn’t a sensible idea.
I was (and still am) a fanatic of film photography and I love spending time in the darkroom. In 2004 film photographers in the music scene were basically non-existent. When I started the blog (Live on 35mm is 5 years old this week), there was not much about contemporary live music on film. I liked the idea, I found a name and got started. I also wanted to help other fellow photographers, at the end of each post on the blog there is a photo tip about shooting live music. All my experience is shared there.
The other half of the story is less of a fairy-tale. There are not much money in music photography and none at all if you shoot on film. Internet and digital speeded up the process, agencies and magazines want the photos the same night of the show and they want a jpeg file. It’s also very expensive to shoot on 35mm. There was a niche market of fans appreciating a B&W silver gelatine print of their idols but even that has slimmed down.
If you had to pick what would you say has been your best concert so far, why?
It is impossible to pick one. So many amazing shows. Back to my Italian years, David Bowie playing the hits at the Sound+Vision 90-something, U2 touring Joshua Tree in 1987 or the Cure touring Disintegration in 1989 are quite unforgettable. I am also very happy to have seen Amy Winehouse at her best.
Legend-wise getting to see Tom Waits at Apollo and Cream reunited at the Albert Hall was another moment. For consistency anytime I saw PJ Harvey or the Bad Seeds on stage they never disappointed. At present my favourite live band is, by far, Japandroids.
Do you have any particular concert memories that stand-out?
I have a very sad one, I was in Palestrina near Rome in 1999 when finally I got to see Morphine live. I had been a fan for a long time of the Boston trio and that was the first time they came close enough to Rome to play a free festival. I brought my camera. I couldn’t know that was going to be the concert in which Mark Sandman, the band frontman, collapsed and died on stage. My 8 pictures of that night are probably the only visual document of the event.
They have been used for the cover art of a documentary on Mark Sandman life, Cure for Pain, which I suggest to everyone.
To cheer you up now, I have a nice one too. Remember at the end of 2009 there was the campaign to get Rage Against The Machine’s Killing in The Name as number one Christmas single against X-Factor? The moment the band supported the campaign and promised a free concert in London if that was going to be achieved, I bought my first and only digital music. Funnily enough the concert was to happen on the day of my 40th birthday. I got lucky to be selected for one of the tickets and I managed to celebrate my forties there. I loved every second of it.
What’s the furthest you’ve travelled to see your favourite artist?
I have to get back to my teens. The day after my final exam at school, 13 of July 1989, I got on a train with some friends to see the (in)famous free concert Pink Floyd played in Italy. We arrived in Venice in the early morning. San Marco square was already packed. The stage set floating in the middle of the lagoon. By the time the concert began there were about half million people on Piazza San Marco. I thought the entire city was going to sink.
What’s your favourite concert venue? Why?
Do you have any concert pet peeves?
Yes, I go to concerts for the music. Despite the photographers’ rule allow us to shoot only three songs I am not one of those many photographers heading out after 10 minutes. I always stay to see the show till the end. I love live music.
I can’t stand loud conversations during shows. I can’t understand why so many people spend money to see shows and once there they don’t care anymore. Whether it’s talking about football or checking Facebook on their phones.
What concerts have you got coming up that you can recommend?
Quite a few as usual. The one I am most looking forward is Bon Iver in November. It is probably my fourth attempt to see him. I always failed for the most incredible reasons you wouldn’t believe. I am also looking forward to seeing Amanda Palmer and I do hope to sort out photopasses for Swans and I heard rumours that Godspeed You! Black Emperor may finally allow photographers to the pit. I will let you know if that turns out to be true.