Art

Q&A with Music Photographer Gregory Nolan

This Was Our Scene – Gregory Nolan – Fumbally Exchange – 19th – 22nd Oct 2017

We had the chance to ask photographer Gregory Nolan about his work in London over the last twenty years. You can see the results below! An exhibition of his work will take place in the Fumbally Exchange from the 19th to the 22nd of October.

“London, the mid-noughties, a scene. The Libertines, Mumford and Sons, Frank Turner, Dan Smith (later of Bastille), Florence and the Machine, Razorlight and others, though inhabiting different genres, were filling clubs and venues all over the city. And then there were the fans – young, dedicated, party people; serious music lovers.

A Photography Exhibition of London’s 00’s Indie Scene by Irish Photographer Gregory Nolan at the Fumbally Exchange from 19 – 22nd October 2017″

When did you get your first camera? Was it love at first sight?

I got my first camera in October 2003 and it was a Nikon Coolpix 5700. It really was love at first sight… I had no idea what a megapixel  was, how ISO worked or what f-stops are. But I saw it and wanted it immediately.

Gigs are dark, the musicians are moving etc. Are gigs the most difficult events you can try to capture?

Because I started my professional career with live music photography, that environment feels like home to me.

I quickly realised that I had no idea what I was doing, and started taking that very seriously. Natural light always spoke to me whether it was day or night, and almost right away I became obsessed with learning how to photograph dark scenes without a flash. I was living in a flat near Baker Street in London, and it overlooked traffic lights and corner stops. I would stay up for hours photographing the changing lights and people coming and going. With that I learned ISO and shutter speed and the basics of using aperture.  I say basics because I was still letting the camera tell me the aperture. It was a while before I got turned on to total manual control… that was a fun time.

You started working as a photographer in London during the mid 2000’s. What were your favourite bands from that era?

There were honestly too many bands to list (it felt like I was living music all the time), but there were definitely some favourites to photograph live. At the time there were quite a few bands invading London from the north of England; Blackwire, The Pigeon Detectives, Forward Russia, Sunshine Underground, Maximo Park and The Cribs to name a few. They all brought a show to no matter how many people were in the room – I loved photographing them. I’ll never forget photographing Forward Russia for the first time. I was the club photographer for a long-running night called White Heat where two/three bands would play earlier on and then DJ’s would take over. It took place at a small venue called Infinity in Mayfair, London. (Sadly closed down so HSBC could have more offices) I had never heard of them before the show but from the first chord I think I just stood staring at them forgetting to take a photo for a couple of songs. The show just went off. The lead singer was everywhere–at one point he even wrapped the mic lead around his head. I have no idea why, but it was a wild show and the photos look like mayhem. Death From Above played after them…. That also blew my head off.

I’m definitely biased, but I feel like some bands played the best shows of their careers in those venues.

Did you know many of the musicians during that time?

It was the kind of environment where it felt like everyone knew each other. We shared flats, had house parties, ate greasy hangover breakfasts and late night kebabs in Archway and Holloway Road together. Not everyone, of course, but there were a fair few people who were good friends at that time and remain friends to this day. I spent a lot of time with members of The Pigeon Detectives, The Holloways, The Cazals and The Delanies.

I met Dan Smith of Bastille and I managed him for a short time — in fact I nearly managed him into obscurity before he found someone better than a photographer to handle logistics. I blagged a spot on the Frank Turner tour and then hung around with those guys for years… He was even kind enough to write a foreword to the photobook that’s part of this show.

You seem to focus on all elements of the music scenes, not just the bands on stage. Do you attempt to let people see parts of the music industry they wouldn’t normally see?

These days I definitely make it a point to capture the whole of the music experience, and to show the crew, the label, the friends, the fans, and the bands when they’re not on stage. When I’m working now that’s both part of the overall experience I’m trying to convey and it adds a lot of depth and variety to the shots.

Back in the day it was just natural. There is always something happening, always an interesting moment to capture. Honestly some of my all-time favourite photos have been of the fans on the barrier. There is an energy to true music fans and a connection to the moment that nothing else quite captures. Pair that with some of the unglamorous elements of producing a show and you get something close to what live music really is.

Are there any classic gigs that you regret missing? Any bands or artists you’d have particularly liked to have taken photos of?

There are a few, and the ones I most kick myself for are the bands who were sort of constantly present and I ended up taking it for granted that they would always be there. Then there are bands that helped launch the Scene before I figured out that this was what I wanted to do with my life and I missed them completely. So here’s my big confession; while I have lots of backstage and other photos of the individual members, I never photographed The Libertines live. For many people they were THE band of the scene, and I came along too late to be there.

I was the in-house photographer at KOKO in Camden, and one of the shows I was most excited for was Prince in 2007. The permission for the house photographer was pulled at the last minute. That’s something that happens from time to time, but I will say that’s a let down I might not ever quite get over.

 

Please check out the website at www.thiswasourscene.com and check us out on Facebook www.facebook.com/thiswasourscene –we’re regularly sharing photos and stories from back in the day.

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