Prince... And Daventry’s rock ‘n’ roll connection

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It will probably come as a surprise that Daventry has a close link to Minneapolis-born musician Prince.

Tony Mottram these days lives on Middlemore, but from the late 1970s onwards he was photographing bands and musicians for the UK’s top music publications.

Tony back in the day

Tony back in the day

Among his many tales are how he took the first photos of Prince performing live in the UK.

Tony said: “I grew up in Essex and had a love of music. I was in a band and I started off taking photos of myself and the other members.

“People admired them, and asked who did them. When I said I did they didn’t believe me because I was in them all – they didn’t realise what you can do with a timer!

“Other local bands started asking for pictures.

“One night The Pretenders were playing a local venue and the security let me in to do some shots.

“I took the images down to their agent’s office in Covent Garden and they bought about half a dozen of them.

“I realised people thought my pictures were quite good and were willing to pay for them.”

Tony went to college to do a photography course. It was quite technical, covering not just composition but all the chemistry and developing side.

Tony Mottram

Tony Mottram

I think that put my in good stead as I learnt about push processing which is useful when you’re taking images in dark venues.

“I was still going to gigs and doing photos. At one I was talking to someone working for one of the music magazines and I asked how I could get my photos in.

“He just said to send them in with ‘normal rates and credits apply’ on them.

“I sent some off and to my surprise I opened a copy of NME to see one of my photos – albeit the size of a stamp – on a page. Then a few weeks later a cheque turned up for £30, which was more than my grant!

“I rang up a few photographers asking to help them. I got a job with one, it was pretty ad hoc, and he might call once a week.

“But it got more frequent, and in the end he said it’d be cheaper to employ me full time than pay day rates.

“Jill Furmanovsky, who is a famous rock photographer, used to come by the studio, and eventually I got to meet her, and she said she’d put some work my way.

“I started to get photos for jobs in Melody Maker, NME and Sounds.

“The first one I did was for Sounds I think I was told to go along and take photos to go with an interview.

“You expect you’ll be told what the magazine wants or a style, but no. I got no advice, and just had to judge what they’d want from what they printed.

Nirvana

Nirvana

“Anyway I did the photos, sent them off. Didn’t hear anything back, and then they used four or five of them in the magazine.

“It got to the point that almost as many people were ringing where I worked to book me as a freelancer, than to use the company.

“We kind of had a falling out over it and it ended up with me making the move to be a freelance full-time. I was doing work mainly for Melody Maker but also The Face and Sounds.

“I got a call from Jill saying she’d double booked herself. She had been booked to photograph Bruce Springsteen at Wembley, and some unknown guy at a small venue in The Strand.

“She said she would go to the Wembley and asked me to go to photo the other gig. Well it turned out to be Prince at his first ever gig in the UK.

“Back then nobody was too sure about Prince’s sexuality so I went along to The Strand and assumed he’d be playing at Heaven – a gay venue. I got there, but my name wasn’t on the door which wasn’t too unusual.

“I talked the security guard around to let me in saying I had to photo this performer who was about to go on stage inside. I got in and realised Prince wasn’t performing there and it was just a normal night in the club. So I had a quick pint of Guinness and left. I had to sprint up the road to the Lyceum knowing that I’d probably miss the support act.

“I got there in time and got the photos of Prince’s first ever UK gig. It had a real edgy feel to it because of the show the band put on. Prince was literally wearing a dirty mac, heels, and it looked like he has fishnets on.

“It was great for me as a photographer because it was different and it was new, and I liked working with new artists as well.”

Despite the impact of the gig on Tony, it did not go quite so well from Prince’s point of view it seems. Disappointed with the low audience numbers he cancelled the rest of his UK appearances on that tour.

Over the years Tony photographed many bands, artists and other personalities. His portfolio covers artists under every letter from AC/DC to ZZ Top, and includes The Bangles, Johnny Cash, INXS, Jethro Tull, Madness, Oasis, and the Ramones.

Tony said: “I was doing a lot of work. I remember doing photos of a band called REM that nobody had heard about – the first photos of the band. And Bryan Adams when nobody knew about him.

“I did a shoot with Nirvana. It was supposed to be before they went on stage, posed up a bit, but Kurt Cobain wasn’t interested. Dave Grohl was fantastic, he said come backstage after the gig and I got some ‘sweaty rock and roll’ shots.

“I’ve done lots with the Osbournes – Sharon, Ozzy and the family. I used to give the photos to Sharon, like family snap-shots, and there’s some in Ozzy’s biography.”

Tony moved to Daventry a few years ago to unwind and reflect. He said: “I love it here, it’s quiet and that’s what I want. I’m going back through the 100,000 negatives I’ve got scanning them onto my computer. It took 30 years to take them so I don’t know how long it will take to scan them all!

“What I’d like to do is put on an exhibition in Daventry, but I don’t know if there’s anywhere suitable.”

The Manic Street Preachers

The Manic Street Preachers