Tom Sheehan: Tales of a Freelance Lensman December 13 2017
We have been stocking Tom's AIM HIGH Paul Weller in photographs from 1978-2015 book for some time now but have finally got to have a chat with him during what we are sure is a very busy schedule and off the back of shooting Josh Homme. Tom has very kindly taken the time for a quick chat about the extraordinary moments he's captured.
What age did you pick up a camera and what was the one photo you took that you made you realise you had fallen in love with photography? If you can remember what was your 1st camera?
It was Praktica Nova 1B with a 50mm lens, had it a few years then bought a 150mm lens for it. Where I was working as an assistant I could use the kit there, Nikon, Hasselblad etc … I was just ‘trying’ to be a photographer without actually doing too much about it!!
Do you take any analogue photos these days or is it all digital? Will analogue make a significant come back like Vinyl?
I don’t shoot film these days only because a: nobody will pay the lab costs and b: I find it all a bit time consuming. That doesn’t mean to say working on the Mac is less time consuming. I now work in a nice office / music room (late of the kids room) in my house instead of going into my garage / darkroom. I actually railed against digital till about 2005.
I do quite enjoy working on the Mac as one can do things really fast. Back in the day doing a ‘lith’ print that takes about three hours from start to finish which can be tiresome. Also I don’t know what folk these days would do If delivered a folio of prints. I had loads of film in my darkroom just rotting so I gave some to my fellow photographer friend Steve Gullick and my chum that does my web site (who is great around that stuff) Andy Dunford. I’ve still got a huge bag for another photographer chum Simon Fernandez. People just don’t have the budget for film and processing. If I went away with a band for a few days one would return with a bill for anything over £1,000 for film & processing.
What was your 1st band shoot you did and have you ever been star struck?
The first session I did was a great group called Sarrey Eyed and Laughing for CBS at Wallington Boys School - They were playing a gig and I was asked to do some shots by their PR at CBS John Tobler who has been a chum for an age. JT got me the gig as the first in house photographer at CBS Records in 1975, where i lasted 3 years and left for Melody Maker in 1978.
Touring with bands and capturing those iconic moments, for a music and photography lover like me your job seems perfect, what music are you into and have you any memorable shoots of working with any particular artist?
Well as much as one loves my job there’s always a great bit of anxiety that goes with it. When you work with musicians time and time again you have to raise your game and do better than the last session. Often circumstances are against you which some marketing person isn’t interested in.
A memorable time came from working for a long time with The Charlatans and was brought about by getting a solo shot of Tim Burgess in LA. It was the third time I had photographed them and the word was ‘only group shots’, which I understand, but can be a pain as if one is shooting a cover session it’s difficult for the designer to deal with five heads, headline and strap lines etc on the cover. We’re heading down Sunset and I’d asked Tim if he had herd of the famous Sunset Grill, Don Henley had written a song about it. He said he hadn’t, I guessed not as it would be a strange thing for a lad his age at this point in time to know anything about The Eagles. Anyway we pulled up the cab, I rattled a few frames off and Bingo - a great Melody Maker cover shot. Nothing like that had been done by the band at that point in their career. In Tim’s room he had a book on Dylan so that might have been a contributing factor to our professional friendship, I subsequently ended up doing loads of sessions for editorial and album sleeves for the next fifteen years.
You’ve worked with the ModFather Paul Weller for decades, we stock one of your books 'Aim High' which is a masterpiece and a must for anyone who loves Paul Weller and his catalogue of work. How did the book come about and what was your process for picking the selected pictures?
Ahh Paul, a genuinely great man . I just love the way the buggar doesn’t stop. I love people like him who just don’t give up in their endeavour to keep on producing great work, and perfecting their skill. It’s a good lesson to look at someone you admire and try to apply their approach to work. He was the first off the blocks with my series that’s out on Flood Gallery Publishing. I got to meet the owner through a very good friend Chris Carr who has been in PR for almost as long as I have been alive.. The Who, Stones, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave etc etc … he introduced me to Chris from Flood with a view to do something else, so out of a couple of encounters talking ‘tosheroo’ and drinking ale in the ‘Welsh’ Harp came the idea of opening my archive in book form. The idea was, select someone who I’d photographed many times and work through the sessions. Paul was an ideal candidate as I had photographed him in The Jam, The Style Council and his solo years.
We were doing a session in the 100 Club, a cover shoot for Mojo Magazine when he had Saturns Pattern. I had an hour and managed to turn in two different batches of portraits on both Black and White backgrounds and four other set ups, good going. I of course had my wing man with me Nick Stevens, a photographer himself but drinks out of the RawK bowl!!! Anyway Paul suggests I do a book, I thought he meant a book of ALL my work and didn’t think anything about it until I started talking to Flood, then it came back what he had said, realising it was a suggestion to do a book based on him. An ideal choice I’d say for my first book as he is SO special in my thoughts for reasons I have said and of course his music. I’d go through the sessions and ask my designer chum Carl Glover to cast an eye and make the final selection. I trust him as he is a music fan also and quite knowledgeable about music and how music imagery should be displayed. I will have the final say but I need another set of eyes as I’m so close to them. He is sympathetic to my thoughts, but I realise I’m not a designer. It’s great looking through all those images over so many years, I consider myself to be incredibly lucky to have been doing what I have been doing all these years and thanks to the lad upstairs I’m still at it, just recently I shot Josh Homme, Squeeze and Baxter Dury, whose father Ian I photographed several times.
We know you’re a lover of Tootal Scarves as are we, what other brands do you particularly like/wear? And not just these days by all means talk about younger Toms fashion choices as well.
Never really into ‘fashion’ as such, but from teenage years I have worn all sorts, kind of settled on a button down, denim or linen shirts, Levi or Wrangler jeans, Chelsea, Chukka or Jodhpur boots, brogues, Adidas ( Clare Rayners) ;) - any kind of zip up jacket, Barbour mainly these days, but Baracutta, Lacoste and I do have a great limited edition Levi leather jacket that I fear I can’t get on these days, so I have handed it on to my son Alex aka The Count.
I don’t care or worry about clothes as I wear the same things all the time, I have been known to buy three or four shirts that are the same - saves faffing around. In the early 80’s the only shop you could buy button downs was Reiss - there was one down the road from Melody Maker on High Holborn, I was quite a regular in there buying a striped button down in all four colours. It’s just easy - there was a time in the late 60’s early 70’s where I thought my flat in a huge house in Dulwich was on Height Ashbury or Laurel Canyon where I’d don denim, both top and bottom. Often set off with a scarf tied at the neck in a knot, Tootal or other… whatever one could buy at a jumble sale.
My Carnaby / high street shopping days were long gone. I’m sure it’s a working class thing but a lot of guys like me love to wear good shoes - be it Paul Weller or Bobby Gillespie etc …. You can’t beat a good pair of shoes. I have old battered ones as well as ‘best’. I guess I’m a bit of a scruff these days. Brands I have always bought would be Church, Loake, Trickers, Cheaney — there’s also a great shoe maker that sells all these but also make their own boots and shoes called Herring Shoes they do an amazing overnight service.
Now to a topic I’m sure you knew i would mention, Oasis. I messaged you some time ago when the penny dropped you had taken many of my favourite Oasis Liam & Noel Gallagher pictures, what was best day (you remember) from that trip?
Ahhh Oasis…. Funny funny guys - Great band at the time. Although they were known as hell raisers etc they were also so professional - they had (IT) ! Nothing got in the way of the music and their journey. Those first two LP’s were amazing. Great to photograph, if you could nail it sharpish you could get what you needed. Especially the two of them together, great times. So many good encounters with those chaps, but the first time I photographed them was in 1994 when they went to NYC to play CMJ - they had been doing a section of their video (Live Forever) in a kind of allotment in Greenwich Village. On the way back Liam said he wanted to be dropped off in Times Square to buy a t-shirt. I jumped off the bus with him thinking there could be a good photo opportunity. We go in the shop he picks up a shirt and as we head back, within seconds the sky goes really black and rain falls in buckets. We started running back to the shelter of the hotel, as we crossed Times Sq I shouted to Liam “over your shoulder mate”. Bang, got it. I think it was even before the first album (Definitely Maybe) was out. Great Great Band / chaps, many good memories!!
Are there plans for an Oasis book? Do you need anyone to proof it / help pick content :-) ?
Oasis are on the list, it’s funny, although I’m about to do my fourth book, this time on REM. I don’t actually think about what’s coming up next, but yes there is about eight sessions which is enough for a book, One day who knows. There are many artists that could be in the frame, Moz/Marr – The Smiths, Primal Scream, JJC, The Charlatans ( done one already), Radiohead a HipHop special with Snoop, Chuck etc etc.
Thing is, I’m in love with the music of most people I shoot but HipHop as great as it is I never play too much, I like it , but it’s not designed for me. I enjoyed the sessions / meeting them but I’d be lying if I said I’d be down with those kids. It’s clever and great in parts but my fire isn’t burning, nor should it, i’m not fifteen and in Compton etc.
Saying that I bought the first Last Poets album when it came out in 1970, they were a forerunner for all that. Yo !
With the people you have shot and we can only imagine the times you have had if there was anything you could have photographed what would it have been? Anything from the Kevin Carter picture of the girl in South Sudan to the Monte Fresco Vinnie Jones Paul Gascoigne photo.
Although I’m into various styles of photography it’s music photography that’s been my life since childhood. I love things ‘of its time’, things that take the viewer back to the time they were taken, or looks as strong today as it did when first taken. Off the top of my head I’d say Dylan - Blonde on Blonde, Rolling Stones - Aftermath or Out of our Heads. The Band second album The Band (brown cover) Van Morrison Astral Weeks, any number of the Blue Note sleeves, Neil Young - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere….. Loads and loads more.
We was a very early adopter of the Paul Weller Aim High Book but are there any more books in the pipeline?
So far there been Weller available here https://www.modwear.co.uk/collections/accessories/products/aim-high-paul-weller-deluxe-edition
The Cure, The Manic’s, REM in the pipeline — then who knows
Books available from https://www.thefloodgallery.com/
Massive thanks to Tom for taking time out to speak to us, we have only touched the surface of what he has been involved in over the years. If you would like to see more why not check out this website http://www.tomsheehan.co.uk/