On how I went from having never photographed a gig in my life to shooting on a stage in front of 90,000 people… and 5 lessons I learned in the process.
I started 2018 with very little understanding of how brilliant and complex the music industry is. The first gig I ever photographed was 5 days into the new year with an old beat up crop-sensor camera that could barely see in the dark. I don’t know exactly what happened between January and August, whether something clicked, whether I got lucky or whether I was blessed by some external being… all I can tell you is how I felt over the span of those eight months between January and August and hopefully that can somehow be translated into something comprehendible.
For the first five or so months of 2018 I faced disappointment after disappointment from almost getting booked for tours and then being dropped at the last minute. That was 5 months of learning how brutal this industry can be. You have to work your ass off and expect nothing in return. Do favours for people, work as hard as you can, consistently have a smile on your face, and expect nothing back. I learned that I didn’t have time to be disappointed. Work falls though? Move on. Find the next thing to work on. The time you spend reflecting on what could have been is time you waste looking for your next adventure.
I learned to shut up. Nobody on tour complains. I learned to shut up for two reasons… 1) You’re lucky to be there. There are tens if not hundreds of people just like you who would die to be where you are right now, so be grateful that these people took a chance on you and brought you along. 2) Everyone’s in it together. Your back hurts? Guess what, the bassist’s back probably hurts a lot more. You’re hungry? Guess what… everyone’s always hungry. It’s incredibly freeing when you’re travelling hundreds of miles with a group of people who are working insanely hard but never complain. It makes you feel like a group of superheroes. I watched someone have a panic attack in front of hundreds of people, they then walked off the stage at the end of the set like it was nothing. Back in the dressing room it was forgotten, they had a smile on their face and put the stresses from earlier behind them. That’s how you survive on the road. You have to learn to fall in love with adversity and treat it as a a blessing. The hard parts are the best parts.
I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was. Going to be real with you right now, a year ago I found it hard to leave my house without freaking out. Anxiety had ruled my life for a number of years and I was just stumbling through each day trying to function like a normal human being. Touring has taught me that my body is physically stronger than I thought it was and that I can get through the most mentally challenging moments and still be okay. This year has been me making up for lost time.
I learned to take every opportunity I could get my hands on. The best way of showing you how I conceptualise the term ‘carpe diem’ is by plainly explaining how I came to shoot mainstage Reading. An hour before I was on main stage dodging around hiding from TV cameras and 90,000 people I was sat having a drink with my friend Emma who had come along to the festival. I’d just finished shooting with Gengahr, who I’ve been on the road with a lot this Summer.
So lets paint the picture… It was 1:30pm on Friday. 7 hours earlier it was 5am and I’d just woken up somewhere in Leicester in a room with 4 other people sleeping on the floor (tour life), dragged myself to the train station on 2 hours sleep and slipped in and out of consciousness all the way to Kings Cross. Gengahr had picked me up from somewhere in North London and we’d driven to Reading for 10am. We’d done a quick line check, an even quicker warm up followed by a pretty ethereal and energetic set on the Dance Stage.
Gengahr at Reading Festival, August 24th
After the set I’d headed out to the festival to meet some old friends of mine Emma and Pete. At this point I realised that my friends Creeper were playing mainstage in an hour. I’d just got off a mini 4 day tour with Creeper and Doll Skin the day before (hence the sleeping in a room with 4 people and waking up at 5am to catch a train).
I text Will who is the vocalist in Creeper to see if he’d like me to come over and shoot their set. If you have any knowledge of press, events management… or any music industry knowledge at all you’ll realise that Reading has pretty high security and there’s a lot of stuff you have to go through in order to get passes and accreditation. Somehow Will worked his magic and found me a way to get in backstage. He gave me a promoter’s number and I legged it across the site. After half an hour of running around like a headless chicken backstage, exchanging very hasty compliments with various musicians (including Awsten from Waterparks who excitedly pointed out my Doll Skin merch – I still need to explain that to him), and 4 rushed buggy rides later, I scrambled onto mainstage and the rest is history.
I don’t think the whole experience hit me until after the set. Overwhelming pride for these people I had just met 5 days earlier, that feeling of unity and relief. Seeing Creeper’s tour manager’s happiness and pride after the stress of the set was over. And then slipping away after whilst everyone was patting each other on the back and letting what had just happen sink in. Being part of something so important and then slipping away like you had nothing to do with it is the best part.
I learned that if you can get there fast enough you can always shoot mainstage.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned over these past 9 months is that fear Is your friend. Fear is powerful and can be harnessed to fuel strength in adversity and can lead you on incredible adventures. Fear has taken me to other countries, it’s allowed me to meet new people and build strong friendships. You just have to throw yourself in the deep end and you’ll discover that you can keep your head above water just long enough to grasp onto something. You’re more capable than you think. Find something that you love with your entire soul and don’t stop to think before you throw yourself at it with all you have.
But remember to stop for a while to recognise the peaceful moments. Learn to recognise and pause on the moments that will be with you for years to come. Some of those moments for me are shown below.