From the La’s in the park, to the Russian invasion at the Phil, Mark McNulty’s images have been the eyewitness guide to our city’s soundtrack over the past quarter of a century.
Chances are, if you’ve been to a gig in the city, he’s been there: down the front. For the first three songs, at least.
So, SevenStreets thought it time that Mark was given the chance to choose his own soundtrack – in the second installment of our Summer Spotify Sessions.
Listen here: Mark McNulty
How did you become Liverpool’s leading musical chronicler?
I’d been a fan of both photography and music for a while, but the two came together when I photographed The La’s at the Earthbeat Festival in 1987. From there I started working with local bands and shooting gigs as well as documenting the club scene which eventually, with the help of magazines like Mixmag and DJ, took me all over the country and then around the world photographing bands, DJs and clubbers. I balanced this and London based record company work with commercial work in Liverpool but since the regeneration and turn around of the city’s fortunes I can now do both without leaving the city.
Currently I’m in house photographer with O2 Academy, Liverpool Philharmonic and Liverpool Sound City and I still get to travel to photograph events across the world that Liverpool bands are invited to play at. Which, in the last year, has meant trips to Dubai and Texas.
Does the ‘first three songs only’ rule still apply for live gigs?
Yes. And no flash! And it’s very much a rule that’s still in place for bands playing larger venues. It’s there for a variety of reasons and it’s a great idea, though I’m sure some people moan about it. Personally, I hate being in the way of the audience who’ve coughed up their well earned to get to see their favourite band and for the most part three songs is plenty enough time to get the job done.
Who’ve been your star sitters – and who’s been a challenge?
One of the first big jobs I shot, which was for a Mixmag cover, was of Everlast from the House of Pain, and he was a proper dick. But apart from that, most people have been lovely. Some people like having their photos taken and many who don’t just get used to the fact that it’s a necessary evil and get on with the job without prolonging it.
Personal favourites have been bands like Space, Portishead and Travis because we always had a laugh going on tour, anything to do with Shack because I think that Mick and John Head are the city’s greatest songwriters since Lennon & McCartney,
The Temptations because they sang whilst I photographed them, Johnny Marr ‘cos he proved that heroes don’t always disappoint, Paul McCartney for the same and because he told me exactly what he wanted and then he just let me get on with it. More recently Vasily Petrenko, because my work has documented the ascendancy of The Liverpool Phil. I’m proud to be involved in that – as well as to the fact that Russian classical conductors aren’t as serious as you might expect…
Are stars and musicians harder to catch off guard these days, with their Press and PR entourage hanging on?
With the big artists it gets more and more a very much PR world, and at times I’ve turned down gigs because it’s just not worth it, with Beyonce and Lady Ga Ga being recent ones I’ve said no to.
It sounds like a ridiculous thing to say, but when you’re put to the back of an arena to photograph half a song of an artist wearing the same outfit they wore the night before, then you really are just part of the PR machine and you’re not going to get anything new or original.
Management can also be a problem with bigger bands these days, as they try to get photographers to sign contracts to grab usage of their photos, which is ridiculous when the whole business of live music photography isn’t very lucrative to begin with.
However, there’s more venues in the city than there was and more bands in the world than there was, we’ve got MySpace and Facebook, thousands of festivals to choose from and a whole lot more musical culture there for the taking on a daily basis. So there’s still plenty of new opportunity without having to get involved in the PR side of the record industry.
What work are you proudest of?
Recently, I’d again have to say my work with The Phil and Vasily Petrenko but most of my previous work up until 2008 is in my book ‘Pop Cultured’ and I’m proud of that in itself as a body of work, documenting my photography within the music industry since 1987.
Generally I don’t have favourite photographs but if I did then I’d end up going back to the Bjork one (pic above) because it kickstarted a whole lot of other things. Also the recent Candie Payne one that hung in Met because a lot of people seem to have taken that as their favourite. My work with Liverpool Sound City too, because it’s ongoing, exciting, a very important part of the regeneration of Liverpool and I’m stuck in the middle of it trying to do my best.
Who’d you love to photograph but haven’t?
I’ve got to be honest and say that most of them are dead and most of those left are people I’d rather have photographed years ago. However, exceptions to this would have to be Patti Smith who I’ve only photographed live and Paul Weller who, although I’ve photographed and met on numerous occasions, I’d still like to do some portrait and documentary work with.
Is Liverpool a good place to make a living, creatively?
With shorter intercity train times, the internet getting faster and faster, social networking and the general feeling that the world is getting smaller can only mean that you can make a living creatively wherever you live in the world, as long as you can offer what you do to the rest of the world. Aside from that, Liverpool is a brilliant place to be creative and mix with other creatives, it has a growing support system for the creative industries and it has a pool of talent that, for once in a while, isn’t buggering off to London. So yes, I think it is a good place to make a living creatively.
Where’s your favourie city summer venue?
All venues are sweaty in the summer, so I’ll opt for the new band stage at the Mathew Street festival and pray that someone makes the right choices on who’s playing. If I was running the stage I’d go for Fly With Vampires, The Temps, Eva Petersen, Sixteen Tonnes, The Random Family, Delta Maid, Bicycle Theives and Sound Of Guns.
What are you looking forward to this year?
The BBC Proms with The Phil and a possible trip to Spain with them too. Then it’s fingers crossed for Sound City going back out to the UAE. I may love Liverpool but it’s always nice to go away and take photos too.
Mark McNulty‘s Summer Spotify Session.