When we first saw the work of photographer Tracey Welch, printed in Q magazine, we were instantly impressed. She has a cool eye for the perfect shot and isn’t afraid to get deep amongst the action in order to get it. By chance, we discovered a number of cool photos from Courteeners‘ gigs and we’ve been following her closely ever since. Her blog is particularly great for an insight into the work but also brilliant for stories about rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in the music industry.
Hailing from Sheffield we wanted to find out about her favourite assignments so far, including her work with the Adidas Originals campaign and bar-tending with a young Alex Turner. Read our exclusive interview with one of Britain’s best rock ‘n’ roll photographers of modern times…
INTERVIEW WITH PHOTOGRAPHER TRACEY WELCH
What inspired you to be a photographer?
TRACEY WELCH: As a child I was surrounded by photographers. At every family do my aunt and uncle were always taking pictures. It was my uncle who showed me how to use a traditional SLR film camera, all manual so you had to do everything yourself. I really enjoyed it and took a few courses and then thought – this is something I could do.
You primarily photograph music events, was this always the plan?
TRACEY WELCH: I was always really into music, all my mates were in bands (still are really!) and I wasn’t the best at playing different instruments. At the music venue where I worked I spent more time taking pictures then playing my guitar. Being there gave me great access to photograph anyone who was booked to play. So it wasn’t really a plan it just kind of happened naturally.
I didn’t realise until reading your blog that you’re often limited to 3 songs at a gig in which to get all of your snaps. Does that bring an added pressure?
TRACEY WELCH: It does when you’re starting out and when the lightings not great, as flash is not allowed (although in extreme circumstances for commissioned pictures I have had to use it). Sometimes even with commissions you still only get 3 songs (normally you’d get the whole gig for a magazine) so then the pressure really is on to get what you know the editors will be looking for.
Based in Yorkshire serves well for being close to some of the best indie bands, with some memorable shots of Pulp, The Cribs, Kaiser Chiefs… Is it true you worked behind a bar with Alex Turner and was he always destined to be a rock star?
TRACEY WELCH: Yes I did and no, at that stage I had no idea he, and Arctic Monkeys would become so huge. He was always quite quiet. I also worked behind the same bar with Andy Nicholson (one time bass player in the Arctics) and John McClure and Ed Cosens from Reverend and the Makers, who I still see.
You were at Manchester heroes Courteeners’ first gig at Heaton Park in 2015, how was the experience backstage?
TRACEY WELCH: Pretty good! It was a Q commission and the first time I’d met the band. I got on pretty well with them and Liam was coming up with loads of ideas for shots. I shot the whole gig and some stuff after as well. Then the families arrived and I left them to it. After that Q sent me to shoot the band on a number of occasions. The one that stands out was at Old Trafford five days after the Manchester Arena bombing. At the end of the gig I climbed onto a drum riser to get the shot the magazine asked for – the band front of stage facing 50,000 people. Really memorable.
For photoshoots, who has been the most engaging? We loved your shots of Grant Nicholas pre-gig from his solo tour.
TRACEY WELCH: Grant was really engaging and easy to shoot and we talked through ideas to get around the fact that his dressing room was small and a strange green colour. In the end though it worked out fine. Johnny Marr is probably the easiest to work with. I went to his studio in Salford and he made the tea. Should have been an hour shoot but I ended up staying all afternoon! Simon Wolstencroft, drummer from The Fall is lovely to work with as well and we’ve ended up staying friends, so when I’m in Manchester we’ll often meet up for a pint.
Has your work resulted in you meeting any of your heroes?
TRACEY WELCH: Yes – I’ve met Dave Grohl a couple of times (he held my hand while I spoke to him once…sigh). I guess the coolest guy I’ve met is legendary bassist John Paul Jones who I photographed with Seasick Steve. I don’t normally have my picture taken with musicians (it’s not about me) but my phone screensaver is a picture of me with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age and Jesse Hughes from Eagles of Death Metal. Pretty cool.
How did you start working for an established publication like Q Magazine?
TRACEY WELCH: It was a very long road going back to my student days. In 2005 when I was starting my business I constantly emailed them, showed up, had meetings with magazine editors. The first job I got was with Kerrang on film, so I had to send them the negatives…I still haven’t had them back! I’d go to see editors but wouldn’t get the jobs. Then finally, Dave Brolan arrived at Q as picture editor. I called him, made him laugh, he invited me to come in and sent me out on a job. It was tough finding a way in. And to be honest, even when you’re ‘in’ it’s still tough as people don’t retire. There are always music photographers who are well respected, well established and have been doing it longer than you. You just have to be tenacious and believe in your work.
Which has been your personal favourite assignment so far?
TRACEY WELCH: Probably the latest one for Mojo magazine – Fat White Family at a small venue in Kendal. It was nice to finally meet the band as we have loads of Sheffield music connections in common. The gig was brilliant, I got into trouble with security… and the head of venue… and the fans for getting on the stage… on the barrier… anywhere I could get the shots! All worked out fine in the end and hopefully I’ll stay in touch with them.
And which has garnered the most attention?
TRACEY WELCH: I’ve been to Leeds Festival for years but last year just went on the Friday for one band which freed me up to shoot Mel C at the Grand Theatre in Leeds on the Sunday. From that shoot I’ve sold so many pictures.
UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
You shot Everything Everything at their cool Manchester studio based in a converted textile mill. How accommodating are rock stars when you enter their creative space? And how close do you get to the process, or are photos like these often staged?
TRACEY WELCH: Everything Everything were really accommodating and really nice, got a pot of coffee on for everyone. Sadly I had to do the shoot pretty quickly as I had another job lined up later in the day. Mostly bands are really cool and often they’re more comfortable in their own space. They know you’re coming, and what you’re there for and it’s an opportunity for them to share what they’re up to with a wider audience. Meeting Elbow in their studio was great. Guy organised the band and helped with direction. Cooperation always leads to better pictures, and often more work.
Do you feel its a disadvantage being based in the North of England?
TRACEY WELCH: Yes and no. Music photography can be a very London-centric thing and most editorial shoots are done there but being in the north, all the picture Eds and PRs know I’m here and so if there’s anything happening in the ‘North’ i.e. North of Watford Gap, I could get the call. It doesn’t always happen. Sometimes they’ll still send a London photographer… which is a bit frustrating.
How does the process work when shooting for labels such as Adidas Originals?
TRACEY WELCH: You always get a creative brief. I’ll deliver the brief but then try and come up with some additional ideas and shoot those as well when there’s time. I styled some of the shots for the Adidas Originals shoot and got really great feedback. You do need to give the client what they’ve asked for but you should always be prepared to used your initiative.
What is your favourite bit of kit?
TRACEY WELCH: Nikon D5. I worked hard to get it but it’s worth every penny. Lenses – I use a 24-70mm and 70-200mm, and I love my portrait lens which is 105mm f/1.4. Software – I’m old school so mainly shoot everything ‘in camera’ and do minimal post-production on Photoshop. I use Adobe Bridge and sometimes Lightroom. I am developing new, creative work which includes more illustrative content and again, Photoshop is great for that.
What does the future hold?
TRACEY WELCH: I’ll never stop being a photographer. Currently working on some specialist projects with my friends who are musicians. I also shot stills for a feature film that’s coming out later in the year and would love to do more of that. So… watch this space!
For more of photographer Tracey Welch, check out http://www.traceywelch.co.uk/
And if you like our interview with photographer Tracey Welch, check out Cody Smyth from across the pond, we spoke exclusively about his book “Ten Years of The Strokes”: PHOTOGRAPHER CODY SMYTH INTERVIEW