Trainspotting… travel around the world… life as a Chef on the high seas, a passion for music and few photos along the way. Welcome to Tony’s Mott’s story – so far.
I was born in April, 1956, (that makes me sort of old) and raised in Sheffield, England, quite normally by mum and dad, Mary and Brian Moulds. I was trained as a chef at Sheffield Polytechnic and in 1976 I left England, arriving in Australia for the first time. Using my training I worked in Sydney at the Opera House and the Gazebo before helping a friend open a restaurant in Armidale, New South Wales, called The Blackboard Menu, but I had to leave after six months because I only had a limited working visa. It was at this point that I realised I wanted to live in Australia permanently. I returned to England with the intention of securing a permanent visa, which didn’t eventuate. Refusing to allow a little thing like a visa to stand in the way of escaping the UK, I managed to get a job on the SS Oriana as a chef, a wonderful job that lasted two years and took me to over 60 countries as diverse and interesting as Puerto Rico, Egypt, Panama, India, the Caribbean Islands, all around the Mediterranean, Nordkapp (where the sun never goes down and all its inhabitants are bonkers) and elsewhere. It was during this time I developed a strong sense of wanderlust, an affliction which has taken me to India seven times and helped me traverse the Himalayas on a number of occasions. In fact, to celebrate my 40th birthday I had to make a choice between getting pissed in Redfern or walking the Annapurna Circuit with my best friend, I chose the latter.
Eventually my job on the ship came to an end and brought me back to Australia and in 1981 I finally managed to settle here permanently. I got my old job back at the Gazebo Hotel in King Cross, which, as it turns out was a perfect location to embark on the next stage of my life.
I’ve often thought about my penchant for travel and trainspotting (that’s a whole other story right there!) and always go back to my childhood in Sheffield. When I was about eight or nine years old my mum and dad used to visit the local pubs, including one called the Castle Inn. My sister and I used to sit on the wall outside with our crisps and fizzy pop watching the trains go by. From this point we could see the trains disappear into a tunnel and I always wanted to know what was on the other side of that tunnel. Eventually I got to the other side of the tunnel and just kept on going!! Finally I got to and settled in Sydney.
In the early 1980s Sydney had a brilliant live music scene. Every night of the week you could see any number of excellent bands at any number of excellent venues, right across the city. Working as a chef meant I usually finished work around midnight, not a bad situation for somebody like me who loved music. I’d leave work and hop into any given venue. On Monday nights I used to go to the Piccadilly Hotel in the Cross to see the Divinyls play. They had a residency at the venue and at this stage they were unsigned and largely unknown. Singer Chrissy Amphlett didn’t do a lot in those days. The stage persona she later became famous for was non-existent but, suddenly it seemed, she became a loony on stage wearing the schoolgirl uniform and gyrating about.
During my days sailing the seven seas I’d developed a strong desire to document photographically the amazing places I saw. So every Monday night after work at the Gazebo I used to hone my fledgling skills by snapping away at the Divinyls. A lot of crap shots were taken but after four months the band’s manager, Vince Lovegrove, who’d obviously seen me shooting away, asked to see the shots, one of which he chose and used as a tour poster. I was well chuffed! To top it off he paid me 20 bucks – my first foray into professional photography.
I was very green in those days, typified when Vince told me that my name was on the door for the band’s next gig. I had no idea what this expression meant and for the next two months I continued to pay my way into their shows. One night he saw me and said, “You know your name’s on the door, don’t you?” Not wishing to appear unsophisticated, I replied, “Yeah, I know. Isn’t that great,” thinking that somewhere – perhaps the band’s rehearsal studio – there was a door on which they’d written my name as a mark of respect. Just shows you how much I had to learn about the music industry.
By 1983 the Divinyls tour poster had had a snowball effect on my career and before long other bands were asking me to shoot their gigs. One day I walked into the offices of the free paper On The Street, then in its infancy and long before the term street press had ever been coined. I started getting work through the paper.
About a week before I went to “On The Street”, Margaret Cott, now publisher of “The Drum Media”, had just started as a layout girl and so began a professional relationship with her which lasts to this day. Within a year Margaret had become editor and I was photographing anything that moved, anywhere, anytime. All this and I was still working full-time at the Gazebo.
It was 1985 and for a short period of time during that year I got married. My wife was Swedish (and to my knowledge still is) but I won’t go into the topic any further other than to say she now lives in Sweden and I still live in Sydney. Anyway, she had suggested I head back to England and so I did, and with my few contacts in the industry I spent the summer of 1986 drinking a lot and generally having a good time going to music festivals. I went to Reading, Milton Keynes and so on, seeing tons of bands. I haven’t managed to work out how to this day, but I managed to photograph Queen at Knebworth, which was a hell of an experience. I also went to Paris and New York that summer, purely as a drunken wanderlust thing as opposed to seriously pursuing anything professionally.
When I got back to Australia, Mick Jagger was touring to promote his first solo album. While I was away, and unbeknownst to me, Jagger’s manager, Tony King had been trying to track me down wanting to hire me as Jagger’s tour photographer. To this day I have no idea who recommended me for the job but I’m extremely grateful. Eventually I made contact with Tony King and as it turned out they were not happy with whoever it was they had hired instead of me. By this stage the tour was in Melbourne so I went down and met Tony in his hotel room. I don’t think I would be giving anything away when I say that Tony King is what you would describe as an effervescent gay man and when I met him he enthusiastically expounded the virtues of Sydney. “Oh I love Sydney,” he said, “so many sailors in the one city.” I thought, what have I got to do to get this gig? Tony King, it should be pointed out, is a lovely man and I have always gotten on extremely well with him on a professional basis. But that was the start of my relationship with Mick Jagger and eventually the Rolling Stones. It was an enormous break which has resulted in me touring with the Stones three times. As I’ve said, I have no idea how I got the gig because I was only reasonably well-known as a live photographer in Sydney at that point. And to think I nearly missed out because I was getting legless overseas!!
To illustrate how absurd the music industry can be at times, at the end of tour party I could hear people behind me talking about the tour photographer and how “he’s just come back from working in London, Paris and New York, don’t you know”. I suddenly realised they were talking about me! Little did they know I was basically having a good time in these places and not doing the glamorous jobs they imagined.
As a consequence of the Jagger gig I toured in the same year with Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac. I wasn’t any better as a photographer but once I had gigs of that calibre in my CV I looked so much better. That period was the beginning of my first break.
It was 1988 and with these three enormous gigs under my belt I was going out at least five nights a week just to see bands. I’d worked out by now what having my name on the door actually meant so I was saving myself a small fortune. The Sydney scene during this time was fertile. There were great bands in great venues happening every night of the week; a favourable environment in which to grow as a rock’n’roll photographer.
More breaks came my way in the early 1990s. I did a book called Still Noise with four other photographers, the album cover photography for Tommy Emmanuel’s Dare To Be Different and the Beasts of Bourbon’s Black Milk. It was all moving along quite nicely in a relatively short period of time. I’m proud of both those album covers because they’re so radically different. Tommy Emmanuel’s album was so obviously mainstream and commercial while the Beasts of Bourbon was very inner city and independent, and that’s one of the things I love about working in the music industry – one minute you can be working with somebody like Lucinda Williams and the next minute working with the likes of Slipknot. They’re vastly different performers with vastly different personalities to be captured through the lens. But I digress.
I guess the next major event that boosted my career was the start of the Big Day Out in 1992. In the late 80s and early 90s I’d been regularly heading over to Europe and the US every couple of years to check out the summer music festivals. I really couldn’t understand why Australia didn’t have its own version of the UK’s Reading or Glastonbury festivals. Being staged in the UK, when those festivals take place, it’s an added bonus when it doesn’t rain, so why, with our weather and talented bands, why should we miss out??
Enter Ken West. Obviously Ken had been to these festivals, too, and had some thoughts about doing an Australian festival, and so began the Big Day Out. He’s now one of the most respected promoters in the country and the Big Day Out is highly regarded both here and overseas. It became very successful very quickly and in the space of four years was at the same level as the festivals in the UK. So the Big Day Out was a valuable break for me. Every year I go on the road with the Big Day Out as it tours around Australia. This means I get to build a rapport with the bands I shoot, which is a luxury not often afforded a photographer.
It’s always easier to work with people who you feel relaxed with and vice versa. I don’t work like a fashion photographer – I’ve never treated a musician as a model. A lot of photographers do because they presume there’s a lot of glamour involved. Musicians are not thespians and they’re not models so you need to build a rapport with them. Musicians can often feel uncomfortable in front of the camera, so relaxing them is an imperative. Obviously I’m referring to session work here. Live is a completely different kettle of fish. The disadvantage of doing sessions is that the artist is doing something that doesn’t come naturally to them. The advantage is that you as the photographer have complete control over the environment, things like lighting. The difficulty is getting the artist comfortable. The live situation is the opposite, the artist is in their natural environment but the photographer is not, you have no control over the lighting and so on. The quality of your shots is reliant on the lighting guy and the movement of the artist.
Eye contact is vital in photography. If you take a photo of someone and their eyes are out of focus the whole shot lacks impact. That’s how people look at photos, through the eyes of the subject. The eye is all important. In a live situation the subject is more than likely not looking at you, and there’s also the bloody ever present microphone getting in the way. In total I’ve had over 30,000 photographs published, the result of some 2,500 sessions and countless live shows, which have become 400 posters, 450 cd or vinyl covers and over 800 magazine front covers, and I’m still counting. It seems an age has passed since Vince Lovegrove used my shot of Chrissy Amphlett as a tour poster. I guess it has been a long time. Certainly much has happened and I’ve managed to collect some stories that I think are vaguely intresting along the way – some are downright bizarre and I hope you enjoy them.
Oh, and why did I change my name from Moulds to Mott? Well, when I first got a photo credit Moulds didn’t look so groovy so I had to come up with an alternative. I looked to the most influential band in my life, Mott the Hoople. The next decision was Tony Mott or Tony Hoople. I went for the former.
Everyone should have a Mott the Hoople. In my formative years in college they were the only band that I related to lyrically.They delved into social, political and more general matters, not to mention being a dynamic live act. They were punks before punk had happened, all that and glam rock as well.
I’ve always felt music is an important medium, it can be a sanctuary when things are not so rosy, and a celebration of the joys of life, the two extremes of emotion. And that is why Mott the Hoople have been so important to me. A couple of examples of that are in 1976, when I first left England for Australia, I related to the Ian Hunter album All American Alien Boy, an album about an Englishman arriving in the US, feeling alien and yet loving it. I totally related to the sentiments. Thirty years later, when I lost my best friend who died at an early age and I was finding grief very difficult to deal with, I found solace in the Ian Hunter song “Michael Picasso”, a song about the death of his long-time best friend and David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson. That’s why I believe music is so powerful and important.
Everyone should have a Mott the Hoople.
BALLAD OF MOTT
I changed my name in search of fame to find the midas touch,
I wish I’d never wanted then what I want now twice as much,
I’ve crossed the mighty oceans and I’ve had a few divides,
But you never lose in emotion, because you find too much inside
You know the tales we tell, you know the bands so well
And still I feel they let you down
Rock n Roll’s a losers game, it mesmerizes and I can’t explain
The reasons for the sights and for the sounds
The grease paint still sticks to their face
So what the hell I cannot erase
The Rock n Roll feeling from my mind