An Interview with British music photographer Noel Buckley: I guess looking at other peoples work and always I'm ready to take advice

"Deborah Bonham the sister of Led Zepplins John Bonham...As a encore she did the Zepplin classic Rock n Roll. She deceived the song with such passion, it bought a tear to ones eye. To me only rock n roll and blues can do this..."

Noel Buckley: RU Ready 2 Rock?

On leaving school Noel went straight into the Rock & Roll industry, working for one of the hardest working bands of the time, Stray, as a lighting and drum tech. During this time they toured with heavyweights such as Black Sabbath, Rush and Kiss.

Noel left Stray in 1976 to get married and find a proper job. Around 1980 Noel discovered an interest in photography attending many courses, finally studying under Michael Lea at Waltham Forest Collage. For many years Noel photographed weddings whilst working freelance for local newspapers. In 1995 Noel was invited by Stray to photograph the band live. Since then this is the path Noel's photography has taken.

Noel's portfolio now includes some of the worlds major rock acts, including; Ringo Starr, Iron Maiden, Heaven & Hell, ZZ Top, Foreigner, Bad Co, Deep Purple, Chickenfoot, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Joe Perry, Blondie, Kasabian, Joe Bonamassa, UFO, Motorhead, Ronnie James Dio, Queensryche and Black Country Communion, to name a few. Much of his work is commissioned by 'Get Ready To Rock' and can also be seen in many magazines such as; Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Drummer & Record Collector. Album credits include; Stray - Valhalla, Stray - 10, Del Bromham - Devils' Highway, GMT - Evil Twin, GMT - Raw-Live, FM - City Limits EP, Richmond - Fallen Angel, Good Thinking - Turning The Clock Back

Interview by Michael Limnios

Noel, when was your first desire to become involved in the photography? What does “photo” offered you?

...I first became interested in photography in about 1980. I remember was given my first proper camera, and did not have a clue how to use it. I started attending evening classes which increased both my knowledge and interest. Mind you it was not till years later when I started taking photos of bands that i found where my vocation laid...

What are some of the most memorable shoots you've had?

Got to say one of the best shoots i have ever done is with the band Tank. We spent a couple of hours doing some promo shots in London’s Shepherds Bush, then as it was a such a hot day we all adjourned to a great Italian restaurant across the road. Copious amounts of Red and White wine passed our lips that day. At one point we were joined by Dick May of the Pretty Things. I must also mention the beautiful Jess, the best art director in London, who came along that day to help. Another one that springs to mind is the tennis star Pat Cash, just a really nice guy, huge rock fan. The three gigs I am most honoured to have shot have to be....BB King...Ringo Starr and Dolly Parton. All three in there different fields have stood the test of time.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the image?

I guess looking at other peoples work and always I'm ready to take advice.

Who from THE MUSICIANS you have shoot, had the most passion for the image & camera lens?

Without doubt the most visual and camera friendly person i have ever had the pleasure to shoot is the drummer Robin Guy. Robin loves the camera and the camera loves him. Had a very interesting weekend away once with Robin, but sorry to protect the innocence, I can’t part with any stories. A great band to shoot live is Status Quo, always very visual with big lighting which for a photographer is very important.

How does the music come out of your lens?

This is a tough one. At most gigs you only get to photograph the first three numbers, most of the time the music goes above your head as you are concentrating on what you are doing. What i find helps is if you have a band, say like Status Quo you tend to know the songs they are playing and this helps you to know  when the photo is going to happen, big power chords for example. What I try and capture is a moment plus the atmosphere where possible.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

This is a easy question...The best. I am friends with the old Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr. You may be aware, but Clive suffers with MS. Anyway in 2007 Iron Maiden did a Clive Aid show at The Brixton Academy in London for Clive.  I went along with camera as a guest of Clives. When the band had finished there set they got Clive to come on stage. I stood at the back of the stage taking photos. At this point Maidens manager Rod Smallwood came up to me and said "why don’t you just go on stage with Clive "With 3000 people cheering behind me, the hairs stood up on the back of my neck...brilliant moment and one i will not forget.....The worse is another easy one.....A couple of years ago at the Cambridge Rock Festival the promoter came up to me and said "I f we can hire a plane, will you go up and take some shots of the festival from the air "Up i then went for 15 minutes, got back to land and gave my memory card to the festivals tech....guess what...there was nothing on the card....wiped clean for some reason.....I nearly passed out.....As luck would have it there was a young lad in the crowd who turned out to be a IT expert.. Luckily for me he managed to get the images back after a few hours. I think i aged about 20 years at that moment. 

Are there any memories of all GREAT MUSICIANS you meet which you’d like to share with us?

Got to say most of the musicians I have met have all been decent people. Glenn Hughes, who I met about a year ago at a interview and photo section was brutally honest about his past demons and happily talked for about a hour. Some bands I really like to shoot as they are just great fun to be around...I’m thinking here of bands like Girlschool, the Quireboys and Tygers of Pan Tang.

Which is your favorite photo? In which photo can someone see the best of your work?

Three photos spring to mind. The First is Jorn Lande who was singing with Heaven & Hell two years ago at the High Voltage Festival, there must of been at least 50 photographers. At one point Lande pointed straight at me and lucky I managed to capture the moment. The second one would have to be 70s rock band Stray photographed with life long Stray fan Steve Harris of Iron Maiden fame. The third one is a sadder story. I grew up with a lad named Mark Evans, Mark went on to find fame with USA band Warrior Soul. Mark was sadly murdered in London in 2005. The photo of Mark is now the most poignant i have ever taken.

How would you describe your contact to people, when you are “on the project”?

One of the most important parts of this sort of work is to get the artists trust. Never stitch them up in other words, say for example you get some dressing room shots, make sure they are happy with you using the images, and if your really lucky you can catch Bruce Dickinson in a bathing suite posing.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why? a young 17 year old i ended up working for Stray as lighting and drum roadie. I think they call them techs now. Travelled all the country with the band, many great shows with the likes of Black Sabbath, Rush and Kiss. Got to say Stray were the nicest people to work for. What more could a 17 year old want. I just wish i had a camera then.

What advice would you give to aspiring photographers thinking of pursuing a career in the craft? 

I think the problem a lot of young photographers have is, they don’t learn there craft, they just set the camera to auto and expect it just to happen. In a lot of circumstances this may be ok. But in the pit with lights changing every second, believe me they will struggle. Also to expect more bad shots than good shots.

What do you feel is the key to your success as a photographer?

Hard work.......

BW or Colors, Digital or Film and why?

A fews  ago I would of said film...Now digital as it is so flexible, plus press agencies want the images as quick as possible.

Which of the musicians were the most difficult and which was the most gifted on pickup lens?

On stage the most difficult artists is not no much the bands but the lighting tech. Many a time the bands are in very close to darkness or worse still white backlighting. As we normally only get the first three song this does make life difficult.

How important is image to artists? To which person do you want to send one from your photos?

Very.....most artists want to look at there best. As I have already said never stitch anyone up. As a rule of thumb with women, I always try to let them see the images before I use them.

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from your shootings in gigs and festivals?

My best festival memory is at last years High Voltage Festival. Myself and a small select group of photographers after finishing taking photos went along to the free bar to see what was on offer. One was free beer and also in the distance was a big wheel. I imagine you can guess what happened....we all ended up on the big wheel trying to take photos of Judas Priest. Don’t think any of us managed to. But a priceless moment.

Who are your favorite blues & rock artists, both old and new, would you like to meet and shoots?

Upcoming artists......There is some great young talent out there.....Artists that spring to mind is Saint Jude and Chantel McGregor, both im sure have big futures.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues and rock is always with us.  Why do think that is?

Why rock n roll--blues survived....The answer to this one came to me a couple of weeks ago at the Rock n Blues Festival in Skegness. Deborah Bonham the sister of Led Zepplins John Bonham...As a encore she did the Zepplin classic Rock n Roll. She deceived the song with such passion, it bought a tear to ones eye. To me only rock n roll and blues can do this...

Do you have any amusing tales to tell from your experience with Motorhead, Stray, Rush and Kiss tours?

Stray and Status Quo at The Sundown, London

Stray or we all thought it was funny when The Quo arrived they were in very smart clothes and then changed into old jeans t-shirts and trainers to go on stage!

Kiss/Stray tour 1976

Kiss was not that well know in the UK at that time. Just before Stray were about to walk on stage, all 4 members of Kiss came out in full stage gear and shouted out to Stray 'Good Luck Fellas, have a great gig! Turned out to be real nice guys. Last night of tours is quite often a time for practical jokes. They had a big black guy who introduced them on stage with words to the effect of 'Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest rock 'n roll band in the world ... Kiss!' As he started to make the announcement the sound engineer put his microphone through an effect on the sound desk and he sounded like a chipmunk ... Like he had breathed in with a helium balloon .... Very funny.

At the end of Stray's set a couple of band members and road custard pied all members of Stray.

Rush/Stray tour 1977

Last night of the tour, Del Bromham and Richie Cole from Stray found some brown workcoats and brooms and walked onto the stage sweeping up just as Geddy Lee was about to introduce a song. Del told him to hurry up as he had to sweep and close the theatre for the night!

Later back at the hotel. Alex Lifeson came down to the bar dressed in silk smoking jacket hair slicked back and thin moutache speaking in a phoney German accent! I have heard recently that he still does this strange thing even now!

Lemmy/Stray at The Roundhouse Chalk Farm

For a time in the mid 70's Lemmy was the stage manager for Straight Music Concert Promotions. Lemmy used to come to Strays dressing room to see if they were ready to go on stage and had to follow him with his torch to lead through the darkness onto the stage.

We'd often see him around and used to come down to the Marquee and The Music Machine in Camden and prop up the bar while Stray was playing.

Motorhead/Maidstone Technical College, Kent UK February 1977

They supoorted Stray at one of Motorheads first gigs. When they arrived Lemmy asked Del Bromham "If he could borrow a guitar lead?" "Yes no problem" replied Del. "That's great" said Lemmy. "Have you got an amp I could plug it into?" They didn't have much equipment to start with!

After their set, Motorhead had a blazing argument which spilled into the dressing room, which was also the Student Union Common room. Phil (Animal) who was the drummer at the time, had his arm in plaster and hit the glass top of a pin ball machine which was in the room. The glass shattered! A few days later Stray got the blame for the damage and were threated with a bill for the repair of the damage to the dressing room! The agent for both bands had to explain exactly what happened. I don't know what happened next but at least Stray did not have to pay!

Stray/UFO at The Roundhouse Chalk Farm

Stray used UFO's p.a. (sound system). They like it so much that they bought it from them!!

Stray/Yes open air festival - somewhere in Europe????

Stray used pyrotechnics and explosives in their early stage act. On this occasion they went on before Yes. One of the crew let off an explosive, it was like a small bomb housed in a dustbin (rubbish bin). The explosion was so powerful that it blew a hole in the stage!!! Some temporary repairs had to be made before Yes went on .... they were not amused .... Funnily enough I think that was the last time Stray and Yes shared the same stage!!!!!!!!!!

Noel Buckley's website

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