PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT BY DEREK CLARK
I shot another album cover (above) for Tommy Smith recently and I just got my hands on a pre-release CD of the album. Nadja Von Moscow of Nadworks did the design and the recording is released on Tommy's own record label 'Spartacus Records'. I already did a lengthy 3 part post on the last CD cover I shot for Tommy, so I'll try to keep this one brief. You can find links to those other posts at the bottom of this piece, but in the meantime here's a beautiful version of Coltrane's Dear Lord from the CD to listen to while you read this and take in the pictures.
AT THE STUDIO
It was around the beginning of Febuary this year (2017) that Tommy Smith asked me to go along to the recording studio and photograph three different records being made over a single weekend. One with The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, another with a duo and the one you see here, The Tommy Smith Quartet
After having limited space to move on the first day while shooting the big band, the quartet setup was minimalist, but not without it's own set of problems. Tommy was recording his saxophone parts in the main room of the studio, while Pete Johnstone (piano), Calum Gourlay (double bass) and Sebastiaan De Krom (drums) recorded their parts in soundproof booths in each corner. Photographing through glass (especially without a polarising filter) is a big challenge, so I took it in turn to go inside each of the booths for a track or two.
Unlike the pop world where each musician records their parts separately, this was old school recording with everybody playing together as a band (i.e. at the same time), which means each musician needs to be on their game. I was mostly hearing one instrument at a time as I shot my pictures, but I knew the quartet were on form and sounding great. It wasn't until Tommy sent me the mixed audio files of each track that I realised just how good this album was. The CD is a dedication to the late great John Coltrane, who died at the same age as Tommy is now. The album is not out yet, but pre-release copies have gone out to the music press and the 5 star reviews are rolling in.
AT THE BBC
The quartet were booked to play at the BBC, which would go out on radio and internet as part of International Jazz Day. Tommy wanted it documented and thought it might be a good idea to shoot some pictures of the band outside the BBC building before the gig. The hope was that there would be something suitable for the CD cover. But the wind was too high and there would have been no point in trying to shoot four guys with hair blowing all over the place. So I opted to shoot inside the BBC building, which is an amazing place to photograph in.
We went beyond the public section and into a massive open plan area. There's a lot of glass, steel and concrete at the BBC and thankfully a good amount of light coming down from the ceiling. I didn't have any flash guns or modifiers with me, so the available light of the late afternoon Scottish sky would have to be enough (that and a higher ISO). Straight off, I decided to walk on the opposite side of the building from the band. I had a 16mm f1.4 and a 56mm f1.2 on my X-T2 and X-Pro2, which was just as well. I knew time was limited as the band would need to be backstage soon to get ready to play their spot. The gig was being recorded in front of a live audience, so there would be no chance of them being late.
I shot a few pictures of the band from across the building and then met up with them at the other side. I took more shots of them standing against a steel and glass railing with the epic backdrop of the BBC building in the background. Then we made good use of a metal staircase and connected corridor. But all too soon an assistant came looking for the band and the promo shoot was over (although I still had the gig to shoot).
Four years into this one day project and great memories of interesting shoots just keep stacking up. Sometimes I don’t realise it till later, but quite often I am fully present in the moment and appreciate the varied and interesting things that appear in front of my lens. Last week I shot a gig with The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and actor Tam Dean Burn performing the poetry of Tam McGrath over some classic jazz tunes. That one was part of the Edinburgh Film Festival. Who knows what will be next :o)