Gary James' Interview With Photographer
Jill Furmanovsky photographed some of the biggest names in the 1960s and 1970s. We're talking Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan. Well, you get the idea. She even won an award for her portrait of Charlie Watts! We talked with Jill about photographing Rock bands and Rock stars.
Q - Jill, you won an award for a photo you took of Charlie Watts. Do you know Charlie Watts? Are you friends with The Rolling Stones?
A - I really couldn't say that I know The Rolling Stones at all, but of all The Rolling Stones I probably know Charlie Watts the best because he loved that picture. I have a lovely story about that picture. I took that picture for either Mojo or Q Magazine. They didn't use that particular picture in their article. I entered that picture into a competition in which it won. When I won, Charlie Watts wrote to me to say well done. So he put, "Dear Jill, congratulations for the picture," and then he signed it "C.R. Watts" and in brackets, "Drummer, Rolling Stones". So that was really modest. It's as if I didn't know who he was.
Q - Did you have a to a session with him?
A - Yes, in a hotel room.
Q - Why did he want you to take his picture? Was it for an album cover?
A - As a matter of fact it was when his album came out called "From One Charlie", which is to do with Charlie Parker. One of his solo Jazz albums. The picture was taken for Mojo or Q Magazine. I can't remember which one.
Q - It captured the essence of Charlie Watts.
A - He loved that picture. His wife, who is a sculptor, really likes it too.
Q - You arrived in London in 1965.
A - Yea.
Q - Making you twelve years old. The British Invasion was in full swing in America. What was it like on the streets of England then? Did you witness any of the screaming fans chasing the vehicles that might have held The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?
A - To some extent, yes, 'cause I was one of those teenagers. I don't know if I was running screaming down the street because it wasn't my style. I certainly was a member of The Beatles' fan club and I used to stand outside Abbey Road Studios, hoping to meet The Beatles. The Beatles used to arrive at Abbey Road. They were very friendly to the fans and we used to run little errands for Mal Evans. He was their Tour Manager. It was like, "Go get milk from the corner shop," or "Get a newspaper for one of the band." My first picture was of Paul McCartney with two of my school friends. Also, I used to go and collect autographs of some of the bands that were playing at the time.
Q - Who were some of the bands you'd collect autographs from?
A - Bands like Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick And Tich. Also The Hollies. Bands that used to play sort of these Pop shows. We think of all the ones that were famous from that time, but there were quite a few who weren't so famous. In fact, Graham Nash was in The Hollies and he was very nice. I remember him. There was a television program called Ready Steady Go! and the youngsters like myself, I was about thirteen, fourteen, and we would stand outside the gates where the show was made and hope to see some of the Pop stars.
Q - Go back to Abbey Road for a minute. Did you see or meet John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo?
A - Yes. absolutely. This would have been sometime between '67 and '69, before I went to Art School. I especially went in the early part of '66, '67. You'd just go to the studio and they used to drive these little mini cars with darkened windows. They'd come to the gate and say hello. I also remember seeing John and Yoko walking down the street. It was a bit later, going to an exhibition. I also remember seeing Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street, shopping at a shop called Lord John's. You would see these people. Paul was very friendly. Much later on I did photograph Ringo and I went into a recording studio with George Harrison. So that was really great as well.
Q - What music was George Harrison recording when you went into the studio?
A - When he was recording the music for The Time Bandits 'cause he used to do quite a lot of stuff with the Monty Python actors and comedians. He was a producer on quite a number of films. He was a shareholder in Handmade Films. This film, The Time Bandits, when the music was being recorded I guess it must've been early '80s to the recording studio. You want to be very, very discreet and quiet. Just creep in and take a few pictures of George working and some of the other people working on this project. I did all of that. When I crept into the mixing room where George was working he came straight up to me and said, "Would you like me to make you a cup of tea?" (laughs) I was completely bowled over by how sweet he was. He couldn't have been nicer really.
Q - I believe it was John or George who coined a name for the girls who would stand outside the gates of Abbey Road, waiting for them. Do you remember the name?
A - Yes. Those were the "Apple Scruffs."
Q - Right. They weren't referring to you, were they?
A - No. I was a little bit too young to be an Apple Scruff. When I was standing outside I really was only about thirteen or fourteen years old. The Apples Scruff girls were the ones that got to run the errands, to get the milk for Mal Evans. They were a little bit older. They probably were about sixteen or seventeen. The littler ones were not given the errands, you see. We had to ask permission from our parents and be home by 5 o'clock and all that sort of thing. The Apple Scruffs, being a bit older, could stay there longer.
Q - George said they were called Apple Scruffs because their faces needed washing.
A - (laughs) That's quite possible because some people spent a lot of time outside Abbey Road. The reason I'm sort of interested in what you're saying is that I don't know if you know, and probably don't, but I'm currently officed and residenced at Abbey Road Studios. I'm having a lovely time.
Q - Where did you photograph people like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan? Would it have been a concert venue?
A - Pink Floyd from the very early days I got to more than just the concerts. Lots of photographers who photograph Rock 'n' Roll have got bands that they work with quite a lot. But in my case Pink Floyd were one of the bands I've worked with the longest. I started out photographing them 'live', but during the first year of shooting I also did a couple of shots of them in the dressing room. Then about a year or two after that I went on the road with them, which was the "Dark Side Of The Moon" tour. I was sort of like the tour photographer for the U.K. tour. Led Zeppelin I was only photographing them 'live'. Bob Dylan I came to very, very late. I'm actually a very big Bob Dylan fan now. At the time when he was at the height of his Bob Dylan(nes), those in the '60s, '70s and even in the '80s, I didn't really have a huge interest in his music. It was really sort of in the '90s that I started to become interested. The only picture I ever took of Bob Dylan was in the mid '80s when he was here in London with Dave Stewart, who is a friend of mine, Dave Stewart from The Eurythmics. I happened to take a picture of the two of them, but other than that I've had my interest and my photography with Bob Dylan really only begin in 1998.
Q - You didn't go to school to study photography. You studied textile and design, which would mean, to me anyway, that you were looking to get into the fashion industry in some position?
A - Well, actually I was really keen to be a graphic design person, but the teachers at the college that I did my initial course in said, "We don't think that graphics will be suitable for your kind of work. So we suggest that you go for textile design instead." So that's why I ended up (in photography). It wasn't that I wanted to go into the fashion industry at all. It was just that I wanted to go to one of the best schools (Central Saint Martins College Of Art And Design) in London and they didn't think I'd be able to get in on the graphic design ticket, so they suggest the textile design ticket. Indeed I did get in on that ticket, but in fact my life changed when I did a two week photography course and eventually they did in fact move me to the graphics course.
Q - You photographed quite a few of what we would call the Punk/New Wave groups, didn't you?
A - Yes, I did.
Q - Here in the States that Punk/New Wave movement lasted all of six months, maybe. How long did it last in England?
A - I'm not too far behind you in agreeing it didn't last very long. I put it down to eighteen months, which is say from the middle of 1976, or for some people from the beginning of 1976 until the beginning of 1978. After that it took a turn into what we could call New Wave, which means artists that bridged the gap between the pure Punk, which was say The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, The Clash, and in America bands that weren't even particularly pure Punk, but influenced by Punk, like Iggy Pop and The Ramones, and maybe to some degree Lou Reed and then Blondie and even Television, which influenced the Punks over in the U.K. By the end of 1978 you had your Elvis Costellos and The Police, which were strictly speaking jumping onto the Punk ethos, but were not actually from the original Punk ethos. So I would say it lasted eighteen months.
Q - Having photographed groups like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, did you enjoy photographing the Punk groups?
A - Well, I did actually. I did very much, but a couple of points about it. One is that when I was photographing Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin or any of the bands before Punk, they were so important and so famous. They were older than me. I was so shy. At that time I would've been eighteen or nineteen or twenty. When I went on the road on the "Dark Side Of The Moon" tour I was twenty-one. When Punk came along I was twenty-three or twenty-four and the punks were sort of maybe twenty or twenty-one. I was maybe a couple of years older or the same age for somebody like Joe Strummer. It was a lot easier to handle them whereas I don't think I could've put two sentences together to Robert Plant. He was too important. I was too young, too female, whatever it was. (laughs) I was also not a trained photographer. I only took a two week course in photography. The rest is sort of self-taught. The punks made a big deal of not being able to play. So, my feeling was they couldn't play and I couldn't take photographs. So between us we were both going to be taking pictures and making music. I kind of relate it to the amateur style with lots of passion that came out of Punk. And so from that point of view I was very grateful that I was around during that period of time.
Q - Together you were both learning on the job.
A - Exactly. And it was a challenge to photograph as well because lighting was awful at little clubs and people were spitting at you for some bizarre reason. You had to know how to use a flash gun and you needed to know how to handle these squirrely looking characters. I mean, there were a few characters I was frightened of. For example, Sid Vicious used to freak me out. So, I never really did much work with The Sex Pistols. But I certainly did a lot of work with the earliest Punk bands. I was much more confident in what I was doing because they were younger and as inept as I was, but they were also exciting and breaking ground.
Q - Who are you photographing these days?
A - I'm still working with some of my oldest clients. Who would that be? I did some photography for the last Pink Floyd album, "The Endless River". And also I have some pictures in David Gilmour's "Live At Pompeii" album that's just come out. I work quite a bit with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. She is a close friend of mine. I'm very well known for shooting the band Oasis. I've probably got the biggest archive in the world on Oasis and their whole history. So, I still work with Noel Gallagher and then occasionally, if I can with Liam Gallagher, but certainly the Oasis boys. My current role at Abbey Road I've been working quite a bit with Nile Rodgers. I also work with Chic. I'm also working with some new artists at Abbey Road. I'm right out of my comfort zone working with Grime artists and the odd Rap artist, into an area of twenty-year-olds and twenty-five-year-olds. There I am a grandmother actually and I'm finding it's really good fun in the sort of Grand Old Lady of Rock 'n' Roll. The artists are very receptive to that and very patient with you. The talent is always fresh and awesome. It doesn't matter what age you come across it, it's still kind of awesome to be in a room with someone like Florence Welch singing or Noel Gallagher or be in the room with the Philharmonic Orchestra and a hundred piece choir. So, the hair still stands on the back of the neck.