Tony Mott has spent 30 years photographing some of the biggest and wildest names in music – from Paul McCartney to Madonna, from Silverchair to the Rolling Stones. He tells Sarah Marinos the stories behind his favourite images of some Australian icons.
Divinyls \ Cronulla, 1987
“The first photo I ever sold was of Chrissy Amphlett. It was taken at the Piccadilly Hotel in Kings Cross in 1983. I was a chef and photography was my passion – it was never going to be a career. But I got lucky because the Divinyls had a residency every Monday night and I saw Chrissy by chance. I was curious about how difficult it would be to capture images of this amazingly wild performance, and that was the start of me becoming a rock’n’roll photographer.
“For the first six months I was pretty crap but gradually I achieved some sort of ability and it was a huge thrill when the Divinyls bought my first photo and used it as a tour poster. I learnt the art of photography through Chrissy.
“I’ve gone on to photograph just about every female artist in the world, and nobody touches her. She is easily the best performer I’ve ever come across. She was unpredictable, a wild, wild banshee, the most mesmerising performer and yet very professional. This photo is taken at an outdoor concert at the Cronulla Showgrounds and epitomises a live shot of Chrissy – legs astride on the drum riser and screaming like a banshee.”
AC/DC \ Sydney, 1987 and Melbourne, 2010
‘This image was taken at Etihad Stadium more than 20 years after I first photographed AC/DC. They are still the perfect rock’n’roll band.
“I think the only real difference is the light show and props just get bigger. That’s a full-on railway locomotive in the second photo! I remember being at Etihad Stadium and this 54-year-old guy duck-walked on to the stage with a guitar, wearing a school uniform, and the crowd just loved him.
“But the AC/DC audience has changed. Their audience at the 1987 gig was a pretty intimidating crowd. But 20-odd years later there were families with kids in the audience. They were a heavy-metal hard-rock band and now they’re acceptable mainstream.
“It’s a breeze to work with AC/DC but they have a complete non-interest in celebrity. You do a photo session and they turn up, you shoot and they walk away. They don’t play the media game or court the spotlight. I’ve bumped into Angus Young at Balmain Market on a Saturday afternoon and nobody knows who he is – yet he’s the biggest rock’n’roll star Australia has.”
Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue \ Melbourne, 1995
“I set up a studio backstage at the Big Day Out at the Melbourne Showgrounds. At the time I knew Nick Cave’s new album was an album of duets, and someone told me he’d done a duet with Kylie and I thought ‘That’s never going to happen’. They were definitely the odd couple.
“I had my camera gear stolen in Sydney the week before this shoot. I had a spare camera but had to borrow a lens. Nick’s manager found out and said ‘Nick and Kylie will do a photo with you in Melbourne and you can sell the photo to get some money to replace your camera equipment’. It was very good of them.
“They turned up and Kylie did all the posing. She was obviously enamoured of Nick Cave, got down on her knees and prayed at the feet of Nick. Kylie is always very pleasant. Nick is just Nick Cave. Photo sessions for him are a necessary evil, whereas Kylie works the camera.”
The Living End \ Melbourne, 2009
“I spent the Big Day Out in 2009 touring with the Living End and this is my favourite photo. I love Chris turning around, the bass, the crowd in the background … I sat behind Chris’ amp waiting for that one moment. I was trying to reproduce Johnny Cash’s infamous photo of him sticking one finger up at the camera. Chris was aware of that, but every time he did it he had a bloody big smile on his face! Later he said he just couldn’t be aggressive.
“Chris is a nice guy and an amazing guitarist. On a previous Big Day Out tour he was beside himself because Joe Strummer was on the bill – one of his boyhood heroes. He had a bad car accident on the Great Ocean Road in 2001 and was lucky to come out alive. At the time I took this photo their latest album was a success, too, and so by the time they got to Melbourne, their home town, this was a celebration.”
Powderfinger \ Sydney, 1991 and Auckland, 2010
“The first photo is taken at Sydney University. It was Powderfinger’s first visit to Sydney. They didn’t have a record deal, they were young and naïve but there was a vibe around them. They were playing in a little pub called Max’s in Petersham and I had no idea who they were. I never saw their potential but I’ve never been a great judge of talent. I shared a house with a girl called Kate Stewart, who told me she’d discovered the greatest band ever and was going to manage them. I saw them and was completely unimpressed and that was You Am I!
“Almost 20 years on from first meeting Powderfinger, I took a happy snap at the Big Day Out in Auckland just before they went on stage. Apart from the hairstyles there’s not a lot of difference. There aren’t many bands that have a 20-year career without a single line-up change. And they’ve aged well. All of them are really good at sport. I’ve been thrashed at tennis by the Powderfinger boys.”
Natalie Bassingthwaighte \ Melbourne, 2008
“Natalie’s manager invited me to take stills while she shot a video in a warehouse on Sydney’s North Shore. She had about eight costume changes in one day, and at one point she had to wear the tightest corset, swing on a swing and sing at the same time. I think she found that quite difficult but was a real trouper. I never heard her complain once, and she was on a flight later that day to perform at a function. Still no complaints. She’s a lovely girl.
“I got a bit of flak for putting her image in the book because she’s not a rock’n’roll star, but Natalie epitomises the modern era. Is she a television presenter? A musician? An actress? She’s everything.
I believe if she concentrated on her music career she could be a huge star, but in the modern era performers now multitask.
Natalie’s an incredible chameleon with her look, too – and she has a great face.”