Tony Mott is a jolly chap with ruggedly roguish features and a husky voice that sings the song of a thousand parties. He is friendly, quick witted and has a surprisingly accurate memory for someone who has spent his career surrounded by rock gods and divas on stage, backstage and beyond. A mental library in fact full to the brim of shocking, rocking and titillating tales that make you really wish you’d been there on the tour bus.
He operates at 200 miles an hour and he reminds me of me, but 20 years ago. I’m only five minutes into my interview with him and I’m struggling to keep up. I really wish that I’d recorded this instead of relying on my old school pen and notebook or that I had listened to my mother when she tried to teach me the art of shorthand in 1988.
His cheeky, informative banter is a joy to listen to and his lightening speed delivery never misses a beat. Half way through my time with him my brain has already reached rock and roll overload and I feel like I’ve been smacked across the head by Pete Townshend’s guitar (in a good way).
Hailing from Northern England and a chef by trade, Tony left Sheffield for Sydney in the late 70’s and quickly scored work in the kitchens of the Sydney Opera House and the Gazebo Hotel at Kings Cross. A while later he cooked his way around the world aboard the SS Oriana cruise ship visiting over 60 countries from Egypt to Norway. This experience cemented his unbridled love for adventure and travel which floats his boat to this day.
Settling permanently in Sydney came in 1981 when he discovered the perfect vantage point and angle for launching his career in rock photography. Back at The Gazebo in Kings Cross he realised that this was the perfect location for honing his skills behind the lens, practising on a little-known band called The Divinyls who had a residency every Monday night at the Piccadilly Hotel nearby.
The Divinyls manager at the time was Vince Lovegrove, who eventually asked to see some of Tony’s shots. He loved one of them so much that he used it as the poster shot for their tour that year and paid Tony $20.
That poster shot of the sexy and powerful lead singer Chrissie Amphlett was the start of great things and, by 1983 the phone was ringing off the hook with countless requests for Tony to photograph musicians and bands here in Australia and throughout Europe and the States.
A dizzy and dazzlingly career has followed….Festivals, global tours, gigs, arena concerts, studio shoots, rip-roaring parties and late night, backstage sessions.
His back catalogue is impressive to say the least and, in getting to know him it becomes clear why he has enjoyed so much success in his career. He is fun, easy going and I can’t imagine anyone disliking him or feeling awkward in his presence, no matter how sober, drunk, high, gig weary or jet lagged they were.
His work speaks for itself and has ensured repeated requests year after year from the music industry’s biggest names and their managers. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Beck, Primal Scream, Oasis, U2, Nick Cave, Guns n Roses, The Cult, The Cure, Kylie Minogue. The list goes on and on.
Residing in the same Sydney terrace that he bought ‘for a song’ in the 1980’s, Tony is now a proud and busy dad to preschool twins, Harvey and Lucinder and husband to Libby Sharpe who, creative and driven in her own right is a line producer with an impressive list of works behind her. Libby’s most recent and notable successes being Australian made films Animal Kingdom and The Rover.
Their home is wonderful, just my cup of tea (and being from Northern England Tony made me a smashing one too). It’s been renovated and extended creatively and spaciously but still in keeping with it’s original late 1800’s charm. Their style is eclectic and vibrant without the clutter. A gift that I am yet to master in my home and in my life.
Wordly and intriguing artefacts from exotic travels and glorious, tactile proof of a past rock and roll lifestyle is abundant – giant iconic books, one-off artworks, gig photos of every rock star known to man, bold and funky prints, sparkly kid’s paintings and gigantic stacks of music are all tastefully thrown into the mix.
Quirkiness and a dash of English eccentricity have their rightful place here too with Tony’s vintage and antique train memorabilia dotted throughout.
He admits that the very obvious ‘nod’ to all things ‘train’ is quite nerdy and explains that it stems from fond and chilly memories of watching trains go through a big tunnel, sitting on a pub wall in Sheffield with his sister whilst his parents had a pint or two inside.
‘I always wondered what was out the other side of that tunnel’.
Rock Photographer Tony Mott
I went on tour with Mick Jagger in 1987 which was fantastic and then in 1991 and 1995 with the Rolling Stones. Without a shadow of a doubt, both times blew me away. Truly incredible. They are generous with one on one time for people working with them, quite surprising. Each time with them felt like the ultimate, pinnacle of my career.
Most Embarrassing Moment
I was doing a big shoot with Guns n Roses. I was nervous and much more than half the way through when I realised I didn’t have any film in the camera. I told them that we had to go again because what I had ‘wasn’t perfect’ Luckily they fell for it, agreed and thought that I was brilliant because of my perfectionism.
I had a shoot with Madonna. I walked in the studio and she arrogantly quipped “You don’t look like a photographer” Without even stopping to think I replied “You don’t look like a pop star” Luckily she laughed.
I was photographing Marilyn Manson and I didn’t really know what to expect. He walked into the studio, all seriously made up and dressed like a mad freak. He shyly shook my hand and said “Hi, I’m Brian”.
Queen’s party in Kensington Garden Hotel in 1985. It was decadence personified. We were greeted by 6ft naked models. The lavishness was indescribably magnificent. There were no glasses. If you asked for a wine you got a bottle of the finest vintage. If you asked for a vodka you got the bottle and a basket of fresh lemons. I heard later that the party cost more than 180,000 quid and I don’t doubt it.
I was in Canberra with Van Halen in the 90’s, it was a Saturday night and they really wanted to party. I tried to explain to them that we were in Canberra and that was unlikely on any given night of the year. We tried very hard for about 6 hours to find a party. We failed.
Bob Dylan in 1986. I wasn’t very experienced and had landed the gig through a friend. 2 nights later I was photographing him live on stage and the light was terrible. I was clambering about trying to get some decent shots and he obviously didn’t like my angle. He told me very clearly to fuck off in front of a 12,000 strong crowd.
Glastonbury will always be my favourite festival although it was actually quite tricky to work well there due to the sight lines of the stages. I always found Reading Festival better in this way. I always liked HomeBake and Big Day Out, always great fun.
Rolling Stones and many of the Big Day Outs from 94-2013. I loved every moment.
Who would you like to photograph living or dead?
Tom Waits and Woody Allen
Film or Digital?
I only gave in to the digital world kicking and screaming 4 years ago.I love both for different reasons. I’ve always used Nikon.
My father always said “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all” Van Morrison and The Beastie Boys. Apart from that, I’m saying nothing at all.
Mott the Hoople, Divinyls, Rolling Stones, KK Dee, Lucida Williams, Elvis Costello.
I was on tour with Rhianna and I had been granted a right of way to wander and photograph her backstage/all areas. I stumbled across her kneeling down with her head bowed in her dressing room. It looked great, really surreal and peaceful so I started clicking away. Then I realised that she was in the middle of a private prayer meeting with some fellow Christians who were behind her. I was quite shocked by that.
Lollapalooza in Carolina. Gigs are always so much better ‘out of town’ no matter where you are in the world. There’s so much more energy, anticipation and excitement.
I now do a lot of stills photography for films and TV and I am involved in upcoming Apple projects with Neil Finn, Jess Mauboy and Chet Faker.
Next year Libby and I and the twins are off to Calcutta, working on the film ‘Lion’. Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman will star in it. It’s a drama based on a true story of Saroo Brierly who was an Indian-born Australian who found his birth mother 25 years after they were separated.
Many thanks to Tony Mott and photographer Graham Jepson