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King of the Shutter Speed – an Article by Runrig

Fan magazines, CD and DVD covers, posters, newspaper articles – you’ve seen so many of Andrew King’s stunning pictures over the years, in fact, many of you probably feature in them at one time or another. So we thought it was time to take the man from behind the lens and find out what really makes him “click”.

He’s to Runrig what Astrid Kircherr was to the Beatles or what Lynn Goldberg was to Dylan – the man behind the camera who captures the big Runrig moments for posterity. Yes, we all know those iconic locations in the history of rock ‘n’ roll: Shea Stadium; the Cavern Club; Woodstock; Drumnadrochit! Now Andrew is a modest man and not given to hyperbole or self-aggrandisement, but after some light torture and bribery, he very kindly agreed to answer a few questions and share his thoughts.

Where did you grow up and what made you want to be a photographer?

“I grew up in Gourock on the banks of the River Clyde in Scotland and growing up I always had an artistic inclination but my drawing skills were average so I felt that photography was a more realistic way of getting my ideas on paper. Both my Dad and my Uncle David were keen photographers and they encouraged me to share the passion. They taught me all the basics – exposure, lighting, composition, etc. We had a photo club at my school, Gourock High, and from age 14 I started attending it were I learned the fine arts of black and white printing and studio work. Getting into the darkroom for the first time was the buzz moment for aspiring photographers then, where the room becomes a red-lit cave of wonder where images appear from nowhere as if by magic."

What Photographers or Artists have inspired you?

"Oh there are many – I love a lot of great “rock” photographers but in particular I have always found the work of American photographer Annie Leibovitz a huge inspiration. She has been responsible for some of the most enduring and iconic images of the last few decades. Demi Moore naked and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair; the Springsteen Born in the USA album cover; the last photograph taken of John Lennon before he died."

Tell us how you got started on your first assignments.

"When I was about 16, many of my friends were forming bands. I spent a lot of time attending these early gigs and clubs. I offered to take some pictures for a band called Apartment 6. They liked the results, using my images for junior PR – posters, demo tape artwork and the like. I started attending any venue with a band – taking a few images, sending them to their manager and hoping they’d contact me for a more complete job. This worked well. Then I discovered I could make a better income from signed bands and I was eventually successful getting shots of Diamondhead published in Q and Kerrang magazines. I started hitting the larger venues in Glasgow taking live images of early bands like Chou Parrot, the Revillos and even U2 in such places like Tiffany’s and the Apollo. It was not a professional job at this stage, just opportunities to improve my craft. I also attended college, gaining some formal education in photography and later creative digital imaging."

What other areas of photography have you worked in?

"Until relatively recently, photography has always been part of my working life rather than all of it. For my sins, I did a stint at wedding photography – not one of my favourites really; too much pressure for a one-off special day. And herding family members was always a nightmare! I did some glamour work as well when I was younger mostly for friends who wanted a portfolio to enter the fashion world (all VERY proper!). I’ve also covered many other subjects and been commissioned for museums, air-shows, sporting and media events. With the age of digital, I’ve done a lot of image restoration, and now cover all kinds of performance arts including stage & theatre, festivals and performer portfolios."

But you’ve always had a particular interest in the music business?

"Oh yes. I love music of all types – I listen to everything from Opera to Thrash Metal. I can play passable guitar but I knew I was never going to be a performer; however in shooting photographs from around the stage, you get very close to the feeling and excitement of it; a truly wonderful experience. There’s a real challenge in getting a good stage shot – you are generally shooting at unacceptably slow shutter speeds with very fast moving subjects – not a good combination. So it’s down to picking that moment; predicting what will happen next and catching it just at the peak of what I call the zero moment. I really love how stage lights are so unpredictable on camera. I can never be absolutely sure of what the final image will look like."

Any awkward stage moments?

"One very hairy moment with Runrig was at Glasgow Barrowlands. I’m always looking for a new angle – keeping things fresh – so I decided to climb into the roof cavity directly above the audience to get that “different” shot. The photos were great but my nerves were shattered!"

What other artists do you work with?

"Because of my affinity with the guitar, I do tend to photograph big names in that genre. BB King, the late Stuart Adamson, Justin Hawkins, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Adrian Legg, and of course the wonderful Malcolm Jones! I remember once when Runrig were playing in New York, Malcolm and I went to see the late legendary electric guitar pioneer Les Paul play at a local club. He was 90 years old at the time and still playing so well. I’ve also photographed Jarvis Cocker, Deacon Blue, Big Country, Paul Weller, Fish, Albert Lee, Bruce Springsteen, the Peatbog Faeries, UFO, and the Scorpions to name-drop a few. Naturally, I do have a bias for Scottish bands though!"

How did you meet up with Runrig?

"A one-time friend worked for the band in the 90s and although I’d enjoyed the bands music for years, I never had had the chance to photograph them. The friend introduced me during the Mara tour, I did a test portfolio for the band and they must've like them because I’ve been proud for my photos to cover their work continuously ever since."

Legend has it that getting Runrig together for a good promo shot is a bit like pulling teeth?

"Oh pulling teeth would be easier! But getting posed band shots is normally difficult. Just coordinating everyone to the some pre-arranged point is usually a nightmare - many planned shots are abandoned because someone is somewhere else. I rarely have trouble with musicians on stage. Most seem aware that my mission is to make them look good – that said at a stage shoot with Extreme, their front man Gary Gerome leaned from the stage, plucked my camera from my hands and started taking pictures of me! Off stage can be quite different though – many artists are pre-occupied getting prepared for the show and rarely want some camera lens pointing in their face so I always try to be discrete at those moments. Thankfully Malcolm tolerates me trying to record every quiet accordion warm-up before he goes on stage."

For the photo-buffs out there, what equipment do you use?

"Most of my kit bag is based on Canon; I currently use 5D MkIII and 1DS MkIII digital bodies, a 100-400 zoom lens for close-ups, a 24-70 zoom for general work and a 10-22mm zoom for really wide stuff like crowds and venue shots. All lenses are stabilised for low-light work. I have a Canon flash but use it very rarely for live shots. I recently added a wee Go-Pro camera for some exciting, unusual shots from around the stage. Post production, I use an Apple laptop attached to a big screen with Lightroom, Photoshop and various web products"

Finally, what are your 2 favourite photographs?

"Well, they are both photographs not taken by myself. The first is the image used on the cover of the Clash album London Calling by Polish artist Rosław Szayboby. It’s so iconic and I wish I’d taken it! The other is a picture of my late mum by my dad which sits on my office shelf – as with all photographs, it captures a special memory you can hold forever."

Extract from Interview in The Wire No 65, Copyright Runrig

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