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Photographer tracks down music's greats

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: August 30, 2013

Pete Williams' St George's show features candid portraits of some of the most original and idiosyncratic talents on the world music scene, among them Herbie Hancock, pictured here,  Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Roni Size and Courtney Pine

Pete Williams' St George's show features candid portraits of some of the most original and idiosyncratic talents on the world music scene, among them Herbie Hancock, pictured here, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Roni Size and Courtney Pine

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Bristol-born photographer Pete Williams has been snapping musical icons for some 25 years now. Some of his finest work has been for the fondly remembered music magazine Straight No Chaser, and a selection of these images is on view in the atmospheric Crypt Gallery at St George's, Bristol, for the next 12 months.

"Soon after leaving college in the late Eighties, I met Paul Bradshaw, who had recently started this small, staunchly independent music magazine," Pete explains. "My first job was to photograph some of London's most exhilarating jazz dancers.

"I decided to use the old Yugoslavian embassy in Kensington, with its decaying Regency interior, as a location for the shoot, rather than the fierceness of a club."

Pete worked with the magazine for 18 years until it folded in 2007. "With small or non-existent budgets, I got used to short, fast, simple shoots. I used city streets to help create image power and narrative, throwing up canvas sheets as backdrops and shooting under railway bridges to shelter from rain."

The St George's show features candid portraits of some of the most original and idiosyncratic talents on the world music scene. Pete's subjects, including Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Roni Size and Courtney Pine, are shown in intimate, snatched moments: relaxing backstage, in hotel rooms, in bars and on the streets of Bristol and London.

Wherever possible, Pete tries to draw out narrative and history from his locations, as seen in his shot of Bristol's seminal drum 'n' bass duo Roni Size and Krust, taken on the city's harbourside.

"The dock cranes gave the image a forceful composition, but also a poignant reminder of the fall of one industry and the rise of another – Bristol's music industry," Pete explains.

Another memorable shot features the seminal jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, grinning from a sofa in his suite at the Mayfair Hotel in 1994.

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