1 May 2024

Legendary rock photographer Tony Mott unveils tales behind iconic images in Wollongong book launch

| Kellie O'Brien
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Tony Mott

Rock photographer Tony Mott will be in Wollongong on 10 May. Photo: Supplied.

International rock photographer Tony Mott talks about music with all the excitement of a punter front row at his first gig or backstage meeting his musical hero.

Mott has experienced both – with his first rock and roll photo being of a then unknown Chrissy Amphlett fronting the Divinyls, sparking a 40-year career that’s seen him rub shoulders with everyone from Beyonce to Carole King and the Rolling Stones.

Much of the stories behind these meetings will form part of his launch and talk in Wollongong on 10 May to promote his latest 240-page book Rock and Roll Gallery: A Journey from Sheffield to Sydney 1983-2023.

The book ranks his top 20 photos, top 20 artists he loves musically and the best artists from A to Z, along with the stories behind them, which guide the event to be hosted by Screen Illawarra chair and fellow Sheffield lad Nick Bolton.

After doing similar book talks that journey through the Big Day Out festivals, tours with music icons like Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson and Fleetwood Mac and how the industry has changed, Mott admits he often feels more like a stand-up comedian.

“The first 10 minutes is about Chrissy Amphlett, because that’s how I started with the Divinyls,” he said.

“Then it’s just funny stories about incidents, and some of my ineptitude, meeting Madonna, the Rolling Stones, Ozzy Osbourne and things like that.

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“The reason I mention stand-up comedian is, you learn after you’ve done six or seven of these that what I think is funny, other people don’t – and vice versa.

“The Ozzy Osbourne story always gets a laugh, but the Madonna story doesn’t, and I think the Madonna story is funny.”

Having not long sold a house in Coalcliff and admitting to wanting to one day return to live in the region, the Sydneysider said the talk would also include some Wollongong references.

“From the Wollongong point of view, I will add a few Tumbleweed photos in there and possibly a Radio Birdman shot. The lead singer, Rob Younger, lives in Thirroul,” he said.

Starting as a chef, Mott found himself after work at the Piccadilly Hotel in Kings Cross taking photos of an unknown band.

“I wasn’t good at what I did. What I did was use the Divinyls to develop my skill level,” he said.

“What I wasn’t aware of at the time was I was developing it on the greatest female performer the world has ever seen.

“I’m qualified to say that now because I’ve shot Beyonce, Diana Ross, Madonna … everybody.

“No one touches Chrissy from a performance point of view.

“When I look back on the Chrissy Amphlett ones, I just realise how blessed I was to be photographing Chrissy Amphlett.”

Rock and Roll Gallery

The now full-time dad said COVID was the catalyst for the book project, having been homeschooling his now 13-year-old twins.

“To relieve my boredom, I started scanning my old negatives because … negatives you would have rejected 20 years ago, on modern day scanners, they bring them back to life,” he said.

“The first thing that happened was I found an Angus Young AC/DC photo that was phenomenal.

“It took me a while to work out it was my photo because I kept looking at it thinking, why has it never been published?

“That inspired me because I thought if that’s there, what the bloody hell else am I missing.”

He said with four decades in the industry, he felt it was a good time to bookmark his career.

Mott said the reason he loved the book was because after every other book, once published, he would realise he missed something out.

With this book, when his latest print run sold out, the publisher asked if he’d like to make changes before printing again.

“I sat down and I literally couldn’t change anything,” he said.

He said the best way to describe how he came up with his top 20 favourite artists was the story behind his Carole King photo.

“I absolutely love Carole King and I’m very aware that my photo of Carole King is very ordinary,” he said.

Mott said while he was able to remain outwardly cool while meeting Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, despite “going ballistic” internally, and had enormous respect when lunching with Paul McCartney discussing double decker buses and coming from the north of England, “Carole King is the only time I’ve been starstruck”.

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“I shot her live and then I started yakking to the publicist about Carole King and she suddenly realised I knew more about Carole King than she did,” he said.

It prompted an invite for him to join her and others for dinner.

“I was in a room where I could see someone in the distance meeting Carole King being the gibbering idiot that says, ‘Oh my God’ and I thought, ‘That’s me and what I’m going to be like,’” he said.

“I had a panic and I went home.

“She meant that much to me I thought, I’m going to be that gibbering idiot.”

Mott said while there were famous stories of mad antics from artists, in his career most had been great to deal with.

“When you’re doing interviews, you get asked who’s your least favourite artist but also people ask who’s the biggest a……..,” he said.

“My dad always said to me if you’ve got nothing good to say about someone, don’t say anything. So I never talk about the Beastie Boys.”

While he was now working on photography projects in film and TV, he admitted he still loved and did rock and roll photography, wanting to work more with young bands coming through.

Book tickets to see Tony Mott at Van Q shop in Wollongong on 10 May at 6:30 pm.

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