Snap-happy chappy lifts the lid on rock n'roll reality; Before I Hit the Stage's Paul Miles

A new book documenting a year in the life of New York's backstage areas has just hit the streets...

Coffee table books about rock n’roll are nothing new; As I sit writing this I’m looking at a couple on my bookshelf, including one of the daddies of the genre, The Powerage by the metal photographer of them all, Ross Halfin, whose timeless shots of on-the-road debauchery are accompanied by a smattering of words from sometime Kerrang! Scribe Pete Makowski. It’s a marvellous piece of work, mixing up scenes of at times frankly horrifying backstage activity (it’s hard to see, for instance, from the documentary evidence supplied by this book, how any members of Brit Rock band UFO got out of their 70s American tours alive) with some marvellous on stage photo reportage of many of the giants of the genre we’ve come to know and love – if you get a chance to have a peak at this iconic work, fill yer boots.

But that was all a long time ago, and heavy metal, dammit the whole of rock n’roll in general, is a very different beast in the second decade of the twenty first century, so the release of a new warts an’all look at the behind the scenes aspects of the rock circus – Before I Hit the Stage, by expat Aussie photographer Paul Miles and his American snapping compadre Jason Obrotka – is probably very timely.

Subtitled Backstage Rock n’Roll Moments in New York City, the tome charts the progress of a year in the life of our snap-happy heroes as they roam the backstage areas of, you guessed it, New York City, over the course of 2013 documenting whatever they happened to find on any given night. Some of the shots are candid, some obviously posed, but every one gives you a tantalising whiff of the glamour that still clings to the rock n’roll life… or doesn’t as the case may be. And whilst there are plenty of shots of hopeless gumbies like the Dandy Warhols and Wheatus to contend with, readers of Metal as Fuck will thrill to be able to hitch a ride on the hospitality gravy trains of a variety of featured metal acts, from Chimaira and Fear Factory to LA Guns and Saxon, with all points in between neatly covered.

Obviously the work of two men who enjoyed the task in hand very much indeed, BIHTS is. according to Miles, the result of a chance brush with drunks that, as necessity often does, became the mother of invention. “I was at a Turbonegro concert in Brooklyn. It was a free house party show put on by shoe manufacture Vans and about 2,000 people rolled up to their warehouse –the biggest American show of Turbonegro’s career. I was there to shoot the band on stage, but had a case of the mid-week blues. Bored by the support bands, and getting annoyed by some drunks in the crowd, I started thinking that I would much prefer to be backstage at that moment, just hanging out; that would be much more interesting to me. And then I thought others would probably find that more interesting too, so what if I could capture that with my camera and turn those shots into something cool for people to enjoy. I knew that creating such a rock photography book would be a huge undertaking, so I reached out to Jason to see if he wanted to collaborate”.

Jason did, and the rest, of course, is lavishly-illustrated history. Of course two chancers with cameras aren’t always going to be able to blag their way backstage, especially in today’s pay-to-meet-and-greet-your-idols climate. Miles is refreshingly honest on how easy the actual nuts and bolts of this project – actually capturing the phizzogs of your favourite rock n’roll fantasy figures (and Biff Byford) on film – was: “Was it easy? Yes and no. we simply put together our vision for the book and a plan to execute. We’d keep a constant eye on the concert schedule and when a new show was announced in New York City, we’d reach out to that band’s management, tell them what we were up to, and see if they were willing to provide the access and participate with us. One in five welcomed us into their pre-show inner-sanctum, and then we literally had anywhere between three minutes and three hours backstage to get the shots on the night. There’s sixty bands and solo artists that came through to make the final version of the book”.

It may seem like a glamourous task, being out at shows every night, but having worked in the industry in London I can vouch that doing it night after night does get wearing after a while (I attended 285 shows in 1998 alone, and my ears have never been the same since, but that’s another story…) and a lot of nights do merge into one in the memory, which is probably where having a camera at hand at all times comes in handy – but does anything from the year particularly stand out for the Perth-born photographer? “"Well, I went shopping with Saxon! It was Friday the 13th and we were sitting around with plenty of time before the influential band’s set. Their singer Biff Byford said to me, ‘Hey, (guitarist) Doug (Scarratt) and I are going for a walk, do you wanna come?’ so I said, “Sure.” We were in Midtown on 42nd Street, so it was just a short stroll around the corner to the main part of Times Square. As I shot the guys while they walked around, taking in all the neon of Times Square, a lot of people recognised Biff and came up to say hello and get a selfie. When a shop would catch their eye, we’d duck in and have a look around, and they’d sometimes hold up a piece of clothing and ask my opinion on it. Now, if someone had told me years ago that one day I’d be giving my fashion opinions to Saxon while shopping in New York’s famous Times Square with them, I would have said, “You’re bonkers!"

And who could blame you! How would you sum up the book, shortly and sweetly? “Well, style-wise, they’ll see that some photos were candidly captured from a fly-on-the-wall perspective, while others have more of a portrait session feel to them, which just depended on the mood, available time, and what was happening before each show. I just think it’s a unique, contemporary piece of work that honestly captures the backstage rock’n’roll life these days, shown over one year in the world’s greatest city. Whether you’re chilling at home with a coffee while flipping through the hardcover book in your hands, or perhaps looking at the Kindle ebook version while on a train to a job you hate, I think readers will enjoy the escape of checking out hundreds of compelling images and bits of commentary, simply as an entertaining insight into the reality of today’s backstage world”.

 

Before I Hit the Stage is available now on Outskirts Press.