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Grace Jones by Adrian Boot

Life lessons with photographer Adrian Boot

Punk, Reggae; Bob Marley, The Clash; World Music, New Wave: British photographer Adrian Boot has seen it all, known for capturing some of the 20th century’s most iconic anti-establishment musicians.

His lens has been firmly front and center of every burgeoning music scene over the past six decades, documenting music history for publications including Melody Maker, The Face and NME, iconic cultural and political events from Live Aid to Nelson Mandela – Freedom at 70, alongside building Urban Image – his own extensive, digital photographic archive – which includes over 17 thousand images, only 20% of his actual physical archive to date.

Here, Boot highlights his most memorable photographs, sharing his professional wisdom, life in music and everything in between.

  1. “My first major music trip was to Togo in West Africa to shoot King Sunny Adé. It was the late 70s, and even though he was Nigerian, Adé recorded his album in Lomé – he found it more peaceful than recording in Lagos. There was one image from my time there which has sold much more than any of my other images at that time, taken as I was walking to the studio.

    It’s an unusual picture, taken outside the hospital in the city, of a Lomé ‘medicine stall’. Unless you were rich, no one had the money to buy prescriptions from the pharmacy itself. These streets stalls took prescriptions and would mix their own versions, namely with bones and herbs, and to top it all, behind them was this huge rock and roll poster!”

    Photo by Adrian Boot

  1. “Fela was an Afrobeat pioneer, activist and had 27 wives. I met him in Lagos travelling with French producer Martin Meissonnier, who at the time new him well, and so we went to his house.

    This image of Fela in his pants was part of an organised photo session but was also very candid and captured in the spur of the moment. We arrived in the morning while he was still in bed. Two or three girls came out of the room before he did. I thought he was going to get dressed, but he sat down on an African stool next to his instrument which he blew for a bit, and then sat down almost naked and said ‘take it, take it’ so I did. I took a few frames and that was it.”

    Photo by Adrian Boot

  2. “Back in London, tipped off by head of press at Island to see my photos of Sonny Ade, Nick Logan, the editor of The Face, called me and asked me to come to his office. He’d heard that I’d also shot Fela and asked me to bring those along too.

    I showed him the slides and he started to pull out the ones of Fela’s wives. The girls were incredible, they had such big personalities and always put me in my place when I was there.”

    Photo by Adrian Boot

  3. “He was intrigued and decided to run a feature on Fela but with more of a focus on the wives’ fashion, African chic; that was what the article was called. The next thing you know, Black girls in Worlds End and on the Kings Road are walking around with polka dot make up on. Years later, the photographs of the wives sold at Phillips auction house; this was also a lesson for me, to appreciate how influential a magazine spread could be.”

    Article from the Face Magazine.

  1. “I’d often come into the Island Records office, hang out and make a few phone calls prior to an assignment. Caroline Turner who was looking after Amnesty International at the time phoned, asking me to photograph Nelson Mandela at a reception in the South African Embassy. But before I left, Benjamin Zephaniah, who was in the office at the time, shouted out over to me, ‘can I come?’

    Zephaniah was a poet and in 1982, released the album Rasta, which featured The Wailers’ first recording since the death of Bob Marley.

    I’d photographed Mandela before, just after he’d been released from jail. He was very friendly, and I took a couple of photographs. It was over in seconds. Then I introduced Benjamin and took a few photos of them both while they talked. Benjamin couldn’t believe what was happening. After he was silent in the car ride back. The photograph is hanging over his mantlepiece apparently!”

    Photo by Adrian Boot

  2. “I got in trouble with Sony when on assignment with The Clash in Belfast, but luckily it turned out alright in the end! Sony were furious. They sent me off to shoot the band’s live Belfast concert, but it was cancelled as they had received death threats. There was nothing to do until their flight the next day, so I said, why don’t we do a photo session?

    Strummer agreed. I didn’t know much about Belfast at the time, I’d never been. Our hotel was surrounded by barbed wire and soldiers. We piled in a taxi, and I said, ‘Can you take us to the Falls Road?’ I’d heard of it of course and thought there might be some action there. ‘You can’t go to the Falls Road’ the taxi driver said.”

    Photo by Adrian Boot

  3. “We found another taxi then to take us, and as we arrived, we saw a bunch of soldiers and an iron fence. We stopped the car, got out, took a lot of photographs. Strummer was getting pally with the soldiers and children gathering around, so it worked really well.

    I got back to London and was told I put the band’s lives at risk and that it was the most irresponsible thing I had ever done. I thought I’ll never work for CBS again.

    What happened? I printed them up and sent the same three images to Sounds, the NME and various other magazines and forgot about it. The following week they all had it on their front covers. Although the newspapers were pissed off as I hadn’t given the images to them, the press office at CBS phoned up and said ‘that’s incredible, your photos are on the cover of all four papers in the same week! That’s brilliant! Fantastic!  Their tone had completely changed.”

    Photo by Adrian Boot

  1. “The Paul McCartney session was a classic example of this and involves me falling over the camera case. I kept on walking further and further back taking pictures, and Paul knew what was going to happen. He said, ‘a bit further back, just a bit more’, and over I went! But the result was that him and Linda burst into hysterics, it broke the ice and gave me the perfect shot!”

    Photo by Adrian Boot

  2. “For me, it is all about capturing the reality of these people. I shot this image of Van Morrison in the lobby of Kensington Hilton. There were lots of guests walking by which didn’t cheer him up at all. He got back in the lift with the press officer, and he hit him. ‘Don’t you ever do that to me again’ and gave him a black eye.  But my shot of him got the cover of the magazine. He looked miserable – but it was successful, because everyone loved Van Morrison looking like Van Morrison.”

    Photo by Adrian Boot

  3. “I met him again later at a party and he recognised me. I said let me take some more photos of you and I made him smile; again, got the cover of the Melody Maker. Management were amazed and bemused, they kept asking, ‘how did you make him smile?’”

    Photo by Adrian Boot

  4. “All I do is be myself. I’m just being genuine with all the people I meet and like to have fun – this is what gets me the shot.”

    Adrian Boot in his studio 2022. Photo by MAG_BTM