Arts interview: Photographer Tom Martin talks about his exhibition at Black Swan, Leeds

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From sneaking shots of bands while working behind the bar at the Brudenell Social Club to travelling the world on assignments for music magazines such as the NME, Kerrang! and Uncut, photography has taken Tom Martin a long way.

Now the Yorkshire-born lensman has returned home to stage an exhibition of his work from the past ten years at the Black Swan in Leeds.

Skin from Skunk Anansie. Picture: Tom Martin

Skin from Skunk Anansie. Picture: Tom Martin

Martin grew up in Sowerby Bridge and got into photography by “a complete accident” after leaving school. “I went to Bradford College when I was 17 and did a foundation course where you’ve got to try all sorts of different disciplines, I even did fashion and textiles – I was rubbish at that,” he says.

“One of the taster sessions was photography and it just kind of clicked, it was the thing I was best at. It was all black and white, it was all film, so that’s really how it began and I never stopped.”

He arrived in Leeds via jobs as a drayman and van driver and got work at the Brudenell Social Club in Hyde Park. There, he says, “the music took over everything”.

“They were really kind to me, they’ve been really good friends for years. The girl who’s now my wife used to work behind the bar there with me – we got married there last year, actually.

“They used to ring the bell and send everyone out glass-collecting and I used to go out and photograph bands then come back behind the bar and finish my shift.”

Martin learned much of his trade from Danny North, now one of the world’s leading concert photographers. “He just let me carry his bags and we became really good friends,” Martin remembers. “He was so unbelievably good at it, it put loads of pressure on me to learn to be as good as him.”

Later, when he began to get commissions for music magazines, Andrew Whitton performed a similar role. “He was working with me when I started at NME. They [Whitton and North] were the pros and I was the new shooter, just watching them is basically how I learned it.”

Among the Yorkshire bands that Martin has photographed over the years are !Forward Russia! and The Cribs. “One of the things about starting ten years ago was the music scene in Leeds was becoming huge,” he says. “The NME did the ‘New Yorkshire’ spread of all these Leeds bands and being at the Brudenell and some other pubs pretty much half the people there were in bands.

“Sometimes you’d be at the Brudenell and the Kaiser Chiefs would be in the corner and a couple of The Cribs would wander in, and other bands like The Sunshine Underground, This Et Al and !Forward Russia! were there. It was a really strong scene that was getting going and I felt carried along with all that.

“I shot all those Leeds bands in different ways. I’d shoot them at the Brudenell, in this little working men’s club, then two years later people like the Kaiser Chiefs were playing arenas and football stadiums and it all seemed quite bizarre to me; I think it seemed quite bizarre to them as well.”

The commissions for the NME, for whom he started working in 2009, gradually got further and further afield. “I’ve been to Serbia and Russia for the NME, I’ve been to all these crazy places just off the back of doing that first gig for them [in 2009] at The Cockpit in Leeds.”

So have the music stars that Martin has photographed. His exhibition includes images of Blur, The Stone Roses, Metallica, Snoop Dogg, New Order, Colplay and Jay-Z. But he’ll still make time to shoot local artists as well, including the Leeds-based singer songwriter Hannah Trigwell.

“If anyone that I’ve worked with or anyone local emails me I just can’t help it. I just say ‘yes’ to everything,” he says. “I can be in London one day doing a commercial shoot and the next day knocking around in Horsforth with Hannah Trigwell because she’s asked me.”

Tom Martin: Live 2005-2015 runs at Black Swan, Call Lane, Leeds until February 4. Admission free. For details visit http://blackswanleeds.co.uk/events/item/tom-martin-live

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