My career behind the drums first took me on the road some 7 or so years back and since then I’ve had the good fortune to tour as far and wide as America, Europe, China and Russia. Music and travel go hand in hand and I’m lucky that I can combine the two passions.
Indeed I’ve long been enamoured by the great beyond, by a journey and by tales of musicians on tour and it seemed only natural that I would start to record and document my own experiences with the bands that I’ve played with.
For many years I’ve maintained a blog called View From The Drum Stool that combines diaries and road stories with the odd digital picture snapped on a phone. But with time I felt compelled to seek out a different way to record, something that could capture a moment more faithfully and with a distant recollection of my fathers 35mm I took my first tentative steps into the world of film photography with the purchase of a cheap 70’s Pentax SLR on eBay.
Over the years I’ve toured and recorded with a number of different artists including Gaz Coombes, Emiliana Torrini, Willie J Healey, and the Young Knives. But it was a pleasant surprise when early last year I got the call to play drums with Saint Etienne. I had long been a fan of the London trio, consisting of Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell, and it was a pleasure to play songs that I had loved and listened to for years. We started in late spring with a loop of the UK, followed by American and European tours, not to mention festivals and other various promotional engagements before a final few dates before Christmas.
Touring with a band is a unique and often very intense experience: under what other circumstances might one spend ten nights in ten different cities? And while it’s exciting to visit so many different places, you are always conscious that you’re never more than a fleeting observer, passing through, on the outside looking in.
But touring with a camera is a great counter to the intensity of the lifestyle and to wander into whichever city one finds oneself each day is a welcome distraction. When I’m playing drums I’m listening intensely but when I’m taking photos I’m looking intensely and the activities coexist well together: indeed those intensive periods on the road have been by far the most prolific picture-taking periods for me, much more so than when I’m at home.
Inevitably there are challenges in shooting to film under such circumstances too: I favour Ilford FP4 and HP5 which need good light and there were periods on tour, notably over the course of three memorably rainy days in Sweden, where I barely took a shot. But ultimately the limitations are what provide the reward: every image must be composed and considered and every snap of the shutter worthy of the cost.
As 2017 drew to a close along with the intense periods of travelling and playing with Saint Etienne, I began to work through the negatives I had taken and, as enamoured with the analogue process as I had become, headed into the darkroom with a selection of my favourites to make prints. The entire analogue method is something I’m constantly drawn too – the cocktail of chemicals and additives, timings, agitations, strict intervals and trays of chemicals required to develop the film and create darkroom prints makes for a complex undertaking, but the thrill of first glimpsing a developed roll or witnessing an image emerge under hazy darkroom red-light makes the extra effort worthwhile.
There is much written about analogue photography versus modern methods but ultimately I simply felt that I could capture something in 35mm that I couldn’t on my phone or with a digital device. No other medium is as honest as photographic film and for me it’s a way of making sense of those touring experiences, a way that I could capture the unique and fleeting encounters on the road with Saint Etienne in 2017. Taking a picture is a small way of foiling time; a way to prolong and savour those experiences and encounters, and a way to take them with you.
The exhibition ‘Forward Motion’ which documents Mike’s time on the road with Saint Etienne in 2017 is currently showing at Truck Store, 101 Cowley Road, Oxford until 16th March. A companion book is available to order online.