Photographer Michael Spencer Jones shares his Oasis memories with Jon Perks.
You’d think that anyone working with Liam and Noel Gallagher on a regular basis would require the patience of a saint.
Not so, says Michael Spencer Jones, the acclaimed photographer who captured the now famous cover shots for their first three albums and 11 singles.
“They’re probably the greatest bunch of people I’ve ever worked with,” says Michael, who first met the Gallaghers in October 1993.
“You’ve got a band that’s straightforward and honest. You know where you stand.
“One of the things about being there from very early on was the fact there was never any question whether this band was going to make it – it was blindingly obvious right from the word go that they’d be a huge success.”
Spotted by Noel Gallagher through his early work for The Verve (Jones would also later photograph the cover to Urban Hymns), the Sheffield photographer went on to take the images for every Oasis UK release, from their debut Supersonic to the 1998 number one All Around The World.
All 14 covers (plus a previously unseen night shot version of Be Here Now) form the latest exhibition at Birmingham’s Snap Galleries.
Entitled Out of the Blue (after the Manchester recording studios where he first met the band), the show is accompanied by a limited edition boxed portfolio with all 15 images signed by Jones and a 196-page large format book chronicling his time with the bad boys of Britpop.
As well as his passion for photography – and his talent – what also comes through when speaking to Jones is that he’s clearly a huge Oasis fan.
In fact, he has been ever since he first heard Columbia on his car stereo, the day before he was to meet them for the very first time:
“I heard this great piece of music, and it was one of those occasions when you hear something and you want to hear what it is, and the DJ said it was by ‘local band Oasis’ and I was like ‘wow, hey, I’m going to photograph them tomorrow, that’s good’,” he recalls.
“It’s so important with any band I work with that I like the music,” he insists.
“The next day when I heard Shakermaker at the studio it was very much a contrast to Columbia, and there were vocals on it as well, which made it more interesting. Then I got a demo tape of Definitely Maybe and just couldn’t stop
playing it – I was like ‘wow, there’s only one direction they’re going in, and that’s up’.”
Creation Records wanted their artwork to be done in-house, but Noel insisted that they use Jones – in retrospect, a great decision.
The portfolio of work – which features 5,000 imported carnations (Don’t Look Back In Anger), a disused railway station (Some Might Say) and a half-submerged Rolls-Royce (Be Here Now) – is a fabulous snapshot of not only the band’s golden years but also some of Britpop’s finest moments.
“It was very much an organic creative process of ‘right, we’ve got this track, what are we going to do?’” says Michael.
“Sometimes Noel would come up with it, other times the designer would come up with an idea or I would come up with an idea, or Noel might suggest something that I would develop into something else.
“When I was doing the book and looking at the contacts and the outtakes, I got some great memories back and it’s just interesting how many stories there are behind the shoots,” he adds. “It was a very colourful period. There are some anecdotes behind every single cover I did with them.”
Cigarettes and Alcohol (single released October 1994, reached No. 7 in the UK)
“It was in this small hotel room in Holland Park and it was a staged shot, and in the end we got a kind of vibe going, running up a big room service bill... but at the end of the shoot, about three or four o’clock in the morning, Noel took his guitar up and began playing.
Liam was in the room – I think he was asleep – and there was Tim Abbott the art director, about four or five of us in total – and Noel must have played his whole repertoire, maybe 15, 16 songs one after the other. Incredible.
Just playing Live Forever, then next track Whatever – songs I’d not even heard, it was just one after the other. I think he even played All Around The World, and that didn’t surface for about another four years. The thing about his songs is they’re so well crafted and he’s such a rare talent.”
* Out of the Blue – The Oasis Photographs of Michael Spencer Jones is on show at Snap Galleries until February 28 2009. www.snapgalleries.com . Tel: 0121 748 3408