Mick Ronson – The Nicest Man Who Fell To Earth

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I first met Mick Ronson’s when I was photographing Mott The Hoople at a Chelsea studio in London in 1972. Although I was photographing the whole band I was struck by Mick’s classical Byronesque looks so I asked him if he would mind if I took some solo portraits after we finished the band shoot. He just said “fine” in his very reserved way and the result was the above portrait. Looking back at the portrait now it has such a moment about it and without any doubt it is one of my images that really stays with me. Despite being one of the most talented arrangers and guitarists of his generation working with the likes of Lou Reed and David Bowie (and he went onto work with Dylan, Van Morrison and Elton John), he was so self effacing and really humble. He had the most incredible natural elegance and there was a kind of roaring silence about him.

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I don’t know how it came about but a few years later, as far as I can recall, Mick’s beautiful wife Suzi Ronson (who was also David Bowie’s hairdresser) asked me would I photograph Mick for the cover of his second solo album Play Don’t Worry. I think the Byronesque portrait I’d done previously was the reason they asked me to do this album shoot. When they were in the studio, Suzi was so supportive and attentive to Mick’s every need. She did his hair and make up and tied black ribbon around his arms. Mick posed with his guitar and the record label chose the above photo for the album cover. For me the picture below was much more dynamic and I prefer this image from that session.

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It was a really nice day and after the studio session I said, “Why don’t we shoot some 35mm shots, down by the Serpentine”. My assistants arranged a location van that took us all down to the Serpentine.  We had drinks by the side of the Serpentine Lake and talked about the music scene while looking at the polaroids from the studio session , some of which I used a blue polarising filter on.

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Before we hired a boat I took some pictures of Mick in front of the Serpentine Lake as the sun was setting  behind him which caused this gold halation surrounding his wiry willow like figure. Although he never tried he was so natural in front of the camera. The above picture has something of James Dean feel about it. He really was so striking.

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It reminds me of Marlon Brando’s remark from On The Waterfront, when a character says “Are you looking for trouble” and Brando replies “What have you got?”. Mick looked like a streetwise New Yorker, who was ahead of the game. He certainly didn’t look like a quiet working class lad from Hull (in the North of England).

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I asked Mick if he’d mind getting in the boat and he was keen to do so. He rowed around the lake really quickly and I shouted from the shore, “No, Mick, just let the boat glide back into me, this was the moment when I got the above shot. I was so preoccupied that I didn’t notice that my converse all stars where soaking wet.

I was saddened that someone who I know would have achieved so much more in the future was taken from us so early in his life and career. I really rated his talent and the way he was.

  • Clive Arrowsmith is shooting stunning images, staging exhibitions and is as passionate about photography as he was when he first pressed the shutter at The Paris Collections. He is available for global media opportunities related to his work and photography generally. Bespoke prints from Clive’s archive are also available by special request, for any enquiries  (email Eugenie here). Clive’s book Arrowsmith: Fashion, Beauty & Portraits is available here and Lowry at Home: Salford 1966 is available here

 

 

15 Comments

  1. Dear Clive,
    A friend sent me this article regarding Mick Ronson. We have a campaign this year to have Mick Ronson inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for class of Performer/Sideman. It would truly be an honor to have you visit our Campaign site at http://www.facebook.com/MickRonsonInduction.
    Your writing of Mick Ronson is spot on from all the stories that I’ve heard.
    Seems everyone loved and adored the innately talented and humble Guitar God of the 70’s & 80’s who came from Kingston within the town of Hull.
    Thank for sharing your memory,
    With warm regards,
    Marjorie Brown

    1. Hi Majorie,

      Can I add a link or something to the end of the article to help the campaign. I wholeheartedly support what you are doing and Mick was one of the greatest if not THE greatest Rock’n’Roll Sidemen that has ever lived and SO influential even today. Please email my PR/PA & Daughter Eugenie Arrowsmith eugenie (AT) totalcreativefreedom.com so we can co-ordinate out efforts. Keen to support this in anyway I can. All the best,

      Clive

  2. A lovely feature Clive, thank you for sharing your memories and some fabulous unseen images of Michael on this anniversary. It doesn’t seem possible that 25 years have passed since he left us. Even towards the end of his life he really did prefer to play than worry. He was indeed extremely humble, gifted and enormously talented and for that, and many more reasons, I’m pleased to say he will never be forgotten.

    1. It’s so hard to believe it’s 25 years, he was one of the most understated and quietly impressive people I have ever met and I’ve met a lot of people. I certainly will never forget him and the portrait of him in the white shirt looking straight at the camera to this day is one of the best I have ever taken. I was lucky to have known him in life as we all were. Thanks for your kind comment, I am really enjoying sharing my work in this way.

  3. Fabulous, ty Clive , I was fortunate to speak w Mick quite a long time ago ,he was going to produce a record I was to play guitar on and sadly he past away before that took place . I was devastated . I can attest to exactly what you had mentioned about him , he was so warm and treated me like we had been friends forever when we spoke , a class act all the way . I miss him every day. He’s o e often reasons guitar playing is such a huge part of my life . Thanx for the photos and the wonderful article . Cheers, much love , Joshua Blake

  4. Fabulous, ty Clive , I was fortunate to speak w Mick quite a long time ago ,he was going to produce a record I was to play guitar on and sadly he past away before that took place . I was devastated . I can attest to exactly what you had mentioned about him , he was so warm and treated me like we had been friends forever when we spoke , a class act all the way . I miss him every day. He’s o e often reasons guitar playing is such a huge part of my life . Thanx for the photos and the wonderful article . Cheers, much love , Joshua Blake

  5. Tomorrow will be 25 years since he left this earth but he never leaves me. I think about him every day. His love and music lives on and as my mother Minnie Ronson would say – that if you met Michael only once, he left an imprint on your soul.
    Your photos are beautiful Clive and you really have captured something special. Thank you for sharing and for doing this exhibition to commentate Michaels 25th Anniversary.
    Much love – Maggi Ronson.

    1. Hi Maggi, I just want to say how touching it is to hear from a member of Mick’s family. I am so moved by your kind words. He was very special to me too and every time I worked with him and viewed him through the camera’s lens I saw someone who had such exceptional qualities. I am sorry for the enormous loss you must all feel as his family, you are all in my thoughts and prayers, Much love, Clive

  6. Great photos, Clive. As with all of your work, you really captured something of the essence of this lovely man, brilliant artist and radiant soul. Hard to grasp 25 years have passed and hardly a day passes without fond memories of the day my best pal Eddie (RIP) and i met him and the connection that ensued. That it continues rot this day is testimony to the spirit of the man and his family. RIP Michael.
    (PS – you and I worked together many years back when you photographed a Cuban dancer called Yosvani Ramos for Sunday Times Magazine when I was at English National Ballet. Yosvani and I still chat about the experience to this day)

    1. Thank you Jim for your kind wonderful comments. I hope you are very well, are you still at The English National Ballet? I would love to do some more ballet photos, I so love working with dancers. Yosvani was just wonderful, I seem to remember he was holding the cuban flag and leaping through the air, please send him my best!

      1. How lovely Clive – I’m no longer at ENB but still very involved in ballet/dance. In fact, I’m working on something pretty mega for September. Would love to share and see if it resonates? Much love to you. Jx

  7. What great insight about the man that was Mick Ronson. He truly was definitely one of the greatest guitarists of all time, but even more prominently, an extremely humble and kind gentleman. I came into existence after he left his behind but I’ve always had a deep admiration and respect for both him and all of his work. These photographs are a wonderful documentation of his life. From the outsider and fan, qualities not unlike his spearhead Bowie. Your stories and photographs are such a wonderful insight into the lives of these incredible people. As someone who also has an equal fascination for McCartney and Harrison, your site and all you freely provide over the Internet here is of priceless value to me.

    Thank you very much for sharing, Mr. Arrowsmith!

    1. Thanks Brinley, it really makes me so happy to share the work, as it is my life. I have been lucky enough to meet these people and do this work so sharing it is a privilege too. All the Best, Clive

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