My agent called me and said ” Jeff Beck would like you to shoot his next album cover – Rough And Ready“. I was delighted as I really revered his innovative guitar playing. There’s sometimes a bit of a problem photographing really gifted musicians. They are not always into having their picture taken. There are exceptions like Sir Paul McCartney who is really up for dressing up and working quite conceptually. However, Jeff Beck and the then members of the Jeff Beck Group were much less comfortable with the idea of being photographed so I knew I had to take a different approach.
I drove into the English countryside to meet Jeff . After a winding journey down the roads of never ending twist and turns, through woodlands and wild countryside I found at the haven of Beck. When I arrived all I could see was the backside of a man bent over an engine, who I hoped was Jeff Beck. His head was under the bonnet revving the engine of an American Muscle Car, so I shouted “Hello Jeff’ attempting to get his attention above the extreme roar. Eventually as the V8 sounds faded my shouts were heard and he looked up from under the bonnet, his hands covered in oil and his face smeared too and said “Oh, Hi Clive, my manager said you’d be coming down” whilst drying his hands on an oily rag. He extended an oily hand for a handshake which I accepted, as I looked at my oily hand we both burst out laughing as he handed me the rag. “Well, it’s great to have found you in your secret garage, cottage hideaway”, which I had struggled to find in my Gordon Keeble Saloon (with a Chevrolet turbo fire V8 engine) which I had parked in the driveway. Jeff spotted it and said ‘That’s nice can I have a look under the bonnet” I said “Sure ” relieved that I was in the right place and had found him, he enthusiastically looked under the bonnet and smiled and said “Great engine”.
We then went into his cosy cottage, which I noted was smaller than the garage and drank coffee and talked about cars and guitars (he seemed to be more interested in cars). I said “Doesn’t it bother you, that you might damage your hands tinkering with those heavy tools” He just smiled and said “No, it’s okay, you just have to take care” I mentioned I had a collection of guitars at my house in Kensington and he said “I’d like to see them”. We finished drinking our coffee and I thanked Jeff and made my way back to London. As I drove I realised I hadn’t said a thing to him about taking any photographs so I just went ahead and my agent and got him to arrange a studio date.
Jeff, Cosy Powell, Max Middleton, Bobby Tench and Clive Chaman arrived at the studios in Chelsea a few days later; they had just finished recording the Rough and Ready (1971) album. I knew these were the best musicians in the world of that genre at the time and for me I was nervous and caught between being a photographer and a huge fan. They were such great looking characters; Cosy Powell struck me immediately with the look of a hero from some kind of medieval war movie. In fact actually all of them could have been in films as they had such a great look. I didn’t attempt to do anything or motivate them during the session it was not necessary. I just lit them as there was nothing to hide and I wanted to capture every detail of their faces, these are just raw rock’ n’ roll photographs of exceptional talent.
Sadly in many ways with the coming of computers and instant media of the now, to meet and photograph these diamonds in their rough and ready setting was truly amazing and fulfilling. Sometime later Jeff called me and said “I’m coming to town to do some guitar tests but I’ve left my guitars in the country, can I borrow a guitar?” I was mildly shocked that he’d remembered out conversation and non plussed that all my guitars were currently locked away in the studio and we didn’t have time to get them as he was on his way. I said I’ve got a Gretch Duo Jet guitar with me but all the others are locked in the studio” he said “That’ll do”. He arrived at my house and we drove to the famous Basing Street Studios in Nottinghill Gate, where he plugged it in and tried various settings on the guitar and the amps he was testing. He then said “Nah, it doesn’t quite get the tone for me”. I said, ” You need a Gibson Les Paul or a Fender Strat.” he said “Yeah, any of those would do it for me”.
Jeff Beck continues to inspire generations musicians and currently has a great new album out called Loudhailer and is on tour; you can book tickets here for dates coming up in 2018. It’s great that he is still vital and concerned with contemporary life and the planets well being. It was also sad moment for me looking back at these photographs knowing that Cosy Powell died in a car accident. He was such a great guy and talented musician.
- 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