Release Date: 17.8.2008
Alan Messer, is a well-known British photographer. Croatia will introduce audiences to his independent exhibition, which will open today in Kastav. Alan's camera has recorded a part of the history of popular music over the past forty years. RETRO 40 Alan's audio-visual photographic show will be part of the KASTAV Blues Festival in the town square tonight.

1. Why did you relocate from London, the European music centre to Nashville in America? How did you get work in Nashville and L.A. ?
What was more interesting there than in UK?

America was a new adventure. I love England and the British music scene. I was fortunate to experience the late sixties and early seventies in London. When I moved to Nashville I was twenty eight years old and
the Nashville music scene was developing. I am not a country music fan. I am a photographer. My personal taste in music does not dominate my business sense. However, sometimes there are artists I just have to photograph because of their music.
During the 80s, an amazing opportunity to photograph the country music scene unfolded.
The Los Angeles based record companies hired me instead of importing their West Coast based photographers. I got the work and the budgets were spent on the photography and not wasted on travel and accommodation. I was often shooting a session a day, many of which were album covers. My nights were spent printing in the darkroom. I've worked on about 800 albums (LPs and CDs).
2. You started photographing the British rock and pop scene in the late sixties, tell us some of your experiences from that period and tell us about your first magazine front covers (Manfred Mann, Beatles)

I left school at sixteen to become a professional photographer. I started work at Dezo Hoffmann's London studio on December 3rd 1967. (Dezo was famous for his Beatle photographs that shaped the "Swinging Sixties"). I shot my first magazine cover for the Record Mirror a few days later of the Manfred Mann group promoting "The Mighty Quinn" song, at the BBC. The second Record Mirror cover, published September 14th 1968, was of the Beatles, promoting Yellow Submarine.

John Lennon London,1968
John Lennon and George Harrison were attending an opening of a restaurant in the Kings Road.
There were press photographers, journalists, lots of those trendy fab gear people that usually cropped up at those sort of parties and me. John Lennon was in great spirits posing for promotional photographs in the restaurant's basement, singing “I’ll Apple you if you'll Apple me...” accompanied by his (not yet publicly known) girlfriend, Yoko Ono. Not wishing to be intrusive and because he was married, I did not photograph John with Yoko. John asked me if I would take some photographs for him. (John and Yoko officially broke the news next day of their union.)

George Harrison / Ravi Shankar London,1974
I had met Ravi Shankar briefly during a press conference and photo call at the Savoy Hotel in London during 1968. He was very kind to me when I asked him to pose for a portrait.
Six years later (1974), I attended a photo call at the Royal Albert Hall for Ravi Shankar who would be performing with an Indian orchestra.
I arrived at the Albert Hall for the afternoon press call, to find the place swarming with press photographers. I found a seat to set up my camera bag and surveying the scene, announced to the gaggle of photographers, that I didn't have a flash and that when Ravi Shankar made his appearance that it would be best to place him in the small pool of light on the stage. They would get their flash pictures and I would take mine with the available light.
George Harrison was also there. In true Fleet Street press style the photographers swarmed the two artists as they walked onto the stage to meet the press. Flash guns were popping and I could do nothing but stand back, as they were not in the light as we had arranged.
I don't shoot with a flash gun as in press style, having always preferred available light photographs with black and white Kodak film.
When the swarm of press had subsided I introduced myself to Ravi Shankar and George Harrison, and asked to photograph them together in the light, explaining that I didn't have a flash. They were most happy to do so. Unfortunately, as we began to photograph, the paparazzi press swarmed again. Abruptly a voice cut through it all, " You're taking star press poster pictures of me..." said George Harrison pointing at a photographer to my far left..."no I'm not" whimpered the wretched man .."you've got a telephoto 135 mm lens...," said George.
It was all over. The press call was terminated and the Dark Horse press agent was ushering us all out.
As I walked back across the Albert Hall to repack my camera bag, feeling a bit disheartened, there was a hand on my shoulder and again that Liverpool voice, " would you photograph the show for me tonight?" asked George. "Yes," I said a bit surprised, but really pleased... "can I have back stage access too?"
It was an amazing concert. I had so much fun listening to Ravi Shankar and was pleased with the photographs.

I met George Harrison once more with Johnny Cash at Madison Square Gardens during rehearsals for the Bob Dylan Tribute in 1992.
3. Few words about collaboration with Gered Mankowitz

I was Gered's assistant for one year (1976). Gered allowed me to print for him and to shoot from the studio. I got so busy with my photography that I left and got my own London studio, across the road from Purple Records. Gered and I are still friends and photographers.
4. Your work during seventies: Old Grey Whistle Test, tour photographer for Iggy Pop, Deep Purple. Tell us more about other artists you worked with.

I was independent stills photographer at BBC TV's "The Old Grey Whistle Test" from 1973-1976. I photographed 103 shows. OGWT, has been described as "the most influential television music programme ever". Everything was live. There were no pre-recordings, no dry ice, no gimmicks, no hype and no compromise.  "Whistle Test" stood for the music and was the show bands loved to play. It became a vital stop-off on big name tour schedules, with an opportunity to reach over five million viewers. I photographed such musicians on the show as: Ry Cooder, Bill Wyman, New York Dolls, Freddy King, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Tony Joe White, Johnny Winter, Van Morrison.
I was also tour photographer for Iggy Pop, Deep Purple and photographed The Jon Lord Band and PAL, which both included Bernie Marsden (who is playing at the Kastav Blues festival).
5. Details about Grammy in 1989 in the Album Packaging category

After a few years of a pounding schedule shooting hundred of sessions, I was forced into a break. During this transitional period, I was introduced to silk-screen printing, which became an immediate commercial success and I won a Grammy in 1989 in the Album Packaging category for The O'Kanes "Tired Of The Running" (CBS Records).
6. Have you always been friends with artists you photographed.
What was your relationship with Johnny Cash.

A photographers relationship with their subjects is very important. A photograph is either one of observance or participation. I work in both those areas as a documentary reportage photographer or as a classic portrait photographer.
Johnny Cash was great to work with because he was open to the camera and at first meeting said, "shoot me any which way you want, never when I'm pickin' my nose and never in a limo. Good morning Alan, I just wrote this song ..."
Johnny trusted my camera. It is important to maintain trust. I am very careful with my relationships with artists, I have never had a photograph turned down by anyone I have photographed in forty years.
7. Tell us about photographing:

Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones were promoting the band before the free Hyde Park concert dedicated to Brian Jones, who died of a drug overdose in his luxury swimming pool. A few weeks before I photographed Keith in his office and another day Mick Taylor on the day he joined the band. The day before the concert there was a press call in Hyde Park. On the day of the big concert, I was covering the story for the Record Mirror. About halfway through the show I got punched in the face by a Hells Angel and was thrown out of the backstage area. Mick Jagger had hired the British Hells Angels as stage security. An Angel got me back in.
I photographed Keith for Ray Gun magazine

Iggy Pop
For about one crazy month I was Iggy’s tour photographer. I photographed Jimmy Osterberg
getting Iggyised in his dressing room in Holland. A few minutes later I accidentally got hit across the bridge of my nose by Iggy’s mic stand at the start of the third song. Bleeding and concussed I continued to photograph the show. I loved working with Iggy, he was so graphic, full of rock 'n' roll badness and I dug the music.
David Bowie
I got an assignment to cover the opening night of David Bowie’s ‘Station to Station’ U.S. tour
We, a journalist, the RCA press officer and me, flew to from London to Philadelphia to get a front page story, preceding the British tour. We were informed that Bowie preferred not to be photographed whilst performing. I hate missing a picture. Bowie probably didn’t know he was really paying for our trip, I tried to meet with him.
So I smuggled my Nikon into the show by stuffing some parts into my cowboy boots and gave the rest of the components to my compadres. I got the photograph and it was published on the front page of Melody Maker.
The Who
I sort of pissed them off by snapping a picture quickly of them posing on stage at the Drury Lane Theatre during sound check for their Tommy rock opera, before sprinting back to the Saville theatre to photograph the Stones. I had dinner with Pete Townsend at Jerry Hall's home last year and I told him the story. He is a lovely man and I love the Who. I photographed Keith Moon a couple of times and Daltrey too.
Diana Ross
I photographed Diana Ross during a record company press photo call, in 1968. The other press photographers had her posing standing on a fence. I photographed the Diana Ross who sang ‘Baby Love’ and who was definitely one of the most beautiful women this seventeen year old boy had ever met, so I asked her to pose for me. About ten years ago I sent Diana a signed print. Forty years later it is still a great photograph.
Elton John
I've photographed Elton several times. He appeared on the Whistle test and often at concerts. One of my favourites is a rather laid back Elton holding court in the star dressing room at The London Palladium during rehearsals for a 1972 ‘Royal Variety’ performance.
Bill Haley
Bill Haley and his Comets were headlining a wild rock ‘n’ roll night at the Royal Albert Hall.
A crowd of Teddy Boys started throwing bottles around in excitement. It was a lot safer on stage although Shakin’ Stevens drummer did get one on the head. I photographed Bill Haley twice more that tour, at the Whistle test and posing on a London street.
Bob Marley
I photographed The Wailers at the Old Grey Whistle Test performing Concrete Jungle. Jim Morrison
I photographed Jim Morrison in 1968 at The Doors press call at The ICA in London. It was a "trippy" sixties psychedelic affair. I like my image of Jim because it shows the image of the Doors and looks like a famous picture. It is in my slide show to be shown at the Kastav Blues Festival.
James Brown
James Brown warmed up his band in one beat. I photographed him singing, "Please Please" during a performance at The Opry House for a benefit to honour the late John R, a former prestigious Nashville dj who dared to play black soul and rhythm and blues before it was socially acceptable.
Willie Nelson
There is only one Willie, just as there is only one Keith. Along with Johnny Cash he is one of the cornerstones of American music.
I have photographed Willie several times. My favourite moment is when he and Kris (Kristofferson) walked into Tootsies Orchid Lounge in Nashville. I just happened to be there too with my camera and lights! Willie bought us all a beer and borrowed a guitar and played "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground"

Waylon Jennings
My favourite photograph of Waylon is from 1977, taken during my first trip to Nashville.
Waylon was sweating and looked like a bad-assed rebel. He was one of the nicest down to earth men I have ever had the the pleasure to meet. I loved to see Waylon and Johnny together. They were great friends and had great fun together.

Kris Kristofferson
I have photographed Kris several times, including on the road with the Highwaymen, on the street jogging in the snow, with Johnny Cash in New York and more recently on a farm in Nashville for a magazine.

George Jones
I first met George Jones in Nashville in 1979, in the United Artist Tower lift.
Experiencing that uncomfortable moment when two people are being elevated through the floors in a tin box, unsure whether to speak or even acknowledge one another, the other man turns to me and tells me how sick he had been and how much better he was now feeling. My English reserve was dumfounded and I responded cordially. I later discovered that the strange man was George Jones.
I photographed George Jones at a recording studio in Nashville. We, the CBS art director, his assistant, an A&R man, and my photo assistant, arrived at the recording studio to find George Jones in the control room with producer Billy Sherril, Nancy his fiancé and a suited official type who was either a police chief or a bailiff. From a distance it seemed that poor old George was being dragged through the mill in another legal battle.
We set up the lights and cameras in the front room. I hasten to add that I sometimes dislike the process of formal photography because in certain situations it can alienate the subject and reduce the possibility of getting the shot.
George Jones was seemingly upset and uncomfortable, not exactly the best moment for a photo session. Also there were too many music business types hovering around him and me.
I wanted to drag him away from this charade. Fortunately, for a split second we connected. I got a wonderful portrait of George in all his glory and pain. He is real country and an iconic country legend.

Al Green
I grew up listening to Al Green “Let’s stay Together”, “Love and Happiness”.
So can you imagine my thrill at actually getting to meet him and photograph him in my own house.
The first of several sessions with The Reverend, was for a a gospel album. I had “Al Green’s Greatest Hits” playing on the studio stereo, assistants and a video camera. I used to document many of my sessions.
Reverend Al was not pleased to listen to his music, pouting that he never likes to hear that stuff. Challenging his penmanship, I said, “Take Me to the River, I never realised you wrote that!...isn’t it a Talking Heads song?”...”you put that back on, this cat is real good!” said Al.
Al Green was back! He got the spirit and danced to the music. We shot some great photographs.
I have visited his church in Memphis where I have been introduced to the congregation by Reverend Al Green. I have photographed three Al Green albums and photographed him for Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine.

Steve Earle
Guitar Town is a classic Nashville album. I am very proud to have been involved with this project.
Steve Earle is one of the new legends of country music. He has endured drug rehabilitation, a jail sentence and has weathered life’s storms to emerge as a cult hero. Steve is instrumental in raising public awareness against the death penalty and has effectively done some great work that has saved lives.
This man rocks on stage, takes no prisoners and delivers.
Guitar Town was re-released in 2002 with extra pictures. Steve and the original band performed the whole album live at the Ryman.

Stevie Ray Vaughan
I flew down to Austin the day before the In Step session to prepare. Stevie's crew took me over to their band warehouse space. The setting was too modern and severe but a roadie mentioned there had been house painters working (I presume at Stevie’s house). Sight unseen, I said yes and waited for chance to work her wondrous way.
I arrived next day for the session, the setting was perfect. The canvas backdrop was as if I had brought one of my own.
Outside, an overly jubilant Stevie arrives, gleaming in the Texas sun, accompanied by a pretty lady, his girlfriend, Janna Lapidus. They were pulling clothes out of a car. Stevie sees me and holds up his soft guitar case, it's neck bent and wavering, “Had some trouble with Number One,” beams Stevie, jokingly.
The photo session with Stevie Ray Vaughan was like playing a long gig. It is possibly one of my longest, but most productive. Having vamped through a few moves to warm up, I stopped shooting for a moment. Gesturing towards the rack of guitars, I asked, “Is that a 1928 National?”, “1929” Stevie says with a big grin, “does it work?” I ask again challengingly. Stevie Ray Vaughan picked that National off its stand, dropped to one knee to check the tuning and went into the Mississippi Delta. A shudder went through me and it still gives me goose-pimples whenever I recall that moment. We got the "In Step" cover.
We both knew we had the photograph, but we had much more to do that day, so we jammed on for hours.
I loved Stevie Ray Vaughan, although I only met him that once and then again briefly backstage after a show in Nashville. I felt we had a simpatico, both having brothers who play blues guitar. My brother Michael played a 1928 National Resophonic, which inspired the “In Step” photograph.
Stevie said he wanted to be legendary like Jimi and the other fallen rock legends. He is and Stevie Ray Vaughan's music still rocks my house and always will.

Tanya Tucker
Tanya phones me late one night. “let’s shoot some photographs!...”
“Now?” I replied.......... It was after midnight!
The session was crazy. My studio became packed with Tanya’s entourage and late night party revelers as we cranked up the stereo and popped open 35mm rolls of Kodak.
I phoned Bill Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys to come over and join us. We did take some great pictures including a photograph of Tanya fully clothed in my shower, realistically frail, vulnerable, but covered up with all that hard makeup!

The Small Faces
I photographed the Small Faces on the roof of Immediate Records, their record company, in 1968, in London. It was my first published band photograph (other than the front covers). The photograph is still on my studio wall because it epitomises the London Sixties music scene post Beatles.
8. What do the Americans think of your accent?

Some Nashvillians still think I speak "real funny".
Waylon once told me, “you need to learn to speak proper, Hoss!”

9. What do you know about Croatia? Have you ever been here in Croatia?

I am excited about visiting Croatia for the first time. Dezo Hoffmann, whom I worked with when I was sixteen, was Hungarian/Czech. I am honoured to be invited to show my work in Croatia.
10. What you are doing now? Future projects? Plans?

Currently, I'm working on "Johnny Cash - American Legend" a limited edition book (2000 copies, worldwide) of my photographs of Johnny Cash, spanning two decades, which is to be published by Genesis Publications (, the leading publishers of fabulous "bespoke" edition books on modern music.
This week I've been shooting a video, in New York, for Rodney Crowell's new album, "Sex and Gasoline".
I photographed the CD package too.
I have a Johnny Cash exhibit in Mississippi next month, CASH and FLOWERS and will be showing my photographs at
the 2008 Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festival: October 17-19