The Yorkshire photographer who caught some of music’s biggest names on camera

Libertines by Tom Martin
Libertines by Tom Martin
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Tom Martin has photographed some of the top bands in Yorkshire and beyond – and now there’s an exhibition of his work in Leeds. Duncan Seaman reports.

From sneaking shots of bands while working behind the bar at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds to travelling the world on assignments for music magazines such as the NME, Kerrang! and Uncut, photography has taken Tom Martin a long way.

Skunk Anansie by Tom Martin

Skunk Anansie by Tom Martin

Now the Yorkshire-born photographer has returned home to stage an exhibition of his work from the past ten years at the Black Swan in Leeds.

Martin grew up in Sowerby Bridge and got into photography by “a complete accident” after leaving school. “I went to Bradford College when I was 17 and did a foundation course,” he says. “One of the taster sessions was photography and it just kind of clicked.”

He arrived in Leeds via jobs as a drayman and van driver and got work at the Brudenell Social Club in Hyde Park. There, he says, “the music took over everything”.

“They were really kind to me, they’ve been really good friends for years. The girl who’s now my wife used to work behind the bar there with me – we got married there last year, actually. I used to go out and photograph bands then come back behind the bar and finish my shift. That had a really big influence on me.”

Metallica by Tom Martin

Metallica by Tom Martin

Martin learned much of his trade from Danny North, now one of the world’s leading concert photographers. “He just let me carry his bags and we became really good friends,” Martin remembers. “He was so good at it, it put loads of pressure on me to learn to be as good as him.”

Later, when he began to get commissions for music magazine the NME, Andrew Whitton performed a similar role. Among the Yorkshire bands that Martin has photographed over the years are !Forward Russia! and The Cribs. “One of the things about starting ten years ago was the music scene in Leeds was becoming huge,” he says. “The NME did the ‘New Yorkshire’ spread of all these Leeds bands and being at the Brudenell and some other pubs pretty much half the people there were in bands.

“Sometimes you’d be at the Brudenell and the Kaiser Chiefs would be in the corner and a couple of The Cribs would wander in. It was a really strong scene that was getting going and I felt carried along with all that. I shot all those Leeds bands in different ways. I’d shoot them at the Brudenell, then two years later people like the Kaiser Chiefs were playing arenas and football stadiums.”

The commissions for the NME, for whom he started working in 2009, gradually got further and further afield. “I’ve been to Serbia and Russia for the NME, I’ve been to all these crazy places just off the back of doing that first gig for them at The Cockpit in Leeds.”

So have the music stars that Martin has photographed. His exhibition includes images of Blur, The Stone Roses, Metallica, Snoop Dogg, New Order, Colplay and Jay-Z. But he’ll still make time to shoot local artists as well, including the Leeds-based singer songwriter Hannah Trigwell.

“If anyone that I’ve worked with or anyone local emails me I just can’t help it. I just say ‘yes’ to everything,” he says. “I can be in London one day doing a commercial shoot and the next day knocking around in Horsforth with Hannah Trigwell because she’s asked me.”

Tom Martin Live 2005-2015 runs at Black Swan, Call Lane, Leeds until February 4. Admission free. For details visit www.blackswanleeds.co.uk/events/item/tom-martin-live