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From Soundcheck to Album Cover: Buffalo Tom's 'Skins'

A picture shot during US rock band Buffalo Tom's London soundcheck becomes the cover of their next record. Cue one very happy film photographer.

What do you say when one of your favourite bands asks you if they can use one of your pics as the cover of your next album?

Buffalo Tom is an American college rock band from Boston, Massachussetts. They formed in the late 80s and released a string of albums through the 1990s; a power trio with a bookish bent.

Their 1995 album, ‘Sleepy Eyed’ was one of my favourite records of 1995 – a year which also gave us the likes of Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’, Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Grand Prix’, and PJ Harvey’s ‘To Bring You My Love’.

After interviewing them for their 1998 album ‘Smitten’, I became friends with bassist Chris Colbourn. Over the following decade I caught up with the band intermittently in London and Boston.

By the time they recorded a new record – 2007′s ‘Three Easy Pieces’ – I was already embroiled in my soundcheck project, shooting bands on black and white film as they rehearse for the night’s show. So when they announced they were playing London’s Scala in the summer of 2007, I headed down with a bag full of Neopan and Tri-X to shoot the soundcheck.

Little did I know that a shot from that day would end up becoming my first album cover.

Nowadays, when I shoot the bands at soundcheck I keep it very simple – a Nikon FM2N with a 50mm lens and a Nikon F100 with an 85mm lens, on Fuji Neopan rated at 6400 (photographic projects work best when they have a uniform feel).

But at the time, I was also taking along a Voigtlander Bessaflex, a new M42 mount SLR (made by Cosina in the mid-2000s), which was loaded with Tri-X film.

As the BT boys – Colbourn, singer/guitarist Bill Janovitz and drummer Tom Maginnis – soundchecked, I crept around the stage, taking shots as unobtrusively as I could. As Tom started checking his kit, I rattled off a few frames on the Bessaflex, and caught him reaching out with a stick with the focus tight on the cymbals.

Scanning the negs, I chose it as one of the shots to upload to the Flickr set of the day’s sessions, and thought little more of it.

Fast forward to 2010, when Chris mailed me to say the band were wrapping up work on the follow up album, ‘Skins‘, and that the band liked the shot and wanted to use it as the album cover.

As a fan it’s flattering, but also because the band’s albums have included some truly iconic images. The cover of ‘Let Me Come Over’, their breakthrough album, is a classic image of an Aboriginal stockman by Michael O’Brien, while Sleepy Eyed’s surreal cover – a girl holding miniature skulls to her eyes – is by Magnum photographer Abbas. That’s humbling company to be in.

The album also came with a set of fine art postcards, also featuring shots I took at the Scala and during their European tour in late 2007.

I’ve shot them several times since – on another tour through Europe in 2011 and at their 25th anniversary shows in Boston later that year – but nothing will quite beat that feeling of first walking into a record store and seeing my picture staring out from the record racks.

Check out my soundcheck/concert shots of Buffalo Tom here.

For more information, check out: Buffalo Tom on Wikipedia, Skins Album on All Music, and Voigtlander Bessaflex TM on Camera Quest.

written by stephen73

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