A published photographer by the age of 16, Alec Byrne has worked with a plethora of rock legends. In a new interview, he has opened up about what it was like working with musicians such as David Bowie and Bob Marley.
A year after his first published photo – still only aged 17 – Byrne was on a retainer from NME, and had photographed Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, and David Bowie before he was in his mid-twenties.
Bowie was really interesting to work with. It took me a long time to get a shoot with him, and when I did he was just going out on his first tour for Humble Pie. We agreed to meet in the park and I assumed he’d come with the usual entourage, but when I met him in Beckenham Park it was just him and myself.
One of the images Byrne took on this very walk was soon used in Bowie’s tour program. Fast forward to the months before Bowie passed in 2015, a box set entitled Five Years was released, featuring Byrne’s photo as the opening image. “He saved it and used it as the lead picture in one of the last things he put out. So that was touching.”
Recalling entering the hotel at which he was supposed to meet Bob Marley, Byrne says he almost forgot which room to head to – but simply followed the smell of dope. “This is at a time when Keith Richards and Mick Jagger were arrested and in Brixton prison for having pot, but here you could smell it from the elevator. Bob opened the door and there was just this blue haze that was three feet lower than the ceiling,” he recounts. “He passed me a joint and even though I wasn’t really into it you don’t say no to Bob Marley.”
Byrne also spoke of his encounter with an “almost-threesome” with Mick Jagger. On the set of Jagger’s “Performance” film, due to a large crew, he was left with nowhere to snap the photo – except for the end of the bed. Thus, the photo of Jagger in bed with two women was born.
Byrne was speaking ahead of the release of “London Rock: The Unseen Archives,” his new book including images from his archives, and one that he says is lucky to exist - since it contains prints that have, between them, survived a fire, a flood, and an earthquake.
Lead image credit: Clem Onojeghuo.