When the beat it project began in early 2016, I never thought I would be crossing paths with one of the drummers who inspired myself and so many others over the years to start playing.
Brad Wilk is an absolute legend, who has managed to put himself on the map alongside the best musicians in the world. Black Sabbath, Rage against the Machine, The Sound City Players with Dave Grohl, Juliette Lewis, to name just a few.
Now his band, an explosive collaboration of 3 iconic bands coming together (Cypress Hill, Rage against the Machine and Public Enemy) to form The Prophets of Rage, are inspiring people of all ages politically and socially with their music. Their message that 'the party is over', is basically a metaphor for what is happening within the US government and the Trump administration.
With somebody like Brad, unless they are fairly active on social media the chances of them seeing what you are trying to achieve are extremely rare. Luckily, he does have an instagram account, posting frequent updates of tour life. This is where the possibility of catching his attention would come from. One rainy day in Manchester while daydreaming about the beat it project, a colleague of mine who was following Brad on Instagram, said why don't you just wait for him to post something and ask the question, would he be interested in getting involved with the beat it project?. It seemed almost too easy. But it was worth a shot. So that's exactly what I did. Asked the question. Even if somebody says no, it is still worth a shot.
Looking through Brads profile (I'm not a stalker) I noticed he had a drum tech on tour with him, and figured there was probably more chance of him answering. So the question was posted. 5 minutes later Brad answered. YES! DM me. I was not expecting that!
A couple of weeks later, just when I thought my dreams had turned to dust, I received a DM from Brad out of the blue to say, basically how can we do this. I live in LA, you live in Manchester. Ah, where there is a will, there's a way Mr Wilk!!
In the meantime, an official Beat it Project letter was sent via airmail to Brad's record company in Nashville. Maybe this would create some interest. A few weeks later, an email arrived from Vector records. Bingo! they had received my letter, and if I could contact them we could try and arrange something when Prophets of Rage were in the UK on tour. I was delighted that somebody had taken the time to read the letter, and felt a sense of pride.
Now all I had to do was wait for the POR tour dates to be announced! The first date to be announced was the legendary download festival in Derby, This would be fairly easy from a travel perspective, but unfortunately I would need to apply for a Press pass, backstage passes, and get through the general red tape of security at a festival. This was not an option. Back to the drawing board. Brad's PR manager suggested the Brixton Academy gig in June, as this would be much simpler to organise. I would just need to arrange travel, book time off work, arrange childcare and decide which camera equipment to take. Easy!
A good friend of mine suggested she could come as my assistant, which would be perfect from the perspective of carrying heavy equipment etc. Unfortunately one night after a couple of glasses of prosecco , the friend mounted a hover board, which flew out from underneath her, sending her arm first into a metal bin. The arm did not like this, and fractured in many different places. In a world of pain, she rang me to tell me the news. It could have been a lot worse. So with my friend in plaster and out of action, I decided to go it alone.
On Tuesday 13th June, (lucky 13) I boarded the happy train to London, loaded up like a donkey with photo gear ready for my meet and greet with one of the best drummers on the planet. No pressure then.
Brixton Academy is an iconic building which has seen entertainers from all genres and backgrounds grace its stage since 1929 when it was the art deco Astoria cinema and theatre. Plans were made to demolish the crumbling building in the 70's, to make way for a petrol station however in 1983, the venue was bought for £1 and re-opened as the Brixton Academy music venue where bands such as The Clash, and The Police used it for rehearsal space. It has since been used for live video shoots and album recordings, (Faith no more, New Order, Wham, Hole, David Gray, Motorhead, Inspiral Carpets, Franz Ferdinand, QOTSA, Kasabian, the list goes on and on...) anyway, that was a short history lesson, back to the story. The building has various entrances/exits, and knowing which one leads to the backstage area is tricky when you have never been to the venue before.
Heading to the back of the building, a group of hardcore fans had gathered outside what I guessed was probably the backstage entrance. Here goes! Entering the building , Brad's Publicist was there to greet me. I was told there would be a very limited time slot for the images, at Brad's kit, and with no lighting set up possible. Oh dear, I said pointing to my case of lights which had just been dragged halfway across London." Is there a possibility of using some small lights?" . Not really. "They are really small". Ok, you have 3 minutes to set them up.
Good job I know my equipment and how to set it up in 3 minutes. Sweating and with my heart beating out of my chest the lights were ready for action.
Mr Wilk suddenly appeared with his band mates Tim Commerford, (RATM) Chuck D, (Public Enemy) Tom Morello, (RATM) DJ Lord (Public Enemy) and Breal (Cypress Hill) . This was a very surreal moment for me when you consider these guys have made some pretty amazing music over the years. Music I danced to as a student many years ago, and still dance to (maybe on a wild night) . These legends filed past me in a line, and every one of them said hello. Brad and I shook hands and we made our way to the Prophets of Rage drum kit, which was stunning. Brad's drum tech the lovely Tanner Robbins became my photo assistant for the duration of the shoot! . We then made our way back to the corridor where I very quickly made plans to photograph Brad sat on a prophets of Rage flight case, with some natural light coming from the window opposite and a couple of small lights to fill in and to create a shadow on the wall opposite.
Working on the fly is sometimes the only option. And with such limited time available, decisions have to be made fast. Brad was very patient and cooperative, but was not afraid to tell me if he didn't want to do something, which you have to respect as a photographer. And I didn't expect anything less from Brad to be honest. I guess there has to be a compromise between what the subject feels comfortable with and what the photographer is aiming to achieve. As the shoot came to an end, Brad commented "thanks, that was painless...." . He was just about to leave when I presented him with a card to say thanks for taking part in the project. He took the card and disappeared to the dressing room. As I began packing my gear away, he came back to ask if we could get a photo together. Brad Wilk asked me for a selfie !! Unfortunately, due to the fast pace of the shoot, and my brain fog, the sticks brought along to get signed for the beat it auction never got signed. So Brad , if you are reading this....
I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to meet Brad and photograph him for the beat it project. The Prophets of Rage team , including security, and backstage crew were all extremely friendly and helpful throughout my time at the venue. So thanks Brad, and the band for allowing me into your world for an hour, and for supporting men being treated for urological cancers @ The Christie Hospital. And when Brad Wilk asks you if you are staying for the show, always say YES!!!!!!!