Hi, I’m Dionne Cyprus, a photographer and drummer from Manchester, UK.
The Beat It Project is a unique men’s cancer fundraiser.
As 2016 was drawing to a close, I felt the need to set myself a fresh challenge. Not only from a creative perspective, but a personal one too. I wanted to do something positive which would ultimately benefit other people. What could be more simple than combining my two passions, drumming and photography, to develop a project to raise funds for men’s cancer research at the Manchester Cancer Research centre.
The reason I chose to raise the money for Mens cancer research, was because my husband Chris was treated at the Christie Hospital twice, when he had testicular cancer. The 2 tumours were completely unrelated, with the second being a more aggressive type. Although he is now in remission, this has affected our lives in many different ways. It seemed fitting to raise money for a fund which would support other men going through similar treatment for urological cancers, like Chris.
During my time working as a medical photographer at the Christie Hospital, the project began to take shape, and grow into something bigger! I made a decision to set my fundraising target at 50k , and that I would photograph 50 amazing drummers from different genres, holding a ticketed fundraising event where I would auction off signed drum ware and exhibit images.
As the project gathered pace, it became apparent that I would need involvement from some high profile names in the drumming world , in order to create more interest and encourage people to donate to this great cause. Words cannot express how amazed I am at the drummers I have managed to get onboard so far. They have all been fantastic, giving me access to their world for even a few minutes has changed my life.
Many hours of hard work have contributed to the success of the project so far. However, none of it would have been possible without help from family, friends (old and new) and sponsors met along the way. You are all fantastic and very much appreciated.
I have a long way to go from a fundraising perspective, and will need support from drummers across the globe to reach my goal of 50K, so I can keep my promise to the Christie Hospital…
The 50k raised will fund a men’s cancer ‘live tissue biobank’ to be set up, using tissue collected from men having treatment at the Christie. This will allow detailed research to be carried out into the specific causes, and treatments for cancers affecting men (testicular, prostate, bladder) at the Manchester Cancer Research Centre.
Please get in touch via the ‘contact’ page if you are interested in supporting the project in any way. You can help simply by following the project on social media, retweeting, and expressing your words of support as I continue on my fundraising journey…
Lets beat men’s cancers !!
If you are a drummer keen to get involved with the Beat It Project and want to help raise funds for the Christie Hospital Charity, please drop me a line using the form provided.
You can also help raise funds by donating via the project's JustGiving page.
I had arranged to meet the legendary drummer Ralph Rolle of Chic at Blueprint Studios, in Salford, Manchester, where he was to hold a masterclass, and one to one lessons. Read More...
In my wisdom, I thought it would be a great idea to have a lesson at the same time as taking portraits for the Beat It Project! No pressure...
Chic have long been featured on my playlist, especially during my student days when they were a "getting ready to go out" favourite. I must have been born in the wrong era, as they say.
Alongside my love for Nirvana, and Soundgarden, who heavily influenced my love of drumming, disco was also the genre that sparked a love of music, and inspired me to start drumming. I challenge anybody NOT to dance along to the basslines of any Chic song!
Off I went to Blueprint Studios, in the heart of Manchester, best known for its involvement in the recording of Elbow's album 'Seldom Seen Kid'. I set off ridiculously early, to avoid any photographic mishaps, because as every photographer knows, technical issues have a habit of cropping up during the most important of shoots, and failing to prepare means preparing to fail (Benjamin Franklin)...
One of the downsides of not using an assistant on a job like this, is that there are usually lots of stairs to drag equipment up. I seem to have developed a knack for finding unsuspecting victims lurking around who I can rope in for help! This was no excepton, and Ian from Blueprint was luckily on hand to help.
As I began to set up my gear in the live room, which was already set up with a kit, I heard news that Ralph would be delayed, but was on his way.
In the meantime, I began to panic about my seriously undeveloped left hand skills. And the fact that I hadn't practiced that day.... too late for those kind of thoughts, he was already here!
Immediately, all my fears evaporated as I shook Ralph's hand. He apologised for being late, and we got chatting about the project and what I was trying to accomplish.
As the shoot commenced, I decided to take some closer in shots on Ralph's face while he was drumming to capture his wonderful expressions otherwise known as 'drum face'.
There is always the worry that the subject might not be comfortable with what you are asking them to do, which is understandable, but when you don't have a great deal of time to establish trust with somebody, you have to go with your instincts.
I was very lucky that Ralph was happy to go with this idea, and as the shoot progessed I knew these images would be some of the best taken for the project so far. Part of this was down to good organisaion, but also Ralph had completely diminished my nerves and put me at ease, which I was really grateful for.
As the shoot came to an end, it was time for the lesson! This is when the nerves really kicked in... it became clear from the start that this was not just a drum lesson. Ralph quickly picked up on an issue which has plagued me for most of my life, into adulthood. Lack of confidence.
This is something I am working on as a continuous project. As a late starter to drumming, and as a perfectionist, I find it hard to accept that it is going to take a long time to become proficient as a drummer. And when I see my favourite drummers playing with such ease, frustration kicks in. Why did I leave it until I was in my late 30’s to start learning… etc etc. Ralph advised me to practice opposite a mirror, so you can check posture, and how you project yourself whilst playing. Also to hit the drums with more aggression, and look like you are enjoying it! . These are all things I already knew, but when somebody like Ralph highlights it, it kicks your butt into gear.
As we talked , I asked Ralph if he thought it was too late for me to play in a band. I always assumed that a musician like Ralph must have a tough exterior being in the industry, but he became emotional, and his eyes welled up with tears.
"you need to take the word ‘can't ’, screw it up into a little ball, and throw it out the window…"
He was right. Limiting yourself just stops you having amazing experiences, regardless of success or failure. And you only fail when you give up.
As the lesson drew to a close, I asked if we could quickly take some images in the room next door, which had lots of natural light, and an amazing old gramophone and chair which was just asking for Ralph to sit in it. Ralph's manager Anne gave me literally 2 minutes to take a shot. Those were probably my favourite of the shoot.
Big thanks to Blueprint Studios, and to Ralph for supporting the Beat It Project, and for the life coaching session.Published: 23rd July 2018
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. Read More...
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 Brad's 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!!!!!!!
Some people are born to be a star, Ben Thatcher, drummer of Brighton's Royal Blood is one of those people. Not only is he cool and talented, he is also a kind soul who despite the soaring global success of the band, has managed to keep his feet firmly on the ground. Read More...
I couldn't do the Beat It project without attempting to get Ben on board, so after many emails and letters being sent, I was put in touch with his publicity assistant, (thanks to Brian Bumberry, legend). I was notified that the drummer was keen to get involved with the Beat It fundraiser, providing his schedule could accommodate it. What an amazing drummer to add to the Beat It Project team!
Could I meet him at the O2 Leicester? Just let me think about that for a moment ....... YES, always say yes when Ben Thatcher asks this question. Fifteen minutes was the given timescale, which is generous for a photo shoot of this kind. I could take some formal portraits then some at the kit. This sounded very promising.
So, a time was arranged and preparations began. Equipment lists, lighting tests, general panic. I would also need an assistant which came in the form of my husband, the inspiration for beat it, and my cousin's hubbie Graham who happens to live in Leicester, and has also unfortunately been affected by testicular cancer. As Graham knows the mean streets of Leicester well, he was drafted in as the designated driver/roadie.
Nerves always kick in before a shoot like this, when all kinds of disaster scenarios play through your head, such as equipment failure, making a fool of yourself in front of the subject, arriving late, the list goes on! but you have to try and keep things in perspective and expect the unexpected. You can be prepared to a certain degree, but in a situation like this you have to go with the flow and work with what you have, trusting your instincts as a photographer and making decisions on the fly.
Pulling up outside the venue, the hardcore fans were already queuing outside for the best view of the band. Watching us drag cases, light stands and a large kick drum head through security and straight into the backstage area really puzzled them! As we were ushered into the catering section, my first thought was, I am starving and could really go to town on the buffet. But I resisted. Music began to filter through from the main auditorium, sound check was under way and it sounded AMAZING!
Bear in mind this is my music of choice for the journey to work, music that brightens up the drudgery of sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. Music that makes you feel alive. And here we were, 3 people, the sound guys, and a couple of other people on stage, watching Royal Blood sound check. It made me feel really emotional. To think I had come this far, and created this opportunity with the project was a big deal.
When I got myself together and remembered I should probably be setting up equipment, it became apparent that the house lights would not be coming on for some time. Setting up lights in the pitch black is certainly a challenge!. Graham the roadie became my lighting engineer, and shone his i-phone torch for me. I was so glad I had assistants with me, just sharing the load of heavy equipment was an absolute blessing, as well as having people to take BTS images of the shoot.
I had just finished setting up, when Ben appeared as if by magic, and shook my hand, immediately putting me at ease.
I explained what I was hoping to do and invited him to take his place beneath the lights. He was very relaxed and happy to take direction which was great. After signing a drum head for the auction, we made our way to the stage to take some pics at the RB drumkit.
And what a stunning kit it is!! We took some action shots, Ben played some cool drum fills. And we were done. Or at least Ben was, I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to get on that kit. If you don't ask you don't get. "Can I have a bash on your kit"? "yeah go for it ". I could not believe this was happening.
As I began to play, I imagined the auditorium full of people coming to watch Royal Blood, and I was the stand-in as Ben was suddenly struck down with man flu, my dream was interrupted when: "Excuse me.... can you stop for a minute... we're doing an interview", said Mike Kerr, singer of Royal Blood. I apologised and stepped away from the kit. Ben looked over and said "you were really getting in the zone then weren't you?"....Yep.
What a great experience. Ben was a total star, and I am so grateful to him for supporting men being treated at the Christie. And not many drummers of his level allow other people to touch their kit. So thanks again Mike and Ben, and sorry for interrupting the interview.
Big thanks to Brian, Murray, and the RB backstage crew for being so helpful.
This would be no ordinary drum clinic. 2 world class drumming heroes would be attending, putting on a drum extravaganza for all of Stoke-On Trent to see !!
This could be my one and only chance of photographing Chad Smith, drummer of Red Hot Chili Peppers and all round legend. Read More...
Chad, along with Steve White was probably the first drummer who ignited the spark of my love of drums. Listening to Blood Sugar Sex Magik at the age of 14 totally blew my mind.
In hindsight, my lack of understanding of how the music industry/band PR works, was in my favour. I was blissfully unaware of how difficult it might be to organise 5 minutes in the presence of an A-list drummer!
The organiser of the clinic, Dean, was very positive about the Beat It Project and initially seemed happy to accommodate my request to photograph Chad, which was great news.
Who else could I mither with details of this project? The legendary Steve White.
I will always be thankful to Steve, I wrote him a letter at the age of 14 to tell him I wanted to be a drummer, he sent some sticks and a hand written letter, never been happier!
Steve agreed to have a portrait taken of himself but couldn't speak for Chad. Fair enough. Meanwhile , Dean had been bombarded with people asking him to get Chad to sign various items during the drum clinic, "Can you get Chad to sign my brother's mate's vinyl collection?" ...you get the picture.
The e mail came crashing into my inbox on a Monday morning. It was the organiser Dean, he was really sorry but they would no longer be able to accommodate my request, as there were too many other requests for him to fulfil. If I wanted to do it, I would need to contact Chad's people to arrange.
My heart sank. I had already booked a day off work, payed for a hotel room, hired equipment, SOLD MY SOUL TO SATAN!
You can find any information you want if you trawl the web long enough. Fact. I found some contacts at Chad's PR team BB Gun, based in the US. A begging letter was composed, I pressed the send button, et voila. This was a long shot.
The next day, I pensively scanned my e mails. NO WAY! My gratuitous begging e mail had found its way to Chad's personal PA. Sweet Jesus!! Chad had agreed to have a portrait taken. If I could set up half an hour before the start of the show , he would be happy to do it.
In that one email , everything changed. It restored some faith that I wasn't wasting my time on the project after all. Cue the Lip chewing, nail biting anxiety, and questions running through my head.
What if he decides not to do it, will he have a kit set up, which hat will he be wearing ..... ??
The day finally arrived. December 13th 2016. Lucky number 13.
I kissed my loved ones farewell, and set off in my Mazda2 packed to the rafters with camera gear, a kick drum skin, some sticks, and a sharpie pen.
Pulling into the hotel car park, the enormity of what was going to happen suddenly hit me.
In a cold sweat I rang my other half , telling him I couldn't do it.
In the words of Ron Burgundy, this was kind of a big deal! Don't be ridiculous, get in there and just do it. I pulled myself together and took a deep breath.
Just at that moment, an animated figure appeared at the fire exit door. It was Chad. Now I had to somehow drag my gear past him without tripping over myself. I opted for dragging the gear past him, whilst going red and smiling like an idiot.
I finally found Dean, the organiser of the shindig. It was great to finally put a face to a name. In mid conversation, he suddenly shouted Chad over to meet me, and the rest went into slo-mo. As he approached and put his hand out , I gripped it as tightly as possible and shook vigorously (nobody likes a limp handshake)
The shaking carried on for quite some time, and in my best confident voice, I described the Beat It Project and explained he would be having a portrait taken, the lights will be set up ready, we can do some quick shots and finished. Ok fine said Chad. Great! (he obviously didn't get the original memo). So off I went to feel anxious for a few hours, and find somewhere to set my gear up. After heaving a tonne of equipment up 2 flights of stairs, into a lift and up a mountain (it felt that far) I found the room.
The lovely people at Fat Pigeon Films were also there, setting up equipment for an interview. Chad and Steve would be interviewed in one corner, I would set up in the other.
As the interview came to a close, Chad looked over, gestured to the lights and looked bemused. "It's for the photo shoot", I said, grabbing his arm and dragging him into position. I had forgotten how tall he was (6'3) , as I adjusted the lights and turned around to start shooting, he had stuck a piece of black masking tape over his eyes. Go with the flow, I thought....
Can you scream at the camera ??? .............F@%CK YOU!!!! came the very loud reply.
Chad was a total professional, playing up to the camera and giving me exactly what I needed for the project. After all, he didn't have to do it. For that, I will always be grateful.
Feeling elated and very proud of myself, I skipped off to the bar for a beer or 12. Whilst sat contemplating the day, a bang on the back of my chair startled me, and I turned around to see Mr Smith. Armed with Dutch courage, I said "Come here you! " and hugged him in an extremely awkward manner. He looked at me and said quietly "the word out on the street, is that you blagged your way in... that's cool" . And with that he was gone. What an amazing day.
Special thanks to Brian Bumberry @ BB gun and Laura for helping make it happen.
I recently had the honour of meeting and photographing the lovely Joe Donovan of Stockport band Blossoms. Joe agreed to sponsor the Beat It Project, during what is probably the bands busiest time, festival season! Read More...
I managed to arrange a shoot at the fantastic Sub Pressure recording studios and rehearsal rooms, in the sleepy town of Diggle, Oldham which is run by Chris Pearce, Blossoms' sound engineer.
The shoot was literally organised the night before, so it was a thinking on your feet kind of shoot, using minimal lighting in this case a couple of speedlites, some blue gels and my trusty Canon 5D to create a moody dark vibe which i think suits the subject well. I would like to say a big thankyou to Joe and the rest of the band for giving their time to this cause!Published: 16th June 2016
Donations to the beat it project will help support a specific area of research managed by the Christie Charity. The Genito Urinary Cancer Group at The Christie is one of the most advanced Urological Cancer teams in the UK. All funds raised will help provide a research scientist post, who will be given specialist training in the delivery of curative radiotherapy techniques for men's cancers including Prostate and bladder.
An award winning team of Master Craftsmen, based in Stockport, Manchester. They produce an amazing range of drum kits, with the emphasis on 'duty to quality'.
Footes Music, London’s favourite music shop was founded in Hornsey Road in 1920 by Charles Ernest Foote. Specialising in drums, Footes Music display the largest selection of drums, percussion and string instruments for sale in central London.
LumoPro lighting and support equipment made for photographers, by photographers.
Alan Van Kleef crafts custom snare drums and kits from materials such as stainless steel, aluminium, copper, titanium and a selection of exotic wood veneer finishes. VK Drums have become 'must-have' instruments in the arsenals of influential artists including Steve White, Thomas Lang, Matt Chamberlain, Matt Cameron, Dre "Energy" Boyd and many more.
Global Grooves is an internationally recognised carnival arts company based in Mossley, Greater Manchester. Specializing in diverse music, dance and carnival.
The Vale is a fantastic, friendly and community-focused arts and learning space in Mossley. Sited in a refurbished mill unit, their multi-use space offers everyone a high quality and regular programme of events and performances.