47th Cambridge Folk Festival

Talking To...Nick Elliott

Whilst best known as a rock photographer, Nick Elliott has been a regular in the pit at Cambridge Folk Festival for the last ten years. He's part of a group of regular photographers nicknamed the Pit Ponies.
For a few of those ten years, Nick was shooting the festival as part of the Fatea team, so when he said that he was bringing out a book covering some of his best images from that period, I thought it would be a good time to record a chat.
#NK=Neil King #NE=Nick Elliott

#NK Nick, first of all you're better known as a rock photographer, so how did the Cambridge Folk Festival book come about?

#NE About two years ago, I was approached by a specialist music book publisher called Rufus Stone, who essentially do limited editions of rock books. They'd been impressed with photographs of bands they'd seen that I'd worked with in the rock world. They wanted to do a book and from there a series of books on my rock photography.
We looked into that when it first came up and then as we got more and more into the project, Rufus Stone, were saying that they really liked the images, they were very contemporary, very modern art. So they said they wanted to do more and pretty much gave me cart blanche to do whatever I wanted to do.
They asked what I really wanted and I said that I had so much from the Cambridge Folk Festival, a lot of, in my opinion, incredible images having worked the festival for eleven years, would it be possible to do something from that, I'd love to do it. They agreed to that and said let's give it a go.
That was all sorted about eighteen months ago and it was all really pulled together for September of last year.

#NK So over those ten years, I guess about four hundred different artists have played the festival. How did you whittle it down ? Was it about the names or the images?

#NE It was always image lead. This book, although it is endorsed by the Cambridge Folk Festival, it was always going to be an image lead book. If the image stood up to it's place in the book, it would get there, regardless of if they were big artists or everyday artists.

#NK Which begs the question, how long did it take you to wade through, what must have been thousand of images ?

#NE I guess we looked at something like fifteen thousand images over an eight month period. There were always some standouts that I had in my head right from the very start, Robert Plant, Joan Baez, Bettye Lavette, Shamekia Copeland, Julian Cope, all immediately sprang to mind, Martha Wainwright, those type of artists, who I personally think I've taken some cracking shots of.

#NK Continuing that on, Plant and Baez make up the two different covers, how did you distil it down to that?

#NE That was a joint design concept with the council because they wanted to run and image of an artist on the front, rather than an image that showed a folk festival arrangement of tents, that kind of stuff. I wasn't over keen of having artist images on the front, it's a personal thing that I have. The main idea was being drawn towards Baez as she was a figurehead of the folk movement.
Robert Plant was really my choice, along with the publishers. I guess because of who he is and having been a big part of my life and my career, I also wanted an image that steered more towards rock. It sort of carried over the rock part of it into a folk genre.
Some questions had been asked about how having shot Maiden and AC/DC how I came to be at the folk festival. So the two things kind of drifted over with the Robert Plant shot.

#NK Am I right in thinking that when you order your copy, you can go with your own choice of cover? Does that mean that each book is individually bound?

#NE Yes, each one is bespoke to the person that buys them. Technically there are three front covers as the deluxe edition carries a slightly different title, "Ten A Decade In Images" as opposed to the standard edition which is "A Decade In Images".
You can choose the cover of "A Decade In Images", which don't include as many images as the deluxe version. It come with a lot more things. "Ten" comes with a full leather cover in it's own flight case which is al liveried up.

#NK But even what you call the standard edition is a very limited edition, not the sort of book that you can go and pick off the shelves at Smiths.

#NE That's right the standard edition is limited to a thousand and the deluxe to two hundred. They are all bespoke to the person that ordered them. We've been flexible about that. There was a guy at the festival that had made a special trip to come and buy a copy of the book. He know about the book and knew my work.
He went to the festival and when he had a look at the deluxe copy, there's a black and white shot in there that I shot on stage with The Saw Doctors and the guy could see himself in the crowd. As it happened he really wanted to have that shot in the book, so Rufus Stone are going to change the pagination and stitch a copy of that image into his book.
The object of the exercise was never to flood the market, these books are special, hopefully they'll become collectable. These are never to be repeated editions. I was very insistent on that when we hooked up with Rufus Stone. It was top draw to be able to do this with my work.

Continued

Photocredits: Nick Elliot & Neil King - Cat
Nick Elliott & Mark Radcliff - Phil Carter