Iconic images will rock the ages

Freddie Mercury  performing at The Hammersmith Odeon, London, November 29, 1975. Picture  by Steve Emberton
Freddie Mercury performing at The Hammersmith Odeon, London, November 29, 1975. Picture by Steve Emberton

He has photographed some of the most famous faces in pop history, from Rod Stewart and Bob Marley to The Who and Lou Reed.

His iconic image of Sex Pistols star Sid Vicious and girlfriend Nancy Spungen was selected by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 50 greatest music portraits of all time.

Steve Emberton in his Amble gallery, holding his iconic image of Sid Vicious and girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

Steve Emberton in his Amble gallery, holding his iconic image of Sid Vicious and girlfriend Nancy Spungen.

He was picked as Queen’s tour photographer, worked for major titles like NME and his star-studded shots have appeared on everything from album covers to T-shirts.

And now, renowned photographer Steve Emberton is giving people the chance to see his vast and impressive collection of music archive images in a new display in his home town of Amble.

The 69-year-old is launching The Harbour Gallery today. Based in the former town council room at The Harbour Master’s Building, on The Quayside, it will be open every Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm and admission is free.

The showcase is a who’s who of rock ’n’ roll and pop greats, with his pictures of legends such as Kiss, Rolling Stones, the Clash, Iggy Pop and Bryan Ferry, among many others, adorning the walls.

The Rolling Stones, from left, Bill Wyman, Ronnie Wood and Mick Jagger, performing at Earls Court, London, in May 1976. Photo by Steve Emberton.

The Rolling Stones, from left, Bill Wyman, Ronnie Wood and Mick Jagger, performing at Earls Court, London, in May 1976. Photo by Steve Emberton.

It will also give music lovers the chance to purchase limited-edition prints, greetings cards and T-shirts and see Steve’s collection of original dark-room prints, featuring the likes of Midge Ure, Shakin’ Stevens and Queen.

And Steve, who made his name capturing some of the industry’s most famous faces during the 70s and 80s, is hoping the venture will be a smash hit. He said: “I am really excited about this project. It is a chance for people to see my work and I hope it works out.

“I never really intended to do something like this, but I saw that the place was available and decided to jump in with both feet.

“I think people who were into their music in the 70s and 80s will be interested in what I have got. After all, you don’t find a collection of music archive images around every corner.”

Portrait of Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen taken at Sid's mews house in Maida Vale, London, January 1978. Pic ture by Steve Emberton

Portrait of Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen taken at Sid's mews house in Maida Vale, London, January 1978. Pic ture by Steve Emberton

Steve came to Amble in May last year, moving up from Bedford after falling in love with the area during a series of holidays in Northumberland.

“I loved it more and more each time I came back and it ticks all the boxes – I love walking, I love playing golf and I still love taking pictures,” he said.

In August, self-taught photographer Steve auctioned off some of his limited-edition prints at Amble Harbour Day, to help raise funds for Amble RNLI’s appeal to raise £200,000 towards the cost of its new Shannon lifeboat.

He said: “I’m a big believer in the lifeboat organisation, as well as the mountain rescue team, because they are run by volunteers and they do an amazing job. I asked if they would be interested in auctioning off some of my prints at the Harbour Day and it helped raise a few hundred pounds for the lifeboat, which is very important in a port town like Amble.”

Kiss, taken on Westminster Bridge in London,  May 1976. Picture by Steve Emberton

Kiss, taken on Westminster Bridge in London, May 1976. Picture by Steve Emberton

Life in Amble is certainly a far cry from Steve’s whirlwind experiences of the 70s and 80s.

He admits: “It was a good time to be in the music business and I was in it for the best period. I think that sums it up. I shot a lot of people during that time.

“Things changed over time though and as a photographer, you began to lose your freedom. Record agencies and agents began to play a part and bands started wanting control of the images and were telling you what you could and couldn’t do.”

But those magic days of yesteryear were a dream for Steve, who was able to combine his love of music with his passion for photography. And his story, from amateur snapper to world-renowned photographer, is one of dedication and commitment.

Born in Idaho, America, he joined the US Air Force at the age of 17 and a few months later he found himself stationed in England. The year was 1964. “England in the 60s was a great place to be with so much happening in the music scene, I just couldn’t get enough of it,” he said.

Having completed his tour of duty, Steve went back to the US for a few years, but he always had a strong desire to return to England. He did in the early 70s and that was when he decided to make a career of photography.

Steve said: “From an early age I have loved taking pictures of just about anything, but my true passion is photographing people. I had the desire but no formal training so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”

He read every book and magazine he could lay his hands on to do with photography. He studied and practised every chance he got to develop the acknowledge and skills he would require. Steve also worked avidly in his home darkroom, teaching himself the art of printing.

About a year later he got his first break. A friend suggested he photograph a band that was going to be playing in a local pub. A PR company saw the images and then arranged a photo pass to Don McLean’s Hyde Park concert. By chance Don’s manager asked Steve to take some shots of Don and the audience.

“One of my images was used full page in a music paper, Melody Maker, and I was on the road to becoming a music photographer,” said Steve.

He later became the staff photographer for another music paper, Record Mirror. He also worked for the NME, Sounds and other music magazines, newspapers, record labels and PR companies. Over a 40-year career, Steve has photographed pop stars, TV personalities, politicians, actors and models. His work has appeared on album sleeves, in magazines, books, newspapers and on television.

Rolling Stone selected his shot of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen for its 50th Anniversary Of Rock, Fifty Greatest Portraits Issue in September 2004, alongside the work of others such as Richard Avedon, Anton Corbijn, Herb Ritts, David Bailey and Annie Leibovitz.

With such a passion for photography, Steve wants to give something back and is looking to run a series of ad hoc workshops in the town, such as a quick-start introductory course and a more advanced series of lessons.

He said: “I like helping people take better pictures. If people have no understanding of what the camera can or can’t do, then you have one, if not both, hands tied behind your back before you start.”

For more information about the gallery and the workshops, call Steve on 07870 215459 or email mail@steveemberton.com

He also has a website at steveemberton.com