Buffalo Tom Skins
I’ve been a fan of Boston’s Buffalo Tom since the early; their scuzzed-up, melodic rock had a huge following in New Zealand, partly thanks to the fact the band were taking some of their cues from the bands on NZ’s own Flying Nun Records. Their album ‘Sleepy Eyed’ was rarely off my CD player when it came out, and nearly 20 years later I still consider it a cast-iron classic. After interviewing them for their album ‘Smitten’, I became friends with bassist Chris Colbourn, and over the following decade I caught up with the band intermittently in London and Boston as they took a break from making records, interrupted by an occasional gig.
By the time they recorded a new record – 2007’s ‘Three Easy Pieces’ – I was already embroiled in my soundcheck project, shooting bands on black and white film as they rehearse for the night’s show. So when they announced they were playing London’s Scala in the summer of , I headed down with a bag full of Neopan and Tri-X to shoot the soundcheck. Little did I know that a shot from that day would end up becoming my first album cover. Nowadays, when I shoot the bands at soundcheck I keep it very simple – a Nikon FM2n with a 50mm lens and a Nikon F100 with an 85mm lens, on Fuji Neopan rated at 6400, after realising that projects work best when they have a uniform feel. But at the time I was also taking along a Voigtlander Bessaflex, a new M42 mount SLR which was made by Cosina in the mid-2000s, loaded with Tri-X film. As the BT boys – Colbourn, singer/guitarist Bill Janovitz and drummer Tom Maginnis – soundchecked, I crept around the stage, taking shots as unobtrusively as I could.
As Tom started checking his kit, I rattled off a few frames on the Bessaflex, and caught him reaching out with a stick with the focus tight on the cymbals. Scanning the negs, I chose it as one of the shots to upload to the Flickr set of the day’s sessions, and thought little more of it. Fast forward to, when Chris mailed me to say the band were wrapping up work on the follow up album, ‘Skins‘, and that BT liked the shot and wanted to use it as the album cover. There was no way I was going to say no. If you’d have told me back in that a picture of mine would one day grace a Buffalo Tom album cover, I’d have been incredulous, mostly because before I started to learn the craft in 2000 with a manual camera, I was the very definition of a crap photographer.
As a fan it’s flattering, but also because the band’s album covers have included some truly iconic images. Their breakthrough album ‘Let Me Come Over’s cover is a classic image of an Aboriginal stockman by Michael O’Brien, while Sleepy Eyed’s surreal cover – a girl holding miniature skulls to her eyes – is by Magnum photographer Abbas. That’s humbling company to be in. The album also came with a set of fine art postcards, also featuring shots I took at the Scala and during their European tour in late. You can see them below. The ‘Skins’ cover is available as a 12 x 10 print, with only 100 for sale.