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Interview by Jaideep V.G.
JØRGEN ANGEL doesnt need to tell you stories to earn your respect. All he needs to do is show you 50,000 photographs of the biggest rock acts the world has ever known. The Dane, who photographed Led Zeppelins first ever jam, talks to Jaideep V.G. about classic rock and the time Angus Young dropped his pants.
|September 7, 1968 was a Saturday and Jørgen Angel was a disappointed 17-year-old kid. As on most Saturday nights, Jørgen had landed up at the Gladsaxe Teen Club in Copenhagen with his mothers holiday camera and fathers old flash. Hed been told The Yardbirds would be jamming at the Gladsaxe that night, but when he saw a little sign at the club announcing some band called The New Yardbirds, he was sure no one from the supergroup he worshipped would be on stage.
He was right, there was just Jimmy Page at the club that night.
The other three musicians were called Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones.
Six months later, they came back to the Gladsaxe and the handbills said: Led Zeppelin (formerly The Yardbirds).
Since then (actually, since a few years before that first Zep jam), Jørgen has stood on stage, back stage, between musicians, behind the drummer and on occasion, at made-to-order strip shows, with just his camera, an old flash and an undying fetish for classic rock, clicking over 50,000 pictures of the biggest bands mankind has known.
When Jørgen says Jimmy he could easily be talking about Hendrix or Page hes hung out with both of them. When he says he cant really speak for music thats on the airwaves today because thats not his music and in the same breath proclaims, thats not to say all the music that was made in the 60s was great, there was a lot of lousy music back then, you know youre talking to a guy who doesnt need to tell you stories to earn your respect. All he has to do is spread 50,000 pictures in front of you.
|Jaideep V.G.: Your first pictures were of Sonny and Cher. You were just 14 when you took those pictures, what was it like?
Jørgen Angel: It was not at a concert. It was a press reception that somebody took me along to and I took pictures with my Kodak Instamatic. They (the pictures) were not very good. This was at an outdoor thing at the Tivoli Garden. I got to meet the both of them and Chers younger sister. They signed some of my records.
J.V.G.: Did you talk to them at all?
J.A.: I didnt talk very much. I was just a kid. I couldnt get in the way of professionals. I just wanted to take a few photos and get the album signed.
J.V.G.: Did it hit you then that you wanted to spend the rest of your life taking pictures of musicians?
|J.V.G.: Lets talk about the centerpiece of the story photographing Zep jamming for the first time. What was it like, that show? Did you have a clue as to how big these guys would get?
J.A.: First of all, I was pretty disappointed because The Yardbirds were supposed to play that night. It was sometime in the evening that I heard a band called The New Yardbirds would perform. I thought maybe that has nothing to do with The Yardbirds. Maybe theres just one person left from The Yardbirds, which turned out to be right, it was only Jimmy Page from The Yardbirds who played that night. And the others I had never seen or heard of. But when they went on stage it was something very special and different and spectacular.
J.V.G.: What were they like as a band? Were they tight?
J.A.: They were full of energy and they were different. I had no idea they were going to be big. Actually, this little club, The Gladsaxe Teen Club, where they played had a lot of big acts jamming there. Deep Purple played there, before Gillan and Glover joined the band and Nice played there. So did Ten Years After. Lot of bands that were known or soon to be known played there. I mean, Ten Years After didnt get world famous till Woodstock. We were used to seeing fairly well known bands there. Thats why The Yardbirds were supposed to be there that night, but it turned out to be someone else.
|J.V.G: Who impressed you the most among the four?
J.A.: When I look at the photos, I can see Ive taken many photos of Robert Plant because usually its the singer who is the most visual on stage. But I took pictures of Jimmy Page as well. When I look at the old negatives I see I actually walked all around the stage when they were playing, but one time I went in between John Paul Jones and John Bonham to take a shot of Bonham. I can also see that I came down to where the audience was to take a group shot because I thought that this was a unit more than one person. When I think back, this may not be true, but I think I told myself that I should get a photo of the whole unit, not just of the frontman.
J.V.G.: Did you speak to the guys at all?
J.A.: I dont think I did, but they came back about six months later at the same club and I talked to them in the dressing room and I took some photos of them. The funny thing is when they came back, when they changed their name to Led Zeppelin, Zep was not that well known yet, so what the club did to get people to come to the concert was put up a sign saying Led Zeppelin and in brackets formerly The Yardbirds, so people would come and watch this unknown band called Led Zeppelin.
J.V.G.: I know you really like The Pretty Things, but which act do you think is fantastic as far as stage presence goes?
J.A.: Well, I think the best live act ever was the J Geils Band, but funnily enough, I havent put any live shots of them on the site because nobody is interested in them any more. But they had such incredible energy on stage, not only because the singer Peter Wolf is spectacular, but the other members on the band are great as well.
Uriah Heep in the early 70s were an excellent live band, I would also mention Queen. There was a band called Geordie, the singer was Brian Johnson who is now with AC/DC, they toured a lot in Denmark and I spent a lot of time with them and took photos. They were really good on stage. There are two other names Id like to mention: Arthur Brown and Screaming Lord Sutch. Arthur Brown has the best voice in rock history ever, along with Freddie Mercury, perhaps.
J.V.G.: You hung out with Angus Young and Ozzy, are they as insane off stage as they are on it?
J.A.: Its interesting you ask me that, because both of them are wild stage performers but they are very natural, kind and uncomplicated off-stage. I only met Angus Young once and Ozzy about three or four times, and he was always a nice person. I know people think hes crazy and what not, but back then he was the kindest one of Black Sabbath. They were all over the place when they were on stage, but off stage they were very different. If you ask me if they had anything in common, it would be that they were both nice people.
J.V.G.: But there must have been weird moments with them...
J.A.: If you look at my pictures of Angus Young, youll see that in one frame he drops his pants. He was a funny man. There was this press reception at this dark bar when AC/DC were opening for Black Sabbath and there was just this one journalist and I who showed up and it was a boring dark bar and I asked him if we could go outside and we had great fun. There is also a whole series of shots taken at a seedy bar with Alice Cooper. They are great fun, but I dont know if you can print them in India (hes right, we cant, but you can check out the Alice Cooper photos at
J.V.G.: I heard that most of the photographs were locked away and you didnt know where they were, is this true?
J.A.: Well, I knew where they were, but they were packed away. When I started shooting music photographs, I had a small darkroom in my parents house and the negatives were in there. When my parents died, I cleared the negatives and took them to my place and put them in the attic. They were there for many years. Frankly, I had no idea that anyone was interested in them. I had no idea that magazines like Classic Rock and Mojo and Uncut would want them. I thought I was the only person in the world who was still interested in classic rock.
J.V.G.: You couldnt be more wrong...
J.A.: Thats what I found out and Im so happy thats the case. I found out about this interest for rock music when I was the arts coordinator for the Copenhagen Cultural Capital of Europe in 1996. That year I was asked to be the coordinator of interactive and electronic art. I was told that I had to have e-mail communication with artistes and professors we were bringing down from London, Canada and the US.
I got hooked on to the Net and one day I heard my favorite Uriah Heep song and wanted to know what album it was on and I thought Id look on the Net and I found a site in Brazil only about Uriah Heep and I was amazed. I talked to them and sent them pictures of Heep. That interest led to a German group, which wanted to do a book on Uriah Heep and I thought maybe I should put them up online. There are about 2,000 of them now and I keep putting more images up.
J.V.G.: You have more images?
J.A.: I have about 50,000 negatives.
J.V.G.: You said youve stopped taking pictures of musicians, why is that?
J.A.: In your first e-mail, youd told me about (Woodstocks official photographer Elliott) Landys views (on how the music scene has changed). I started at a time when you could meet the bands and have a drink at the bar or maybe get a meal or something. You had asked me if youll ever hear music like that again, I think the music then was more innocent... I dont know if Im being clear...
J.V.G.: Was there a greater purity of purpose back then... with music being marketed less and played more?
J.A.: Thats right. People back then musicians, people at record companies, photographers did things for the love of music. The music scene was more of a community service. For many it wasnt even a business and then it became a music industry and Im not even sure that the people in the industry are happy about it. A big name in the music industry, one who has been around for many years told a colleague of mine that the people he meets in the record company when he begins recording are not even there when the record is completed. But back then the bands would recognize familiar faces, hang out and it was like meeting an old friend. Things were possible back then that are impossible now. You could go on tour with the band and even hang out at their homes. Thats not possible for an ordinary photographer now.
J.V.G.: Is there any band around now that even comes close to the bands that you photographed?
J.A.: I dont think I can answer that because I dont follow the new music closely. But I cant, off the top of my head, mention a band.
|J.V.G.: Given that you could hang out with the bands back then and how things have changed now, would you recommend the job of a music photographer to a kid?
J.A.: Its sad, isnt it? The amount of control thats come in. I mean if you had control like that back then, there wouldnt be a documentation of Zeppelins first performance. When Jimmy Page got a copy of the lithograph, he wrote to me saying Jørgen, thanks for being there. Well, its not for me to give advice on career, but if thats what he or she wants, then go for it. You can always leave the business like I did.
J.V.G.: I forgot to ask how old you are...
J.A.: Im 53... but before you finish, theres something I want to say...
J.V.G.: Go ahead...
J.A.: I want to answer a question you had e-mailed me about how I view musicians and music photography of today. There is good music coming out today and there are good musicians around. So Im not saying all music that comes out today is crap and all music that came out 30 to 40 years ago was great. There was a lot of lousy music back then and maybe Im not even qualified to talk about music today because I dont listen to it and Im biased towards classic rock, because thats my music. I know I sound like this grumpy old man, but thats OK. I think with the controls that exist today, many of the music photographers are doing a great job. I personally cant get used to the idea of working with digital cameras, but thats just the grumpy old man talking.
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