It was a warm sunny day in July 2017, the day before the start of my third annual visit to Truck festival in Oxfordshire. It was also an important date (20th July 2017), but more on that later.
I was on my way to Truck festival from Bristol via Robin Bennett’s house which is not far from the festival site. My car was loaded with camping gear and photographic equipment including a 3m wide roll of white paper which I was planning to use as a photographic backdrop over the weekend. The weather forecast for the weekend was unsettled and wet. I feared my pristine roll of white paper would not escape unscathed from the weekend’s likely mud fest.
But before the weekend could begin, I had the small matter of meeting three cosmic spacemen ready to light up the celestial sky with their forthcoming new album. Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), Danny Wilson (Danny and the Champions of the World), and Tony Poole (Starry Eyed and Laughing, and master record producer), had cut their first album together as a new three-piece band under the eponymous name of BWP. The band described the album as Rickenbacker twang-based guitar songs and vocal harmonies that nodded firmly in the direction of CSN and The Byrds. Robin suggested they gave me a sample listen to the pre-mastered record while I took some promotion photos for the album at Robin’s house. I felt privileged and excited by the prospect, if a little bit nervous.
I arrived at the house early. Robin was on his own. He described their zany idea a bit more while he taped two large Tupperware bowls together to make the first of the three large plastic astronaut helmets that the band were intending to wear in the shoot. Danny’s duty was to supply the white B&Q disposable overalls that would be the space suits, but he hadn’t showed up yet. Tony was on his way too.
The concept had got my imagination going some time ago when they initially booked me for the job. They told me they wanted to dress up as spacemen, in true Mr Ben fashion, making the costumes themselves out of household items. I loved the idea. I instantly thought of The Flaming Lips and the crazy costumes the band wears on stage. But other ideas came to mind like the classic shots of proud returning Apollo astronauts lined up in rocket hangars wearing their heavy space suits and with large helmets tucked firmly under their arms. B movies from the 1950s also sprung to my mind. I had ideas.
Danny and Tony soon showed up and the trio was complete. We had some laughs about the idea and everyone was up for it. Robin finished putting together the helmets, then they got out of their trousers and into their white overalls before realising that the garments were so flimsy that they were transparent. Their boxer shorts could clearly be seen through the material. See-through astronaut suits were not going to put off these intrepid explorers though. They stuck on the cd of the new album and I took some time moving furniture around and erecting the backdrop in Robin’s living room, while listening in.
At long last, all was ready and we started taking pictures. I lined them up as per an initial idea and within a few shots I had what I wanted. Robin was in the foreground all wide starry eyed and staring up in wonder at some far away celestial being, Danny in his glasses and beard looking every bit the Chief Science Officer, and Tony at the rear, the seasoned veteran of many space missions looking a wee bit concerned about what was looming ahead.
It seemed like it had taken an age to get prepared with the outfits and the set and yet a comparatively short time to get the photographs that I wanted. Feeling the need to continue shooting and get the most out of the effort we had put in, we tried out other ideas which involved introducing items from Robin’s children’s toy box. Amongst these treasures he managed to find a large plastic model of the moon, some athletic rosettes, rucksacks and a rather nifty interplanetary mobile complete with orbiting planets.
We spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the album and taking more pictures in various poses and arrangements.
And here is where the reference in my opening paragraph comes in. One particular shot of Tony with his foot on the moon was to become very poignant later on in the day when I received a phone call with a very excited Tony on the other end of the line. He told me that he’d done some research on his return home and discovered that the date of our photoshoot had coincided with an important anniversary that took place on the same day in 1969. On this day 48 years ago (20th July 1969), the Eagle lunar module from Apollo 11 landed on the moon. On the following day, Neil Armstrong, who was aboard, became the first man to set foot on our closest astronomical neighbour. The photograph of Tony with his foot on the plastic moon suddenly took on a whole new significance.
All in all the photoshoot had been quite an experience and proven to be a great success on several levels.
The band’s debut album was released to great critical acclaim in April 2018.
The terrific video homage for the song ‘Funny Guys’ was released today. Check it out using the link below, and try and spot The First Band in Space newspaper headline at 2.40.