A former Lowedges chef who became one of the most esteemed photographers in rock and roll, working with over 3,000 musicians including The Arctic Monkeys and Madonna, talks about his 40 years in the industry.

From touring with The Rolling Stones to having dinner on Paul McCartney’s yacht, and being forced to shoot Blink-182 in a bathtub, Tony Mott reminisces about his time shooting some of the world’s most famous bands.

“The reality is that I’ve shot thousands of bands and musicians,” says Tony. “I’ve only met three a***holes, and that’s after more than 40 years experience. They’re not great time keepers, nor are they hugely reliable. But they’re definitely not all a***holes.”

The son of a steelworker, Tony, born in 1956, a loyal Blades fan, was raised in Lowedges. He lived in the city until he was 18, where he studied to become a French Chef in Granville Catering College and can recall clearly the ‘buzz’ of the Moor on a Saturday morning.

After qualifying as a chef, Tony worked in Surrey, before meeting an Australian girl and moving ‘down under’, but he soon discovered his real passion, and what would become his true calling in life, was photography.

Tony was introduced to what became his vocation by his childhood friend, Paul Mitchell, from Hackenthorpe, who worked on black and white portraits. He taught Tony how to process and print photographs, and this was the start of his lifelong love of the art.

Despite being born and bred in Sheffield, Tony has spent most of his life in Australia, admitting when he returned to the city in the late 80s, while working with the band U2, he got lost. “That period, when all those steelworks disappeared, Sheffield changed radically. When I left in ’76, people, including my dad, worked in the steelworks. That was the industry. So, it’s a hell of a shot to just be wondering around Attercliffe going to myself, ‘where the f**** has everything gone? You’ve got to remember, when I left, there was no Meadowhall or anything like that.”

Although Tony moved away from Sheffield almost 50 years ago and may have lost his Yorkshire drawl, he’s never lost that classic, old school Northern sense of humour. The anecdotes he has are endless, and his delivery when telling them is as magnetic and entertaining as the world’s best stand-up comedians. Referring to the Arctic Monkeys, he says: “The first time I worked with them, they asked me, ‘are you United or Wednesday then?’ As soon as I said United, that was sort of the end of that relationship really – I guess they’re all Wednesday”.

Paul McCartney in Sydney. Image credit: Tony Mott

In the early years after moving to Australia, Tony would take his camera into local pubs and photograph local bands. This is how he stumbled across the rock band Divinyls, known for their hit ‘I touch myself’ and went on to be a big success in Australia and the United States.

“I got lucky that they got famous when I was starting and so I rode their coattails to certain extent”, Tony says. “I never really ever meant it to happen, it just happened. Being a chef was bloody hard work, but taking photos of musicians was fun,” he added, with a smirk.

In 1987, Tony got his self-confessed ‘big break’ in the industry, when Mick Jagger landed in Australia on a solo tour and asked him to be his photographer. He toured with The Rolling Stones three times as well as working with Fleetwood Mac, Iggy Pop, Blink-182, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Madonna and Paul McCartney just to name a few.

Tony once spent an afternoon in Sydney harbour with Paul McCartney. “I was told by my management that I had to go and photograph Paul on the harbour in his boat.” says Tony, “So you immediately think, ‘Oh it’s going to be some f***ing great big luxury yacht. But he just loves sailing and I ended up having lunch with him, and he told me how he misses double-decker buses. He was a lovely bloke.”

Tony has also witnessed some hilarious behind-the-scenes moments, including finding Travis Barker, the drummer of American punk band, Blink-182, in a bathtub. “I did a front cover for Rolling Stone magazine,” he says. “But Travis wasn’t answering the door and hadn’t come out of his room. He was so hungover in the bathtub of his hotel room that he quite literally couldn’t get out of it. He’s still, p****d, so I said, ‘let’s shoot it in there’, so I got them all in and just shot them in the bathtub.”

Blink-182 image credit: Tony Mott

Tony reveals, though, sometimes, he was the cause of the mishap, including a time he forgot to put film in his camera during a session with Guns ‘n’ Roses. The rock group were at the pinnacle of their popularity and Tony spent the entire session disguising his mistake before confessing his rooky error. After the session, Tony had a chat with their manager, forming a cunning lie to save himself, “It worked out alright because the next day, I said to the manager, ‘I’m not even gonna show you. They’re not good enough’. So I managed to con another session out of them, I suppose!”

After four decades, Tony has now hung up his cameras, and retired from what he calls ‘rock and roll photography’, and is working in Australian television production.

“I’ve been doing it for 40 years. The best 40 years of rock and roll photography. It’s all been a joy. I feel I’ve been quite blessed because making money, and good money out of photographing musicians is not something everyone gets to do.”

Purchase Tony’s book here: Rock N Roll Gallery: A Journey from Sheffield to Sydney 1983-2023: Amazon.co.uk: Mott, Tony: 9781922810748: Books