It was like a zombie movie, thousands of faces against the glass chanting and singing ‘Run to the Hills’.”
Wikimetal (Nando Machado): This is Nando and Daniel from Wikimetal, how are you, my friend?
John McMurtrie: Yeah, I’m good, mate, yeah. Can you hear me allright?
W (Daniel Dystyler): Yeah, we can hear you fine. This is Daniel, how are you John?
JM: Yeah, I’m good man, I’m good, really good.
W (DD): Excellent. First of all, congratulations on the amazing book you’ve released “On Board Flight 666”, it’s a fantastic work.
JM: Thank you, thank you very much. I’m so relived it’s finally out there.
W (DD): And how has the repercussion of the book been so far?
JM: Yeah, good man. I mean, it’s been received really well. The biggest comment is “Wow, it’s a big book!”, but all the comments have been great, which is a massive relief for me, because, obviously, it’s four years of my life that’s gone into it. And it’s pretty much most of this year, we did the tour with Iron Maiden at the beginning of this year, and then, when I returned, I spent the next three, nearly four months putting the thing together, so I’m really pleased that it’s gone down well.
W (DD): John, I really loved your text at the beginning of the book when you compare the Iron Maiden Tour to a Roller-Coaster ride. Can you talk a little bit about this feeling to our listeners?
JM: Yeah, sure, I mean, the minute you step on board Ed Force One, you know that you’re going on one hell of an adventure, you know it’s going to be a journey, and you just, you never know where you’re going to go and what exactly you’re going to see, so it’s been a lot of excitement there. I mean, sometimes Ed Force One will come into land in the dead of night, and we’ll sneak out and maybe stay at a hotel and we’ll be having a beer. But most of the time we’ll land and there’ll be thousands of people outside the hotels, and it’s kind of the same every day, you just land, we go to a hotel, the crew will go and set up the show, we see Iron Maiden play the show, and then we take off again. And we do the same thing again, and it’s quite a journey, it really is, so I like to say it’s a thrill ride, you hang on in there and then when the tour ends you just long for it again, you know, you really miss it, miss the camaraderie of all the crew, and you miss the excitement of all the fans and the shows, so… Yeah, it’s pretty close to a funfair ride for me, I think.
W (NM): So John, as you worked with so many great bands, you also worked for Metal Hammer Magazine and other magazines. Besides this Maiden tour, which other things will you remember forever, that are just like unforgettable?
JM: Outside of Iron Maiden?
W (NM): Yeah.
JM: Oh, man, I mean… I’ve been a photographer now, freelance photographer for the last twenty years. It’s probably fair to say I’ve photographed pretty much all of the major heavy metal and rock acts over those years, but some of the real memorable moments, was probably with the Foo Fighters. I remember just sitting in the studio and hearing back “In Your Honor”, the album by the Foo Fighters with Dave Grohl. Dave Grohl kind of gave us a run through of each track and things like that… I’d say some of the photography I’ve done with the Foo Fighters is pretty memorable. But I don’t think there’s anything as historic as the Iron Maiden photography that I’ve done over the last few years. It really has been just capturing something that is so special.
W (DD): And your recent work with Avenged Sevenfold was also great, right?
JM: Yeah, yeah, that was good fun. We did a postage of the movie “Sin City” and the shoot we did, we shot in a hotel in Atlanta, we has a lot of sort of replicate guns and things like that, we caused a few scares doing that photo shoot. But that came out pretty cool, yeah.
W (NM): So John, let me ask you something: we all know that Iron Maiden members are very… They like to keep their privacy. So how is it for you, as a photographer, to know and to work and when to leave those guys alone? Is there a clear limit? How does it work for you?
JM: Yeah, sure. With Iron Maiden it’s… They’re pretty unique, really, you know, they’re pretty genuine people. You know, a lot of, sort of, rock bands and heavy metal bands that I work with… I’m not saying that they’re not genuine, but there is a certain persona and there’s an ego there. But with Iron Maiden, they’re very natural people. And as far as being the photographer, you kind of just roll with the flow, you know… Bruce is a guy who’s always very busy, and pretty much whatever he does is kind of “up for grabs” as far as photography, which is great, because he’s a pilot one minute, the next minute he’s racing cars, the next minute he’s fencing, and he doesn’t have a problem. But I think it’s the approach, as well, from the photography side of things, you know, it’s never good to be in someone’s face the whole time. I know when I’ve got the shot, I’ve got the picture I need, and I’ll hang back and leave them to it. As far as the others, you know, as I said, they’re genuine people, they certainly let you know if they don’t want cameras that day. But in all the years that I’ve worked with them, these last years, I’ve never had a cross word with them. Jannick is very easy going, we’ll go out, we’ll just go out, sort of see what’s around in a city, and if there’s something very photogenic, especially… There’s a temple shot of Jannick in Korea, and I just said to him “Come on, let’s get a couple of shots here”, and he’s always great with it, he’s always fantastic. You know, Nicko, if Nicko is doing something, he’ll come running up to me “Come on, McMurtrie, let’s go and do this”, we’ll go off and we’ll get shots of things, and he’s quite good at encouraging you to get photos, “Hey, get one of this”, and that sort of thing. But, again, it’s all down to your approach, I never like to sort of cross the line, you know, I can normally sense whether somebody doesn’t want a camera thrust in their face, so I hang back. But, you know, generally speaking, the band is just so easy going that it’s a very sort of smooth operation, as far as being with them and taking photos.
But then, you look at the pictures back after the photo shoot, and you’re sort of ‘Wow, it’s James Hetfield!’ That’s the time when you kind of get, not freaked out, but you realize.”
W (NM): Okay, so, changing the subject, we have a traditional question on our show, one that we ask every single person we interview: let’s say you’re driving your car with your ipod on shuffle mode, or maybe listening to a rock radio station, and a song comes up that you just can’t stop yourself from head banging, wherever you might be. Which song would that be so we can listen to that one right now?
JM: Oh, it’s got to be “Raining Blood”, Slayer, hasn’t it?
W (NM): You know, we have just asked that question to Sam Dunn, and he said that same song.
JM: Was that the last one you did? You want something different, then?
W (NM): No, no, I mean, we have to be honest, it’s not a problem.
W (DD): We can play a live version of “Raining Blood” now. What do you think about that?
JM: You can do that, or let’s have a think, let’s find out… “Caught in a Mosh”, Anthrax, or “Indians”, that would do it for me.
W (DD): Oh, I love both songs.
W (NM): Excellent, from “Among the Living”.
W (DD): You’ve also done great photos with Rise To Remain, the band from Bruce’s son, and also Lauren Harris band, Steve’s daughter. Any other Iron Maiden family member coming up?
JM: Any other family members, did you say?
W (DD): Yeah. How is your relationship to the Iron Maiden family in general?
JM: It’s just because I know these guys… I know these guys, Lauren and all the Harris family, they kind of hang out with Maiden on the road so I got to know them, especially the Lauren Harris band, on the road. And Bruce’s son, Austin, he’s been around. But, yeah, I mean, it’s kind of funny really, because I was commissioned to do the album photography for Rise To Remain, but the commission actually came from one of my regular contacts through EMI Records, and I think probably they just figured “Well, he must know Austin, and he’d have a good report”. But, you know, with them coming on tour, I’ll grab the band and I’ll take them off for photo shoots and things like that, so… I get to get on with these people, but as far as other mini Maidens coming along, I don’t know, we’ll have to wait and see, won’t we? You never know.
W (NM): Excellent. What do you consider to be the most difficult work you’ve done so far? And the one that you got really emotional, like you thought “I can’t believe I’m taking a photo of this guy or doing this photo!”?
JM: I think that would be the case when I was a lot younger, when I first got into to heavy metal, heavy rock photography. You know, I was pretty much meeting my idols pretty quickly, so, you know, Metallica and things like that, Anthrax, I grew up with all these bands, Slayer, so when I was a lot younger, I used to get still quite intimidated by, you know, a tiny bit star struck. But I think as time goes on, this is the sad bit about working with things like that, you concentrate more on the photography, so it doesn’t really matter who it is you’re photographing, obviously that is very important, so you photograph that person in a way that is true to them… But to me the most important thing is, you know, technically, is everything all right? Is all the equipment working? You just think about the job, so you do switch off. But then, you look at the pictures back after the photo shoot, and you’re sort of “Wow, it’s James Hetfield!” That’s the time when you kind of get, not freaked out, but you realize you’ve been photographing someone of some stature, you know, whether it’s Ozzy Osbourne, or what have you. But during the job, I think you just switch into a photo guy mode, you just become the photographer, you’re doing a job, and you know, to me, if I don’t get the shots, I don’t get paid and I don’t get commissioned again, so you just switch into this work mode, but not to say that I’m not impressed by these people, I really do, yeah, I really do think it’s amazing, what they’ve achieved and things like that, so yeah.
W (DD): On the last book, “On Board Flight 666” there’s a bunch of great pictures, like Bruce flying all over the place, on the stage, and there’s this picture, in Buenos Aires if I’m not mistaken, taken from the inside of the hotel with this huge crowd almost breaking the glass and the hotel manager looking from the inside very concerned. That’s one of my favorite pictures of the book. What do you remember of that moment?
JM: Yeah, sure, I mean, these spreads… When I put the book together, I really wanted these collections of photos that kind of told the story, but that built up to a particular moment, and that is definitely one of them, in Buenos Aires. Yeah, I mean, we sort of got out of Ed Force One, and then slowly, when we arrived at the hotel, we realized that there were thousands of people outside, I mean it took some time to clear our path, to get the band through into the hotel. And it was just incredible, I remember we got everybody in, I passed through, I took a few photos as the band was waving at the crowd, and then I put on my bags down and I turned around and thought “I must get a photo of this”, but then it was like a zombie movie, it was just thousands of faces against the glass chanting and singing “Run to the Hills”, which is quite ironic, because the band had just stormed through. And the hotel manager was just trying to appeal for calm, trying to get everybody to calm down, and you could see the glass bowing. I had a bit of concern, but at the same time I thought “Well, I’m just going to photograph this, because it’s incredible”. And I remember the hotel manager turned to me and said “Stop taking photographs”, because it was kind of… It was fueling the fans outside, but yeah, that was very very memorable, the people of Argentina are very passionate of Iron Maiden. And so are the Brazilian, of course.
W (NM): Do you have any special memories from your visits to Brazil with Iron Maiden?
JM: Oh, man, I mean, every time I go to Brazil I see something different. I just love the place. I think I’ve said before that the gig for me that stands out in the entire book, not just because it’s Brazil, is Interlagos race track in São Paulo in 2009. It was just a phenomenal atmosphere, you know, 2009, whole audience, 70 thousand people chanting “Ole, ole, ole”. The atmosphere was just electric, I remember when the band was coming out the ramps to go onstage, you know, and there were a few glances to each other, as if to say “This is going to be a special show”, and it really was, it was just incredible. But for me, as a photographer, every time I go to Brazil I see something else, I mean, we always have a good time in Recife, we went to Belém, we went to Manaus on the rainforest, that was incredible. Just every time… I mean, Rio was so special, we had the “Flight 666” premiere there, and São Paulo. But I think, for me, São Paulo is the city. Just, every time I come I just have a great time, and they’re good people, you know, there’s no other place like it in the world, I don’t think, with that passion.
W (NM): Thank you man, we take it as a complement.
JM: Yeah, sure.
Bruce is a guy who’s always very busy, which is great as far as photography because he’s a pilot one minute, the next minute he’s racing cars, the next minute he’s fencing.”
W (NM): So, let me ask you, changing the subject again, who are your favorite rock photographers?
JM: Rock photographers… Well, God, man, I mean, my favorite photographer is a war photographer called Don McCullen. He was famous for shooting Vietnam wars and things like that, so I was pretty kind of down with him. But he’s not a rock photographer. Bob Carlos Clarke, he photographer Ozzy Osbourne back in the 80s, and some of his work was just stunning, I really really loved it. There’s another guy, portrait photographer called Mark Seliger, who was famous for shooting a lot of work for Rolling Stone magazine, he did Nirvana and things like that, he’s a pretty great photographer. And there’s another crazy guy, David LaChapelle, he’s pretty cool. But he has sort of a hundred thousand pound budgets on shoots, so I think if you’ve got that kind of budget, you’re going to have an amazing photo shoot, so I’m a bit jealous of that guy. But those are probably the guys that I enjoy to look at the photographs, definitely.
W (NM): So John, changing the subject again, what can we expect from John McMurtrie as a guitar player?
JM: As a guitar player? How did you find that out? Oh man, yeah, I had a thrash metal band when I was a lot younger, but you never know, we may be touring Brazil one day, I very much doubt it, but we had a singer that was a Hell’s Angel, and all he could write about was motorbikes, every song was about motorbikes. And it was great fun, I loved it, I absolutely loved it, and that’s where I got my passion for heavy metal music, and I used to do the band photos, you know, on self timer, and that’s how I got into that whole side of things, you know, I loved it, the whole band thing. But then you start working like anyone else, you just don’t get the time, do you, to do the band stuff, but I would love to do it again. You never know, one day.
W (NM): Well, I have a suggestion here, maybe you should put up a band with Sam Dunn – he plays the bass, you the guitar, and you have the best photos and best documentaries ever.
JM: Oh, there you go! I just need to find a drummer, can you play drums?
W (NM): No, I play the bass as well, but never mind.
JM: Well, there you go then, you never know, you never know. We should do that, that would be pretty ace, wouldn’t it?
W (NM): Well, next time you guys are in Brazil we can organize that jam session and that will be ace.
JM: That would be awesome, wouldn’t it?
W (DD): John, we’re encouraging all of our fans to buy your book on pre-sale on Amazon and all the other stores that it’s available. And if you had to tell them, “When you get the book, please open on that page and take a look at this picture”, which picture you that be?
JM: Oh, man! That is so hard! The way I put this book together, being totally honest, it’s a journey, and when you get the book, just open it up at the beginning, and read Bruce’s forward, and he gives all the information on the knots and bolts that went into putting Ed Force One together. And then it just starts, it starts in London, where we’re in the hangar, we’re expecting the plane, and then just, each page will unfold, so for me, the book was put together as a journey, so just start at the beginning and just work your way through it. But the key highlights, man, I mean, São Paulo, 2009 probably, Interlagos, I quite like the photos in there. Equador is pretty cool. One of my favorite spreads is one of the photos of Ed Force One in São Paulo, but it’s surrounded by military and you can see them going off in a line, and that was a moment that lasted literally sort of just a minute, after we drove in there, and I was so pleased I got the photos before the military moved away.
W (DD): It’s a black and white picture, right?
JM: Yeah, I mean, I was really really so pleased I got it, because that moment was only there for such a short moment, and I think that that’s one of the most memorable photos really, it sums it all up, what it’s like touring, You got sort of mountains behind and the military and Ed Force One… Yeah, that’s the picture I have on my wall at home.
W (NM): And John, how many pictures did you have to go through to choose the ones on the book?
JM: Loads. Too many. That’s my problem, I just take too many photos on these tours. Pretty much it was 130 thousand photos, so I had 10 terabytes of hard drives all laid out when I started picking everything for the book, and I could have made my life easier, if I had just done the book in a style of a, you know, a pretty annual for the band, it would have been much easier. But because I wanted the book to be a journey, you know, so the fan, when he opens the book, he feels like he’s going on the road with Iron Maiden. And because of that I had to kind of put all these specific photos that told the story as they went on. But I had to go through 130 thousand photos, and, yeah… I didn’t feel too good at the end of it, I can tell you, my eyes were just going square, it was crazy.
W (DD): So since we’ve already listened to “Caught in Mosh”, can we listen to “Indians” now?
JM: Oh, let’s do it! Yeah, we’re having an Anthrax show, aren’t we?
W (NM): John, let me tell you, honestly, like, I’ve seen many rock photography books, and I don’t remember seeing such a great book ever. I admire photographers, because photographers have this very special gift of freezing a moment forever, which is a very hard thing to do, and you do it so well, so I want to congratulate you on the result of the book, and we couldn’t expect anything but that kind of quality. So if you’re listening to this interview now, go to a bookstore or go to Amazon.com and you really have to buy this book, this is the best Christmas present, if you know someone that likes Iron Maiden, you can make someone happy with this present as a Christmas gift.
JM: Oh, I love you for that, Nando, I really do. At the end of the day, the book was put together as a real gift for the fans. The manager, Rod Smallwood, was very sure that if this was going to be done, it had to be done properly, and you know, we worked really hard to get this book together to really really give something back to the fans. It’s a proper journey, and they’ll get to see what it’s like to be on tour with Iron Maiden, so I hope they enjoy it, I hope they enjoy the journey.
W (DD): And you know John, I was lucky enough to be in October in London, and I think that the last day of my trip on London was the day that the book arrived at the bookstore, so I bought three books, for myself and for my fellow co hosts of the show here, they were very happy with my gift.
JM: Oh, it was you that bought them! Thank you very much.
W (DD): So can you leave a final message to the Wikimetal fans that are listening?
JM: Yeah, man, I mean, just keep on rocking, keep loving the metal, and I look forward to taking photographs of all of you when you’re rocking out to Iron Maiden, who knows, maybe next year, maybe the year after, I don’t know what they’re up to. But it’s always a pleasure coming to Brazil, it’s always a pleasure rocking out with Maiden, and I hope they enjoy “On Board Flight 666”.
W (NM): We sure do, man. Thank you so much for your time, once again, and let’s stay in touch.
JM: Great stuff, Nando. I will see you for a beer as soon as I can, mate.
W (DD): Thank you very much, John.
JM: Thanks, man. I’m out of here. See you later!
W (NM): See you!
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