Kevin Cummins’ photographs of The Stone Roses, are some of the most iconic music images of the 20th century. In his own words he tells us how they came about. This is the session that has come to define The Stone Roses – Liam Gallagher has said it is the greatest NME cover of all time but it nearly didn’t work out as intended.
I had this romantic idea of painting the band almost like a John Squire canvas (Squire famously painted the Jackson Pollock-inspired artwork for the Roses records). Then I thought – no, how about asking John to paint it himself. The band loved the idea.
The only day the band was available was a Sunday – and the Roses wouldn’t come to London, but wanted me to shoot it in Manchester. I knew a photographer in Manchester with a studio – let’s call him Graeme, for that is his name – and I asked him if I could rent it for a day to shoot a band. He agreed, the place was generally locked up on a Sunday so it was easy money for him, or so he thought. Graeme was very meticulous – almost bordering on OCD – he was the sort of guy who would place three pencils on his drawing board one centimetre apart with the manufacturer’s name facing towards him. I doubt he’d have so readily agreed if he knew what I was planning.
I spent the morning turning the inside of the studio into a polythene cube, to ensure the paint wouldn’t spill anywhere. When the band arrived I placed them in position, did a few test shots without paint and then asked John to start painting. I’d chosen sky blue and white as my two base colours – any excuse and a small victory for me as a Man City fan – obviously. I had no idea what was about to happen. I truly expected John to get out a paint brush and start to paint the band slowly and neatly. Instead, he opened a one gallon tin of sky blue paint and threw the contents across the studio floor. He repeated this with the white paint. I looked on in horror. I had visions of paint leaking through the polythene, through the floor, onto Graeme’s neatly arranged pencil collection and worse. Squire just laughed when he saw the look on my face. He then tipped a pot of paint over his head and got into position.
I took a few photos quickly. I was beginning to think that this was the worst idea I’d ever had. Each time I wanted an extra colour adding, John would throw the paint more or less where I wanted it, then patiently get back into the shot and paint himself. You can see one of the paint buckets top left of frame near to Squire. After a couple of hours of paint throwing and five or six rolls of film later, I felt we’d got enough. They still had some paint left though and quite clearly they weren’t going to take it home with them. They lined up against the polythene clad wall for a final photo and threw the remaining paint everywhere; on themselves, on me, on the camera, on the wall opposite.
Satisfied with a job well done they were shivering from sitting in the cold paint for two hours and were desperate for a shower. I then had to break the news to them that because they’d insisted on shooting this on a Sunday, the rest of the building was locked up and we had no access to the showers. It was a good job there was no paint left as I think they may have attempted to drown me in it. They stomped off back to their van and all went to Ian’s flat in Chorlton to clean themselves up. But hey lads it was worth it. And Graeme, in case you are reading this, you’ve become an unwitting contributory factor in one of the most indelible rock ‘n’ roll images of all time.