The Prodigy: My Mates’ Band

Erroll Jones Self Portrait

Photographer Erroll Jones talks to Culturalee about his exhibition My Mates’ Band, The Prodigy Collection at Proud Galleries in London. Many of the images in the exhibition have never been exhibited before, and capture the early days of legendary electronic dance music band The Prodigy. As a budding photographer and good friend of Maxim and their manager Ziggy, Erroll would often bring his camera along to their early gigs, unsuspecting of the level of fame they would eventually achieve.

Jones was in a Reggae band in the late 1980s with Maxim’s cousin when he became friends with Maxim, later meeting Keith Flint, Liam Howlett, Leeroy and original band member Sharkey through Rave promoter Ziggy, who would become The Prodigy’s manager. Jones hung out with the fledgling band backstage at gigs, taking his Bronica SQA camera with him and documenting their rise to fame. 

Maxim, at Semple Stadium, Ireland 1997. Copyright Erroll Jones.

Jones photographed some energetic early gigs and intimate backstage and performance moments. The Prodigy were relatively unknown outside the rave circuit when Jones was touring with them as a young photographic student and lover of Rave music.  Jones would develop the images in the darkroom of Westminster College where he was taking a photography course, and students would often ask him who the subjects of his prints were, to which he would respond: ‘It’s just my mates’ band’. Little did he know at the time that The Prodigy would become an iconic British band. After revisiting his archive of images years later, it became clear he had captured a seminal moment in the history of dance music. 

My Mates’ Band is part of the Proud Galleries exhibition OFF STAGE, featuring the collections of Alan Chapman, David Magnus and Erroll Jones. A reportage photography exhibition that invites the viewer to delve into the world of celebrity and rockstars off stage, behind the scenes, and on the move. The triple show explores the relationship and dynamics of the photographers and their subject matters under more challenging, unusual, and intimate contexts, rather than capturing them while performing or in controlled studio environments. OFF STAGE groups together these organic encounters and photo sessions, bringing to life a whole new dimension and visual narrative on how we look at the modern icons we all love.

Keith and Leeroy, Hammersmith Palais 1993. Courtesy Erroll Jones.

You’re currently exhibiting your photographs in ‘My Mates’ Band, The Prodigy Collection’ at Proud Galleries ‘OFFSTAGE’.  Can you explain the backstory behind the images? 

The concept of My Mates’ Band has been a vague idea in my head for a few years I guess. It was a combination of circumstances that finally pushed me into putting the exhibition together. Finding a picture of Keith in the Astoria in the very early days of the band was one of the visual catalysts, but getting a nod of approval and some help from Maxim in organising my first show at The Shoreditch Arts Club was also a big factor.

But I guess the backstory is that I knew all the members, with the exception of Liam, before they started the band. I was in a Reggae band in Peterborough with Maxim’s cousin Clive, and Maxim was our sound engineer, although his ulterior motive was just to get in the band, and he would often badger me to get rid of our singer and recruit him!

My mate Ziggy, who was a rave promoter, introduced me to Keith when Keith just got back from travelling. Back in the day Keith and Leeroy were as thick as thieves, so it wasn’t long before I met Leeroy. Funnily enough, it was on the dance floor of the Attic nightclub at one of Ziggy’s Shrine evenings. 

I moved to London in 1990. After living with my brother for a short while, Ziggy introduced me to a friend of theirs who needed someone for the last room in their house share in Dollis Hill. That person was Sharkey, who would be one of the original members of the Prodigy. And it was one night coming back from a rave, where Keith played Ziggy Liam’s tape in the back of the car, and as they say, the rest is history.

Liam Howlett, Backstage mid 90’s. Courtesy Erroll Jones.

You began documenting The Prodigy at the start of their careers before they were well known. At the beginning what camera were you using and were you capturing the moments because they were your friends, or because you thought that one day they would be important historical images of a seminal dance music group? 

When I first photographed The Prodigy I used a Bronica SQA, which is a medium format camera that takes 6 x 6 cm film. I was mad crazy about photography and used to take a camera everywhere, but raving got in the way of normality to an extent and for a period after the band formed I was so excited about getting into all these big raves without having to pay that I was just having a good time for a few months and didn’t take my camera anywhere.

Anyway, I eventually realised too much of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing, so I tried to get my head screwed on. I enrolled to do a photography course at City of Westminster College, stopped partying as hard, moved out of what had become the defacto post-Rave mad house in North West London and started taking my camera to gigs again. 

Medium format cameras are not ideal for gigs, far from it. They are huge and heavy with limited shutter speeds. They don’t have a built-in light meter unless you buy an expensive and heavy prism, but if you get everything right they give amazing results. 

I would shoot two or three rolls per gig. There were 12 shots per roll of film,13 if you were lucky, and I generally managed to get one or two okay shots per roll. I guess I photographed them because they were my mates. I was a photographic student, I had to practice and I loved music, and if I could do all that and get a half decent shot or two that they could use then we’d all be happy. But I never in my wildest dreams thought they would be what they are today.

Did you study photography or were you self-taught? 

I was self taught for several years, and I had a great mentor in Jerome Hunt (My old boss) who gave me my first camera, a Praktica Super TL. I did eventually study when a friend of mine Daryl who used to shoot for Smash Hits persuaded me to enrol at the City of Westminster College. So I did their BTEC Diploma, then I went on to do a degree in photography at UEL before switching to Design and Typography.

My current main cameras for portraits are a medium format digital Fuji GFX50R, but I also use two 35mm Sony A7 IV’s. I still have a few film cameras of which I hope to be using the Hasselblad shortly for a personal portrait project. I’m a bit of a gearhead personally, and particularly like beautifully designed cameras like Hasselblads and Contaxes. But to be honest all current cameras systems are good enough to produce high-quality work.

Are you still documenting The Prodigy, and what other bands/ projects are you working on? 

I haven’t shot a band for many years now. After a very short spell of doing fashion and music photography, I actually went on to have a career as an art director of lifestyle and corporate magazines, before returning to photography a few years ago. 

I now mainly shoot corporate work, but dusting down my old light box and going through my old negatives and transparencies on a loupe, has really got me stimulated to go and shoot more personal work. I’m planning on doing a joint project with a feminist artist friend of mine, Cathy Phelan-Watkins. We have a working title (Reasons To Be Cheerful). I just need to come up with a good idea to match the title. I will usually take a point and shoot camera like the Leica Q2 or the Fuji X100F to a Prodigy gig just to get some shots of people mingling at the after party. But that’s as far as it goes nowadays.

Any tips for young, aspiring photographers wanting to break into the world of music photography? 

Music photography is a completely different game today: labels, promoters, venues and bands themselves have more control over image rights than ever before. But there are still great opportunities, particularly at smaller local venues. I would say, try to find upcoming bands that you love and that you can grow with, and work with outside of a venue.

I would also say to any aspiring Photographer – take pictures, lots of them, then take some more. Push yourself. Ask people to critique them (but don’t take criticism personally). Be a nuisance, find good photographers and annoy the hell out of them by asking them a million questions then ask them if you can assist them. 

A lot of young photographers are intent on being completely original. Amazing if you can get there, but don’t be afraid to look at the greats like Jill Furmanovsky for live stuff and Anton Corjbin for portraiture. There’s always something one can learn in great work. 

Similarly, a lot of photographers I come across are not particularly confident or good at lighting. (I know I used to be there myself) but it’s really really worth learning the basics starting from a single light source and light meter and building up your knowledge from that base. Good luck.

My Mates’ Band, The Prodigy Collection is at Proud Galleries as part of the OFF STAGE exhibition until 25th May, 2024.

Erroll Jones:

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.

Top 3 Stories