The Secret of His Success
What is the secret of Ross Halfin’s success?
Is it his warm, easy-going personality? His ability to charm, wine and dine every single press officer in the land? His cheerful willingness to shoot only the first three numbers of a band’s show, and then offer their management complete photo approval? The fact that he took all his inspiration from the photographic talents of Robert Ellis, Tony Mottram and Andy Hansen?
Nope. None of the above. What made Ross great was all down to timing. When I was working on Sounds music weekly in the 70s and 80s (where a young Halfin cut his teeth as a rock photographer), the Editor of the mag was a guy called Alan Lewis. Now Alan was, and remains, a magnificently talented journalist, but in those days he was prone to indulge in marathon lunchtime drinking sessions. Alan’s catchphrase ‘put a brandy in it’ was legendary.
Ross sussed out that the best time to approach Alan for freelance photo work would be directly after one of these beer-swilling sessions. Ross’s reasoning: Alan would be so sozzled, he would say yes to everything.
Thus, as Alan sat behind his desk grinning with lagered-up contentment, Ross would deliver to him the following fait accompli: “Listen, right, I’m going to go to America to shoot an Aerosmith cover for the next issue of Sounds, and while I’m there I’m going to do Ted Nugent, Styx, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, UFO, Sammy Hagar, Metallica and Kiss, all for future covers as well.”
When Ross’s diatribe had ended, Alan would invariably respond: “Yesh, that all shounds great.” Then half an hour later a slightly sobered-up Alan would add: “Hello Rosh, have you just arrived in the offish and did I hear you shay that you were going to America?”
By which time it was too late. Ross had already blagged his flights and hotels, and even his passport had been stamped. He was outta there.
But let’s give Alan Lewis some credit here. Without his alcohol-induced acquiescence to Ross’s barrage of demands, we would never have got to see all those great pictures of Phil Mogg and Pete Way with their trousers down.
I’m being facetious here, obviously. But it’s undeniable that Ross’s over-the-top shots defined modern-day rock photography as we know it, most certainly in the early part of his career.
Nowadays Ross may have distanced himself from those classic in-your-face, up-your-ass photos, and his current camera style may be more practised, more mature and, yes, more thoughtful… but, hell, it’s no less distinctive. Just ask Eminem. (But don’t ask Lars Ulrich – he’s still trying to get the silver paint removed.)
I can’t remember the first assignment the Barton-Halfin ‘dream team’ undertook; it might’ve been to see UFO at Bracknell Sports Centre some time in the mid-70s.
Whatever, we’ve certainly been around the block a few times since then (as has Ross’s Fiat Panda). We did the first Def Leppard and Iron Maiden stories together; we covered, much to Ross’s chagrin, loads of dodgy New Wave Of British Heavy Metal acts (Silverwing and Sledgehammer amongst them); we visited Styx in Seattle, Riot in New York and Robert Plant in super-posh Blakes Hotel, London…
As I write this, it’s fast approaching 2005 and Ross keeps trying to persuade me to go back on the road with him, “just like the old days”. I’m sure it’ll happen some time soon, but I need to get in some serious fitness training first. After all, Ross recently described me to David Coverdale as looking “just the same as in the old days, only more corpulent”.
And that’s the amazing thing. Some people would be shocked to hear that Ross even knows the meaning of the word ‘corpulent’. But then they don’t know that underneath all of Ross’s bluster and bravado beats a heart of gold, either.
Many years ago, when I was too shy to ask, Ross blagged me one of Paul Stanley’s Kiss firehats – at gigs, Stanley used to chuck these smokin’ chapeaux into the crowd during renditions of ‘Hotter Than Hell’ and ‘Firehouse’. Ross also got all of the band to autograph the firehat for me, including my hero Ace Frehley. It remains a treasured possession.
For all that kindness – and make no mistake, Ross is a very kind man – I gladly flew back from our trip to the States via Aeroflot in the luggage hold. (It had been my utmost pleasure to upgrade Ross’s ticket for a return on Concorde.)
With my precious firehat planted at a jaunty angle on my head, I remember standing on the runway in the middle of a snowstorm, waving to Ross as a bevy of voluptuous, Catch Me If You Can-style stewardesses ushered him on to his plane, tears of humble gratefulness tumbling down my cheeks.
It took me a week to get back home (there was a three-night stopover in Helsinki), by which time Ross had already flown back to America on another Alan Lewis-endorsed assignment. Ross flew on Concorde again, and this time it was courtesy of Chrysalis Records and Bernie ‘Kill Halfin’ Kilmartin.
But that’s another story…
By Geoff Barton