Why Bradley is chasing stars
Snow Patrol’s trusted photographer tells Maureen Coleman how his relationship with the band allows him to capture their most intimate times
From their humble beginnings as a little-known local band to the massive global success they are today, photographer Bradley Quinn has been on hand to capture Snow Patrol’s incredible journey.
Fans of the band will be aware of his work — the iconic on-stage shots that have appeared in countless newspapers and magazines as well as the official Snow Patrol website — and the more intimate, behind-the-scenes snaps of a band relaxing away from the spotlight.
His pictures show a group comfortable with their photographer, willing to let their guard down around someone they trust.
If his work comes across as personal, that’s because it is.
Bradley (33) is not just an old school chum of lead singer Gary Lightbody, he’s also the younger brother of drummer Jonny Quinn. And his relationship with the band helps give him that unique insight most other photographers could only dream of.
“Because of the personal connection, the boys know they can trust me, so they let me get on with the editing and selecting which photos I send out or upload onto the website,” says Bangor-born Bradley.
“I went to school with Gary and photographed Nathan [Connolly] in his old band, Fuel, so I’ve knew them independently.
“In fact, when Gary played in a band called Shrug, it was me who told Jonny about them. Gary had heard about Jonny’s drumming and asked him to join. Jonny then moved to Dundee, where Gary was studying and that’s how Snow Patrol started.”
While Jonny was forging ahead with his music, the younger Quinn was developing a keen interest in photography. It seemed a natural progression that their two passions would come together.
A keen amateur photographer, the brothers’ father had a darkroom in the house and, while at Campbell College, Bradley studied photography as part of his Art GCSE. After leaving school, he attended the Belfast Institute where he studied photography for A Level and that’s where he landed his first job as well.
“Geoff Hannon was the Institute’s in-house photographer and picked me to work with him, which I did for six months,” he says.
“I then got a job with the commercial and advertising photographer Ashley Morrison and stayed with him for 10 years. That was invaluable experience, learning about developing film and darkrooms, working to deadlines, dealing with finances and marketing.”
Around this time, Bradley was also photographing his brother’s various bands, quietly confident that one of them would eventually come good.
“Jonny was in about five or six bands before Snow Patrol. I figured one of them was bound to make it, so I might as well start the journey with them,” he laughs.
“At the beginning, I was shooting for free, just for the love of it. We got a good bit of exposure in local newspapers and magazines and I was doing a lot of stuff at the time with the music journalist, Colin Harper.
“There were a lot of good bands around then to photograph — The New Brontes, Skinflint, Watercress. And I also shot some of the bigger bands who were touring and supplied those pictures to the local press.
“But it’s difficult enough to do merely music photography, especially in Northern Ireland. There aren’t enough music magazines or publications to support it as a full-time job. It was handy enough for me, I could do it in the evenings and keep on my day job with Ashley. That way, the work was more varied too.”
In the early days of Snow Patrol, Bradley snapped them playing to several dozen punters at venues like the Duke of York or Empire bars in Belfast. Of all Jonny’s bands, he had a good feeling about ‘the Patrol’ and stuck around to chart their story. These days, of course, the five-piece perform to tens of thousands of fans, selling out arenas and headlining major music festivals.
It’s that rise from unknown indie rockers to worldwide chart-toppers that will from the basis of a new photographic exhibition that Bradley will be staging at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast this month.
As part of the Trans music and art festival running throughout July, the Crack The Shutters exhibition will feature around 45 images of Snow Patrol’s journey from 1998 to date — including two six-foot-wide canvasses. One of these will be a montage of up to 3,000 photographs of Snow Patrol — a visual feast for fans of the band.
Bradley explains how the exhibition came about.
“Adam Turkington from Trans saw some of my pics on Facebook and asked me if I would do an exhibition as part of the festival,” he says. “It’s not something I’ve done before and I thought the time was right to do it now.”
Next up, it’s festival season, so Bradley will join Gary, Jonny, Nathan, Tom and Paul at T in the Park in Scotland and V Festival. He’ll also accompany them when they support U2 in Amsterdam.
Having access to the band’s on-stage and backstage antics makes his job much easier, he admits.
“Of course, being on the stage means I can take pictures from different vantage points,” he says.
“And the boys all feel comfortable enough around me now to let me snap away when they’re relaxing backstage, on their computers or just messing around in the studio.”
Although a fan of his brother’s band, Bradley was never tempted to make music himself.
“When we were growing up Jonny never had his drum kit set up in the house, it was always in the back of his Beetle,” he says.
“He had his thing and I had mine. Anyway, we didn’t need any more competition between us.”
The two brothers are close and Bradley — who was Jonny’s best man when he married Norwegian girl Marianne Rokke last year — looks forward to catching up with him when they get together.
“Jonny’s been away now for around 10 years so I’m used to that, but the bond is always there when we meet up. It can be strange chatting on the telephone when he’s off around Europe and he’s so much to tell me about what’s been happening, but then once we get together we catch up properly and after a day or two, it’s like he hasn’t been away.”
Touring with a band of Snow Patrol’s stature has opened many doors for Bradley and provided some stand-out moments over the years.
“I was photographing them when they were playing Live Aid and, at the end, when everyone was on the stage singing Hey Jude, I joined them as well,” he recalls.
“I was thinking to myself that this would probably be the only time in my life I would get to sing a Beatles song with Sir Paul McCartney.
“Also, when they were supporting U2 in Brussels, I got to go on stage and photograph U2 as well. I’d always wanted to do that and it was brilliant. The girl who took me round knew which angle it was best to shoot The Edge from or when Bono would look in my direction.”
He has his own favourite Snow Patrol songs — If There’s A Rocket Tie Me To It and Run — but not surprisingly, he chooses them from a photographer’s perspective rather than a musical one.
“I love it when they play If There’s A Rocket, the slow build up, then the moment when the whole band really rocks it out,” he says.
“And Run’s a great song, too. It’s fantastic when the lighting guy turns the lights up maximum on stage, then the whole room lights up, too. That’s always a beautiful moment.”
Bradley, who set up his own business in 2005, Bradley Quinn Photography, has a new band to document now, Belfast’s Cashier No 9. They will be playing at his exhibition launch this Wednesday at the Waterfront Hall, and Bradley has high hopes for them.
In the meantime, Crack The Shutters is keeping him busy, as he works around the clock to put the finishing touches to his exhibition. And he’s fast building up his own fan-base as well.
“I was with Snow Patrol on their European tour last year, sitting on the tour bus outside some venue,” he says.
“Next thing, Jonny gets on the bus and tells me that there were some people wanting me to come out to them. It was funny, I had to get off the bus and go out and sign a few autographs. It turns out, they’d seen my pictures on the website and wanted to meet me.”
He adds: “I look back at some of my early photos of the band and they’re pretty embarrassing, compared to now. So I guess, this exhibition isn’t just about Snow Patrol’s journey, it’s a little bit mine as well.”
Crack The Shutters opens at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast, this Wednesday, featuring music by Cashier No 9, and runs until July 30