Andy with a camera

Arctic Monkeys by Andy Willsher from new McKee exhibition
Arctic Monkeys by Andy Willsher from new McKee exhibition
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IT is probably easier to name the bands prolific rock snapper Andy Willsher hasn’t pointed his lens at down the years.

But one thing this photographer is, compared with some of his paparazzi cousins, is discreet – he doesn’t identify any awkward customers during our chat about his forthcoming Sheffield exhibition.

Even if you don’t recognise the name, chances are if you’ve seen an iconic live music image or magazine cover in the past 20 years it may well have come from Andy.

The day before we speak he’s been on location with Scottish scamps The View for their album sleeve.

“They have a very short attention span so trying to keep them occupied all day was slightly tricky,” he confides. “It was almost like being at nursery.”

In the two decades since the Bedford-based lensman spent an enlightening holiday from his bank job following musical friends on tour he has clicked about every act you can name.

He’s been granted access to the likes of Courtney Love, Muse, Kasabian and the Manics in recording sessions, while his portraits range from Gorillaz and Amy Winehouse to U2 to Sheffield acts Slow Club and All Seeing I.

Andy names The White Stripes among his favourites. “They’re amazing to shoot. It helps there’s only two people and they look amazing. They go the extra mile with what they are wearing and are very conscious of how they want to look in pictures, which is half my job.

“A lot of the stuff is last minute these days. You get such a short time with a band you’ve got to make it up as you go along or find somewhere within a couple of minutes walk. It’s a bit trickier now, crazy schedules.”

Biffy Clyro and Paul Weller also figure in his top jobs list. “I did a load of stuff with Biffy just before Christmas. They had this amazing set up and I really like them musically so that was a dream scenario.”

“With Weller I was nervous because I was a massive Jam fan in my teenage years and it was the first time I properly photographed him. He was quite calming though, ‘Where do you want me sonny’, had a cup of tea on hand. No attitude at all.”

Weller features in The Black And White Collection, Andy’s exhibition at A Month Of Sundays, in Hunters Bar (February 12 to March 11), the gallery owned by artist Pete McKee, whose stepson was once Andy’s lodger.

Other icons included are Damon Albarn, Iggy Pop, Morrissey, Radiohead and Oasis, as well as local heroes such as Richard Hawley and the Arctic Monkeys. He captured Alex Turner during the band’s massive shows at Old Trafford cricket ground in 2007.

Did he realise it was one of those historic gigs? “Maybe not at the time, but as it goes on you realise that was probably their big moment, like Stone Roses at Spike Island or Oasis at Knebworth.”

Andy got into the Monkeys early via manager Geoff Barradale whose Sheffield pop band Seafruit he once photographed.

“They did one of those new band pieces for the NME. I think there’s some YouTube footage of them performing which the people at Domino circulated.”

Since then he’s done stuff with the High Green gang around each album, having initially caught them unsigned in Nottingham.

Heaven 17, Human League and ABC also posed when Andy was commissioned to do press shots for the Wheels Of Steel Tour a few years back.

“We spent the day in Sheffield wandering around different landmarks,” he says, also recalling Hawley’s former band Longpigs.

“Longpigs were one of those bands that should have been much bigger than they were. They were signed to U2’s label. It’s worked out really well for Richard, but Crispin was working at a florist in Notting Hill at one point. The last couple of years he’s moved back into songwriting and had some hits with big people you probably wouldn’t associate with him.

“There’s always been good bands out of Sheffield so I’ve gone up there a lot. I also remember doing press shots of Milburn when they came down to London.”

Unlike most snappers, Andy gets to shoot from the stage at shows.

“It is an incredibly privileged position to be in. You’re in front of all these obsessive fans and literally got the best view in the house. I get an adrenaline rush when I walk on - it’s stuff you can’t replicate in a studio.”