I enjoyed dinner at Arthur on Bourke Street with rock photography legend and longtime local resident Tony Mott.
On arrival at the restaurant, Tony Mott very kindly presents me with a copy of his collected – or should I say – selected work: the Alphabet A-Z of Rock ‘N’ Roll Photography.
It’s a massive and heavy tome, full of action shots of most of the biggest rock stars of the last 40 years, both local and international.
“And the funny thing is, just about all of these pix were taken within five kilometres of here,” he says, before reeling off names of iconic venues, now sadly closed.
It underlines Mott’s point about Surry Hills and its immediate environs. It’s a totally unique place in Australia, if not the world.
When Mott arrived in Australia it was the epicentre of music, with more than a dozen venues, and the trend setter for Australian street culture and fashion.
Originally from Sheffield in the UK, Mott washed up in Sydney almost by accident as a refugee from Thatcher’s Britain and liked it so much he stayed on. He’s lived in the Surry Hills area for three decades and now lives on Bourke Street, just the other side of Cleveland.
His original profession was chef, but it was his enthusiasm for photographing the Divinyls and their celebrated singer Chrissie Amphlett which changed the course of his life.
“There were playing the Piccadilly up at Kings Cross in a residency and I just got into taking photos of them,” he says.
“I thought I was making a nuisance of myself but after a few gigs they approached me and asked for the shots.”
From there, Mott’s career took off. He’s toured with the Rolling Stones four or five times, done album covers for some of the most seminal Australian albums, and gets to hang out with some of the biggest names in rock.
He tells me that Mick Jagger has Australian ancestry, on his mother’s side, and he once went with Mick to see the house in Petersham the family once called home.
He was asked to go on tour again with the Stones recently, but declined because of his desire to be at home with his eight year old twins.
Dining at Arthur can be an intimate experience, and quite soon it becomes clear that the couple next to us are eavesdropping on Tony’s stories. They can’t help interrupting.
They ask him who is the best musician he has photographed.
“Prince,” says Tony. “And you know, he was so easy to photograph and was so easy to deal with. When people are at the top they are often much more relaxed and nicer than those on the way up.”
Tony’s continual stream of anecdotes could not possibly be contained in this piece. He could easily fill a book with them but maybe that would be telling.
Rock stars get to be really comfortable with photographers they trust, he says, and they like them much more than they like journalists.
In between all of these incredible stories we have been enjoying the degustation menu at Arthurs which keeps rolling out, and very welcome it is.
We move from the artisan sourdough through to the scallops to the bonito to the bavette to the wattleseed, blood orange and strawberry concoction for dessert.
And in between, I enjoy the Courabyra Pinot Meunier while Tony’s pick is the Quealy Pinot Gris from the Mornington Peninsula.
He’ll need all this sustenance as he’s off to the Mud Festival in Timbuktu, Mali, very soon for a holiday. And to take a few photographs.
Lachlan and Tony dined at Arthur, 544 Bourke Street, Surry Hills