I’m one of those people who enjoys the fact that Perth is a city where everyone knows everyone. There are people I say hello to and I have no idea what their name is or where our paths first crossed. I simply know it would be rude not to speak. This is the way when you live in a small city.
Imagine then, the multiplier effect that takes hold if you have never left Perth to live anywhere else. If you have built a career and a business and a huge, sprawling, social and professional network over two and half decades. If your job, by its nature, has seen you interacting with people from all different walks of life and in all different situations. The chances are, as well as knowing a LOT of people, you’ll also have made a pal or two along the way. I know this, because this is my life; it is also the life of this week’s Big Personality, local photographer, Fraser Band.
It is little surprise then, that as well as being one of my best and most constant professional partners, Fraser is someone I count as a friend. We cut our PR teeth together, blagging our way through more than one job in the early days, until now, when we fall effortlessly into sync with each other’s ideas and can formulate entire marketing plans on the back of one quick email and a cheeky beer or two. He is, as the saying goes, an old pro.
If you’re trying to place the name he’s probably taken your kids’ photograph for a local paper, or been into your work taking shots for the website, or gently squeezed in front of you to get the money shot at the Saints game. He has photographed royalty of the regal, pop and sports variety as well as school sports days, new buildings and a staggering variety of his favourite beers.
Fraser has been a Perth boy his entire life, moving from Viewlands Primary to Perth Academy and eventually on to Perth College. The photography bug started young, and for as far back as he can remember he always had a camera in his hand.
“My mum always had a camera but it was probably my uncle that influenced my love of photography most. He had a dark room and he showed me round it, just a couple of times. He had this pal from Liverpool who’d help him – Beatle John we called him – and that’s what I remember most vividly about my early interest in photos.
My first camera was one of those rectangle Minoltas, with the old style flash cubes that stuck on top and popped when you took a picture. The film was that weird shaped hard plastic case that slotted into back of it. It took terrible photos. Terrible!”
As a child of the seventies and teenager of the eighties, there was no photography option at Perth Academy. Add this to the fact that he hated school with as much passion as he loved his camera and you will understand why, at the age of 16, (that is, as soon as it was legally possible) he left and headed straight into the world of work.
“School just wasn’t for me. I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t do well and I was desperate to leave. I had some shoddy career counselling and I think because I’d had a job in the newsagents on County Place while I was at school, retail seemed like an obvious choice. They offered me a YTS at Markies or a full time job in Cairncross The Jewellers for £3,500 a year. I took Cairncross!
It was a bit traumatic to start with. The newsagent job had been a paper round that grew into a morning job in the shop before I went to school. I went from selling papers and bacon rolls to diamonds and rolex watches. I was so nervous that I’d go bright red every time I went up to speak to a customer.
That’s when I started photography as a proper hobby; it fascinated me that you could point your camera and capture a unique moment in time. It still does. I would experiment with ideas, looking through magazines for shots that I liked and trying to recreate them. My mum and my sister are both really creative so that artistic side of photography was quite natural for me.”
He realised quite quickly that he wasn’t made for retail and so, after a hard day’s work in the jewellers, he’d head home for a quick nap and then hit the pub scene of late-eighties Perth in his gig as a DJ with his pal, Chick. They were the resident disc spinners in the Café Noir (cue everyone over the age of 40 drowning in a sea of Café Nostalgia!) and would finish the night in Electric Whispers, turning vinyl until 3am.
“I loved it. The Café was the place to be back then, and we’d finish there and head for the night club. Hold on now, cos I’m a bit rubbish at remembering the proper order of things. Basically I got fed up in Cairncross and left to have a bash at the family business. I was doing this part-time, DJing at night and doing a photography leisure course at Perth College to learn a bit more about my hobby.
That’s when I met Jim Masson, a reporter with the Evening Telegraph. Jim would nip into the pubs and clubs to see what was going on and we got talking about my photography. Then one night his usual photographer was busy and he asked me to do a job for him for the paper. I turned up, clueless, to this big Pub Watch group and I remember thinking ‘How do I do this?’ It was chaos. It wasn’t the taking of the shot that was a problem – it was how to get everyone in the room into it!”
Filled with the fearlessness of youth, he blagged his way through it and whenever Jim needed the odd job covered he’d tag along and do his best. By this time he was at Perth College on an HNC course and it was starting to look like he had career options. Given that he’d left school at 16 he was still only twenty years old when everything started to take shape.
“When my HNC finished the college realised I had a knack for it and they asked me to teach a couple of classes a week. It was crazy looking back – I was so flattered I said yes but there is no way I was ready to do that. I was just about one step ahead of the class. You remember!”
Yes – I do. I first met Fraser when he taught me photography as a scotvec module at Perth College back when we were in our early twenties. I’m not sure if it was his teaching or my inability to retain anything that involves applying numbers to equipment, but point and shoot remains my limit.
“From there in it was all completely accidental; I owe Jim my career to be honest. I was out with him, meeting people I’d never have run into otherwise. I started covering the football for him and met the team from the PA and Courier. Before long I was getting little bits of work from them, nothing major, but enough.
It was back in the days before digital and I remember there would be lines of film drip-drying in the shower cubicles at McDiarmid Park. There was a black and white processing dark room and the experienced guys would develop there and then to send it to the papers. I handed my film to Jim and he’d get it processed at DC Thomson’s lab; either that or I’d hand it to a train driver heading to Dundee and someone would pick it up at that end. However it got there, I’d meet Jim a few days later and he’d have the film negatives folded up in his pocket and held together with a paperclip.
It was brilliant; I know one of the guys who’d go to the football with twelve glass plates, still not ready to convert to film. That’s twelve shots at getting it right and not one more. You think what we do now, hundreds of shots and checking after everyone. Back then they had to be so good they barely had to look through a lens.”
And then his break came. One of the guys at the PA was signed off sick and Fraser was asked to step in and do more work for them. Between all the freelance jobs he was now picking up, he was busier than he would have been as a full-time member of press staff. There he was, still in his early twenties and running a self-employed freelance photography business.
“It never really felt like that back then though. I was just picking up work and filing a tax return. I wasn’t conscious of it ‘being a business’ which is weird now. The papers would send me out on all sorts of work so I was making new contacts, picking up the odd PR job. Once this started the papers would recommend me to any out of town PR agencies who called them looking for a recommendation. It all snowballed from there; PR staff moved around agencies but kept their contacts so suddenly I’d be on another company’s list.”
He makes this sound effortless, as if it all fell into his lap. I suppose looking back it may appear that way but I can tell you that photographers need to be top-notch before PR professionals will carry their number into a new agency. Fraser worked long hours, picked up out-of-hours jobs no-one else wanted to do and learned from his mistakes along the way.
“Of course I made mistakes. We all do. But you learn at each and every job in the early days. Getting people to do what you needed them to do was always the challenge for me. You need a lot of people skills to be a good photographer - you can’t be shy or retiring. I remember consciously thinking that if I wanted to do this job, to be good at it, then I needed to get out there and do all of it really well. It was sink or swim time.
The day I realised that, that I needed to find ‘photographer mode’, it all fell into place for me. I’m like an actor playing a part where I become a bossier version of myself. I adopted this trick where I slap my hands together and I’m like, ‘Right!’. I still do it now.”
(He does! I’ve seen him!)
The local press jobs led to the national press jobs and the PR work filled any gaps. He became a regular at Boots photo counter.
“I’d bomb down to Boots after the football to get the film developed in time for the papers. And back in those days I’d also supply printed copies of PR jobs for clients’ files. Digital revolutionised things for all of us. My first digi was a Canon and it came with a 2MB memory card which I thought was amazing – imagine that now? You’d get nothing on it.”
It would be fair to say that Fraser may have been working hard but he was still very much in the ‘accidental freelancer’ frame of mind. True, he had a website and a business card, but he remained happy just coasting along with plenty of local press jobs, some quality PR work and regular extras from the nationals. Until one day, out of the blue, he picked up a call from the PA saying that budgets had been cut and there were no more freelancer jobs to be had.
“It was horrible. It was like a redundancy. It was huge drop in money - at least half of my income vanished overnight – but the worst bit was I could see the writing on the wall for the press industry. I knew my work with them would continue but not in any big way. It was a wake-up call for me. I realised I couldn’t put all my eggs in one basket and that I had to start taking the business side of things more seriously.
I started by calling up Gary Paterson at T’Go Creative and he sorted out my logo and my website. I’d never been good at networking; it makes me uncomfortable. But I knew I needed to showcase my work so that it better reflected what I could do. I knew PR companies from down south would Google when they’d once called a newspaper and I had to put my best shots in front of them. After that, you’re as good as your last job. I just needed to make sure I did a great work so that they’d ask me back again.”
Modestly, he will tell you the timing was right for him. Truthfully, he just kept getting better at what he does.
“The digital revolution has been amazing, it’s hard to do a bad job when you’re working with the quality of cameras we have now. It’s staggering. The downside is that everyone will have a go at it but you just have to embrace that and use it to get better. Everyone is a photographer but not everyone is a professional. The added competition has made me look at my work and find out where I can offer more than the guy in the office with a hobby.
When you’re out every day looking at lots of different shots, working with people who often don’t want to be in the photo, you pick up skills you don’t even realise you have. And taking the shot is only half the work now. What you do in editing back in the office can take a good shot and make it great. Technology has made the layman better but it’s also made us pros better!”
So, I know that Fraser has photographed some big name celebs including Elton John, Kate Middleton and Ewan McGregor. Shameless trashy-mag reader that I am, I want to know two things: favourite pic ever and the worst person he’s ever had to photograph (translate as ‘any celeb dirt!’).
“Ah that’s tough. The variety is what makes the job so great. That and getting behind the scenes into places that people don’t usually see. I like doing press, sending the pic away and then opening the magazine or paper to see it sitting there. Bu t then driving past the police station and realising two out of three billboards are your photos, is pretty good as well!
I think my all-time favourite is an image I did for the Fire Training unit. It was in this heated oven and I only had a few seconds to get the shot because the flames were up. I had to just hold my breath and go for it. It’s a great shot though. And another time I asked the Police Helicopter to hover over my mum’s house so I could take a photo of her and my sister waving from the back garden!
I don’t know if anyone’s been terrible. (I push him, I know he’s being nice!). Ok, the Big Brother stars were terrible. That instant fame thing just isn’t good for a person. Chantelle was awful.
The flip side though is that you meet some people and they’re wonderful. Boy George was a great guy, really down to earth, really friendly and chatty. I was expecting him to be a diva but he came out and apologised for running a bit late – he was putting his face on.”
We’re sitting in 63 Tay Street as we chat where Graeme Pallister is treating us to a tasting menu lunch. As a mutual client and another old pal, we are distracted intermittingly by the amazing flavours being laid out before us. Foodies both, we’re up for any surprises he may lay down.
“But no fish for me thanks. Helen will end up in PRI!”
Ahhh – Helen! Fraser Band was all set up to be the eternal bachelor. The George Clooney of our Perth generation. And then a charity bike ride to Etna five years ago saw him in regular meetings with Helen MacKinnon, CEO of PKAVS, and BOOM…. The boy was gone!
“Mmmm. They do say that the reason some of us never settle is because we’ve never met the right person. Then when you do, you just know. This is different.”
To set the scene, Fraser and his mate Steve Pirie have been riding together since he passed his test in 2001. He had been doing a job at Honda and had mentioned he had always fancied trying a motorbike. The short version is that he swapped a photo shoot for some lessons, sat his theory test, sat his test and when he returned to the garage, bought a sports bike.
“I went in to see my Mum with the helmet behind my back and as I pulled it out she just put her head into her hands. It only took her about five minutes before she was asking for a go though. I loved it – the feeling of flying along the road on two wheels is awesome. When I told Steve I’d passed my test he got back into it and we were out and about all the time.
The Ride To Etna came about because I’d been doing some press work with PKAVS and Helen had asked me to meet her to discuss some PR work. She asked if I’d do Etna with them and although I couldn’t do the climb, Steve and I decided to set ourselves a challenge and do nine countries in three days. I’d never even been abroad on the bike before.
The whole experience - raising the money, planning the trip, doing the ride - ended up being one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m still proud of what we achieved. The most amazing group of people helped us raise funds. We had chocolate nights from Elaine Forest, a charity Zumba from Dawn Gillies and a music night from Jason Blythe. My mum threw a garden party, Martine did a quiz night and we got to ride our bikes through the shopping centre. 63 Tay Street gave us vouchers, Adrian Smith and Algo sponsored the fuel and every penny went to the charity. We raised £8000. It was amazing. And that was before we left.”
Fraser pulled out his old contacts and was soon on the other side of the camera, doing photos for press and interviews for TV. They had a huge leaving party at Willows and a police escort out of town. Nine countries may sound glamourous but it was motorway the entire journey with only three days to cover thousands of miles.
“It was crazy, the further south we were in Italy the hotter and hotter it became in the bike gear. We did make in time though so that’s all that counts!
The ride home was more eventful. We booked a cabin on the ferry from Palermo to the mainland and I was lying back in my bed trying to catch up on my sleep, Steve was in the shower, and the door opens. There’s this Italian guy looking at us and he wanders in and gets into the third bunk. Steve came out of the shower and I will never forget the look on his face when he found a total stranger there to greet his half-naked self.
I couldn’t sleep, the guy was snoring and so I pulled on my bike gear and headed up to the deck. I sat and watched the sun come up and caught one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen in my life. I woke Helen with a text to tell her; we’d been in contact more and more and it was not long after I got home that we got together.”
Don’t you just LOVE a proper, good-things-happen-to-good-people ending? We all thought he was doomed to hang out with his boys forever. Which bring us nicely to the other great love of his life. Because under his chilled out, laid-back exterior Fraser Band is a bit of a lads’ lad. Not in the falling-out-the-pub-steaming,-scoffing-kebabs-on-a-stagger-up-the-road kind of a lad you understand. Just a guy who is happy to admit how much his close group of friends mean to him.
“We always make a big deal out of birthdays. There are eight of us all together and we never miss one. It’s usually a trip to Edinburgh for beer and food and a good few laughs. Graeme dying last year hit all of us really hard.”
He is referring to Graeme Lafferty, PA photographer and one of the reasons the different parts of their group all came together.
“We’re such a tight group and sometimes it still feels as though it’s not real. I worked with Graeme for years and he was a great friend. I was out with Helen on the bike when it happened; I turned my phone on there was all these missed calls and texts with different bits of info. I pieced it all together and I knew it was Graeme. That he had died.
Then a few months later my sister called to say my Mum had cancer. She’s all clear now. She is amazing, my mum. I can’t believe how well she coped all the way through it and how brave she was. She was up and about and back to work after this major operation, determined it wouldn’t beat her. She says it’s been liberating and I know what she means.
Losing Graeme and watching my mum go through cancer has changed me. When I look back over the years, there have been times when I didn’t go on holiday because I was working or times when I’d accidentally become isolated. Now I’m better at phoning people and going for a coffee, or lunch. You appreciate people more and you realise life is short. You have to enjoy it.”
I have known Fraser Band for over twenty years. We’ve chatted about a lot of stuff and had a lot of laughs. When I started this story I said that I loved the fact that in Perth, everyone knows everyone. Well, I’ll tell you what is even better. Sometimes, one of these people becomes an accidental part of your life.
In the two decades since I sat in his class, in the time between him bringing me packets of printed images from a job we’d blagged and us sitting here in 63 Tay Street, I have watched Fraser Band grow into one of the city’s most respected photographers, a well kent face among everyone from the ladies of the WRI to the captains of industry.
Today is his Birthday. He is 43 years old. He is so grown up he has a logo and a motorbike and a girlfriend. He also has that quiet, happy contentment that comes when you’ve lived just enough of life to know that, along with the people who have changed your life’s path, it is these accidental things that make you very lucky indeed.
Happy Birthday Frase.
I have toiled over which photographs to include, spolit for choice with the gallery he sent to me. I could never do it justice and decided the pics on show had to be largely of the man himself. However, you can click over to his website or follow him on Facebook for the whole glorious show!