North West Wales

Mike McCartney's eye on the world of rock in Oriel Colwyn show

Alice Cooper photographed by Mike McCartney Image copyright Mike McCartney
Image caption Excess all areas: Alice Cooper captured on camera by Mike McCartney

The man Sir Paul McCartney described as "Our kid, Flash Harry" is exhibiting a life's work of photographs at Colwyn Bay's Oriel gallery.

Mike McCartney - younger brother of the superstar - also enjoyed chart success with his band The Scaffold, but he's better known as a music photographer.

In a career spanning six decades he's snapped stars from Jerry Lee Lewis to Kaiser Chiefs' front man - and judge on The Voice UK - Ricky Wilson.

But incredibly it took his son opening a tattoo parlour to make McCartney realise just what a treasure trove of images he'd created.

"I hate tattoos, but what can you do? It's your kid, and I wanted him to be successful," he says.

"When I asked him if there was anything I could do to help, he said having a few of my photos on the wall would get word around.

"I have so many of them around the house that some of them are even propped up on the skirting boards - I was glad to get rid of them."

The display proved so successful that McCartney hit on the idea of an exhibition in aid of a children's hospice.

From there it's developed into a nationwide tour and one-man-show.

"I quickly realised that just displaying the photos wasn't going to be enough," says McCartney.

"The great thing about them is that each one encapsulates an era, a story, a moment in time. So we came up with the idea of the show, allowing me to share the great memories which are actually the thing which makes the photos.

"For instance, I snapped Jerry Lee Lewis on stage at the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton sometime in the sixties. I showed him the picture years later and he commented how brilliantly I'd captured him singing.

Image caption Mike McCartney (centre) was a pop star in his own right as a member of The Scaffold

"I hardly had the heart to tell him that actually he wasn't singing, but shouting that unless somebody got this 'flipping' kid and his camera off the stage then he wasn't going to perform - though those weren't the exact words he used."

In the 1960s McCartney teamed up with Liverpool poet Roger McGough and John Gorman - who later starred on children's TV show Tiswas - to form comedy band The Scaffold.

He performed under the stage name Mike McGear to avoid the perception that he was clinging to his brother's coattails.

However, The Scaffold became a hit in their own right, capturing the 1969 Christmas Number 1 slot with their version of folk song Lily The Pink.

But despite this musical success, McCartney believes photography was always his first love.

"Back even when Paul was just starting out with the Beatles I'd be everywhere they went, picturing the gigs," he says.

"Of course, in those days they'd only be the support act, and what they didn't know was that I wasn't there for them - I wanted to catch the headliners.

"So when they were packing up the van and getting ready to move on, suddenly they'd notice I wasn't there - I'd be off photographing someone else.

"Paul and Brian Epstein would be scanning the crowd for me, until they saw a flash, and then they'd shout 'there he is, grab him'.

"That's where the nickname Flash Harry came from."

McCartney says the hardest thing about the exhibition has been choosing just a hundred from the thousands of images he's collected.

The selection he finally settled on includes rock-and-roller Alice Cooper, U2's Bono reading his script by torchlight in the wings at the Brit Awards, an exhausted-looking Sandie Shaw, and "Godfather of Soul" James Brown, photographed just months before his death in 2006.

The exhibition at Oriel Colwyn runs until 12 May.

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