James Sharrock has lived a life every bit as interesting as the subjects he shoots, from his early dreams of becoming a Jackaroo (a kind of trainee Australian cowboy) to shooting drag queens in the 90s and eventually working alongside some of the hottest bands on the planet, with his photos popping up everywhere from Kerrang! to Classic Rock to Metal Hammer. But no other band has captured his imagination quite so much as Bullet For My Valentine, and his work with them gave him a front-row seat to watch the Welsh band become – as he puts it – “one of the biggest metal bands to come out of Britain since Iron Maiden”.
“When I first met Bullet in 2005 they were just kids – you can see in some of the photos, they’re so skinny!” James laughs. “They were super excited metalheads that had no idea what was coming for them.”
Over the next decade, James would shoot Bullet for magazine features, at festivals and headline shows, and document their tours in places like New York, Australia, Siberia and South America. He has now curated his impressive library of images into the 200-page photobook The Poison to Venom, his stunning images offering an intimate view into the band’s world and their journey from wide-eyed teenagers to the kind of band that could pack out rooms around the world.
“We always stayed in touch and formed a good relationship,” James says. “They have a real worldwide appeal and the fans go nuts wherever they go.”
Back in 2005, Bullet For My Valentine were just getting started, and James was sent to shoot them for Kerrang!. James was excited – he was following his dreams of becoming an established music photographer, having just relocated to London from Australia without so much as a concrete job offer or permanent place to stay.
“I was asked to go shoot a news feature for Bullet as they were just finishing The Poison with Colin Richardson – the same guy who did albums like Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes,” James says. “I found the Welsh had a very similar humour to the Australians, so we got on immediately.”
The next 18 months saw both parties’ career prospects explode as The Poison took the metal world by storm and James found himself in regular work, meeting ex-Hammer editor Alexander Milas who would ultimately lure him to the dark side (we have better biscuits, after all). During this time, James would bear witness to the first signs that Bullet were about to explode.
“It wasn’t until the Kerrang! Tour in 2006 that you saw the response,” James remembers. “They were on a fast-track up; the last show was at Brixton Academy and the response from the crowd was huge!”
Bullet were an affirmation that it had been the right choice for James to move to London, as he got in on the ground floor for one of the hottest new acts around. He also pivoted from photography to film when he filmed music videos for Bullet’s songs Raising Hell – filmed at their practice space in Cardiff and inspired by “a classic Pantera video… just don’t ask me which!” – and Army Of Noise, filmed when the band toured South America.
“[Bullet] have a huge following in South America, so it was great going out and getting the crowd chanting before the band would come on. There was one venue they played in Rio, just off the Copacabana Beach, this small coliseum-like thing. There was a Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome vibe and the crowd was going nuts; just being in such a tropical place added excitement anyway and it just felt great.”
The Poison to Venom’s 200 pages promise to take fans from the tropical beaches of Australia and South America to colder climes in Siberia, and in front of millions of fans all around the world. Each image highlights the growth and change Bullet experienced in their 10-year journey, coming full-circle when they worked with Colin Richardson again on Venom. In that time, the band have surely worked with hundreds of photographers, but James has something nobody else did…
“I was the ‘yarr’ guy!” he laughs. “When they were trying to look badass and metal I’d go ‘yarr!’ like a pirate to make them laugh. Maybe that’s why we ended up working together so much – they appreciated the sense of humour. I remember we were at one Russian show and in their changing room there was a sign saying ‘Beware, Fans Behind Door’ and there was also a big metal fan just outside the room… I went out, got one of the crowd members to pick it up and follow me – so this girl ends up bursting into their dressing room through that door, screaming and holding this enormous metal fan! It’s almost dad humour, I suppose.”
Maybe you had to be there… but James’ book will make you feel you were.
Support The Poison To Venom on Crowdfunder. If the project makes its goal of 1000 copies, James also promises an exclusive documentary video of footage from over the years.