Jill Furmanovsky's best photograph: Liam Gallagher and Bono watch Noel sing

‘Oasis were trying to crack America – but they couldn’t sustain a long tour without falling apart’

When I was 11, my family left Rhodesia and moved to the UK. It was a traumatic wrench, leaving all that behind, and I felt very isolated. But there were compensations: it was 1965 and Britain was in the middle of a cultural revolution.

The Beatles had a big effect on me. I would stand outside Abbey Road and wait for their autographs. My fantasy was that we would have tea together, they’d tell me their problems and I’d help them, then they’d help me with mine. My first rock picture was actually an Instamatic of two of my friends with Paul McCartney. I didn’t want to be in the picture – I just wanted to take it. Being invisible is my fantasy. I’m the opposite of the selfie generation.

I did a two-week course in photography, which was considered all that was required – and it’s still all I’ve ever done! Not being properly trained, I’ve always had an inferiority complex. Even now, I still feel like an amateur. I don’t read instructions properly and I don’t know how autofocus works.

The college gave me a camera and I went to see Yes at the Rainbow theatre. As I took some pictures, one of the theatre’s photographers asked me: “Are you professional?” I lied and said: “Oh yes.” They had to leave and asked if I wanted to take over. I ended up getting a card that said: “Jill Furmanovsky, all access, photographer.”

It was my passport to the music world. I didn’t want to be seen as a groupie, though, so I wore black, baggy clothing and flat shoes. I’d sit in the shadows, take pictures and give the prints to Melody Maker. If they got used, I got £30, which financed the next load of film and processing.

By the 1980s, I was not enamoured with music: the narcissistic new romantic thing was not my cup of tea. Then Oasis invited me to be their photographer. I was interested in the work of Diane Arbus, who often photographed weird families. I thought: “Well, here’s a weird family – the Gallagher brothers.”

I shot them at Maine Road and Abbey Road. I slept on the tour bus with them. I’ve even got a photo of Liam sleeping like a little angel. It was like Beatlemania all over again. The fans were “mad fer it”. There were screaming girls, but they also had a male audience. The media were going mad. You had Creation Records, Alan McGee, the Blur v Oasis debacle, and the Gallagher brothers in conflict. What more could you want? It was everything: war, peace, love.

U2 had taken Oasis under their wing. Noel wanted to join U2 up there at the top in America, though this was somewhat thwarted by the internal dynamics of Oasis, who couldn’t sustain long tours of the US without falling apart. But in 1997 U2 took them to the States, where this was taken. When Noel sang Don’t Look Back in Anger, Liam would leave the stage. I saw him sitting on the side, looking up at Noel so beautifully. I thought: “I must shoot this in low light, focusing on his eyes.” And then I saw this ghostly figure behind and it was bloody Bono, pretending to sing along with a mic in his hand and that cowl over his head, trying not to be noticed because he was going on next.

It’s like a father-and-son image. Liam’s got this boyish, bonkers On the Road vibe. Bono is being sly, playing with that religious imagery that’s always in U2’s music. And I was just thinking what I’m always thinking: don’t fuck it up.

Jill Furmanovsky.
Jill Furmanovsky. Photograph: Jim Steinfeldt/Getty Images


Born: Rhodesia, 1953.

Trained: Central School of Art and Design, London.

Influences: Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Don McCullin, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Irving Penn.

High point: “The whole career – it’s been one chunk of marvellousness.”

Low point: “A comedy rock band called Alberto Y Lost Trio Paranoias let off a snowflake machine and it landed on my head. I had to be sewn up.”

Top tip: “Help a young band. Go with them and have adventures.”


Interview by Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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