Dean Chalkley: “When you see the band walking down the road, people turn their heads”

The veteran music photographer shot the Second Sons for the new Jocks & Nerds. He tells us why the band might be the future of rock'n'roll

The Second Sons’ blues-tinged rock’n’roll has captured the attention of a number of Rolling Stones affiliates.

Their way and natural flair, the way they look and carry themselves, it all adds up

Saxophonist Bobby Keys, whose horn appears on ‘Brown Sugar’ and various peak-period Stones’ records, performed a solo for their single ‘Best of Me’. John Giddings, once the Rolling Stones’ European promoter and now organiser of the Isle of Wight Festival – also an agent for the Ramones and Iggy and the Stooges – booked the Sons to play the festival in 2016. Producer Chris Kemsey, who engineered and co-produced later Stones records Some Girls, Tattoo You and Steel Wheels, is now working on their debut album, due for release in 2017.

Among these big-name fans is Dean Chalkley, whose long-running association with the NME has seen him photograph acts like Oasis, the Verve, Blur and Paul McCartney. He shot the Second Sons for issue 21 of Jocks & Nerds, which is out now.

 How did you hear about the Second Sons?

We go to the same hairdresser, a lady called Sue at Barbers Point. She's been on this road, parallel to Carnaby Street, since the 1970s, through the whole mod revival.

I was there one time and she was like, 'oh I cut these guys’ hair and I think you'd really like their music'. Apparently, one morning, she was in the shop before they opened and the guys were outside. She was like, 'there's these rock stars out here, what's going on?' That was how she met them. I take what people say to me seriously, so after she mentioned it I contacted them and said, fancy meeting up?

We went to Highgate Village for a drink and chat. I really liked their attitude. They're really confident. What they do is actually quite unusual, as Hamish [MacBain, writer] pointed out in his piece in Jocks & Nerds. They're doing stuff that other people aren't and will polarise opinion. The guys are super focused and have got these great plans which are now unfolding. 

No matter where they are, they really give it some

Their way and natural flair, the way they look and carry themselves, it all adds up. They are characters and capture people's imagination. When you see them walking down the road, people turn their heads. Because [frontmen] Nick and Chris [Harding] are brothers, they've got this implicit understanding of each other. They're both very different from each other. 

I spent a day in the recording studio watching them make their record, which will be released next year. It was an honour to be a part of that moment. It's easy to underestimate that when something like that is being done, it will be made forever.

I've seen the band play live a few times now at different places. It's a really good time to see them because they're in a transitional period when things are expanding. At the moment, not many people will know about them at all. But as things unfold, it will happen. I have seen bands like that in their early days and it's just great to remember those gigs. 

During your career, you've shot some famous musicians but have also seen new artists at the turning point of fame. Do any of them remind you of where the Second Sons are at now?

I know a lot of bands and have seen things not work out. Sometimes it all goes off the boil but when it does happen it's fantastic to see.

The Horrors were a classic example. I knew Rhys [Webb, bassist and keyboardist] before any of that had happened. When the group started to gain momentum, I was trying to tell people about this great thing that was bubbling up. There was one particular night when I chatted to Ben Swank. He was a really fantastic drummer actually but he now co-runs Third Man Records [Jack White's record label]. Way back then, Ben was a talent scout for Loog Records.

One night I was like, 'Ben you've got to come and see Rhys and his band'. That was a decisive night because Ben took it upon himself to sign the Horrors there and then. Their debut album followed shortly.

From a different perspective, I shot the album cover of Boy in Da Corner. Before that came out, Dizzee wasn't known to a mass audience. But that album exploded and is revered. Just a few weeks ago, Dizzee performed that album in its entirety at the Copper Box for Red Bull Academy. 

I saw Oasis when they played the Army & Navy [pub] in Chelmsford in 1994 – just three months before they released their debut Definitely Maybe. That was spectacular.

What about your experiences with bands that didn't make it?

If you talk to my girlfriend and say this word, she will sigh. Clor. They were such a good band and did have success – they released one album – but just fractured.

Do you think it's easy to predict whether a band will become big?

Well, I can certainly say that when you meet Nick and Chris, they have this enigmatic quality and drive that separates them away from the pack. Nothing is a dead cert so you have to go on your gut reaction. You see the precious nature of that as well because anything could happen.

In our culture now, there's a lot of pressure to be liked by as many people as possible. But if you've got a solid foundation and a strong core, then that can be very powerful. There's bands that not everyone knows about. There are ones that don't court mass appeal or be at the top of the pop charts. They just want to do what they do, which should never be underestimated. Just because you're liked by loads of people doesn't necessarily mean that it's good. 

Do the Second Sons want to become as big as their heroes, the Rolling Stones?

I saw the Sons play at the Alley Cat, which is a small venue in Denmark Street – in fact it's where Jimi Hendrix used to rehearse back in the 1960s. It's a very small subterranean club. What they gave on stage is the same as what they'd do at a festival – like when they played Isle of Wight. I think they do want to play the big venues but no matter where they are, they really give it some.

Read the full story in Jocks & Nerds Issue 21, out now