Denis O’Regan | The 80s’ most prolific tour photographer

Denis O'Regan was the most accomplished tour photographer in the 1980s. From berating Bob Marley to seeing David Bowie get forceful in a Soho nightclub, here are some career highlights to feature in a new exhibition.

David Bowie Mick Jagger London Denis O'Regan

Denis O’Regan has photographed world tours for the most prominent bands and musicians on the planet, from Thin Lizzy in 1980 to KISS in 2008. Arguably the most prolific stadium gig photographer, O’Regan has captured significant and intimate moments with Bob Marley, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Queen, and Paul McCartney. 

Freddie Mercury Maine Road

Freddie Mercury performing at Maine Road in 1986

Stones Ullevi Stadium Gothenburg RGB

The Rolling Stones performing at Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg

Mick Jagger Slane

Mick stretching in his ‘Mick’ jacket before performing at Slane Castle, Ireland

Bob Marley

Denis O’Regan, a sapling young freelance photographer from Barnes, West London, flies out to Montego Bay, Jamaica, to snap Bob Marley for the last Reggae Sunsplash festival.

Bob Marley Jamaica 1980 Denis O'Regan

“I’m in a hotel lobby, and I’m called upstairs to Bob’s room. I open the door, and he’s in there with loads of buddies partying. He flops his head towards me and says, 'What do you want? I ain’t doing no pictures.’ I lost my rag with him. I said, 'Look, I’ve flown 5,000 miles to come out here to photograph you, wait two hours in the lobby, come up here, and you say you’re not going to do any pictures?!’ He then smiled and said, 'Eh! You can take all the pictures you want! We’re going to a party on the beach. Do you wanna come?’ We’re waiting by the VW Campervan, and all his family’s in there; Ziggy too. Bob was drinking from coconuts, and I took this photo. Bob was friendly after I cracked the ice with a mallet! 

“At that point, Kingston, the Jamaican capital, was a dangerous place to be. Men were riding around on motorbikes, shooting, and the country was experiencing political upheaval. American tourists had been told to avoid it.”

David Bowie and Mick Jagger

David Bowie Mick Jagger London Denis O'Regan

David Bowie and Mick Jagger laughing in Bill Stickers’ bar, Soho

“That was after David’s Glass Spider show at Wembley Stadium in 1987. The afterparty was at a club called Bill Stickers (now Zebrano). Mick tweeted this picture when David died; it means quite a lot. Recently I got Mick to sign a massive print of it which I’m donating to Great Ormond Street for them to auction off. Two minutes after I took this picture, a photographer squeezed through the bog window and barged into the room with his camera. David got really pissed off and was wearing these big leather boots with steel toecaps. He walked across the table to grab this photographer, and I held David back to stop punching him! 

David Bowie California 1983

David Bowie had been boxing to get in shape for his 1983 world tour

“David had been boxing every day for a week to become fit for the tour we’d just been on, but he wasn’t a fighter at all. I doubt he would have hit him. He probably would have grabbed him, knowing security guards were on hand to steam in and break it up.”

David Bowie Singapore 1983

David Bowie in a Singapore shopping centre on his 1983 world tour

Keith Richards

This was the only Rolling Stones tour over 16 years before the band broke up after their American tour in 81 and the European one in 82. Did Denis party as hard as the Stones themselves?

Keith Richards London Denis O'Regan

Denis shot Keith Richards in London in 1982

“I was 29 and arrived on tour with the Stones, the world’s biggest band. I’m thinking, ‘What’s it gonna be like? What’s the expectation? What are the pitfalls?’ I’ve gone straight into a giant tour from virtually nowhere. The private jets are set up like apartments with bedrooms and dining rooms. We all have police escorts, and you have your own floor at the hotel. It was all new to me.

Keith Richards 1988

Keith Richards in 1988 on the Stones’ American tour

“Keith was the first to take an interest in my pictures, which surprised me, given his reputation. One day he asked if I’d come up to his room. Of course, I was offered ‘the illegals’ [drugs], and I said, ‘No, thanks. And he goes, ‘You don’t do that then? I wish I never did. Bit late though now, isn’t it?’ That really made me laugh; he was such as sweet guy. 

Keith Richards Denis O'Regan

Keith Richards in Nice, 1982

“So I didn’t get involved in that. My thing was the ladies; I outgunned everyone in that respect.”

Denis’s new online exhibition, 69 Days, will run from 24th October 2022 until 1st January 2023. For more details, click here.

Fifteen photos: six unseen and unreleased and nine classics, will be unveiled for purchase and shown in the online exhibition. It’s Denis’s 69th birthday this year, but the number was also David Bowie’s age at his passing. Moreover, 1969 is a special year for Bowie fans, with the release of the inimitable Space Oddity album. 1969 was also the year of Woodstock, Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones and their single ‘Honky Tonk Woman’.

10% of all sales for 69 Days will be donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital’s charity GOSH.

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