Taking Flight

David Eustace, Arthur MacMillan and band, We Were Promised Jetpacks, are Scottish, born and bred.  They tell iMPULSE their stories as Scotsmen crossing the continents to pursue their passion.

David Eustace

I’ve got the best of both worlds, I’ve got a loving family and a beautiful house just outside Glasgow – that is home. New York is, to a certain extent, a gang hut, a place I can go and crash out, get all my work done. It’s an office with a bed, that’s what the city is to me.” David Eustace, 48, is extremely proud of his homeland, no matter where he resides. He is currently living between Glasgow where his teacher wife Deidre and their teenage daughter Rachael are based, and New York where he lives in a tiny apartment with his camera.

Living the high life in New York, David has photographed the likes of Ewan McGregor, Sir Paul McCartney, Radiohead, Dame Judi Dench and Robert Carlisle. In 1998 the BBC ran a documentary on his Deutshce Bank sponsored “EGO” Exhibition in London.

But Eustace wasn’t always a photographer. He joined the Navy after leaving school, later becoming a prison guard at Barlinnie.

“Where I grew up you either worked in the jail or ended up in the jail. I just had a few lucky breaks and didn’t end up in the jail-  well I did but I had a wage at the end of it. To me it was a job, it was some kind of security, it was something that would give me money in my pockets.”

Giving up this security to retrain for a trade he had no experience could be seen as taking a big risk, however, he saw it as a natural step to take.

“Was it a bold move? No, it was innocence and ignorance combined, and a lot of work.”

Eustace joined Napier University aged 28, where he turned his hobby into a profession. During his last year he received his first commission for GQ Magazine.

“In my final year I knew who I’d like to work for and fortunately I went to London and I started working for these people. Back when I was doing that, there weren’t so many photographers because it wasn’t so easy then to be a photographer. You really had to be committed to what you did.”

Eustace is concerned about the state of creative industries in the UK. Although he is in favour of evolving technologies, he stresses the importance of really caring about what you do: “We live in a society full of mediocrity. It’s frustrating because it’s something you care passionately about.” He fears that the online world is damaging photography.

“One side of me really likes the idea that all this is open to everyone, but there’s another side that annoys me because I can see the diluting of trades and quality. I think it makes it far easier to take a photograph which is brilliant, but I also think it has diluted photography to a level which most people cannot differentiate between a good photograph, a bad photograph, an ordinary photograph and a great photograph.”

He expresses his frustration at the apparent inability to nurture talent in Scotland. “I think this country has produced some of the greatest entrepreneurs that have ever lived, but regretfully most of them had to leave Scotland to see their dreams come true.”

Eustace is inspired by New York’s energy and multi-cultural environment: “I think anywhere I’m ever going to go I will be inspired. If I go to Beijing it’s going to be like China, if I go to Moscow it’s going to be like Russia. If I go to New York I’m going to get Beijing, Russia, Korea, Jamaica, Scotland – I’m going to get everything in New York.”

Since he first arrived in New York, Eustace has rented the same apartment in the Hell’s Kitchen area of the city; he stays just three blocks from Times Square. “It’s great because it is a base overseas, my daughter has grown up thinking New York is quite normal. She is spending more and more time there now.”

He has great enthusiasm for his daughter Rachael and in developing her talent. Rachael also has a keen interest in photography and fashion. Last year the pair took a three week road trip across America ‘In Search of Eustace.’

“It’s not Daddy speaking. I can be quite hard on Rachael in that way -I want her to do what she wants to do but I want her to also learn that you just don’t get things easy. But, I do see something in her that in my mind is pretty special.”

Despite splitting his life between two continents, David Eustace manages to nurture not only his own talent but also that of his daughter. Living in New York has opened doors which didn’t exist in Scotland but he isn’t sure what the future holds for him. “It’s hard because once you’ve lived in New York where do you live after that?”

“It’s not difficult in the beginning, the only time it gets a little bit difficult is when you are actually at the airport and that’s the moment of truth.”

Arthur MacMillan

Arthur MacMillan is a journalist currently working in Baghdad for world news agency AFP, the third largest news wire in the world. He left Scotland three years ago. “The first time I went in a helicopter in Iraq was on the provincial election day last January. I was in the helicopter and the pilot fired chaff missiles to divert anything that came. At that moment, I realised this is real- this is not the movies.

“Our movement is extremely limited in the sense that wherever I go I will have a minimum of two guards because I’m a white faced European and I stand out a mile. Despite overall security improvements in Iraq, I am still an extremely viable kidnapping target.”

Simply travelling around Iraq is a challenge for reporters, and can be a frightening experience.

“There is terrible traffic in Baghdad and traffic jams are very bad because not only are you static, you’re a sitting target. Many of the bombs go off at checkpoints. I hate going through checkpoints, that’s my main worry security wise.”

MacMillan has very strong ethics and strives for credibility in his work. After a stint in Scottish journalism as education correspondent at the Scotland on Sunday and media reporter at the Sunday Herald, he took the decision to move abroad to find a job that would really satisfy him.

Working in different countries for the last three years makes it difficult to define where home is. “I really have no fixed abode because I sold my flat in Edinburgh before we left. At the moment I live in Hong Kong- that is the closest thing I have to a home. To be honest it’s a very difficult question to answer because nominally Scotland is my home, but I haven’t lived there for three years. I’ve been back every year but I don’t have a home there.”

MacMillan has always been very ambitious. He studied law at Aberdeen University and dreamed of becoming the next Donald Findlay QC but soon realised he was being a little unrealistic so sacrificed a well paying graduate job to become a local reporter, earning £185 a week: “My dad thought I had taken leave of my senses. But I realised 15 minutes into that job that I have made a great move.”

After gaining his first reporting experience with the Galloway Gazette, MacMillan was runner up in the Young Journalist of the Year Awards 2003. His adventures abroad started in Hong Kong in 2007.

He worked in Pakistan when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and was asked to news edit the 2008 presidential election there. It was a dangerous environment, but he feels his experience of what ground reporters go through has made him a better editor.

Reporting from a war zone is a far cry from writing in Scotland, and despite a good start to his career in the UK media, he has lost faith in it: “I’d say I had a very good newspaper training in Scotland but for me it’s very much the past. I left Scotland partly because I didn’t like the way newspapers were going. The focus has become increasingly local, less global and I think the coverage has suffered as a result. I miss home, but I don’t miss Scottish journalism. I do miss the people I worked with. I miss certain aspects because when I look at the papers I really think what could be achieved.

“For me I didn’t have any ties at the time and I knew that Scotland was not going to be a place where I felt I could really reach my potential in that environment, given that I did want to become a world news journalist.”

Not surprisingly, the working hours of a world news correspondent are erratic: working long hours each day for six to eight weeks without a day off and doing so in a limited environment.

“The fundamental fact is that because of the security situation in Iraq we live and work in a hotel. My room is eight metres from my desk so there is no detachment. You are constantly in the zone and in that respect it is claustrophobic. You can’t just go down the pub and have a drink, it’s just not possible.”

When MacMillan visits home he feels disconnected; he has limited time to catch up with friends and feels this puts pressure on his relationships. He says, “It’s almost harder leaving than it is staying.”

When he does return to Scotland, visiting his parents in Innerleithen is a far cry from his hotel in Iraq. “I really like it there; it’s a nice little village with a golf course up the road which I play on quite regularly. That’s one thing I miss about working abroad, specifically Iraq – no golf.

Returning to Scotland is not something immediately in MacMillan’s thoughts, especially as he is enjoying his work in Iraq so much: “I honestly believe out of a hundred days I reckon I enjoy 90 of them and I think that’s a pretty good average. Aft

er this job I will do something that’s slightly more normal then I’ll do something like this again but in a different place. You need variety.”

We Were Promised Jetpacks

We Were Promised Jetpacks have just completed their third tour of America. All aged 22; the guys, Adam Thompson, Mike Palmer, Sean Smith and Darren Lackie, were friends before forming the band. Formed in their sixth year at high school, they continued to flourish after three quarters of the band moved to Glasgow to study. They were signed up by independent label FatCat Records and gradually moved from playing small gigs in Edinburgh and Glasgow to touring America.

Mike Palmer, guitarist, says the band was pushed towards the US market by their label. “They are predominantly based in Brighton but they have a branch in New York. It’s basically a lot easier to get over to the States because you’ve got somebody to take care of you.”

The band has played all over the States including venues in Phoenix, Cleveland and Austin. Palmer admits that life on the road is tough: “It’s pretty hard. The actual work and play of it is good; it’s the travelling days spending hours and hours in a van with nothing to think about can get a bit tiring, but very worth it in the end.”

Distance is no object to American fans who travel for miles to see the Jetpacks in action, something they’re not used to seeing in the UK: “The fans are really, really good. Obviously America’s a lot bigger so there’s a lot more folk to come along to our gigs. They are so used to bands playing a couple of hours away and that being the only gig they just drive there, but if you play in Edinburgh you get people from Edinburgh and no one from Glasgow! In America they are a lot happier to travel.”

Touring the States has made the band work harder for the gigs they play back home in Scotland: “We have to pick and choose a lot more now; when we come back we can’t play on a whim. Obviously there are going to be some gigs that are worth it and some that are not. When it’s a one off and we know that we’re playing Glasgow for the first time in a few months we have to make it good – as opposed to being away on tour when if one night is not so good it doesn’t matter, the next night will be. Here if one doesn’t go well it feels like a waste.”

A distinctive feature of We Were Promised Jetpacks’ sound is the use of their Scottish accent in their music.

“We’re lucky that Adam, our singer, tends to pronounce quite well when he’s singing. It’s quite easy to understand the words so I guess nobody is not going to know what we’re on a about! We just have to do the slow foreign talk when we’re away so that people understand us, but it’s pretty funny- we have to do that in England as well so it’s no real difference!”

The “slow foreign talk” will be needed for a while yet- the band are living out of their suitcases for the foreseeable future, touring Europe in April and May after having spent three months in America.

The band’s second album “The Last Place You’ll Look” is released in the UK on April 12 2010

Words by Kathryn Wylie

Photography by David Eustace, Arthur MacMillan and FatCat Records.

2 responses

23 06 2010
Arthur MacMillan

This is Arthur MacMillan. I work in Baghdad, not Kabul. Thanks, Arthur

23 07 2010
Ross McCabe

Apologies, Arthur.
The article in question has now been amended.

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