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Posts written during 'July 2012'

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Don Letts - Culture Clash, Chapter 12

The Punk Rock Movie

It has been said that when people saw the Pistols or the Clash play, half of them formed a band the next day, which is partially true. But many people, myself included, left those gigs and took the inspiration and the attitude to inform whatever we did, or were going to do. Inspired by this ethic, a lot of people did pick up guitars and the stage soon became full. I wanted to pick up something too, so I picked up a Super-8 camera. I’d always wanted to express myself visually after seeing The Harder They Come in the early seventies but could never see a way forward- until punk came along.

Soon I began filming the punks for practice and while filming the Clash playing at Harlesden, a journalist must have seen me. The following week I read in the NME that Don Letts is making a film about punk rock and I thought: “that’s a good idea, I’ll call it a film.” Before long people were asking me when it was going to come out!

Don Chapter 12 1

Straight away I began documenting all the events I thought were either interesting or ridiculous. I approached the movie in the same way that punk rock had evolved, saying, “Screw the rest of you, I am doing this the way I want to.” I was in the right place at the right time, and looking back, I had a knack for filming what was important, rather than tabloid punks trying to grab some screen time.

The whole thing had a life of its own—even the title—it became 'The Punk Rock Movie' because that’s what everybody was calling it. After the shows at the Roxy, Chrissie Hynde, some of the Slits, the Clash, Generation X and the Pistols would hang out in Forest Hill, often all at the same time. One reason was that they did not want the night to stop; they also wanted to check their moves on stage and get their shit together. With Super-8 film you only had three-minute cassettes, so it was really fortunate for me that the punk bands seemed to cram everything into about 2½ minutes. As the Roxy crowd knew and trusted me, I managed to film what the TV cameras couldn’t get; the real background, the real truth. Every time someone announced that London Weekend Television were coming down to film, all the guys that were really important stayed away. The other kids stuck on some more safety pins and some more make-up and jumped around in front of the cameras—so it was a really distorted view of the whole thing. Journalists like Vivienne Goldman, Tony Parsons, Caroline Coon, Janet Street Porter and John Ingham were really influential in helping to break the punk rock movement—and they were also massive reggae fans. Richard Williams of Time Out did a big write up on The Punk Rock Movie and put me on the cover.

The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London then caught wind of the Time Out article and asked to show my film. The Punk Rock Movie ended up running at the ICA for six weeks breaking all box office records. As I was using Super 8, there were no negatives, so I was showing the original in the cinema. It did not have any titles, it was just the raw film stuck together, a bit like the Fred Flintstone school of film-making. On any given night, the film would break or the bulb would blow. On several occasions I had to say, “Hold on everybody” and run up to Piccadilly to get a new bulb for the projector to start running the film again.

Don Chapter 12 2

Eventually the film was blown up to 35mm and titles were added. I cringe when I see it now, as the techniques for blowing up film in those days were pretty primitive. The end result blew it out of the context of punk rock. I filmed the Sex Pistols at Screen on the Green and The Clash on their White Riot Tour. The film also included Johnny Thunders, X Ray Spex, Generation X, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Subway Sect, Jayne County and Shane MacGowan pogoing in his Union Jack jacket. There is no narrative, just pure punk mayhem. There was always plenty to shoot at the Roxy; characters like Johnny Moped who looked like an extra from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Buzzcocks, The Adverts who featured the female bass player Gaye Advert, dressed in black leather she was easy on the eyes. There’s also footage of Eater (who had a twelve year-old drummer called Dee Generate) the night they decided to bring a pig’s head on stage and proceed to hack it to pieces. Kids eh!

Don Chapter 12 3

I remember I had to get Sid Vicious to sign a form to give me permission to use footage of him in the film. Sid arrived with Nancy, and as usual they were pretty much out of it. He had a huge knife that he was prodding Nancy with. I told him to “chill with it” as someone was going to get hurt. Anyway, he signed the form and they left. Two weeks later, Nancy was dead.

Later on, when Malcolm released 'The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle' he slapped an injunction on me preventing showing The Punk Rock Movie. Strangely I was not that bothered, because looking back I have never liked The Punk Rock Movie that much, as I could see how rough it was compared to the vision of what I felt I could do. Malcolm did me a kind of favour as I no longer had to show a film that technically made me cringe. It also gave the film a cult status. It’s a bit like when I finally got to see the Stones’ cult film 'Cocksucker Blues' that never got released. Sometimes the myth is better than the reality.

Click HERE for all guest blog posts by Don Letts.

Bradley Wiggins wins Le Tour de France

Fred Perry collaborator Bradley Wiggins won his place in cycling history yesterday by becoming the first British man to win Le Tour de France.

Bradley_Le_Tour_de_France_winner
©Team Sky

Following his gold wins on the track at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Wiggins targeted his focus towards road racing. In 2009 he secured an impressive 4th place in ‘the Tour’. The 2010 race was not so fruitful for the cyclist and in 2011 a tragic crash during stage 7 saw him careering out with a broken collarbone. However his pre-crash performance in 2011 coupled with his trio of major wins earlier this year led to him being firm favourite to take this years' maillot jaune (the winners yellow jersey), long before the race had started.

Wiggin’s performance on the bike and his commendable sportsmen like qualities have won him a legion of fans over the last few weeks; the French media have even nicknamed him ‘Le gentleman’. Wiggo and his famous ‘sideburns’ have just a few weeks to recuperate before the start of the London 2012 Olympics, where he will be partake in the road racing event.

The Bradley Wiggins & Fred Perry Collaboration is available exclusively online and in selected  Fred Perry shops.

When You Hear the Music, Trouble Disappear

Justin Thomas has spent the last 35 years working as a music photographer, documenting some of the industry's finest and most influential artists through his intimate behind the scenes portraits and captured moments of on-stage theatrics. This Friday sees the opening of When You Hear the Music, Trouble Disappear, an exclusive solo exhibition held at West London's Graffik Gallery that highlights some of the photographer's most iconic images. We caught up with Justin ahead of the show's opening to talk about his methods, most memorable images and the shots that got away...

What draws you to photographing musicians?

I’m drawn to bands who move. I’m looking for that moment when Bob Marley flicks his head back and all his locks flail out like tendrils, when the stooping KEEF brings down his arm or Wilko Johnson does the splits in mid-air with his Strat pointing straight out like a machine gun.

Bob Marley Justin Thomas

Bob Marley at the Crystal Palace Bowl, June 7th, 1980

It's a challenge, and when all the elements that make a good photo come together at the same time, composition, exposure and capturing THE moment, it’s extremely satisfying, especially if you have captured it exclusively - a unique image, yours. There's a lot of luck involved in 'live' photography, 9 times out of ten you'll misfire, but digital cameras give you the freedom to shoot at will, which was a luxury I never had when I was starting out - I didn't even have a motordrive. I think that enhanced my sense of anticipation. Photographing musicians, is, like most other forms of photography, about pushing your finger down a fraction of a second before you think 'it' is going to happen. It’s about anticipation...if you've seen the picture already, you've missed it.

Is there one shot that has particular meaning to you, or you would describe as your best work?

I particularly like the Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross frame. I had been very moved when Stevie came back for the 2nd part of his 3 hour Wembley show after the interval.

He was led to the lip of the stage, and then left on his own. He was using his feet to balance, half on, half off the stage, while he rocked his body to the sound of his harmonica. There were moments when he was so involved in his music that his upper body was almost parallel to the stage, so much so that I thought he might fall on my head. It was very endearing watching him, knowing that he might fall 12 feet down. He looked very vulnerable in his ecstasy.

Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye & Stevie Wonder at Wembley Stadium. By Justin Thomas.

Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye & Stevie Wonder at Wembley Stadium, 7th September 1980

On the final encore he brought on Marvin and Diana, and it brought tears of joy to my eyes. Motown, was, without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest label of all time-joy unlimited, and here were the Kings and Queen. The only thing that might have topped it would’ve been if Aretha had popped up on harmonies. I love the composition and Marvin in the middle, pin sharp; smiling sweetly...can I get a witness?!

Has there ever been a moment where you’ve missed what could have been an iconic shot?

It was about 1978 and I’d been in North London to shoot George Thorogood and the Destroyers and they’d put on such a blinding show that I used up all my film.

It was a bad mistake.

Me and my mate decided to go down the Music Machine to catch the end of Link Wray and Robert Gordon's set - two fabulous gigs in one night! At the end, my mate went backstage to shake their hands, but took ages. I went to see what was keeping him and the first person I bumped into was Sid Vicious. I couldn’t believe I had no film left, at which point my mate elbows me in the ribs and goes, ‘It gets worse, look who’s just walked in behind you’ – and when I turned around there was Bob Dylan himself! The king of punk and America’s greatest singer-songwriter together in this tiny little room in Camden Town – can you imagine how many copies of that shot I could’ve sold? One good thing did come out of it though, and that was noticing just how small Dylan actually is. I mean, this bloke is a hero of mine, always has been, but he’s just a little fella. That moment really helped me with my approach to the job after that because I realised that no matter how big the stars look on screen or on stage, they’re just flesh and blood...'just like everybody else'

The Jam at Townhouse Studio, Shepherds Bush, 1979. By Justin Thomas.

The Jam at Towhouse Studio, Shepherds Bush, 1979

What’s the most difficult factor when photographing live music?

There are loads of difficult factors involved in shooting live photography - having flagons of piss thrown at you by bored audience members at heavy metal concerts like Castle Donnington spring to mind. I was the house photographer at Brixton Academy for 10 years, and it would not be uncommon to have a full pint of beer come flying over into the photo pit and exploding all over your camera; at other times it might be somebody's foot kicking into your head on the way back into the mosh pit.

When I started out doing punk bands, I’d run my hand through my hair on leaving the venue and it would be coated in spit.

The Specials at The Hope and Anchor, Islington, 1979

The Specials at The Hope & Anchor, Islington, 1979

Is there one musician you haven’t shot, who you’d like to?

There are many artists I wished I’d photographed, but THE one, was the greatest performer and guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix. I wanted to go to The Isle of Wight festival when I was 14, but my mum wouldn't let me. No-one has or ever will come near. I went to see Jeff Buckley as a punter once at The Astoria and was completely blown away by the way he turned the place into a church...a very spiritual occasion...but in a way I’m glad I didn't take pictures 'cos I appreciated his performance so much more. When you are taking photos you don't notice the performance so much 'cos you are concentrating on getting 'THE' shot.

'When You Hear the Music,Trouble Disappear' is open 20th July - 18th August 2012 at Graffik Gallery, 284 Portobello Road, London, W10 5TE

All images courtesy of Justin Thomas/Graffik Gallery.