Tag Archives: 1970s

Rare Photos of the 70s British Punk Scene

Throughout the 1970s, John Ingham was heralded as one of the most important music journalists in England. The first person to ever interview the Sex Pistols in 1976, Ingham (who wrote under the name "Jonh" Ingham) helped to bring a nascent scene of just a handful of bands and maybe 50 audience members to readers across the UK. His new book of photography, Spirit of 76: London Punk Eyewitness, out Tuesday from Anthology Editions, is an electrifying snapshot of punk's halcyon days in London. It collects Ingham's personal photos of bands like the Damned, the Clash, and the youngsters of the fabled Bromley Contingent.

In the book's foreword, punk historian Jon Savage points out that the bulk of the photos were taken in the span of only ten days. During that brief November in 1976, beginning with sparsely attended performances by the Sex Pistols in art schools and seedy bars before they were even calling themselves punk, the ferocious sentiment of the music and culture—raw, fast, in your face—spread as a much-needed shot in the arm for Britain's youth, who were graduating from school with bleak job prospects and a general atmosphere of doom and malaise. Through word of mouth and pivotal gigs like the Sex Pistols' legendary performance in Manchester, which was responsible for forging bands like Joy Division, the Buzzcocks, and the Smiths, the scene exploded into the musical rite of passage it is now for young people everywhere. This massive and seminal leap is beautifully captured through Ingham's photographs and lovingly pieced together in this hardcover edition.

Just before the book's release, I spoke to Ingham about the earliest days of the London scene, transforming punk into propaganda, and feeling everything's over and terrible in your 20s.

VICE: What was going on in your life when you started taking these photos?
John Ingham: I was 25 in 1976. My teenage years were spent in the US, in California, so I kind of got the whole psychedelic band thing, but I felt too young for it. Then later, when punk showed up and I had moved to England, I felt too old for it. I moved to London in 1972 and was writing regularly for the NME and then Sounds. In 1975, I started getting very upset with what was going on musically. The big bands were not very good, and they weren't producing any new records. I was looking around, seeing a lot of new bands and not seeing anybody who was very interesting. Then I read a review of the Sex Pistols and I thought the name was the best name I had seen for a band in ages.

Was seeing the Sex Pistols play your entry into what was going on? How did you end up being the first person to interview them?
When I first saw the Sex Pistols in early April of 1976, it was in a strip club in Soho. It was immediately apparent—I mean, John Rotten was just amazing. There was no denying he had just an incredible amount of charisma. It was fairly primitive, but you could tell there was something there. I talked to Malcolm McLaren, who was their manager, first. He didn't call it punk, but he gave a whole manifesto about breaking free from the 60s. He was pretty much telling me what I was already thinking, so I was converted really early on in the conversation. Then he gave this big flourish like he was giving me some rare audience, and he said, "OK, you can interview them." We did it about two weeks later, and that was the first interview the band had ever done.

What was going on in England at the time that allowed the youth to easily identify with the frustration and sentiment of punk? Economically, the country was not doing well. People were graduating from school and not having jobs to go to. The IRA were on a bombing campaign in the UK, so they blew up some restaurants and social places. They were delivering a lot of letter bombs. You were almost in a civil war. So, people were kind of graduating, they had no job, and if they got a job, it was something like opening letter bombs. I mean, for Mick Jones, during "Career Opportunities," he says, "I won't open letter bombs for you," because that was his job. He got hired at a company as the kind of intern, and his job was to open any letter that looked suspicious. People were fed up and there was a kind of grayness to the country. There was just a ton of frustration, and the Clash articulated it very clearly.

You had been doing a lot of writing before, but what felt so mobilizing about punk at the time? Well, for one, it was a new generation of people. There was about a group of 50 or 60 people at this point, and everyone was somewhere between 18 and 22 at best. It was like any of those things where it starts out really small and secret, but grows into something really big. When the Clash showed up, that was just like another whole level. That was when I sort of started thinking I wanted to contribute to the movement, rather than just being an observer. I was talking to Mick Jones about that feeling fairly early on, and he made the point that people do what they can. Some people manage, some people play the music, some people make the clothes, and some people write about it. I consciously decided to write propaganda and try and write in the way that somebody that was 15 or 16 would think, This is the most exciting thing I've ever read about, I must go and see it.

What motivated you to start taking these photos and documenting the scene?
For the longest period, it was just the Sex Pistols and no one else. A professional photographer named Ray Stevenson, who was McLaren's friend, was photographing them all the time. When the Clash started up—they were just amazing onstage. They were dressed in a way that looked like Jackson Pollock had poured paint all over their clothes. And that's why I picked up a camera, and that's why I shot in color as well. The professional photographers only shot black-and-white because if you took color photos, no one would have published it and printed it. So I was only shooting to record it, I had no thought of getting it published or trying to sell it. I've been told by someone who looked through the book, "I've seen every collection that there is, and yours is effectively the only color around of the Clash."

What were those couple of months of early shows like? Did it seem as though everyone was trying to get everything together before the scene fell apart?
I felt like it was starting to take off when I went up to Manchester to see the Pistols. It was in a small hole on top of the main auditorium of Manchester called the Lesser Trade Hall. It held about 300 people or something, and it was about half full. You find out later that the people who then turned into the Smiths and Joy Division and everything else were all in the audience. That was the first time they played "Anarchy [in the UK]," and the place went absolutely nuts. That's what Malcolm was sort of working toward. He wanted to sort of build this big movement.

We were always down there when bands were sound-checking and that. But at one show the owner of the venue, Ron Watts, said, "You know, there's gonna be about 300 people here tonight." Everyone was sort of like, "You're kidding! No, impossible! You must be joking." And he said, "The phone's been ringing constantly for three days about tonight." I thought it was kind of gonna probably take all of 1977 and it would have this kind of slow growth. Now, overnight everybody knows about punk rock.

I love that the book sort of finally ends with shots of a giant crowd watching the Sex Pistols. It really shows the contrast in scale, from the beginning to where it ended up by the end of the year.
What fascinated me about that night was, it was an invite-only because they were shooting it for a TV show—like, a current-affairs show. And yet half the people there you'd never seen for a current-affairs show, like ever. There's a guy with a long hair and an overcoat, and the guy that's on the cover of the book—never saw them before. The two girls who are handcuffed together in the black leather and plastic—never seen them before, never saw them again. All these people had kind of come out of somewhere, and that's what prompted how the book ends. Because a lot of the original people were going, "Oh, look at these guys! I mean, who are these people? It's terrible now!" I was kind of shocked that people who were 20, 21, were so kind of pessimistic and cynical. It's a very young age to kind of think the world is finished.

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Spirit of 76: London Punk Eyewitness is available in bookstores and online from Anthology Editions.

Colorful Photos of 70s Bay Area Punks Partying, Posing, and Passed Out

Order of Appearance, the new book by photographer Jim Jocoy, showcases a level of personality and intimacy never before seen in his work. It's been 15 years since the release his first book, We're Desperate, which was a massive archive of 70s punk style orchestrated with help from Thurston Moore, Marc Jacobs, and Exene Cervenka. This time around, instead of a collection of static portraits emphasizing what West Coast kids were wearing to shows in the late 70s, Order of Appearance lovingly captures the kids themselves.

For the book, Jocoy pieces together a night of carousing in the Bay Area's burgeoning punk scene, from dressing up to going out to the sobering morning after. Contrary to most punk photography of the era, such as Michael Jang, Edward Colver, or Pennie Smith, this book is full color and almost devoid of any of the bands actually playing shows. Instead, these photos preserve touching moments of his friends dying their hair, stuffing themselves into cars, and passing out in public. Jocoy finds the powerful contrasts of an era in San Francisco sandwiched between sexual liberation and the AIDS epidemic in these vivid photos of his friends who were affected by both.

I caught up with Jocoy just after the book's soft launch at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair to talk about what it was like capturing these intimate and playful portraits of 1970s punk in the Bay Area.

All photos by Jim Jocoy/Courtesy of Casemore Kirkeby Gallery, San Francisco

VICE: What was going on in your life when you started making this body of work?
Jim Jocoy: I was a student at UC Santa Cruz when I started taking these photos. When I was at Santa Cruz, they had a major called aesthetics studies, and to this day, I don't really know what it was. I guess that tells you how serious of a student I was back then. After a while, I dropped out. I kind of had a couple of years of working during the daytime and going out at night, taking pictures—doing that versus being a good student and getting a degree. But that's kind of how I got started.

A friend who lived in the same town actually contacted me and said, "Hey, you want to go see this band? They're called the Ramones, and they're playing in San Francisco." That was back in 1976 when they first toured here. After that first show at North Beach, it totally changed the whole scene in San Francisco. Within a matter of weeks, so many bands started here in San Francisco.

Did it feel like there was some significance to what was going on when you started taking these photos?
I guess I had a sense that something was maybe happening here in San Francisco. I remember punk seemed like something that was happening in England and New York and elsewhere, so I just kept my interest in it to see what would unfold in San Francisco. Lo and behold, after all these years, when I thought it was just going to be a season or two at most, it turned into something much more significant than I would ever image it would be. As a place that was kind of the ground zero for the hippie movement, it felt like it would never be able to compete with the cultural impact that a generation of youth had ten years earlier. But now it seems like the punks went right along with the hippies and established a culture that had some legs.

What gave you the impetus to start documenting everything?
I've always been interested in photography. That's something that I think I came onboard with. I don't know if I have this in common with a lot of photographers, but I'm probably more introverted and quiet. So, with the camera, I was able to mix in with people who I thought were doing interesting stuff like forming bands. It was just a way for me to feel like I was participating and producing because it seemed like what was happening was so exciting. This DIY thing that I hear about these days just wasn't the nomenclature at that time. But that's what was happening.

You really use shape and color in an interesting way in these photos. How did you develop the way you took photos of people?
Part of the reason why I was taking color pictures at that time was, at the copy shop that I was working at, they had the first model of the color Xerox machine. It was very, very primitive. They had a 35mm carousel slide projector mounted on a side that projected up to a mirror that reflected on to the glass. You could get these primitive prints made from color slides.

Back then, the traditional photography of punk-rock scenes were typically high-contrast black-and-white images. So to introduce color, I had to be bold and contrasty. The hippie look was kind of soft and fuzzy and out of focus. But then punk is kind of harsh and contrasty and bold. So, instead of soft mellow colors, I really did try to look for strong powerful colors. To use color, I thought I had to play up the same kind of assertive look to make it work. When I look at the people that I photographed back then, they kind of look normal and current now. But back then, it really was pretty striking to dress up the way that a lot of my subjects dressed up.

You have a lot of really intimate photos in the book. What memories do you have of the people you were photographing?
Paul [Schiek] and Lester [Rosso, the publishers at TBW Books] took 500 of my color slides, and in their way of creating the vibe of the book, it turned out that so many of the subjects were actually very close, dear friends of mine. This book is so much more intimate in my experience, whereas We're Desperate was kind of like I was just there asking people to stand up against the wall, and I clicked away. The whole arc of this book is people getting dressed and ready to go out, and then they go out and experience stuff. I would go and hang out with friends, and as we were getting ready, I would be taking pictures, making sure my camera was all ready.

Who were some of your friends in the book?
There's that photo of my friend Jonnie getting her hair cut by my friend Rico. It's funny because at that time it was like you had a different hair color and hairstyle every week. You'd come to the club with this new, more shocking look. What was really interesting was, a lot of the kids in San Francisco would get these free haircuts. Vidal Sasoon had a salon here in San Francisco where the students would give free color jobs. So the punk kids were always game to go get their hair done up. That kind of started this whole thing of making these radical looks. So my friend Jonnie, whose hair is blue in that picture—I think she was blond the next week and then jet black the week after. It was kind of a regular routine.

In the passage at the end, you write, "Things festered and took time to surface back then." How did that set the tone for what you were taking?
That time was pre-MTV, so any kind of cultural movement didn't get co-opted so easily. After MTV, you'd see this scene happening, and then next thing you know, everyone is trying to do something with it. Since there wasn't an immediate explosion out into the masses, it kind of stewed a little longer.

In San Francisco at that time, there were a couple of significant gut punches. The mayor, Harvey Milk, being assassinated. Then, at the same time, the Jonestown tragedy was happening. Then in 1976, the HIV virus came to San Francisco. That was about the time I was taking pictures from this book. So there was something kind of brewing. It was post-sexual liberation, where everything and anything goes, and especially in San Francisco, it was pretty wild back then. Back then, I remember I would walk down through the Castro, and there was a drugstore where someone made this homemade poster inside of the window with Polaroid shots of ulcers and sores. It said something like, "Do you have these on your body? There's a cancer going around." You would see people on the street with sores, especially with Kaposi's Sarcoma. People were dying of these crazy pneumonia and infections that were so bizarre for their age. It had kind of an influence in the punk scene.

It was theatrical in a way when bands would play about how we were in a new dark ages. I feel like a lot of people expressed it in songs and posters and images. With the new Reagan administration coming on, it was a nightmare for people who were free thinkers or progressives. I was kind of the dawning of a dark age in my personal history. I have so many friends, a lot of them in this book, who passed on from AIDS or drugs or whatever.

"That time was pre-MTV, so any kind of cultural movement didn't get co-opted so easily. After MTV, you'd see this scene happening, and then next thing you know everyone is trying to do something with it."

The photographs have this sense of optimism that really seems to contradict what you're describing about the era. Were you seeing things optimistically when you were shooting them?
There was a little bit of duality, but the primary drive for me was to capture youth, energy, and life, and not the darker things hovering off to the side. All of that energy, just to celebrate life when you're a young person—when I look at my photos, that's what I was thinking I was capturing. It's only a little later with context of time that I can see that. Although all of that was happening, there also was this darker vibe that was happening.

How does it feel looking back on this work now?
This might sound lame, but, in a weird way, every time I look at this book, I just go, "God, these people are so beautiful!" It's kind of contradictory in a way where people think that punk is crass and snotty and not beautiful. Beautiful and punk kind of don't mix well. But for me, after all of this, what I'm seeing is it's beauty.

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Order of Appearance by Jim Jocoy is available online and in bookstores.