It’s Only Rock and Roll

I’m taking up the challenge posed on the chat forum to post some of my rock and roll photos. They are mainly quite old and technically terrible, but they are a big part of my personal history. I’m glad I took them, regret not having taken many, many more when I had the chance; and in the case of all the ones shot on film I have no idea where the negatives are. 

This will be mainly chronological with a sample pic or two as I go. First up are The Stranglers who were the first band I photographed. I first saw them in May 1976 supporting Patti Smith at The Roundhouse. They were also very active on the London pub/club circuit. I saw them a lot and as a result got to know them quite well. They were fine about being photographed. These two were taken in September 1976 at The Rock Garden in London’s Covent Garden. That’s Hugh Cornwell on guitar and Jean Jacques Burnel on bass – taken on a film camera but I can’t remember what. Either a Zenith E, or a small Olympus pocket film thing.

Hugh Cornwell
Jean Jacque Burnel

Those were easy to take as I had permission, but the lighting was rubbish and I had no technique whatsoever. They are some of the earliest live photos of the band, taken before they were signed to a label, so have historic value. 

The next photo op came in early 1977 when me and a mate who had a fanzine interviewed Ian Dury up at Stiff Records. This was after he’d been signed but before any records had been released. I no longer have any of the photos so the best I can do is the cover of the fanzine. I had no idea what I was doing and my mate (now a successful film critic) had forgotten to bring either a tape or paper to take it all down on. Ian was great about it, and very patient with us. Youthful enthusiasm got us through. This was definitely taken on the Zenith B. 


To a minor extent I had caught the bug, but photographing gigs was tricky in those days. Cameras were banned from most venues and I wasn’t about to risk being thrown out. To my constant regret I took very few pictures during those punk years even when I did have the chance. I was having too much fun. Too much of everything! 

I did get a camera in to a Lou Reed gig in ’77 (photos are rubbish) and again in late 1979 (Hammersmith Odeon), which is where these next two images are from. In those days I invariably had front row tickets for Lou. I was dedicated to the cause! I’m fairly sure these must have been taken with the mini Olympus. The first one has been colourized digitally. 

I’ve photographed Patti Smith gigs several times over the years, but not during the iconic 1970s period. These are from various shows in the early 2000s. The first two were taken with a tiny Olympus 3.2MP pocket camera. 

Patti Smith at Meltdown (Royal Festival Hall) 
Patti and Lenny Kaye, Brighton
Patti at The South Bank

The last photo of those three was taken on a Canon bridge camera using flash (my inexperience showing). I’d asked Patti before the show if I could take photos, and she’d said yes but to please wait until the final part of the set. Which I did. But I used flash, which totally pissed her off and she launched into a withering rant about me from the stage. Yikes! Major embarrassment. She did apologise afterwards (as did I), and she signed autographs for us, so  it ended up ok (and it’s a nice photo). But a lesson learnt about flash (don’t use it). 

The final gig pix are from a Throbbing Gristle reunion gig at Heaven in 2009. These were taken with permission and with proper camera gear (a Canon with the 70-300 DO lens). I was actually too close and too much to one side to get any good band shots, so I concentrated on portrait style images of the two front persons, Cosey Fanni Tutti (here playing a toy trumpet) and the singer Genesis P-Orridge. Technically these are by far my best gig pictures as I actually had some idea of what I was doing, could control exposure; and had time and space to concentrate on the photography without fear of bouncers deciding I should leave.

Cosey Fanni Tutti
Genesis P-Orridge

The craziest omission is the paucity of photos of the year I spent in America in 1978/9 as a student, but mainly acting as roadie and sound man for a punk/new wave band. I saw loads of shows up and down the California coast and as crew needn’t have worried about permission. I’ve a few scrappy band pix, a couple of blurry photos of Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads and not much else. So to close, a couple of personal pix. The first is the singer of a notorious California punk band called The Rotters. They built a bit of a reputation and got banned a lot! That’s me on the right. I have no idea where that photo was taken. The final picture is Toyah messing around in my bedroom in North London in I think (judging from her hair) early 1977. This was just before she filmed Jubilee for Derek Jarman and shaved her hair to an orange crop, so pre-fame. The photo has been cleaned up in Photoshop as the original print is one of those textured no-gloss prints you used to be able to get. As ever, negatives are long gone. 

Tom Charteris (Phester Swollen) of The Rotters (and me)
Toyah circa 1977

That’s a selection of band/music photos from me. I’ve a few others floating around, but nothing great and this selection covers most of the name artists. I’ve definitely lost some photos over the years. I imagine that for today’s young punks the problem isn’t not taking enough photos, but in NOT being photographed doing things they shouldn’t be doing. That really wasn’t a worry back in the 70s, and for that I am truly grateful!  

Published in Member Blogs

  1. Really enjoyed reading that.

    • Thanks Kim. It was a fun journey through Memory Lane putting it together.

  2. To finish your title…..but I like it 👏👏

    Thanks Paul, for taking the time to put this together really enjoyed the stories and the images

    • A pleasure Jayne. I’m glad you gave me the nudge to put something together.

  3. Wow, nice one Paul. There’s no such thing as a ‘bad photo’ in these circumstances – it’s all about documenting history and having fun along the way. Thanks for posting these, they are great.

    • Cheers Shaun! Are you still doing gig photography? You must be gathering quite a portfolio by now. It’s then just a matter of waiting until they get famous.

      • Hi Paul, I’m not doing so much now, probably only 3-4 gigs a year compared to the 100+ I did 2019. I’m very selective over what I do as people just take the piss and unless you are already working at the top you aren’t getting in, so I just do the stuff I like. I do have tons of photos though, and yes one day some of them will be famous. Well one of them is getting there – James, the singer of Yard Act used to be in a band called Cruel World and I photographed them a few times. I now need to find a new avenue for photography and I think that macro lens might be coming in handy as macro is something I’ve always struggled with, but I did enjoy the technical aspects of studio photography so I’ll try combining the two. Much more predictable than bands.

  4. Interesting read Paul, thanks for posting. I went to many concerts in my youth but not one with a camera so only sketchy memories which get sketchier by the day!

    • I know what you mean about the memory. There are gigs I know I was at but cannot recall a thing about; others where I have very clear memories but cannot find any trace anywhere that the gig actually happened. Some of my most precious memories may well be hallucinations!

  5. Very cool. And very enjoyable too. Loving seeing some stuff from you guys.

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