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Sound and Vision exhibition talk transcript
A talk in the Sound and Vision exhibition by curator Pauline Rushton, with the photographer Francesco Mellina answering questions at the end.
Pauline Rushton: Hello everybody. My name’s Pauline Rushton, I’m the curator of costume and textiles at the museums and I’m the curator of this exhibition. It’s been advertised, this talk, as being given by the photographer Francesco Mellina. Unfortunately, due to a number of different circumstances, he won’t be here to give the whole talk. We’re hoping he’ll come in at some point and I’ll introduce him to you but it’ll be mainly me giving you the body of the talk and we’ll hope that Francesco will be able to join us at some point.
Sound and Vision opened only recently and we’ve had a great response to it so far. I’m really pleased to see so many young people here in particular because that’s what we were hoping, that it would appeal to a whole range of age groups within our audience. Not just the people who were actually in the clubs at the time and who followed the bands at the time but people today who are doing their own thing in fashion, their own thing in music and are looking at different bands in completely different ways, downloading from the internet and everything.
Back then this was the beginning of that movement really. This was the post punk period that we’re looking at. We’re focussed on the period between 1978 and 82 when for many people, you don’t necessarily realise this today, you think that punk was still up and running then but punk had actually happened between 1976 and 78. In 1978 the Sex Pistols actually broke up, they were only around for two years as a band, and a lot of the other influential punk bands at the time had also gone into a demise by then as well.
This period looks at what came out of that post punk period and what the influences were on all those other bands. Lots of different musical genres came about as a result of the death of punk, if you like. So we’ve tried to represent those in the show.
Just to give you an idea of the background first of all, how this came about, Francesco came to see me last year. I did actually know him before because I was one of the people, I’m not in the show, but I was one of the people in these cubs at the time, in the period between 1979 and 84 in particular. I knew him at the time, he was a face in town that you’d see every weekend, he was always with a camera round his neck. At the time when I knew him back then he was the manager of Dead or Alive, the band featuring Pete Burns of course. Pete Burns was a kind of scary figure in town. If anyone remembers Pete Burns at the time he was somebody that people didn’t approach easily and Francesco was always with him. They were a double act, if you like, that people always knew and were in awe of almost. So I did have that connection with him in the past, I’d bump into him in the same bars and so on.
He came to see me last year and reminded me that, I knew that he was a photographer and he had this large amount of material but I wasn’t aware until then just how much material he had. There’s about 5,000 negatives in his archive. They’d never been looked at for over 20 years so he suggested that they might be something that we would be interested in as an exhibition. Once I started looking at them I realised that there was a great exhibition in there in terms of the storyline.
Its been my job over the last six or eight months to sit down with him and his business colleague Darren Ling, who has digitised all of these images for us from the 35mm negatives, to work out a theme. We’ve brought through those musical genres that I’m talking about that happened after punk. We’ve looked at New Romantics, the punk movement itself is around this area and around the corner [indicating one part of the exhibition], round the corner again on the other side you’ve got rockabillies. You’ve got a little bit of the emerging goth scene here, it wasn’t that big in Liverpool at the time, it wasn’t really until 1983 onwards that Goths really took off in Liverpool. You did see a few around before then but not that many, hanging out around Probe and so on, so Francesco didn’t really capture a lot of that side of the movement. Also of course he captured all the Liverpool bands and he knew many of them personally as well. He was actually friends with a lot of them and he knew them quite intimately, he’d go out with them socially. That’s how he had all this unique access to these bands, I’ll talk about them as we go round in a bit more detail.
Also he had this great access to the national bands, people that were coming through at the time into Liverpool musical venues. Places like the Royal Court, Eric’s of course was the big place to play if you were in the post punk perod in any musical genre including reggae and so on. All of those kinds of venues were being visited by bands that went on to be really big. Even people like U2 â€“ there’s a great photo over there of Bono and U2 playing at what after Eric’s became Brady’s in 1981. So people who were unknown at the time, there’s another one there of Mick Hucknall at the back of Mr Pickwick’s club just off London Road which young people wont remember but older people will remember Mr Pickwick’s as a disco, but it also hosted bands as well. He’s a massive superstar now but he was 17 in that photograph and he doesn’t look like superstar material exactly. He’s managed to capture him at the time and was lucky to be on the spot at that moment in music history.
Francesco himself, obviously he’s Italian, he’s from a small town in Italy, Polistena, Calabria. He’s always told me that he felt he was born in the wrong place, it wasn’t for him. It was a small quiet town, a bit of a one horse town. His ambition was always to get out of Italy and travel, see the world and in particular to come to Liverpool because being born when he was he was very much influenced by The Beatles initially. He wanted to be at what he saw as the centre of the action at the time, which was The Beatles, so hewanted to come to Liverpool from an early time. He managed to do that by travelling round Europe a little from when he was 16 onwards. Eventually in his early 20s he settled in Liverpool. He studied photography at the old art college, which is now part of the JMU. He did a night school curse over a couple of years there while he was working, so he is properly trained as a photographer. Because he couldn’t play an instrument or sing, his contribution to the art scene at the time in the late 70s and into the early 80s was to take photographs. That’s how he came to take all of these photographs.
He actually taught himself to speak English apparently by listening to Beatles and Rolling Stones records. He did have access to a few people in his home town at the time who did speak English, so he partly learnt from them as well. Imagine deciding to up sticks in the way he did an d completely change his life at such an early age and come to a completely different city. But he fitted right in, he certainly fitted into the music scene in a big way.
So I think the best way to go round the show is if we start on this side with the punk scene, I’ll talk about that a little bit [indicating photos]. These are the images I chose from a whole range of other things. Part of the problem I had as the curator was to decide just what to put into the exhibition because there was so much. In the end what we’ve got here are 60 framed images and then 67 more on the AV in the central area. They’re not secondary material, it’s what I would have liked to have had in here as well if we’d had the space. But less is more as well so we have to be aware of that when we’re doing an exhibition, we don’t want to overload the viewer with too many images and too much information.
The images down here are taken from the punk part of the collection of images in the archive. What I was trying to convey really are good examples of the typical punk look that was around at the time. All of you are familiar with the punk look now because you’ll see it on the streets every day and we take it for granted. But at the time you’ve got to bear in mind that most people were still wearing flared trousers, platform shoes and flyaway collars. This was seen as a real attack on the status quo, people reacted in, not a violent way, but they were certainly shocked and taken aback in many cases. So it’s a cultural movement that was going on and it’s hard to explain to you now what a shock to the eye it was at the time. I can remember a punk getting on the bus in about 1978 and I was shocked, it was like someone from another planet. You’d heard about these people and seen photos of them in the paper in London but there weren’t that many in the provinces at the time. In Liverpool and Manchester it was a fairly small movement at that. The main punk venue in Liverpool was Eric’s of course. Eric’s wasn’t going for very long at all. It opened in October 1976 and closed in March 1980 and became Brady’s. All of these images are taken in Brady’s in fact. What I was trying to capture was the look that was so typical at the time. By using all the quotes that Francesco has come up with, he was trying to put forward the idea of what was going on at the time. He says for example that he took this photograph because they reminded him of Sid and Nancy, Liverpool’s version of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, from the Sex Pistols of course. Haircuts like this that we’ve seen millions of times since then and this kind of thing with the leopardskin effect [indicating the clothing in the photograph], that was a real breakthrough at the time, you never saw that normally on the streets. One or two people in the city would be wearing these styles and involved in that sort of movement.
Liverpool’s not known as a centre for punk bands, we don’t have the reputation of turning out punk bands in the way that say Manchester does. The Buzzcocks and others of course came out of the post punk period in Manchester. But in Liverpool you’d really struggle to find an example of a well known punk band. One of the few, and that’s why I’ve included them in the exhibition, is the Ponderosa Gleeboys. They were managed by Doreen Allen who went on to form Planet X and was a promoter and booker of bands at Eric’s as well, so she knew the punk scene very well. She’s still around today and she’s still doing revival nights of Planet X as well. This was her band that she managed and that’s another punk thing, a woman managing a band at the time was quite unusual. What I tried to capture here by including these two shots, this is actually a gig that they did upstairs at Kirklands in Hardman Street, which is called the Fly in the Loaf now or some awful name but in my head it’ll always be Kirklands, it was where we hung out. In 1981, this is the audience of course [indicating a photo] and a great shot of the band in action [indicating the photo displayed next to it]. There are lots of examples like this in the collection of people on stage. One of the problems I had in choosing what to put into the exhibition was finding good clean images where they are action shots but they’re not obscured by lots of wires and mic stands. There were lots of images of this band but every single one of them had a mic stand or a shadow across the face somewhere. So this was the best action shot, and that’s the kind of thing you’re up against when you’re choosing exhibition images.
Lets go round the corner and look at Rockabillies. Rockabilly as a movement again was a fairly small thing in Liverpool, I’d say it was much smaller than the punk movement and relatively few people in comparison to other musical genres were involved. I don’t know anybody who was involved in it at the time but it was a flourishing movement nationally, certainly in the years round about 1979 to 1981 in particular there was quite a big revival in Rockabilly on a national scale. What I’ve tried to show here are the punters at the time, the actual kids who were into Rockabilly. A great thing that happened when we put these images out before the exhibition opened, we tried to find some of the people that appear in them. We put an appeal out in the Echo and we did get a few responses and those people came to the opening night of the show. One of the guys is this guy here [indicating a photo] Joe McEwan, and he said that he was involved with the Merseyside Rock ‘n’ Roll Appreciation Society. A lot of these people belong to that society. This is a public appearance by a band called the Shakin’ Pyramids, who were a Scottish band. This is their lead singer here and there are more images of them on the AV as well. They went to do a personal appearance at a record shop, Virgin Records which some of you may remember in St John’s Precinct. This is the audience that turned up to watch them on spec as it were, who were in the shop or might have known about it 24 hours before. It’s a very immediate shot and what I like about it is its got all these references, the draped jacket, going back to the original 1950s rock ‘n’ roll scene â€“ the confederate flag that you often saw Rockabillies wearing, the references to the South, the southern states of America and of course all the hairstyles. They’ve really gone to a lot of trouble. This guy [indicating a man in another photo of two men with quiff hairstyles] you might recognise, he’s the famous Boxhead, anybody heard of him? He’s a guy that was always involved with Eric’s. He was a roadie at Eric’s and he’s still around now, he also came to the opening night. He’s famous for having this quiff and he’s still got it now, it’s just grey instead of dark brown. This was a great shot taken at Brady’s in 1981. Francesco said he just had to take that as it was such a strong idea of two quiffs coming together in a sort of Rockabilly movement.
The Stray Cats were, on a national basis, they were one of the big bands of that 1979 to 81 Rockabilly revival, probably the best known band at that time in fact in a national sense. They played at Brady’s a couple of times during that time. Again they are one of the bands that Francesco rates as being the best in terms of a live performance, along with a few other people like the Cramps who are over there, I’ll talk about those in a second. He reckons they did a very good set and they were very lively. They’re still going today, they’ve still got a website going. All of this is still ongoing, lots of people are still involved in these movements but maybe on a smaller scale.
We’ll walk round and have a look at New Romantics but before we do I’ll just point out this large image of New Romantics. The New Romantics, I’d say, in terms of the commercial impact that they had and the general impact, the number of people involved with them, that was probably the biggest musical genre that took off in Liverpool during this period. Definitely from 1981 onwards, 82, 83 and then it went off into other things. This is a great shot of four people captured in one of the big venues for the New Romantic period generally, which was Cagney’s off London Road. Cagney’s wave one of these divey clubs basically. You went up the stairs and I can’t remember much more about it except it had a big dancefloor, unisex toilets with boys and girls putting their makeup on together, all that business. These four friends were regulars at Cagney’s and they’ve all been traced, they’re all around today still. They do look good but they don’t look like this, I’ve got to say, they’re not all painting their faces any more. They had their photograph taken on the opening night, seated underneath the photograph here. It was like going back in time, recapturing their old selves, I don’t know what they made of it. I think it’s a great photograph because it really sums up the do it yourself ethos that came out of punk. You couldn’t buy these clothes, you had to make them yourself, you had to put them together from second hand shops and your friends or people helping out if you were at art college and you had friends like that. It was all about doing it yourself and today that’s partly gone out of the window I think, people do tend to look much more like each other within the musical movements.
I’ll just point out to you at this point that we’ve tried to integrate quotes into the exhibition which give the flavour of the show as well. So for example in the punk section there’s a great quote, quite well known, by Malcolm McLaren,
"We're the 1% that don't fit and don't care."
That really for me summed up punk, you didn’t have to conform â€“ it was better not to conform and to think of your own way forward.
Steve Strange, some of you will remember him, he was the lead singer in a band called Visage who were probably, along with Spandau Ballet, the best known New Romantic band at the time. He’s come up with this great quote that I think sums up the whole movement in terms of New Romantics
"People who work nine to five and then go out and live their fantasies. They're glad to be dressed up and escaping work and all the greyness and depression."
I certainly remember that in that period because don’t forget that Liverpool was in, a bit like today except we’re not feeling the bite so much at the moment, it was a massive depression. There was a recession on, people didn’t have much in the way of prospects about work. If you were a young person the best you could hope for was a YTS scheme or a low paid job if you got any job at all. A life on the dole stretched ahead of people. One way to deaden that pain and make you forget that for a few hours was that people lived for the weekend, dressing up and going out to these clubs and living their musical life through other means. They didn’t have to think about the weekday grind. Rockabillies did the same thing and New Romantics certainly did, they certainly liked dressing up. So you’ve got this really over the top approach, almost like fancy dress. I can actually remember a friend of mine going out on a regular basis like this and her dad saying to her mum “doesn’t she go to a lot of fancy dress parties”. When we look back now, we were very over the top. We did dress in a very dramatic way but it was so exciting, such a release from everything else that we didn’t really care. People had to have a lot of bottle. This guy over here [indicating a photograph] with the spotty trousers on, face make-up and headband, if you were thinking about going out like that now, would you have the bottle to do that? That’s one of the quotes by Francesco, who has just joined us at the backâ€¦
Francesco Mellina: Hello everybody
Pauline Rushton: You mentioned there didn’t you that you admire this guy’s bottle for going out dressed like that. Because of course people didn’t have the money for taxi fares necessarily, except when you were going home at the end of the night so you got the bus into town dressed like this. You just ran the gauntlet of the equivalent of the scallies of today basically. So you had to be confident enough in your own skin to carry off these looks and the admiration for that comes through in the photographs I think.
All of these photographs [indicating the New Romantics section] were taken in Cagney’s club, which as I said was the stronghold in Liverpool for the New Romantic movement. There were other clubs as well and no one club ever catered for just one movement, there was no segregation in that way but there were pivotal places that were the centre of the movements. Cagneys was the place to be and this was the one and only DJ they used to rely on in terms of the New Romantic scene [indicating photograph]. This is Steve Proctor who has gone on to be a big music producer, so he’s done very well in the music world. But I can tell you, he wore that shirt every week, I never saw him in any other shirt. He’s got this hairstyle like Phil Oakey from Human League, a band that everybody was very influenced by at the time, which is why we’ve included this shot of Phil Oakey himself playing at Rotters. I can remember being really knocked out by him because at the time people just didn’t have their hair long at one side of their head and short on the other, wearing women’s shoes and make-up on stage. It just wasn’t done, you never saw it so it was a shock to the system. Other things that came through in the photographs about the general fashion other than dressing up and some of the bands that played in that scene were things like reusing industrial workwear. That was a big scene in Liverpool, where you hunted out things in second hand shops like bandsman’s outfits. I remember looking for bandsman’s trousers with a red line down the outside. Things like chef’s jackets like this girl is wearing [indicating photograph], painters overalls were things that people tried to get hold of as well, to customise them. The other thing that people did was go for the androgynous look, so I’m still not sure if these are two guys or two girlsâ€¦
Francesco Mellina: A boy and a girl.
Pauline Rushton: Is it? You can’t really tell very easily there can you? There’s another great shot on the AV of a woman wearing a man’s suit, shirt and tie, a Marlene Dietrich look, that was a very big look as well and lots of girls went in for that in the period around 1982 in particular
So people having a lot of individuality and basically being brave about fashion and wearing what they wanted, living their lives the way they wanted and not worrying about what anyone else thought.
Looking along this wall now and over to the window, we’ve got a great section on the Liverpool bands who were around at the time. Starting at the far end you’ve got what would call the ‘crucial three’. It was a name they gave themselves actually but whether you think they were very crucial or not is another matter. We’re talking about this guy, Ian McCulloch down here, Pete Wylie and Julian Cope [indicating photos]. They formed a band called the Crucial Three, never actually played a gig, I think they did one rehearsal session in someone’s back room didn’t they?
Francesco Mellina: That’s right.
Pauline Rushton: And then they split up, so never mind toured, they never even played. But they were the people who would consider themselves the pivotal people in Liverpool music at that time, between 1977/78 and well into the 80s. Their bands were totallyâ€¦ [pauses] I was going to say instrumental but that’s a bit of a pun! [laughs] But they were instrumental in turning out all the bands that we know today that have come out of Liverpool, even people like Frankie Goes to Hollywood in the later 80s. They all came out of these bands like Big in Japan, who became Pink Military down there [indicating photograph]. There’s some great images, in particular I like these three together, which is a little story in itself. This is the same tour in fact. Here you’ve got Wah! Heat with Pete Wylie in his band, here you’ve got Jayne Casey in Pink Military [indicating photographs] and they’re warming up for a gig at Manchester, at UMIST on this tour. On the tour with them, they were top of the bill, in fact she was top of the bill [indicating photograph of Jayne Casey], they were supporting [indicating photograph of Wah! Heat] and the bottom of the bill was Bono over here [indicating photograph] in this little known band called U2 just out of Ireland. You can see that because in one of the images over here you can see a poster in the background with U2 at the bottom of the bill. That’s what I liked about it, it told a little story and we’re always looking for storylines within exhibition images that really stand things on their head. Because of course these two bands are relatively unknown know and U2 have gone on to world domination but this is where they came from, playing in little backstreet places like this, university campuses and so on. The same goes for the one at the end that I mentioned before, the Mick Hucknall shot. He’s between two bins, it couldn’t be more scummy really as a shot [laughs] at the back of a venue in Liverpool that was known as a bit of a pick up joint, Mr Pickwicks. It was the kind of place that was a disco but did host bands as well and lots of well known bands played there including people like New Order which we’ll come onto in a second as well. Well known people.
Lets move round into the national bands, but first I should say something about â€“ can’t leave him out can we? Oh my god if I leave him out there’ll be craziness going on, especially for you Andrew [laughs] - his biggest fan! Pete Burns of course. Here he is in his scary black contact lenses which, can you confirm that they were made by a vet?
Francesco Mellina: Yes, that’s right.
Pauline Rushton: Oh my god! They were made for animals to wear. What the hell animals would be doing wearing contact lenses I’ve no idea. They were very thick and very expensive because of course at the time you wouldn’t be able to get hold of them easily. Apparently he ordered them from, it was a London vet?
Francesco Mellina: London, yes.
Pauline Rushton: I can remember seeing Pete in town wearing these contact lenses. Of course the problem is that he was scary in them, he really was. I can remember people shrinking away from him. You wouldn’t know how to deal with this as he could be quite an aggressive character. He didn’t phase Francesco because he was his band manager and had to deal with him on a daily basis, so you probably had a different take on it to the rest of us but I can honestly say that I remember him being scary looking like this.
Audience member: People used to go into Probe [record shop] just to see him.
Pauline Rushton: Yes, they did. And the other thing about Probe is when people went in to buy stuff, if he didn’t like the record you were buying he wouldn’t sell it to you. He’d lash it back across the desk at you and say “I’m not selling you that, it’s crap. Go and get something else that I like!” People wouldn’t go in because they were scared of him, apart from him being a bit like a tourist attraction. He had lots of different incarnations, he looked different all the time, he had his dreadlock period and all the rest. Of course now he’s got is totally different look, he’s had all the surgery. If any of you want to know more about him you can ask Francesco personally at the end and he’ll tell you off the record!
OK let’s look at the national bands then to finish. There were so many national bands that we could have chosen for this exhibition and again, in terms of how much material you can fit in here, it’s difficult. I had to put a brake on myself but what I was trying to do was to give a good representation across the board of the whole range of people. So starting off over there you’ve got Siouxsie Sioux at Brady’s, Siouxsie and the Banshees. There’s quite a lot of shots of the former Sex Pistols, so you’ve got Steve Jones over there when he was in the Professionals but you’ve got a few more of them on the AV. Unfortunately you didn’t catch them when they were the Sex Pistols did you?
Francesco Mellina: No, I didn’t.
Pauline Rushton: But the next best thing, so we’ve got them in there. You couldn’t really have a show about punk without having a few ex Sex Pistols. Obviously another massive band was the Clash. You reckon that’s one of the best bands you’ve ever seen live?
Francesco Mellina: Correct.
Pauline Rushton: The next two bands along, Devo and the Cramps are both American bands. I wanted to show that this is not just British bands that were coming to Liverpool venues, they were coming from all over the world as well. Devo are, for those of you who don’t know, a really off the wall band. Still going today, really doing something outside the box that other people weren’t doing at the time. They don’t class themselves just as musicians, they see themselves as performance artists. They were doing video installations with their work way before anybody else was. Lots of the things they do were just totally different from everyone else and that’s one of the things that Francesco says in the quote that he quite enjoyed about them.
The Cramps, again, a great band live. A kind of psycho-billy sound that was going on, a bit related to the rockabilly thing but more punk influenced as well.
New Order, the shot there of Bernie Sumner is taken in Mr Pickwick’s again, so a Liverpool venue for what became a massive band. This was just after Joy Division had split up and they became New Order.
Then over on this side one of my favourites and one of the iconic images in the show is this one of Joey Ramone. I’ll just say a few words about this because I think it’s a great action shot of someone on stage. It kind of sums up a rock gig really, the stance and the hair flying. What I was particularly impressed about this one is, it’s 1977, the earliest one in the show probably, it’s at Eric’s when Eric’s was still up and going in full flight. If you’re not aware of it, the Ramones were a massively influential American punk band. They weren’t massive at the time but subsequently they have become, like the New York Dolls, one of those bands that everyone says they were massively influenced by. It’s well known in rock history that they came over in 1977, their first visit to the UK, they played the Roundhouse in London and the Clash were present at that gig, the Sex Pistols were there and the Buzzcocks came from Manchester to see it because they were all waiting to see the performance. They’d bought the album, that was out just before. People couldn’t get hold of this music very easily when it was coming through from places like America. They all went to see them and they came up to the North West to play Eric’s. That’s a measure of how important in the punk world Eric’s really was. I think that’s a significant thing that Eric’s hosted a band like the Ramones at a time when they were so influential and were being sought after by what became the big bands of the punk movement in the UK.
Then you’ve got a range of other people here just to finish, massively important people, Talking Heads in particular, Roxy Music, a huge following, Bryan Ferry there in the middle, another one of the Clash there at the top.
Another band that’s huge and still has a massive influence is Kraftwerk. I was actually at that gig that that photograph was taken at in 1981 at the Royal Court. Again anyone who’s interested in alternative music that came out of post punk was probably at that gig as well because it was absolutely packed to the doors. I remember standing at the back and it was packed to overfilling. They’re so influential because they were around from 1973/74, 1975 they brought out their first album, and all the electric music that we now take for granted, with people like Depeche Mode for example taking on the second wave of that electric sound, Human League on the other side, it all comes from Kraftwerk. They’ll all say that they were massively influenced by Kraftwerk. More importantly, Kraftwerk then went on to influence other musical genres, like hip hop would you believe. So people like Afrika Bambaataa, Soul Sonic Sound and all that kind of thing, they took the beats from Kraftwerk records and formed them into the emerging hip hop movement. It was all subsumed into that in the end, which you wouldn’t expect to happen necessarily, you wouldn’t necessarily make that connection. Hugely influential.
I think on that note I’m going to hand over to you, would you like to say anything at this stage?
Francesco Mellina: No I’m not saying anything, I’m just taking questions. So if anybody wants to ask me anything in relation to the photographs or Dead or Alive, my days managing them or working with them then I’m happy to answer your questions. So who’s going to ask me a question?.
Audience member: When you say the Clash were one of the best live bands you ever saw, what was the best gig you ever went to?
Francesco Mellina: Well I like the Clash but in terms of atmosphere I would say probably the Ramones one was the best.
Audience member: Really?
Francesco Mellina: Yes. In terms of pure adrenaline. And second to that would be the Cramps as well. I think it was the combination of being in such a confined space and, to put it into context, we were extremely young so it was a different thing. Being in that environment was very crucial. It lent itself, the actual environment made the concert a lot better because you were in such a confined space and you really had to be there and you had to pay attention. They were thrilling anyway. So you had sweat pouring all over you, the walls were dripping with sweat. Nowadays when you say that people are just horrified, it was basically a health hazard but it was fantastic if you were a young man at the time. Any more?
Audience member: Did you ever get paid?
Francesco Mellina: No! [laughs] That’s typical because I was working as a freelance photographer so I would get paid ultimately when the papers like the NME or Melody Maker, Sounds, The Face published my photos. So initially I was taking a chance really, it was of my own back. I had to get myself noticed so the only way to get noticed was to send in photographs to the features editor or picture editor. Then hopefully because of the content that they saw. Luckily for me I was quite unique at the time, there was nobody else at least for the first two, three years of my work that was doing that kind of work. So I was placed strategically because once I photographed the local bands and there was the new Merseyside music explosion I was uniquely placed and they used my photos so I was getting paid, yes. And of course people commissioned me in which case they would have to pay me. Any more?
Audience member: What sort of equipment did you use?
Francesco Mellina: Very simple, Pentax, because that was all I could afford at the time. Pentax and just basic lenses, 85mm for portraiture, zoom lens to get close when I couldn’t. but normally as you can see from the photographs, I was on stage so it didn’t make that much difference! [laughs] But you know, you had to have it just in case. And of course I used, all my film was always Ilford and I used Ilford paper to print on and thankfully they contributed to the exhibition.
Pauline Rushton: Yes, one of our sponsors.
Francesco Mellina: Because of my use of their equipment at the time. Any more?
Audience member: Did you need permission to take pictures of Kraftwerk or did you do it surreptitiously?
Francesco Mellina: No I just submit them to my will! [laughs] No, I did need permission. I didn’t just arrive there half an hour before they were on stage. I always used to get there knowing when they would arrive, because I made it my business to know obviously. The people at Eric’s and Brady’s they obviously liked me, they knew that I was participating in a cultural event that was going on, they knew that directly or indirectly with my photos they would probably get some sort of publicity. So they would tell me ‘The band is getting here at this time, why don’t you get here’. I would, I would go and talk to them, I would try to befriend them and more important I would try to communicate with them as human beings rather than just some robot arriving and taking a photo, hello and goodbye. I wanted them to trust me, that’s why a lot of the photos are quite close. I used to take a lot of photos backstage as well. There’s not many here that you can see backstage because they weren’t really in keeping with the exhibition, but there is a lot of photos of backstage. For example there’s one of Glen Matlock...
Pauline Rushton: It’s on the AV.
Francesco Mellina: That was backstage. I have photos of Bono backstage which have not made it into the exhibition. So I wanted them to trust me so that’s what I did. No, I didn’t need permission. Technically yes, they would give me permission anyway but I never really had to ask for it.
Pauline Rushton: Do you think that you could do that today though with the same kind of approach or is it more restricted now for photographers?
Francesco Mellina: No because nowadays unfortunately the sad thing is that there are so many PR people before them, before you get near them you have to sign a piece of paper relinquishing this, relinquishing that, so unfortunately nowadays I suppose it’s very difficult for a young photographer to get that close unless you are lucky enough to be working for a magazine of some kind which then allows you, because they give you a special pass, to get close to them. In those days, luckily for me, I didn’t have to do that, I just arrived and once you got known that you were a photographer then all the doors were open for you. And then of course I was given a special pass by a famous magazine called The Face, which went on to become basically the bible for young people at that time and that gave me basically a pass to all areas really, wherever I went.
Pauline Rushton: I remember you mentioning that you partied backstage with Roxy Music didn’t you afterwards?
Francesco Mellina: yes it was fantastic, with Devo, with Roxy Music, they were one of the bands that, they were extremely kind, they were wonderful. I was backstage and Bryan Ferry said “Listen, you can come in, you can have a drink and some of our food but unfortunately you can’t take any photos backstage.” However, I was pleased about that, they were real gentlemen. It was the only gig ever that I came out smelling of perfume rather than sweat! [laughter] Because the first ten rows it was all girls throwing flowers at them. Truly it was the one and only time that I went home smelling nice! [laughter] Any more questions?
Audience member: What was your favourite band to take photos of?
Francesco Mellina: Favourite, it’s a word that I don’t necessarily like to use but of course because of my professional involvement with Dead or Alive I had access any time I wanted so they were, not necessarily the favourite but one of the bands that I took a lot of photos of. I think all the bands were good subjects to take. In terms of photos, I think my favourite photo is the one of David Byrne of Talking Heads. That’s the one specifically that I like. I’ve said it before, I just like the fact with his eyes closed, the way he holds his chord on the guitar, to me he’s just lost in his own music. I love that because of that particular thing.
Any more questions?
Audience member: When you were managing bands, how did you get people to go to the gigs, how did you promote them and get people to turn up?
Francesco Mellina: How? Well the first thing was just to go round and hit everybody over the head with a blunt instrument [laughs] I’m joking, I’m not serious! No, what you did was you advertised at the gate, you had a lot of posters around. It was extremely hard work, this is what a lot of people don’t realise. They see a band on Top of the Pops and they think that that’s just happened overnight â€“ Top of the Pops doesn’t exist any more but in those days it was the main thing. People thought it just happened overnight but it didn’t, it was a lot of work, I used to advertise through posters, through leaflets, just going around telling everybody. Of course it was in a way facilitated in the fact that Pete was such a character in Liverpool anyway, so in Liverpool we’d have no problem, they would sell out whenever we played in Liverpool no problem at all. And of course that created interest in the papers, they would come and do a review of the gigs, photos would be published and so the name of the band became more and more popular. They released a couple of records on my label which was called Black Eye Records, they were very successful too and then we signed to CBS records and they went on to fame.
Audience member: What was the most outrageous thing that you saw Pete Burns do?
Francesco Mellina: Eat candles on stage.
Pauline Rushton: What, lit ones?
Francesco Mellina: Including everything. And I actually have the photographic evidence because I took a photo of him eating a candle.
Audience member: Was it lit?
Francesco Mellina: It was lit at the time, yes. You see that photo there [indicating photograph], he did that at that gig. The reason why he did it was because on the stage there were candles everywhere and he obviously got so carried away with himself that he thought ‘I must eat a candle!’ [laughs] I don’t know why he did it! But that’s I think one of the most outrageous things, and believe me he’s done quite a few, but that’s the one that I can mention in public.
Audience member: A lot of the photographs show people who were at the gigs expressing their commitment to the different types of music through their fashion. Is that something that you did or did you remain anonymous?
Francesco Mellina: Well I would like to say that I wanted to be anonymous but maybe I wasn’t, I don’t know. I wasn’t dressed like the New Romantics, I just wore the things that I felt comfortable with
Audience member: I’m just wondering how it would have been if you had been a New Romantic and then tried to photograph the punks or something like that.
Francesco Mellina: I think you’d probably get beaten up [laughs]. And I mean that seriously because there was that sort of antagonism between people, because when you’re young you see yourself as a tribe don’t you? So if you’re New Romantic you’re definitely not going to be part of the punk rock tribe. I didn’t do it on purpose to remain neutral, it was just the way that I was.
Audience member: Tell me about The Clash at the Eric’s gig, did you take any photos there?
Francesco Mellina: No, I photographed them at the Royal Court, I didn’t manage to photograph them at Eric’s. It was too early for me, I just missed them by a couple of months as I started in photography just probably a few months after that. But I’m glad I did the one at the Royal Court. They were great people as well.
Audience member: Wasn’t that a two hour set that they did that night?
Francesco Mellina: It was even longer.
Audience member: And they did two nights?
Francesco Mellina: I don’t recall.
Pauline Rushton: Yes, they played two nights.
Francesco Mellina: I don’t remember but if there was two nights then I would have been there [laughs].
Any more questions?
Audience member: Is there any bands that you’d like to take photos of today?
Francesco Mellina: Yes, there are. There are quite a few actually.
Audience member: Which ones?
Francesco Mellina: The Sound of Guns. Do you know them?
Audience member: Yeah.
Francesco Mellina: And Arcade Fire, Glasvegas, The Last Shadow Puppets. I really quite like them and musically I love Arcade Fire, I think they’re brilliant. Do you like them?
Audience member: I’ve seen Glasvegas.
Francesco Mellina: Did you like them? So so? [laughs]. Well they’ve got the look though. I’m looking purely at the way they look. That’s why we want to photograph them. The Last Shadow Puppets, I like the way they look and also I like their sound.
Audience member: With an orchestra in the background.
Francesco Mellina: Yes [laughs]. Any more?
Audience member: So why did you get out of photography then?
Francesco Mellina: Simply because once I started working as a manager you had to make a clear choice, you couldn’t do both. I made a commitment to manage the band and I realise that, for obvious reasons, if you manage a band it’s 24/7 you’ve got to have a commitment and some things have got to go. In that case it was photography. Although I did a bit for myself, I didn’t do it in the same way as I was doing during those years.
Any more or shall we take a rest now? We can all go and have a look at the phortos.
Pauline Rushton: Thanks for being such an attentive audience.
Francesco Mellina: [shaking hands with audience members] Thank you, I’m glad to have met you. Thank very much.