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Sound and Vision

Music and fashion photographed by Francesco Mellina, Liverpool, 1978-82

1 May to 31 August 2009

This exhibition has now closed

two laughing women in a nightclub  portrait photo of a young man  woman in a long striped dress dancing on stage

Clubbers at Kirklands, Julian Cope at Ministry and Siouxsie Sioux at Brady's © Francesco Mellina

An exhibition of previously unseen pictures recording the many different fashion scenes in Liverpool clubland. In the aftermath of punk and before multi-national brands took over the high street, individuality and self-expression, through dress and musical innovation, were the order of the day. Local styles included punk, New Wave, New Romantic and Rockabilly.

Francesco Mellina trained at Liverpool Art School and was well known on the Liverpool music and club scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s, often through personal friendships with many local musicians and artists. He developed a career as a nationally recognised rock photographer, capturing on film some of the best known musicians of that period.

His photographs document many iconic Liverpool bands and musicians including Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, Pete Wylie and Pete Burns. During this time he also photographed dozens more from elsewhere who were to go on to achieve worldwide fame, including The Clash, The Ramones, New Order, U2 and Mick Hucknall.

Fashion and music in Liverpool

men and women in new romantic clothes and make-up

Seated group of New Romantics in Cagney's club, off London Road, 1981 © Francesco Mellina

"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."
Steve Strange

During the late 1970s and early 1980s Liverpool was in the grip of economic decline. The widespread loss of jobs in the port and in related trades meant that unemployment and recession hit the city harder than most.

An antidote to the grim realities of life lay in the city's vibrant music and fashion scenes. For teenagers facing life on the dole or a wage of less than £20 per week, they offered an escape route. Dressing up, going out and belonging to one of the many 'style tribes' gave many young people a sense of purpose and a creative focus. They lived for the weekend and the chance to express themselves through their musical and fashion tastes. 

There was a range of sub-cultures to choose from, but the punk, Rockabilly, New Romantic and emerging Goth scenes were the most prominent during these years. Followers of these musical scenes had their own distinct look and fashion sense, but they could not be bought ready-made. They were carefully put together and developed, from second-hand clothes shops, army surplus stores and a small number of specialist retailers, to produce an individual outfit.

Liverpool's many clubs and music venues played host to the city's sub-cultures. The famous Eric's club in Mathew Street, later renamed Brady's, was a focus for punks and Rockabillies, while New Romantics and Goths gravitated to clubs such as Cagney's, Jodie's and Michelle Claire's. But there was much crossing over of styles in clubland and none of the venues were exclusive to any one group.

This was the world captured by the lens of Liverpool photographer Francesco Mellina. With unique access to the city's many emerging bands and to the sub-cultures in its bars and clubs, Francesco's work forms a fascinating visual record of a crucial time in music and fashion history.

Francesco Mellina 

Francesco Mellina was born in Polistena, Calabria, southern Italy, in 1952. He taught himself English by listening to early Beatles and Rolling Stones records before setting off, aged 16, on a tour of Europe that would see him eventually settle in Liverpool in his early 20s.

Mellina trained in photography at Liverpool Art School, now part of Liverpool John Moores University, in the late 1970s. He went on to manage the Liverpool band Nightmares in Wax - later re-named Dead or Alive. He also set up Black Eye Records.

His photographs record the fashions of the various sub-cultures in clubland during the pivotal post-punk era. During this time he developed a career as a nationally recognised rock photographer, and was a regular contributor to magazines such as The Face, Smash Hits, ID, Melody Maker and NME.

The Sound and Vision exhibition was the first time that Mellina had displayed his work on such a large scale. He said:

"Although Italian, I consider myself an honorary Scouser. I love the city and it has been my home and creative inspiration for many years.

I couldn't play an instrument and I couldn't sing but my photography was my contribution to the cultural and artistic scene so to be able to display my work in the city is a huge thrill."