Punk revisited 40 years on


The Sex Pistols

Sex Pistols Oxford Street Glitterbest photosession - 1977. Photograph ©Adrian Boot

40 Years of Punk:  Photographs by Adrian Boot 

3rd November 2016 - 8th January 2017 

I have to confess that my memory of the events of 40 years ago is hazy but I can tell you with absolute certainty that something strange and wonderful happened. During the months that saw 1976 turn into 1977 punk rock arrived.

I was a 25-year-old writer and sometime music journalist and the effect seemed almost instant. My hair shortened, my trousers narrowed and my mind broadened. Punk swept the complacency out of a bloated, self-satisfied music business. It blasted the clubs and airwaves with a refreshing new attitude and scared the living daylights out middle England. It challenged, head-on, a society in the grip of social tensions and rising unemployment. Punk was seriously exciting and very badly needed. 

Among those on the front line to record the cultural revolution that kicked  music back to life was photographer Adrian Boot. His remarkable work documenting the rise of punk culture is on show at Proud Camden until 8th January.  

His exhibition 40 Years of Punk celebrates the legacy and continuing influence of the movement that challenged the establishment and changed music forever. Boot captured many intimate moments during the rise of punk culture. His photographs show the influence on fashion, the defiant stance that fuelled a thousand tabloid headlines and the ragged-arsed arrogance that burned with defiant creativity.

This exhibition offers a history lesson too. It’s worth remembering that punk initially emerged from the US as a by product of the ‘60s counterculture. By the early to mid 70s radical New York clubs like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City were staging gigs by bands like The Ramones, Blondie and the Patti Smith Group. Back home  British music fans  were reading about them in the NME and Melody Maker. It was only a matter of time before the New York scene came visiting. London was more than ready with bands like The Damned, The Sex Pistols and The Clash already beginning to ignite the imagination of a disenchanted youth. Others were waiting in the wings. Pub rockers like Kilburn and the High Roads straining at the leash to be reborn as Ian Dury and The Blockhead. Adrian Boot was on hand to capture it all. 

Ian Dury and The Blockheads

Ian Dury (right) on the street with various Blockheads, 1979. Photograph ©Adrian Boot

Of course it was the Pistols who, through a chapter of accidents and some astute marketing by their manager and mentor Malcolm McLaren, managed to get themselves elevated to the position of public enemy number one. The jaundiced, shit-stirring eyes of the media had found the perfect target. All the outrage - the filth and the fury - could be focused on this one band. The Sex Pistols went through hell. They were mangled by the press, censored by the BBC, banned by local councils, attacked in the streets and hounded by the police. Strangely the unrelenting hostility was, briefly, the making of them. It also provided handy cover for their brothers and sisters in struggle. 

By the time the mainstream press started growing weary of baiting them there were new punk bands appearing daily. They were in the charts, on radio and TV, touring the country and striking attitudes in magazines. Once it had gone mainstream the punk revolution was essentially over. Its influence would be far reaching though. It is perhaps only now, decades later and with the benefit of hindsight, that we can sift the reality from the nonesense and see what an important job punk did.

Looking at Adrian Boot’s photographs you realise that they capture a very special moment in time. There’s some pleasing symmetry in this particular slice of cultural history too.  Among the images are some great shots of The Clash taken in 1977 at their infamous Rehearsal Rehearsals studio at Stables Market in Camden. Guess what? Those photographs have come home. For Stables Market is now home to Proud Camden - the very gallery showing these pictures that we're born from light on emulsion in this exact location four decades ago. 

This excellent exhibition of Adrian Boot’s photographs provides many a clue as to how and why punk had to happen. It captures the ethos and raw spirit of the punk heyday and the momentous cultural shift that it inspired.

*40 Years of Punk:  Photographs by Adrian Boot runs at Pround camden until 8th January 2017

Further info at www.proud.co.uk

© Jeremy Miles 2022