Monday, October 26, 2015

Every Picture Tells A Story

Looking at a feature in a national newspaper at the weekend, where mere mortals reflect on being caught in the periphery of a well-known or iconic photograph, I idly remarked that I had once been in a picture accompanying a gig review in the NME. Within moments it had been found on the internet and my kids were incredulously asking if the teenager in the photo was the same person as the middle-aged man sat before them. It was.

At the start of January 1978, Siouxsie and the Banshees played two consecutive nights at the Nashville Rooms, just around the corner from West Kensington tube in London, and I was there on the second night. The Nashville was an excellent venue: small, intimate and already revered as one of the few places that had hosted early punk gigs. I would later see The Ruts there – when there was a riot caused by fighting punks and skins – and one of the Psychedelic Furs’ earliest gigs.

Siouxsie and the Banshees did not have a record deal at the time but, like Adam and the Ants and The Slits, their music was familiar to us through the sessions they had recorded for John Peel. We had already seen the Banshees a couple of times: their gigs were always full but, provided you got there early and queued, you got in; there was no advance ticketing in the punk rock revolution.

I remember the night at the Nashville, well. The Banshees seemed to have developed from earlier gigs: the set still contained favourites Love In A Void and Make Up To Break Up, but the sound was starker, more angular, especially on newer songs such as Metal Postcard and Suburban Relapse. And they looked different: Siouxsie was Siouxsie, but the band was all dressed in black; there was not a hooped t-shirt to be seen. The word ‘Gothic’ was first used in connection with modern music to describe Joy Division, but I think Siouxsie and the Banshees can rightly be credited with inventing what we now think of as ‘Goth’.

In the photograph, I do not seem to have quite caught this new mood. There I am at the front, grinning at the camera. Smiling was not something I would do much of in the following years, as I firmly pinned my colours to the mast of gloomy post-punk. I had gone to the gig with my best mate, Ian. I was 15, he was 16. We had made the cross-town trek from south-east London and it is very likely that our mums and dads thought we were at each others’ houses - that old one. Ian is to the left of the man with spectacles in the picture. I can still recall that we were puzzled by his presence: in our youthful arrogance we thought, why would a middle-aged man be at a gig like this? That I still think of the music of the Banshees, Wire, PiL and Joy Division as the most remarkable I have ever heard probably answers that question.

It is an old saw that every picture tells a story, but what puzzles me about this one is the story it does not tell. When we look at the past, we are often guilty of compartmentalising events, constructing a linear narrative. But when we look at actual dates, we realise that our lives were not like that, that different episodes were actually concurrent. This photograph was taken on the 7th January 1978; a couple of days before that, I must have had my first day of six traumatic months at a new secondary school having been expelled from my old school before Christmas. There is not a hint of that trouble in my face: I must have been full of piss and vinegar - or something else.

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