History begins at home. From the living room to the classroom and beyond, we are taught that the importance of what happens, happens elsewhere. As a result, our own narratives tend to be put aside. Of course, there are valuable lessons to be learnt when we focus our attention towards a prescribed view of the world, but to disregard one’s own personal experiences within a wider historical and cultural context can’t be a good thing either.
For many of us, our own historical and significant moments occur during that transition between youth to adult hood. When it comes to music this is especially so, the sounds that we love and the gigs that we attend, excite and enthral us and even have the power to shape our future lives.
Chris Brickley has complied a collection of such personal histories with a forthcoming book titled, 16 Years: Gigs in Scotland 1974-1990. His role has been to collect and put together a selection of photographic images taken by non-professional photographers. As the title states and being Scottish himself he has gathered images of gigs, bands and fans via social media outlets. In doing so the scanned images he has received invariably vary in quality, but this is the what makes such a book so worthwhile. In a pre-digital age the people who were taking their cameras to a gig, were either keen amateurs with a bulky and conspicuous camera bag and possibly involved in contributing to fanzines or just fans or friends of a band taking a point and shoot, simply capturing a moment of their own history. BG
N.B. Since writing this the emergence of Covid-19 has changed many things, including the launch date of Chris’s book , We look forward to its eventual publication.
Billy MacKenzie of The Associates and his one stringed guitar
DS: It seems wholly appropriate to be self-publishing a book a photographs which have been created by non-professionals capturing images of bands and their fans during the emergence of punk and the music scene throughout the 1980s. What was the catalyst for such a project?
CB: I work in the ‘art world’, with images, am used to putting catalogues together. I basically wanted to compile something accessible, that people would like, using visuals. I started a Facebook page specifically about gigs in Scotland, and built a following. I thought a photobook would work best, beginning pre punk and ending in 1990 when I lost interest in the music scene. Catalyst was the infamous Cramps/Fall co-headline tour in 1980, when they played several Scottish dates concluding in a wee village outside Dumfries on a Sunday night.
DS: Your Scottish and you’ve chosen to focus on images taken solely within Scotland. what’s been the response from contributors
CB: Response has been fantastic, over 2,000 images from 150 contributors. However I had to spend months of evenings at computer on social media, identifying images and seeking permission to use them. Not much came in voluntarily. Social media is a very passive arena.
DS: Did you have certain expectations as to what images you would receive and were there any surprises
CB: Well, what I wanted to capture was the unpublished/amateur/crowd shots, as they are the ones which will be lost when people pass on or forget about them in the damp garage. My hope was that we’d get enough to create a comprehensive overview of the period. Other than that, I have favourite bands/acts I wanted to capture but mostly the aim was to cover the bases, genre-wise. Early on I got a fantastic cache of punk photos from 77-78, so that gave me something to hang the project on.
DS: The images taken during this period have an immediacy and intimacy which isn’t often captured by professional photographers, what do you think are the reasons for this?
CB: I have asked selected professionals to contribute, and happily they all did so. However, 75/80 pc of the stuff is amateur and unpublished. While the pro shots have craft, aesthetics, expertise and favourable vantage points, the crowd/punter shots have an immediacy that places you right in the action in front of the stage. I love that, feeling part of the crowd and sensing the atmosphere. I also wanted pictures of punters, friends in the pub in their punk/goth garb, or whatever.
DS: Some of the best bands that i have ever seen, never made it to the recording studio , did you yourself ever see such bands ?
CB: Yes, I’ve seen all sorts of gigs from Live Aid to wee pub gigs
DS: Some Punk gigs had a reputation for being pretty intense affairs in comparison to what was going on before., but there was also a sense of great comradeship between fans and bands, kind of outsiders together. You could consider the photographs taken by non-professionals then as a marginal activity in that it’s a creative endeavour that existed outside of the mainstream notion of top photography.
Echo And The Bunnymen Glasgow
CB: As you know, it could be hazardous taking cameras to gigs especially in big venues like Glasgow Apollo or Tiffany’s. For that reason, few folk took pictures. As you say, punk gigs could be lary and taking pictures was not high on the agenda unless you had a fanzine. It’s also very tricky to take a decent shot in a big dark hall with a wee 35mm point and press. Now, everyone documents every damned thing, so it’s another world. I have seen on my music fb page that the friendships forged around the punk/post punk period are strong and enduring. The amateur shots in the book range immensely in terms of quality, spectacle and craft. Some are shite, some fab by people with a real instinctive talent. Early on I said ‘quality of image was immaterial’ and I meant it. I’m self-publishing because I didn’t want the material cherry-picked and some mini coffee table thing produced. I want it to be comprehensive and cover the whole country.
DS: Having gathered this wealth of material is there the possibility of an exhibition in the future ?
CB: An exhibition would be nice but is unlikely. Too costly to present the material. In almost all instances I’ve had to run with the original (low-res, or squint) image I was sent. Folk do not have time or inclination to scan them better.
It will be called ’16 Years: Gigs in Scotland 1974-1990’. Hopefully ready June-ish. £30 (excluding postage, which is £15).
Best watch facebook page ‘Scottish Club Gigs-Relived’ for progress
You can read Chris Brickley’s Lockdown Dairy in our previous post. BG