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Punk London, 1977: Thrilling Photos of a Subversive Era

Photographer Derek Ridgers captured a riotous scene exploding in front of his lens

In 1976, Derek Ridgers started shooting punk rock shows in London with a borrowed camera, pretending to be a professional photographer. Edging his way up to the stage, the mid-20s, burgeoning shutterbug witnessed and documented the cultural explosion by night, while by day working as an art director in advertising. Little did he know, his hobby would blossom into a decades-long career, photographing everyone from James Brown to Tony Blair and working for outlets like The Sunday Times, The Independent, GQ and NME.

In his latest book, Punk London 1977, Ridgers collects over 130 vintage photos from his early career, capturing the formation of one of the world’s most exciting and influential musical movements. Cuepoint asked Ridgers to elaborate on select photos from his fascinating book.
~Mike Pizzo - Managing Editor, Cuepoint

That was done on the first night of the Roxy Club, which was in late December, 1976. The opening night, I went down there and stood in the queue and got in, with all of the other really early punks from London. I wasn’t a punk myself, but everybody else pretty much was a punk or curious about punk. Billy Idol was on.

That was taken in the Vortex Club, probably the early summer of 1977. The Vortex was actually in Soho, whereas the Roxy was in Covent Garden. It was started by the same guy who started the Roxy, Andy Czezowski. Once he had been ousted from the Roxy, he started the Vortex Club, but I don’t think he was with that club that long either. These two punks here were just a couple of kids that came up to me and asked me to take their photograph.

This is a picture of Adam [Ant] from the Ants, because they were just known as the Ants at that point. They became Adam and the Ants and Jordan sang on some of the songs with them. That was also at the Vortex.

That is the lead singer of The Cortinas [Jeremy Valentine]. He’s wearing sort of a donkey jacket with plastic over the shoulders. It’s the kind of thing that workers used to wear, because they would have to hold sacks over their shoulders. I think this is where the style came from. It’s quite a stylish looking donkey jacket, really. In the background, you can see a couple of members of some the other bands watching. This was quite a feature of the Roxy that I never saw anywhere else — all the bands that were playing would watch the other bands. I’ve never actually seen that in any other club, punk or otherwise. A lot of them were just starting out, some of them had quite small repertoires.

Over on the right, is what looks like a lot of mist. It could well be from the developing of the film, but it was a very, very hot club, sweat used to run off of the walls and the ceiling. Eventually, what they did was put bits of kitchen roll on the ceiling, wrapped around some of the cold pipes. In a very hot club, it would be dripping with water. You can see that in some of the photos. It was ridiculous. You don’t get that kind of thing in clubs these days.

This is Ari Up singing with The Slits. That was quite an early version of The Slits. I have a feeling this was before Vivian Albertine was in the band.

This is Jesse Hector from The Gorillas. He’s wearing a pair of checked trousers and what look like golf shoes. They weren’t really a punk band, but they came along with a real kind of punk-y attitude at more or less the same time. But they really played R&B — it was more R&B than punk.

He’s still around, he’s bald these days. There was a documentary film made about him around last year, A Message to the World. It’s quite interesting. It’s about how unlucky he was, being at the wrong place at the wrong time in his musical career. They were never big, they never had any hits or anything, but they were a really good band.

These were just kids that were joining in with the punks, rather than punks themselves. They were walking up and down the King’s Road. There were going to be fights between them and the rock & rollers and bikers. In actuality, it never happened. It was written up in the newspapers and there was quite a heavy police presence. There was a lot of punks and punk hangers-on. A few arrests were made, but I don’t think there was ever any fighting. It was all posturing. You can see somebody being arrested. The photo of the four friends walking down King’s Road is from that same day. One of those guys is Gary Holton in the white dotted coat. He died some time ago, but he was an actor and a singer in a band called the Heavy Metal Kids. They weren’t really punk either, but they came up in the time of punk as well.

It was a terrible miserable wet day, and I think it was a day that everybody thought was going to be a big punch up between the new punks and the mods or the bikers. But it never was, it was just something dreamed up by the media. It was a lot of punks and an assortment of young people just walking up and down in the rain all day. In these kind of social situations and moral panics, there seldom are any fights. Sometimes a big group of people would chase a group of others, but there was never usually more than that. Ever since the police were called out a bit in the 60s and early 70s after the riots at the carnival in Notting Hill, they would police these things quite heavily, following the groups of people up and down the road, forcing them to leave.

This is Debbie Harry, taken at Hammersmith Odeon, whilst I was still working in the advertising business. I wasn’t actually a photographer, I was just a guy with a camera at that point. I used to get my one camera with one lens and sometimes go to gigs, rush up to the front and climb over into the pit and pretend to be photographer. In those days there was no security so you really weren’t likely to be thrown out. I suppose the only thing that would get you thrown out is if you were standing in someone’s way and they couldn’t see. Blondie toured England with Television, that was a very good gig.

This was taken at the Roxy of the stairs coming down from the small upstairs bar down to where the bands played. You can see the guy on the right, that is Andy Blade from the band Eater. I think he was watching The Damned, if I remember correctly. All the bands would watch the other bands.

This is a band called The Vibrators, taken in 1976. This was the first time I had come up against the punks. I had never seen them before, I had probably seen them on TV or read about them, but it was the first time I saw them pogo-ing and spitting at one another and stuff like that. That was the gig that got me interested in taking photos. One of the Vibrators was knocking about with Marianne Faithful at the time, although I’m not sure it was either of them in the picture.

These two pictures are from The Vortex. The one sticking her tongue out became known as Claire With The Hair, because her name was Claire and she was a punk for a while and then became a new romantic. She had her hair poking right up and she is featured in the Boy George autobiography. I didn’t ever see her after about 1980, so I don’t know what she is doing now.

That one is Pauline Murray from Penetration. As you can see, I was pretty close to some of these people, because the stage at the Roxy was very, very low. I could pretty much stand right in front of the performers. There wasn’t really much room to move anyway, so you’d have to get in place and everyone would start pogo-ing and jumping. Even if there was security in those days, there wouldn’t be any space for the security to be, it was such a small club.

That is Dave Vanian of The Damned at the Roxy. You can pretty much see the whole club. The people at the top, you can just about see them and the rest were just at the edge of the club. It was pretty small.

That is Toyah Wilcox. That was at the Man in the Moon pub in Chelsea at an X-Ray Spex gig. I had a conversation with her and she told me she was going to be famous. Of course I didn’t believe her.

That is Siouxsie Sioux at the 100 Club. This was the second version of Siouxsie and the Banshees band. Steve Severin was in the band, but the other two that were in the band at the time left quite soon afterwards. They got Budgie and Robert Smith from The Cure for a bit.

Photos taken from Derek Ridgers’ Punk London 1977, available May 1st, 2016 from Carpet Bombing Culture. Reserve your copy now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other fine retailers.

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Derek Ridgers

Derek Ridgers

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