As a brand informed by subculture and music, it is the subcultures of past that inspire us to serve the cultures of today. The late 70s served as the catalyst of a movement that has inspired generations since. The punk scene, evolving out of the underground garage rock scene of the early-to-mid 70s, was a result of the pent-up anger against the politics and social order at the time. Before the time of the smartphone camera, visual documentation of the music, the fashion, and the culture relied on the young photographers of the time, supplemented from time to time by the bands and the members of the scene alike.
The photography feels pleasingly candid and “homegrown”, a reflection in some ways of the scene itself.
Below is Underground’s top picks of the books that excel at documenting the scene that flooded the streets of the UK in the late seventies. The books listed here, and many more that highlight the subcultures that have inspired us are all available from the Underground Online Book Collection here
In 1977, photographer Dennis Morris, known for his iconic work with Bob Marley and the Wailers, turned his lens towards the Sex Pistols and captured an explosion of creativity that changed music and fashion forever. This powerful photo-essay: ‘The Bollocks’, comprised of 106 large format black and white and colour plates alongside text from the likes of Billy Idol and Shepard Fairey, is a must-have for fans of the band. Dennis Morris has been one to chronicle the lives of many extraordinary bands. This book is a fine piece of work and one of the best from a man whose work is world renowned, having been exhibited internationally and whose artistic prowess extended to the design of the ‘PIL’ album cover.
‘Punk: The Whole Story’ by Dorling Kindersley is the complete and uncompromising story of rock and rolls most rebellious offspring. Being packed with in-depth interviews from MOJO’s archives, dazzling photo-features from the best rock photographers of the era, and piles of authentic memorabilia. This definitive chronicle is a true insight into the revolutionary movement. Inside the pages you will experience the gigs that lit the fuse of a revolution, the three chord classics that defined a generation, the scandals that shocked and awed us, and the fashions, in all their safety pinned glory. Despite being a self-published title, the book is both comprehensive and concise, contains a massive array of photography including shots from the likes of Dennis Morris, Ray Stevenson and Bob Gruen, and a Foreword from Deborah Harry, and an Afterword by Malcolm McLaren. This hard cover book is one of the best factual accounts of PUNK in print that you will find. It is out of print and rare to find.
Photo by Jessie Rose
Derek Ridgers is undoubtedly one of London’s most influential club and street photographers, documenting decades of subcultures and his observational approach to photographing London’s youth enabled him to capture skinheads, punks, ravers, goths, and fetishists as well as every hybrid style that has developed from these various subcultures. ‘Punk London 1977’ showcases 152 pages of photography documenting the birth of the most exciting cultural phenomenon in UK history, all through the lens of Ridgers. The renowned photographer was there capturing the very first wave of the movement: kids in the crowd, never before seen. The punks who made their own clothes because you couldn’t buy punk clothes. The punks who got beaten up time and again for making themselves into targets. Rebellion before it got easy. This phenomenal photo essay of one hell of a year for subculture, all captured authentically by one of Britain’s finest music photographers.
From the founders of the club itself, Andrew Czezowski and Susan Carrington, comes ‘The Roxy Our Story’. Flashing through the London underground music scene of the late seventies, Punk Rock was the ultimate anti-movement, anti-fashion, anti-rock, anti- establishment. Its bands consisted of players untrained in music, looking to explode the heavy over produced rock of the previous generation stripping music down to its core. The music was banned from every venue and club in the United Kingdom from fear that it may dissolve the remains of Unity in the fragile political back drop of the time. Covent Garden’s The ROXY Club stood alone in its wish to promote this music against all odds, it survived just 100 nights but during its short reign cut through the self-satisfied operators of the music business. The 144-page documentation of the infamous club serve as the diary of the club, from the formation to the downfall of the club through its 100 turbulent nights that impacted the scene forever. With an ethos simply to live on their own terms, Andrew and Susan had no political agenda, all they expected from others was to do the same. Although The ROXY’s lifespan was all too brief, by the time Andrew Czezowski and Susan Carrington were evicted from the venue in April 1977, they had made their mark on club-land. The ROXY Club’s sounds, style and ideas still reverberate through alternative culture to this day. Illustrated with over 100 rare and previously unseen personal archive photos, flyers, rare artwork and newspaper clippings, diary entries, band contracts and other ephemera of the time, featuring exclusive quotes from some of the punk bands that played this historical club. The book is a highly entertaining and visually stunning guide to a pioneering alternative to the mainstream UK music scene, a handbook of pluck and determination, and a refusal to accept the norm while painting on a new canvas without brushes.
‘Ripped and Torn: The UK’s Loudest Punk Fanzine’ chronicles the punk zine ‘Ripped & Torn’ by Tony Drayton. The fanzine was an expression of Tony’s “raw and newfound views,” which were seen in each issue, alongside the transformation of the views of the punk scene, from the Sex Pistols to Adam and The Ants, to Crass. The first issue of the zine was produced in Cumberland, and the final issue in a squatted pub in 1979. The book, which is published by The Ecstatic Peace Library, being released in 2018, showcases all 17 issues of the zine page by page, and an insightful conversation between Tony and Thurston Moore.
As the 1970s drew to a close, the punk movement was at the peak of its momentum, and Sheila Rock was there to capture the youth that identified heavily with this subculture. As the first wave of punk formed, with the collision of fashion, attitude, and music, Sheila turned her lens towards this to capture and highlight the authenticity of the movement. Whether candid or posed, this 288-page book features the stills of the energy, and the innocence of the early days of punk, and the DIY fashion and ethos of the subculture.
Between 1976 and 1977, photographers Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon skilfully documented the London Punk scene. The pair, who were both new to London, created an early student collaboration directly engaged with the early punk scene and the youth that lived within this. Of this, the resulting photos have been brought together after over 30 years unpublished in ‘Punks’. The 80-page book highlights the punk scene, within a time where approximately 3 million young people in Europe were unemployed. The subjects captured here were either still at school, out of work, or in daytime work but punk by night. The word punk, which often evokes imagery of an attitude of nihilism, visual violence, and theatricality, was put on full display through the direct confrontation with the models and the encouragement and posed playful nature of the photos that were taken. The black and white photos printed here were exhibited at The Photographer’s Gallery in 1978 and included in the Another London exhibit at the Tate in 2012.
As a highly honourable mention on our list, Val Hennessy’s ‘In the Gutter,’ Published in 1978, is a real time account of the punk movement as it happened. The book was published at the peak of the punk movement, as the newspaper columnist and tv presenter was known for “Punk and Acne Go Together.” The programme captured the pathos and anger of Punk, with ‘In the Gutter’ drawing directly from this and describing the scene through the words of “punk fans.” What was written by Hennessy was the emergence of punk itself, something that he clearly found both bewildering and exciting. The Contemporary nature of the book ensured that the contributors of the book at the time were genuine punks, with this originality being seen in the writing, the content, and the selection of photography. The book serves as an illuminating artifact of the time that it was written, and an encapsulation of the counterculture that was running riot against the politics of the time. The selection of images throughout the book depicts a proud and riotous London, right at the peak of the movement that offered the youth of the time a sense of freedom that was revelled in. The book offered an authentic insight into the true punk movement, rather than the often misconception of the youth from the mainstream culture and demonisation. Read our review of the influential book here
The image of Pamela Rooke, also known as ‘Jordan’, in her white shards of beehive and Mondrian make-up is one of the most iconic in pop history. The English model and actress has always been at the heart of the British punk scene since its rapid growth in the late 70s. ‘Defying Gravity’, written by the iconic punk figure, is an account of her story that has never been told before. Whether working alongside Vivienne Westwood and the ‘SEX’ boutique on Kings Road, or in attendance of many of the early Sex Pistols performances, or Louise’s Soho Club, she was an essential part of the British punk scene.
When punk first broke into the UK’s music scene in 1976, music journalist John Ingham was there to document the scene, right from the heart of it. ‘Spirit of 76’ contains a rare from the trenches report on the UK punk explosion from one of its original participants. This 155-page volume contains the only colour photos from the first wave of Britain’s punk scene alongside Ingham’s inimitable prose to create a revelatory collection that showcases the movement from its most raucous beginnings. Originally struck by the music, fashion and sheer presence of the Sex Pistols, Ingham was the one to conduct the first interview with the band, partied with its members and even bailed Sid Vicious out of jail; he also witnessed and documented the group’s evolution at legendary gigs shared with other pioneering punk bands in their earliest days, including the Damned, the Clash, Subway Sect and more.
Underground Soundwave presents an ongoing series of reports on emerging and established bands with close-up Q&As, new release reviews and gig reports with a special emphasis on supporting diversity in music, women in music, independent labels and venues and the local music scene.
Brought to you by Underground – the brand of the Original Allgender Creeper shoe and other British subculture styles.