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What Presence! - The Sound of Young Scotland Rediscovered in Harry Papadopoulos' Post-Punk Photography

Imagine Orange Juice era Edwyn Collins skating on thin ice in a
pictorial homage to Sir Henry Raeburn's painting, The Skating
Minister. Or a pre chart success Associates singer Billy Mackenzie
tying up his shoe-lace like a cherubic choir-boy and wearing what looks
like a school jumper. How about future Creation Records maestro Alan
McGee sporting a full head of hair with his first band The Laughing
Apple? A tweed-clad Aztec Camera looking like landed gentry fashion
models as they suck ostentatiously on pipes?

All these images and more can be seen in What Presence! a long overdue exhibition of photographs
by Harry Papadopoulos that opens at Glasgow’s Street Level gallery this
weekend. As can too a pixie-like Claire Grogan of Altered Images,
Subway Sect’s Vic Godard in full-on crooner mode, Stephen Pastel
inventing C 86, Fay Fife getting gobby in The Rezillos, Scars,
Strawberry Switchblade, Nick Cave in The Birthday Party, Boomtown Rat
Bob Geldof in a Santa suit and Suggs in a second-hand car lot?

Drawn from a vast archive of pictures taken between 1978 and 1984 when
Papadopoulos was one of the main photographers on UK music paper
Sounds, the three hundred and thirty-five originals on show capture
that fertile era now known as post-punk, when bands were forever
pushing boundaries with ideas over experience, as the classified ads of
the period declaimed like a year zero manifesto/call to arms.

Named after a mid-period Orange Juice song, What Presence! was first
mooted by Ken McLuskey of The Bluebells, and now working alongside
Douglas Macintyre of Creeping Bent Records running the course at Stow
College in Glasgow which released Belle and Sebastian's debut album,
Tigermilk, on the course's own Electric Honey label. McLuskey knew
Papadopoulos from their time hanging round the place that became known
as The Postcard Flat, actually the home of would-be Warhol Alan Horne
in West Princes Street, Glasgow. At the dawn of a scene that would
mythologise itself as The Sound of Young Scotland and invent indie-pop
as we know it, Papadopolous worked on Bobby Bluebell's Glasgow fanzine,
The Ten Commandments, and there was talk of doing a record with Horne's
deliciously arch Postcard label.

Papadopolous would take pictures of The Clash at Glasgow Apollo, then
sell black and white 10 x 8 prints outside for the princely sum of
fifty pence. Even after decamping to London, Papadopoulos would end up
taking pictures of Josef K, Fire Engines and others from Scotland’s
emergent wave of jangular acts weaned on New York No Wave and
championed by Sounds writer Dave McCullough, that paper’s taste-making
equivalent of Paul Morley.

The Bluebells and others on the way up beyond the border would
frequently crash at Papadopoulos' Kensal Rise pad if invited to the
Smoke for a John Peel session or a gig. There are wonderful shots of
Josef K frontman Paul Haig looking like a film star, and of the band
playing the Covent garden-based Rock Garden, an important hang-out for
the day's indie scene.

The Bluebells are there too, crammed into an open-topped speed machine
in a car showroom.

“My nose is slightly bent now,” McLuskey says while peering at an
image of his younger self. “But I look at that picture and I see
someone with a straight nose.”

The unforced, all-lads-together gang mentality that exudes from the
image was indicative of Harry's laid-back style.

“He'd never get you to pose,” McLuskey remembers. “You'd just wander
round and about, then he'd spot something and you'd try stuff out. For
the Fire Engines shots, he got them to go in Davy Henderson's mum's
back garden.”

The end result looked like a scene that literally didn't stand still.

When The Bluebells scored a couple of chart hits with Young At Heart
and Cath, The Bluebells moved into London hotel-land, and McLuskey and
Papadopoulos lost touch for the next twenty years.

Only when McLuskey hired Papadopoulos' electrician brother Jimmy to
rewire his flat in Glasgow's west end did he ask after the
photographer, who, like Sounds and the other music press inkies, had
long disappeared from view. It turned out Papadopoulos had moved away
from photography and become an editor at Marvel Comics, where he
somewhat incongruously worked on The Care Bears magazine and Scooby Doo
comics before moving into web design.

More recently, Papadopoulos suffered an aneurysm in 2002. McLuskey
visited his old Glasgow scene chum, and found a goldmine of neglected
negatives that formed the basis of What Presence!

McLuskey spent the next two years digitising the images, eventually
approaching Street Level director Malcolm Dickson. With Street Level a
gallery that concentrates on the social relevance of the photographic
image as much as the artistic, and Dickson a serious music head who
also happened to possess every issue of Sounds dating back to 1976, it
was a perfect match.

For Dickson, “As well as some of the very personal resonances Harry's
work brought back, it kind of clicks with some of our concerns with
Street Level in terms of recovering aspects of the cultural past and
re-presenting things that otherwise might be forgotten. It also throws
up a lot of questions about the photographic image and the archive.
It's one thing to say we're going to archive all of Harry's images, but
where do they go? Who looks after them? What digital form do they
migrate to down to the line when the current one becomes obsolete?
Also, by doing this we've been alerted to other people who were
operating in the same period, but who've been eclipsed by the
mediocrity of the present.”

In the run up to What Presence!, Dickson and McLuskey are enjoying
playing detective.

“Even up till a couple of weeks ago it was a case of guessing the band
with some of the images,” says McCluskey. “There are certain places you
recognise from the d├ęcor, like Glasgow Polytechnic or the inside of
Nightmoves [a club on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow where many bands
played during the early 1980s], but there are other things you don't
know at all.

One of the most inadvertently entertaining shots in What Presence! is
of a rarely-hailed addition to the Sound of Young Scotland, The
Dreamboys. Looking ungainly in a tank top, the band’s lead singer Peter
Capaldi shows no sign that he'll go on to foul-mouthed glory playing
Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Nor does drummer Craig Ferguson
betray signs of a future career as comedian Bing Hitler before becoming
a top talk show host in America.

Some of the politics of the era also creep through in Papadopolous'
work, most notably in a shot of “the gay triumvirate” of Tom Robinson,
Jimmy Somerville and future Erasure star Andy Bell on a gay rights
march.

“At that time nobody had a job, so you had to find another outlet,”
McLuskey remembers, “so everyone formed bands or took pictures or did
something. Then Thatcher came in and the miner's Strike happened, and
that was the beginning of the whole post-industrial culture. you had to
make it up, and I think you have to make it up again now. This time
mirrors that time. It resonates, and young bands now, they don't give a
fuck. They've decided being in a band is what they're going to do. They
might not have any money, but they dress great and they all have their
own record labels and put on their own gigs.”

With the negatives of some images lost, the only record of shots of the
likes of a post Pere Ubu David Thomas playing Heaven or ex Fall
guitarist Martin Bramah's scallydelic outfit The Blue Orchids are those
on the photocopied pages of Dickson's collection of Sounds. Some rare
shots of Felt will also be in What Presence!, and that band's former
frontman has already visited Street Level for an advance preview while
in Glasgow for a screening of Paul Kelly's film homage, Lawrence of
Belgravia.

With the era What Presence! captures lionised by a new generation of
Glasgow bands from Belle and Sebastian to The Low Miffs and Wake The
President, Papadopolous' archive might prove crucial for retro style
tips as much as anything.

Papadopolous himself has given an approving nod to What Presence!
without expressing any desire to draw attention to himself.

“Harry was always a quiet guy,” says McLuskey. “He'd always stay in the
back-ground, and after a while you got used to him taking pictures
while you were having a cup of tea or something. What's special about
Harry's work is that it isn't contrived. It's just natural.”


What Presence! runs at Street Level, Trongate / King Street, Glasgow,
December 16th-February 25th 2012.

A series of events will take place at Street Level as part of What
Presence! These include appearances by guest DJ Stephen Pastel, music
by former Josef K guitarist Malcolm Ross with Low Miffs singer Leo
Condie, and ex Fire Engines vocalist and current driving force of The
Sexual Objects, Davy Henderson in conversation.

Full details can be found at the Street Level website at
www.streetlevelphotoworks.org.

The Quietus, December 2011
ends

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