Punk Images of London by Christian Cavallin
In 1977 I was just a little kid, growing up in suburban lower class Brisbane. I have a very clear memory of sitting in my pyjamas on the lounge room floor, totally mesmerized by The Sex Pistols who were beaming through my TV for the very time. The animalistic squeal of Johnny Rotten’s voice, the torn clothes and the spiky hair, were all very far away from my little existence. I never let go of that moment and have been intrigued by 1970s London Punk culture ever since.
On the other side of the world in 1977 a teen aged Christian Cavallin was making his way from Malmoe to London. It all began for him in 1976, reading the New Musical Express, seeing Patti Smith play in Sweden and tuning in to the Asphalttelegraph on Swedish radio to hear new exciting sounds coming from London. Christian was desperate to see the London punk bands he had been hearing and reading about, and set off on a journey that would result in hundreds of exhilarating punk images that are now finding their own audience on his Instagram page.
In reality it was a very small and short lived phenomenon, but Punk London 1977 has carved its way into the history books as being extremely significant for music and fashion. There is an ever growing interest in Punk memorabilia and Punk images and so I contacted Christian to ask about his recollections of the London Punk scene and his Punk pictures.
MHU: Can you remember your first thoughts and feelings as you entered into the London Punk scene in 1977?
CC: I was reading New Musical Express at that time, early autumn 1976, saw Patti Smith twice in Stockholm and Copenhagen and listened to the Asphalttelegraph, a Swedish radio program that played protopunk and early punk stuff like The Damned. So when I came to London with a friend the first week in January 1977, I was 18 and was starving for Music. We went to the pub The Nashville where The Gorillas played. They were not specific punk but Brian James and some other guy from The Damned were drinking in the bar. It was a great feeling. They told us which beer was best/strongest. The show was wild. To buy Anarchy in the UK with the black sleeve and a copy of Sniffin’ Glue was also great. Even to see Little Bob Story at Dingwalls (definitely not punk) with a wild crowd was a good memory.
MHU: As a stranger in town was it easy to break into the scene, were the other kids welcoming to you?
CC: In January 1977 there was, as far as I see it, not a specific “scene” (except for a group of “punk-elite”) You went to pubs and met quite regular kids, as bored as those in my hometown in Sweden. But the big difference was that you could feel and smell that something really BIG was going on. And in this town, London, there were, already at this time, lots of venues. And lots of bands waiting to explode, some of the earliest punk records were already out but not everybody knew where to go. I mean, having been close to Siouxie or Sid at that time would have opened many doors.
MHU: There has been a lot said on how Punk was partly about being inclusive, no racism, sexism or homophobia. Did you find that to be true?
CC: When I came back to London in July 77 it was totally different. It has exploded. That time I stayed in Brighton and went by train to London to see for example the Lurkers warming up for Generation X at The Marquee, a night so full of sweat and gob that I never will forget. The crowd, as I remember it, was a mix of different kind of kids. I remember a lot of reggae played by the DJ’s before the shows. And later that summer, in September, I went to gigs where some reggae bands actually did gigs together with white punk bands. And of course there were black people in the crowd. Reggae was in. Racism was definitely not. Sexism? Hmmm. Rather sexiness. You had a lot of girls that were hot with their music, not for being sexy. And IF they were, it was certainly not the main thing. I didn’t think of The Slits like a “girl group” or Siouxie as a sexy female singer. And Poly Styrene was maybe the greatest singer of all, female or male. Punk played with sex in fashion and lyrics and that allowing attitude also dealt with anti-homophobia, I think. I also think that gay-clubs were popular as they didn’t care about different clothing style or different attitude/lifestyle.
MHU: Punk was also said to be largely about rebelling against the economic situation and government. Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) of the Sex Pistols was very clued into these issues, but do you think this was actually important to the kids on the scene, or were they really just being kids and having fun being rebellious?
CC: I think that the economic situation at that time was ONE important thing, the whole “atmosphere” with the “Thatcherism” and the feeling of boredom worked like a paradox: all those negative things created a good climate for something to happen. Of course it’s fun being rebellious when you are young! Yes, kids wanted to have fun! and to be creative and it was a creation by themselves. It was freedom. It was a Do-it-Yourself-thing. That was great.
MHU: You documented a lot of the bands and venues – Eater, The Slits, Subway Sect, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Adam and the Ants, Lurkers, Generation X, Ramones, Sham 69, The Fall, Chelsea, The Stranglers, The Jam, Snivelling Shits, X Ray Spex, Joy Division, Wire, The Sex Pistols and clubs and pubs like The Roxy, Red Cow, The Vortex, The Marquee and The Nashville. Not a lot of kids owned cameras in those days, did you already have a background in photography? What had you been photographing before punk?
CC: You’re right. Not many did take photos. Not at all, if you compare to the cell phones today. I got my camera from my dad 1975. A quite cheap one, but Canon, and it worked well. I did some experimental pictures and shots of my friends, parties and so on. Then a lot of street photos in London those years, and on gigs. Wish I had taken more.
MHU: Did you specifically set out to create a lasting photographic documentary of the London Punk Scene or were you just taking photos for yourself?
CC: I was taking photos for myself, that’s for sure. It was like a photo-diary.
MHU: Did you have a sense at the time of just how important your Punk images and Punk culture in general would become in the future? How historical it was?
CC: No, not at all. When you’re really into something you don’t think about that. It was happening NOW, right there where you actually were yourself. (Why not taking Pictures then? I thought.) It’s only now all these pics are getting historical.
MHU: The Marquee Club London has become a real beacon of those times because the huge sign at the back of the stage makes it so recognizable in Punk images. There have been numerous other clubs around the globe to adopt the name ‘The Marquee’. Do you think that diminishes or cheapens the memory of the original club or does it honour it?
CC: Well, Eddie & the Hotrods live-EP from The Marquee was really good proto punk that really turned me on when it came out. But I will say that 100 club, The Roxy, Vortex, Nashville, Roundhouse etc, etc were more specific ´punk´ than The Marquee. The Damned chose The Marquee when they celebrated their one year anniversary (I stood in line for an hour at least but got no ticket, but an ex of ´stretchercase baby´ as compensation) but Pistols thought of the place like a venue ´for boring old farts`. But, sure it is honouring the place when you find it all over the World.
What about Punk Fashion?
MHU: Folk law has created an image of kids strutting around London in Vivienne Westward designs, but in reality the Seditionaries and Sex clothes were far to expensive for most. Where were kids getting their clothes, and what were you wearing?
CC: Viv Albertine of The Slits explains this very good in her book “Clothes Music Boys” (2014). You were glad if you could afford ONE piece of that specific expensive trendy brand. Some did buy, of course, but many did their own. Cheap things from flea markets, army clothes, furs and so on. And many (like me) were more into some Ramones-street style: easy and cheap. And don’t forget that there were many regular kids with no interest in fashion or even style, they were just having fun.
MHU: Did you spend any time at Vivienne Westward and Malcolm McLaren’s shop in Kings Road? Do you think their influence on the fashion was more important than the music? As a photographer it must have seemed very significant to you?
CC: I was there for just one time and didn’t buy anything except for a black T-shirt. Crazy prizes. As I said before, I wasn’t that interested in the fashion-thing, maybe a bit curious but that was all. Their influence on fashion was HUGE, that’s for sure, but on the music… no.
MHU: Looking at your photos I feel as though they represent that whole Punk era better than the music does. Why do you think that is?
CC: Hmm. I think a main reason is that I wasn’t really a photographer, I mean I rather was a teenager who loved punk music/the whole punk movement. I had a camera and wanted to take pictures AND to be one in the crowd. I wasn’t interested in taking spectacular punk-pictures, I just photographed what I saw, what was actually happening. It wasn’t that easy taking pictures in a wild crowd (and of course it was analogue film with no possibility to check the result). But I think I did it quite well.
MHU: Of the original Punk bands who sticks in your mind the most and why?
CC: Hmm .. let’s say: Early Buzzcocks (with Howard Devoto) for their masterpiece “Spiral Scratch” The Adverts for their debut single “One Chord Wonders” – an anthem! The Sex Pistols for everything they did, especially, to be honest, the pre-Sid-Pistols. But also to the bitter end, Winterland, USA.
MHU: You are living back in Sweden now, have you been back to Wardour Street London or hung out in the Soho London nightlife in recent years? If so then how was that for you? What did think or feel about it?
CC: Last time was 4 years ago. Didn´t go to any of those addresses, but went to Camden Lock and South East End. London will always stay in my heart.
MHU: I asked follows of the Music Hoarders United Facebook page if they had any questions they would like me to ask you. ……
- You have published a lot of your Punk images on your Instagram page. Do you have more that are yet to be published? Will you be sharing those?
CC: There are maybe a few more left, but unfortunately not many.
- Did you imagine that some of the people you were photographing such as Adam Ant, Siouxsie Sioux and Billy Idol would end up becoming as famous as they have?
CC: No I didn´t think about that at all. In my view they were already “famous” then. To see them was great. To see them in those venues, to be near the scene.
- Those original punk bands were reasonably well documented in photos by yourself and a few other photographers but there is very little film footage that has come to light. Do you know of anyone that was documenting it on film that has not yet made it public? Do you think we will ever see more film from the Punk era?
CC: I really hope so. People like Don Letts maybe. More from him? Others? on super-8 perhaps. That would be great!
MHU: You had an exhibition of your photos in London in 2016 (is that right ??). How did that go? Did any of the people in the photos come along?
CC: Yes I showed 18 larger photos in 2016, but it was at The Modern Museum in Malmös, Sweden. Not in London unfortunately. But it went out very well. I’m in touch with one in the crowd at a Sham 69-gig. He recognized himself in a photo from 40 years ago.
MHU: Do you have any plans to formally release your photos? Maybe a coffee table book?
CC: Wow! That would be great. I will gladly do – if someone makes me an offer.
MHU: Is there anything else you would like to say about how you remember your time on the London Punk scene in the 1970s?
CC: It was a great time. I will never forget. I’m still in love with music and trying to not be too nostalgic. There are some (live) bands today that give me similar feelings to back in the seventies – but sounding TODAY: Baby in Vain from Denmark and La Luz and L.A Witch, both from USA. All of them girls. Don’ t miss them!
To see all of Christian’s original and recent Punk images check out his Instagram account here.