Punk is part of i-D’s DNA and the anti-establishment, anarchic, like-minded thinkers of the movement were one of the reasons Terry Jones founded the magazine back in 1980. Capturing the look was always the i-dea and in the early days, Graham Smith was on hand with his camera, shooting for the very first issues. i-D online caught up with Graham last week at the re-launch of his book We Can Be Heroes, where he gave us the 411 on the origins of punk.
It was Punk’s rallying cry of ‘get up off your arse’ and do something creative that inspired me to pick up a camera as my weapon of choice rather than a guitar, as I did not have the confidence to jump on a stage.
Punk burnt itself out within a year and the void was replaced by this underground clubbing scene that arose from its ashes and somehow I became the unofficial, official photographer and documented my mates, the clubs and bands, as I was the only one with a camera.
I never sold the photographs apart from a few to the first couple of issues of i-D and The Face which both in a way grew out of the creativity that blossomed with this scene. Today I am a magazine art director and upon turning 50 two years ago, decided the time was right to tell the tale. Mainly because the scene has been given very little documentation in terms of social history, and what is out there is often misunderstood. There are dozens of books on Punk, Northern soul and Mod culture but nothing on this very influential and colourful period that laid the foundations for the Rave/House scene that would follow.
It was a time before mobile phones, Facebook, Tweets and laptops. (Initially there were not even any style magazines.) Thus it was a period that had mystic and the only way to find out about it was word of mouth, so it was totally underground. To make things happen you had to be creative and this creativity became contagious with people not only running their own clubs for like minded souls but their own fashion and music to go with it.
It’s the mystic that is missing from clubbing today as everything is up on Facebook before the first night is even over. I think back then being in this crowd of like-minded souls, with that arrogance of youth, where you tread without fear, allowed us to inspire and feed off each other and then suddenly your mates are on Top of the Pops and you really do believe you can achieve things.
So I got back in touch with all the original movers and shakers for the book, We Can Be Heroes, and got them on board. Boy George, Steve Strange and Gary Kemp all offered forewords and Robert Elms wrote a blinding introduction. Chris Sullivan who was really the linchpin for all this period was up for writing the main text and I interviewed over 60 of the main faces for quotes which are scattered throughout the book.
My favourite and most memorable photo is of Steve Strange sat with a bunch of Welsh fishermen in a pub in Cardiff docks. We had organised a coach trip to Wales to see Spandau Ballet play their first gig outside London. Afterwards we all descended on this pub. As our motley crew of leather clad bikers, cowboys, 50s Parisian hookers, gothic angels and Steve Strange dressed as a kind of camp Robin Hood entered, it went completely silent and the whole pub turned around, gorped and time stood still. I thought we could be in for a serious beating but no they loved us, bought drinks for us and showed us their fish!
Looking back on it all, the scene gave to many an opportunity to empower and express themselves and a couple really did become Heroes. For the rest of us it was such a good laugh!
We Can Be Heroes is available here.