Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Kevin Cummins - Looking for the Light through the Pouring Rain

Just picked up Faber & Fabers hardback book of the Manchester photography of Kevin Cummins.

This is a stunning collection of photographs that capture the mood of Machunia from the mid 70's to the mid 90's.

From the city's greatest iconic pop star sons such as Ian Curtis, Morrisey, Mark E Smith and Ian Brown to the lesser known (yet often important) bands (The Worst, The Drones, Section 23) and from the 'kids on the street' youth tribes (Punks, Smiths fans, Baggy Ravers, Acid Casuals, B-Boys) to the gloomy doomy streets and shopping centres themselves - its all here, documented in the most vivid and beautiful way.

Flicking through this book is a contradictory experience for anyone who lived through the era, both heartbreaking and joyous in equal measure. Mixed feelings of celebrating the past, missing the past, getting old, lost times, good times, bad times, what was it all about, will things ever be as good /bad again? The poetry in Cummins shots is often overwhelming.

The book kicks off as all 1970's beginnings should, with a shot of David Bowie, (Bowie not in Manchester but down the road in Leeds) however the next shot we're treated to is an exhilarating Iggy Pop at Manchester Appolo in 1977 - a life changing moment for many, for sure. As next up is the result of the Iggy Pop/Sex Pistols revolution - a 1977 shot of Slaughter and the Dogs, the genuine Manc Punk band. From here were off on a journey that takes in touching shots of The Fall, The Buzzcocks, The Worst, The Drones, A Certain Ratio, Spherical Objects, Joy Division, John Cooper Clarke, Peter Saville, Tony Wilson, Linder, Magazine, Section 23, ludus, James, New Order, Jilted John, Rob Gretton, The Smiths, Jazz Defektors, Mick Hucknall, The Durutti Column, Martin Hannett, Vini Reilly, Mike Pickering, The Railway Children, The Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, Happy Mondays, Charlatans, Electronic, Oasis, Billy Duffy, The Other Two, The Seahorses, Doves, whist also finding space to show us the streets of Salford, Hulme, Shudehill, and Moss Side including vital punk venue The Electric Circus, The Russell Club/Factory Club, The Hacienda, The Arndale Centre and Maine Road. As well as the usual Manc hero's there's shots of outsiders making an impact on the city - capturing Manchester gigs by The Jam, The Clash, The Slits, Wayne County, Ramones, Madonna and Michael Clark.

As well as the photographs themselves there's a treasure trove of wonderful paraphernalia for Mancophiles. Including text chapters by Richard Milward, Paul Morley, Johnny Marr, Peter Hook, Mark E Smith, Stuart Maconie and John Harris.

While also included are scans of such interesting fare as gig tickets, club membership cards, 7" single sleeves, button badges, party invites and even a postcard to Cumins from Morrisey himself.

The last four shots in the book are priceless.

The first a black and white shot of an empty stage full of destroyed flowers after a Morrisey gig. This photo alone shouts 'The Party is over' or even - 'The party is over - go home' a fitting photo for both the end of the book and the end of the Era which saw Manchester rule the British alternative music scene for a staggering 20 years.

The second is a stark black and white shot of an unknown persons arm (sleeve rolled to elbow) featuring a tattoo that simply reads 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' there's a proud devotion and a profound sadness in the photo that screams out similar feelings to that of the above empty stage 'Morrisey shot'. Curtis is dead, the party is over (for the time being) but the emotion created during Joy Divisions brief lifespan will live on forever.

The third is another black and white shot, this time of Ian Curtis' Grave stone which reads 18 - 5 - 80 Love Will Tear Us Apart. Shocking, moving and coming straight after the Tattoo shot, a confirmation if any were needed of all that loss, and the end of an era. Of course we know now that it was just the end of one era and soon the next wave of Manc music history would begin with New Order but here the Gothic overtones are as far away from the heady cocktail of flashing lights and colourful highs of the Madchester era as its possible to get, testimony of the sheer scope of images, styles, emotions, sounds and meanings thrown up by Manchester's hungry, energetic Children in the time frame that this book spans.

The last is a colour shot of a brick wall that has a roughly painted mural daubed onto its weathered brick work. The painting is of a Union Jack split in two and through the middle written in white paint reads 'There's no future in England's dreaming: John Lydon Of I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here Fame'. Saying all things at once, the graffiti is funny, sad and poigniant, funny because we know the quote came from John Lydon when he was Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols - one of the greatest Ant-Hero's England has ever seen. but after the joke about his current fame takes a second to die, the nasty aftertaste leaves a sadness - is this where it all lead to - sick and desperate reality TV shows for the dumbed down and vacuous? But look at the quote again from the mouth of a teenager not an old man, and it's genius is apparent once again.

For Johnny Rotten inspired the people in this book to dare to dream, and dream they did, wonderful ambitious sky reaching dreams. This book is the evidence not of England's dreaming but Manchester's dreaming, more over Manchester's dreams come true - from working class success story's and personal escapes from the urban poverty trap to City wide rejuvenation. Even the painting and it's union colours of red white and blue remind us of the inner sleeve of The stone Roses debut album a painting by John Squire called 'Waterfall' - a painting from an album now often considered the greatest debut album of all time - a record that as much as any in this book sums up and represents what power Johnny Rotten had and what could happen when the young had the balls to dream. It seems that during a certain period of British history Mancunians dreamed the most.





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