If there was ever a book review where regular readers could probably write it themselves it’s got to be this one. What Presence!: The Rock Photography Of Harry Papadopoulos contains many people already featured on these pages. Postcard Records? Tick. Edwyn Collins? Tick. Foreword by Peter Capaldi? Tick. Clare Grogan? Tick, smiley face.
I’ve been a sucker for coffee table books on film and music since long before I had a coffee table. You’re dealing with someone who counts Gary Mulholland’s This Is Uncool and Fear Of Music as two of his favourite books, and who still owns a copy of Chris Charlesworth’s fantastically sleazy Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Put put aside my fetish for glossy publications and What Presence! is still a must have for anyone interested in the history of Scottish popular music.
Harry Papadopoulos (right) chronicled what many believe was the golden era for pop music, and here is the glorious evidence. I won’t deny that some of the people on these pages made music which changed my life. Folk such as Roddy Frame, Billy Mackenzie, Edwyn Collins and Davy Henderson as well as David Bowie, Debbie Harry, Nick Cave, Elvis Costello and The Clash; because don’t think Harry dealt solely with local heroes. He went on to photograph just about every major pop and rock star of the 1980s, and beyond.
The book itself is a thing of beauty with its ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ colour scheme, and it gives the pictures the space they deserve. It also has just the right amount of commentary from those who were there. What lifts the book above the purely pictorial is a result of the contribution from Ken McCluskey, still known best to many as a founding member of The Bluebells and a McCluskey Brother. Ken not only pens the introduction, but appears to have reached into his little black book and called upon some favours from the great and good of Scottish pop, and beyond, to contribute. Reading what they have to say it is clear that they didn’t need much persuading.
They include The Waterboys’ Mike Scott, Clare Grogan, Jill Bryson of Strawberry Switchblade, Vic Godard, most of Orange Juice, and a contribution from one of the great writers on music and modern culture, Jon Savage. If you can judge a person by those ready to sing their praises then Harry Papadopoulos is a fine man indeed. What comes across is that this is a fan, a pop fanatic, who just happened to have a phenomenal eye for what makes a great picture, and who was able to use that to full effect.
If you were around in the ’80s this will bring the memories flooding back, but even if you weren’t then it’s a wonderful pictorial history of a time when indie meant just that. For all the well kent faces on show, part of the book’s appeal comes from seeing the photos of dimly remembered bands and lesser known heroes such as the Jazzateers, 999, The Elite, The Scars, Angelic Upstarts and The Dreamboys, who featured the aforementioned Peter Capaldi as well as Craig Ferguson in their line-up.
What Presence! is a reminder that we don’t become obsessed with bands, musicians and movements purely because of the music. It’s also about the clothes, the haircuts, the attitude, arrogance and that otherworldly charm that true stars seem to have. I could go on about The Rezillos, Yello, Heaven 17, Josef K, Felt…all of whom appear on these pages, but I think you get the picture. I’m simply going to leave you with three of my favourites…smiley face…