I look back on my time at school as Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities; it was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
I was born and grew up, in Coventry, a British city bombed to within an inch of its life during the second world war. It was rebuilt quickly and cheaply in the years immediately afterward, and man did it show! The result for post-war Coventry’s City Centre was a series of weird juxtapositions between modern concrete monoliths, and relics from its surviving architectural history. Part of the jail wall that encompassed the entire city in its medieval days, (the wall that earned Coventry its 'sent to Coventry' fame) sat directly underneath a stainless-steel leisure centre built in the 70s to complement its Olympic-sized swimming pool next door. Similarly, the roofless ruins of its 14th-century cathedral, still stand cheek-to-jowl with the modern and controversial equivalent. The second world war was never far from the minds of Coventrians, even 30 years later, during which time I had been born, and grown just old enough to understand its history and significance.
My memories of the 70s are dominated by Coventry as well as the economic backdrop of the country. The U.K. was dubbed the sick man of Europe. Our industries were mired in strikes, while the world was held hostage by the oil crisis. The three-day working week came into force for a while, there were power outages, high unemployment numbers, and the quiet, but constant threat of nuclear annihilation from the political shenanigans of the cold war. Coventry was in decline. Its once proud car industries had become a standing joke; decimated by industrial disputes and a lack of investment, they had hit the self-destruct button and reached the point of no-return.
My 14th-century school had survived the war, despite being right on the edge of the Germans’ target area during the bombing raid on Coventry; a raid that Hitler had described as his revenge for Dresden. My parents were delighted that I’d passed the entrance exam. My Dad and his younger brother were former pupils, so for them, this was to be the beginning of a tradition.
The school was a relic of a bygone era but steadfastly refused to let go of its high-status image and 700-year history. It was little more than an Oxbridge exam machine, with a reluctant nod to those who performed well enough to move onto 'lesser' universities. I was expected to work hard and play hard, an ethos hardwired into its DNA. Most pupils were fee-payers for the privilege of being there, and as the only means for the school to avoid the government of the day turning it into a state comprehensive. I was there, somehow, through the academic prowess of my primary school days. (Laughable, when you consider the results I achieved at senior level). My parents were hellbent on avoiding the fate they believed awaited me at the local comp, so, for two years, my Dad coached me for the school’s entrance exam, using previous exam papers. My parents, both worked in the city’s declining car industry. They didn’t earn much money, and were constantly fearful of redundancy, strikes and wage freezes. To have gotten off scot-free on the fee-paying front, therefore, was the only reason I could attend this high-status school.
I’m still friends with one of the teachers – a handsome, gangly, witty fella from Chicago, called Bryan. He was our A-level Economics teacher – only a fledgling himself back then, some ten years older than his sixth-form pupils, and a teacher as different from his colleagues, as say David Bowie is to Donald Trump. Bryan describes the school as something straight out of ‘Goodbye, Mr Chips’. He’s not wrong. It took about three months before the woollen trousers of my school uniform (a grey-flecked suit) wore-in sufficiently to stop prickling my legs. The fear of having my backside beaten with a plimsole for forgetting to bring a text book to a lesson, however, never really went away. The discipline was military, the traditions rife, the academic and sports expectations high. These things made me feel oppressed and miserable. We all lived in fear of putting a foot wrong. Poor academic performances never went unnoticed. Most academic indiscretions were corrected through punitive systems designed to teach us 'not to perform badly again'. It was a damn good job that I was, at least, a tidy rugby player!
If it’s not already clear, school was mostly miserable. There were times I wondered how any parents could ever subject their kids to this kind of hell. Often, I resented them for it. It was drummed into me from an early age that I’d be the better for it, and that had I gone to the local comp, things would have been much worse. I had no comparison of course, so for my own sanity, I had to believe them.
I have no training whatsoever in psychology, but I imagine that one of the reasons most of us adored our music so much was for the coping mechanism it provided. Music became so precious, that we became tribal. These recording artists were our gods, poets, philosophers and role models. It was common for blazing rows to break out over differences in opinion on any musical issue, more so than over politics, religion, or anyone’s perceived poor social behaviour. Tribally speaking, we fell into a few broad categories; rockers, punks, indie kids and new romantics, with a few of the fashionistas liking funk and disco. No one really embraced ska, which was odd, because Coventry is seen as the home of its rebirth during the 70s.
I was a rocker through and through. I grew my hair as long as went unnoticed, which wasn’t very long at all. My first love was Pink Floyd. Being the slightly obsessive, passionate type, Pink Floyd became the most precious thing in my life. I’d probably have killed anyone who dared to criticise them. Aged 13, I bought a vinyl copy of ‘Relics’. Only a few weeks later, I’d virtually worn the grooves off it. It was my first ever LP. Not long after, I saved up my pocket money and bought ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’. I’d noticed two older boys carrying a copy to school one day, so earwigged their conversation. It was, according to them, the best album ever made, even before it became known worldwide as almost exactly that. I had to have a copy! I couldn’t afford my own at first, so I borrowed one from the central library (you could do this in the 70s). I took it home, burning with pride, and wore the grooves off that, too, before eventually returning it many weeks late. Eventually I bought a pristine new copy of my own. Its very first play in the Trew household was on the little home record player with stereophonic sound (the Dolby Atmos of its day...). My Dad read the paper while I tried to impress him with the new love of my life. Every so often, he’d lower the paper, glare at me, and make very uncomplimentary remarks: “What’s this bloody noise?”, “it’s just a cacophony, David”, and “thank god that’s finished”. (How could he possibly not have liked ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’? The greatest piece of music I’d ever heard in my life!) Always seeking parental-approval, I was disappointed that he didn’t like it, but that was exactly where my disappointment ended. It wasn’t music for him, and nor did I want it to be. This was MY music!
Almost unwittingly, I had stumbled into Pink Floyd, in what I now see as their golden era. Their legion fans will debate to their deathbeds which Floyd era was the best. “It was never the same after Roger left”, etc. I didn’t really care about the politics; I just cared about the music, and for the record, I like every era, equally, albeit for different reasons.
Like any music-infatuated teenager, Pink Floyd’s tunes and lyrics spoke to me. They especially spoke to me when I was miserable, which turned out to be most of the time. With my push-button cassette tape recorder and a pair of headphones bigger than my head, I would listen to their music endlessly. It was therapy, medicine, relaxation, escapism, and a dream-world in which I resided for what amounted to several weeks straight if I were to tot-up the daily hours.
My schooldays saw the release of ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Animals’ and ‘The Wall’. In the sixth-form, four of us travelled by train to Earl’s Court, to watch the classic Floyd, of Roger, David, Rick and Nick, perform The Wall. This was the very best day of my life, surpassed only by the birth of my son over 40 years later. I consumed music news about Pink Floyd and my other favourites, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin like a Politburo zealot might have read communist party rules. In those days it was through the magazines of the day, like Melody Maker, New Musical Express, and Sounds. To see my music gods, in the flesh (ha ha!), was akin to the old cliché of a significant event in one’s life described as a religious experience. But it really was. Outside of academia and the representative rugby I played, rock music and Pink Floyd were my life. I even played bass guitar (very badly) in a school band with classmate Adam Pearson, who went on to be the lead guitarist with The Sisters of Mercy. But that’s a story for another blog. For now, it’s safe to say, that David Gilmour and Ritchie Blackmore were a big influence on Adam’s formative years as a rock guitarist. As was the law for wannabe rock bass guitarists, the opening riff to Pink Floyd's 'Money', became one of the first tunes I ever learned.
Skip forward some 40 years and my work with Rock Photographers Collective…
My business partner, Phil Nicholls, the immensely talented, accomplished, award-winning photographer that he is, (I can already hear him asking me to edit that bit out, such is his modesty), after a few months in business together, got round to telling me that his tutor and mentor during his college days at Bath Academy of Art, was none other than Angela Williams. I’d never heard of Angela Williams then, but research and information from Phil, kind of made me feel a bit dumb that I hadn’t.
Knowing my proclivities, Phil led his stories about Angela, with the one about her photographing the Syd-era Pink Floyd, in her flat in London, in February 1967, a good few months before ‘The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ (their first album) was released. This shoot, we believe, is one of the earliest formal photo-shoots of the band in existence. (The word ‘formal’ is important here, because even a casual search of Google shows that there are literally thousands of pictures of Syd and co during that era, but almost none taken posed-and-portrait-fashion so early in their career by a published photographer. The word ‘earliest’ means exactly that; if there are earlier sessions, we’d very much like to hear about them).
These pictures, somehow, have never really seen the light of day. I suppose because they were “unofficial” – a young, newly-formed band simply taking the opportunity of being photographed, as it presented itself, through an introduction to an equally young, ambitious, enthusiastic photographer excited by the opportunity to experiment for the band, without formal instruction from a record label or promoter.
Angela has (I’d guess from informal sightings), around 150 images from this session. Each band member has been photographed individually, along with several group shots. Very soon after that session, Angela met Syd and gave him the contact sheets and a few experimental prints. Comparing Syd’s artwork on ‘Piper…’ and ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ to Angela’s photography, you can clearly see that the two have a common bond. Angela can recognise that the silhouette on the back of the Piper album, was inspired directly from her work on that now historic day in February 1967.
It was during one of the visits to Angela’s countryside home and archive in rural Somerset, that she showed us, almost as an aside, a set of Kodak Ektachrome colour transparencies from 1968. Like archaeologists in an Egyptian tomb, Phil and I spotted Roger, Nick, and Rick on stage, performing as Pink Floyd, at what turned out to be the very first free rock concert in Hyde Park, on 29 June 1968. Tyrannosaurus Rex (T-Rex), Roy Harper and Jethro Tull were on the same bill. What makes this find so astonishing, is that search as extensively as we have, we can find only one other published colour image from that concert, taken by photographer Ray Stevenson. (It's in the book of their recent exhibition 'Their Mortal Remains'. It's highly likely that Ray shot other pictures on the same reel of film, but none that we have found through our own research).
The negatives and rare colour transparencies from these two events have been preserved immaculately; exactly as you’d expect of Angela and her long-time archivist, Michael Hewett. They now form part of our (RPC's) very own Pink Floyd collection.
The punchline to this blog piece lies in the very nature of what Rock Photographers Collective is all about. Most of what you see here is extremely rare. Many of the images on this site have never been in the public domain. For an infatuated Floyd fan like me, to have found historical images like these, and then have their owner make them available to us, makes me proud, honoured, excited, and filled with a due sense of awe. After Angela, the band members themselves, and only a handful of others, I’ve laid eyes on these pristine colour pictures for the first time; images that have been archived for over 50 years. That, for me, is the kind of event that forces expressions like “makes my day” fall woefully short of the mark.
If you’re an infatuated fan of a different band, we might well have images that you haven’t seen before. If so, I hope that they inspire and delight you in the same way Angela’s images have for me.
(Many thanks to Angela Williams and Michael Hewett for their help with this piece. They read an early draft and sent back factual corrections, as well as a few other suggestions. I used all of them. It’s most certainly better and more accurate for it).