17 June 2008

Independent Record Shop Project

In May 2008 I put on an exhibition with photographer Spencer Murphy about Soho’s Independent Record Shops. Its a project I had originally planned to illustrate about 8 years ago (I’ve had a lot on!) The idea was inspired by the track, Saturday Morning Rush written by Rob Gallagher AKA Earl Zinger.

It captured a mood of an era of record shopping that is sadly on the decline. Over the years a lot of my favourite shops have closed, with each one closing I become more regretful that I hadn’t done anything. It was Reckless Records closing last year that made me finally take action. I decided that photography was key to making this happen rather than illustration.

Using some contacts in adland (thank you Sarah Pascoe, thank you Mark Reddy) I managed to persuade Spencer Murphy to help me out. I approached the shops and we decided to shoot 8 of them. I was tempted to venture North of Oxford Street and to Hanway Street where there are some gems, but we felt that keeping it ‘contained’ in Soho was better.

So on a cold November morning, suffering a ‘post-Dingwalls-hangover’ I met Spencer in Flat White on Berwick Street and we started work. Or rather, Spencer, and assistants Pablo and Linda started work while I browsed the vinyl. It was one of the easiest shoots I’ve done - all the subjects are naturally framed by the counter and their ‘stuff’! We started in Soul Jazz where things were pretty cramped with all the lighting and equipment, Chris stepped up and within ten minutes the first shot was done.

We then moved up to Sister Ray where the staff weren’t so keen on being photographed, but as time was running-out I spotted Matt who was happy (and very good) at being photographed. We were so close to not getting anything but ended up with one of the best shots. Spencer’s lighting is superb and he really captures the mood, especially when you consider the dark and compact space he had to work in. Harold Moores on Great Marlborough Street was next. While Daisy the dog was in make-up we went to Melati’s for lunch. Now the saying goes: never work with children and animals. Well this isn’t true for Daisy, who loved the moment - I’ve never seen an animal play to camera like that... amazing. We spent the last few hours shooting details in the basement of Harold Moores which is filled with interesting stuff.

Tuesday started late as we sat outside Vinyl Junkies waiting for Jean Paul to arrive. He was edgy and a little uncomfortable with us taking over his shop with all the equipment. But then he saw the test shot of himself looking cinematic and grand and soon came around to the idea. More great detail shots in here. I love this shop and the way its laid out. Some pleading with Tolu to join in the final shot and then we were done. Still on Berwick Street, we headed up to Mister CD. This was really cramped, but again Spencer worked his magic and managed to get a good shot in a tightly packed and busy shop. Just 1 month later, this shop would be closed. It was a pleasure to have been there and to record it.

We made our way over to Lexington Street to Wyld Pytch to see Zorra and Digger. When the married couple had stopped bickering with each other we got a good shot of Zorra. This is one of my favourites, Zorra looks great. As always, there was a nice vibe in Wyld Pytch with some good people passing through. I would have loved to have stayed longer but we had a schedule to stick to and we had to move on. A quick dash in the rain down Lexington Street and across Ingestre Place to If Music where we’re greeted with an order “wipe your feet”... yes, it can only be Jean-Claude. While a lot of the shops are cluttered and dusty, this one is the opposite, its pristine. Aaron held the fort while Jean-Claude went out to buy beer. Again the set-up was straight-forward and the shot simple. There were a few props that needed moving around; Fabric Bear and my man Martin Young (RIP) had to be in shot. I help pack Spencer and all the equipment into a people carrier and he’s on his way. Day two is finished and its almost a rap... just Nicky Blackmarket left to do.

A charismatic Nicky appears in the morning for his portrait. He’s happy to have his photograph taken in his shop (the first time anyone has done this) especially as its so close to his birthday. And too soon its all over, with a sense of relief and sadness. Its been an unforgetable few days, surrounded by some very passionate people. The future isn’t looking great for the record shop, I hope we have done something that goes some way towards remembering what we have, now, while its still here.

At the start of the year I set about organising the exhibition and producing a poster to go with it. The square was the starting point and everything was based around this, from the picture crops to the text boxes. The poster folds down to sit in a 7” sleeve. Quadroprint did an amazing job producing this. Originally we were going to source the sleeves, but the unusual way in-which the poster folded down meant the sleeve had to be custom made. Spencer got in contact with writer Cyrus Shahrad who put pen to paper and did a great piece for us. This was printed on the reverse of the poster and appeared large on the windows too - a big thank you to Grant at City Images who helped with these window vinyls and the flyers. The final prints were 1000mm square photographic prints mounted to foam board and supplied by SMP. All the production was managed under the expert eye of Andy Maw.

I learnt a lot about PR and how time-consuming it can be (note to self: out source it next time). Emails were sent with little or no responses - all very unnerving. But one morning I got an email from Gavin Lucas at Creative Review who wanted to meet up for a pint. He was a massive help in raising awareness of the project and wrote a great piece on the CR Blog. I have to thank Gilles too for giving it a push on the radio.

The Private View took place on the 15th May in Soho – with a massive amount of help from Ronojoy Dam. Jean-Claude, Aaron Jerome and Zorra played, while a steady flow of friends and shop-owners made their way through the doors. Having Rob Gallagher in attendance completed the project nicely. 8 years in the making. Better late than never.

More links here:

some posters are still available, either from my site or from the record shops themselves.

1 June 2008

Working with BBC 21CC

In April 2008, I was invited by Kirsteen McNish to join the BBC's 21CC workshop as a Facilitator. The project was a multimedia event based around Steve Reich's 'Music for 18 Musicians' and was split into three parts: Video, Music, and Graphics. Myself and Patrick Vale headed up the Graphic Design section. Students from Kingston College joined us for 2 days at 21CC's space at White City. It was interesting to see how the students worked under such a tight deadline - just two days to conceptualise, design and artwork their covers. The finished pieces were excellent, especially when you consider the time constraints and the fact it was their first time using the applications. All the work was put on display at the BFI Southbank alongside the live music and films that were produced by the other groups.