What are your earliest memories of photography?
My earliest memories are of my dad taking family photographs and landscape shots on a Kodak SLR camera which had a lovely leather case. He always shot on Kodachrome slide film, so the rolls were sent away to be developed by Kodak in Hemel Hempstead and came back about ten days later. It was like slow-motion magic when the cardboard-mounted slides arrived by post, sardine-packed into their yellow plastic boxes and ready to be seen in a little slide viewer or projected onto a wall. I recently scanned some of those slides for my mother’s 95th birthday celebration, and of course they still look brilliant.
What was your journey to becoming a photographer, and how did you come to specialise in nightlife in particular?
Like most young photographers I started by snapping pictures of family and friends, familiarising myself with the camera before feeling brave enough to try capturing strangers. I did a series of shots of my friends and siblings in their rooms, from bedsits and shared houses to my brother’s cool prefab house in Kennington, as well as shooting friends’ bands and then moving on to bigger gigs such as Cabaret Voltaire performing at a benefit for the striking miners in Sheffield in 1984.
When I visited London, I photographed the polysexual parties called The Lift which were hosted by my brother Steve and gradually became confident in using flash – as there was rarely enough light even when using fast (1600 ISO) film. I was lucky to walk into i-D just when they needed another photographer to do ‘straight-ups’ and party pictures, and over the next 18 months I got to know London nightlife that way before I became the Nightlife Editor at Time Out magazine in 1986.
It’s 40 years since you became a nightlife photographer, how has the scene changed in that time?
Before 1987 most of the best-known nightlife events in London, including renowned New Romantic nights like the Blitz, were relatively small and attracted a core crowd of around 500 ‘Soho Bohos’. There was also a thriving soulboy and soulgirl club scene in the suburbs and satellite towns around London, and underground reggae and R&B blues parties happening from Brixton to Harlesden and across the city. London looked to the thriving New York club scene (at clubs like Paradise Garage, The Loft, Danceteria, Area and so on) for inspiration, so for example the Camden Palace (now Koko) and Hippodrome were loosely modelled on Studio 54, and New York’s Limelight opened a sister club on Shaftesbury Avenue.
Clubs were only licensed until 2am – or 3am in the West End – so from the early ’80s, warehouse parties catered to the crowd who wanted to carry on dancing, an audience that grew exponentially when the energy flash of Acid House was fuelled by ecstasy suddenly becoming widely available. The huge expansion of rave culture across Britain coincided with the UK becoming a leader in dance music production – from house to jungle to D&B, UK Garage and bass beats – and catapulted London to be the world’s premier nightlife city in the ’90s and early noughties. So much of that original lawless enthusiasm has since been channelled into music festival culture in the UK while the world wide web has fostered a global dance scene, which is just as it should be.
What do you think you’ve learnt from going to clubs and raves for four decades?
I hope I’ve learnt to be even more open-minded than when I started going out, because I really appreciate the wonderfully diverse styles of music and nightlife that can co-exist, especially in major cities – everything from fetish clubs to film-driven all-nighters and cabaret events or free parties hidden away on industrial estates. So often it’s the guest workers and migrants who have helped create the most vibrant scenes and pioneered new music fusions.
Big cities foster a kind of intensity because there should be enough people into a particular musical style to encourage the producers to create new sounds and push the boundaries a bit further. For me, the best nightlife is unpredictable, an adventure, which can be really hard to create in a city where at times the authorities can be overzealous in observing the rules (like closing times and noise levels of urban festivals), but where rules are nonetheless necessary.
But this kind of excitement isn’t only due to high production values and ‘wow factors’, and is just as likely to be generated by the people you encounter and meet, and by the joy of watching ‘the parade’ as it passes and trying to record it.
What music do you enjoy listening to?
When I go out, it’s the music that gets other people excited. If there isn’t a buzz and an atmosphere, it’s generally a lot harder to take photos. When I’m at home, it’s listening to Cerys Matthews or Gilles Peterson on BBC Radio 6 on Sundays, or playing compilations and mixtapes while I work on photographs. It’s rarely hard or hardcore music, but it’s soul-driven, from folk to jazz to gospel to house and R&B, and tunes from across the global south.
What has provided you with balance in what must have been a fast-paced career?
Coming from a big supportive family helps keep anyone grounded. Wherever I’ve lived in north and east London there have always been great parks and open spaces nearby, so it’s easy to escape even if it’s just for an hour on a run or by cycling around the city. My family come from the West Country around Bath and Bristol and we’ve holidayed on the coast of Cornwall for decades, and that was where we ran away to on Millennium night in 2000 when the whole nightlife circus in London overheated with £100 tickets that few could afford. Millennium night flopped in London, but it was brilliant and foolish fun by the sea.
Why are the ‘Ibiza ’89’ images so special to you?
The Ibiza ’89 images are special to me partly because of the anticipation which preceded going there. Ibiza nightlife and the ‘Balearic Beats’ that were played by DJ Alfredo and others had had such a huge impact in London in 1988, and the DJs and club promoters running some of those era-transforming clubs, Paul Oakenfold (The Future and Spectrum), Danny Rampling (Shoom) and Nicky Holloway (Trip) had all told me how incredible Ibiza was, so I was fully primed.
The writer Alix Sharkey and I were determined to do the island justice and worked around the clock on an open brief from 20/20 magazine (basically we were told to ‘report on what’s happening in Ibiza now’), so any stories that Alix heard about, and all the photos I took, could potentially appear in the magazine feature. Our visit coincided with The Sun publishing a shock-horror front-page story about the “PERIL OF DRUG ISLE KIDS” on “ECSTASY ISLAND” which added to the hype – and no doubt encouraged thousands more Brits to flock to the island.
What are your memories of being there that summer?
I’d often been told that Ibiza was like partying in paradise, and it was true, up to a point. Open-air clubbing at Ku and Amnesia may have ruined the sleep patterns of thousands of the islanders, but it made nightlife so much more enjoyable. In London clubs playing Balearic Beats and Acid House had usually been a sensory assault of strobe lights and smoke, with added lasers if the budget allowed. In Ibiza we could dance in the warm night air with oleander and azalea flowers blooming around the bars, and the smokers could puff away without poisoning the rest of us.
Most of my memories were caught on camera, but there are always moments that get missed. Suzuki beach buggies were a popular hire-car in 1989, and why wouldn’t they be, as they were guaranteed fun in the sun? On the night we went to Ku there were two massive thunderstorms, complete with rolling thunder and sheet lightning. Ku was the biggest club in the world (with a capacity of 7,000) but it had fewer than a thousand inside – as this was the night following the opening party at Amnesia. There was a huge roof, but it didn’t cover the whole club, so carefree Brits danced in the downpour as the DJs played the moan-tastic ‘French Kiss’ by Lil Louis time after time. We came out after 6am to find bright sunshine in the carpark – and about five of those beach buggies each full to the brim with water, like a ready-made bath. After two all-night parties we just wanted to get some sleep, but I still wish I’d got the camera out and grabbed a couple of photos.
Those images have clearly resonated with people, why do you think that is?
For those who were there the appeal is obvious, as these photos help to bring back memories of relatively carefree times at a point when Ibiza was exerting an ever-greater impact on UK nightlife and popular culture. It wasn’t just the superclubs in Ibiza that were influential, as the beach bars like Café del Mar and Sa Trinxa and the chill-out room culture that they created was to spread throughout the UK during the early ’90s.
1989 was at the end of a golden-age period long before ‘Ibiza Uncovered’ and Manumission took Ibiza up (or down) to another level. For those who weren’t there, I’m sorry, but you’ll really wish you had been. The photos even have that effect on me because I’d have loved to simply experience it along with the people in the photos. The book was first published in 2020 between Covid lockdowns, so the images of people partying close together in the clubs and sunning themselves on the beaches resonated even more powerfully.
What was the process like of compiling them into a book?
I’d been planning for years to work with a graphic designer and artist friend, David Caines, on making a photobook, so I was looking forward to it, but initially it didn’t quite come together. Credit to my son Caspar for suggesting that we organise the photos into an alternating series of daytime and nightlife images, because this gave more of a relaxed flow to the book. Within that loose overall structure the designer and I could have fun choosing pictures that worked well together in double-page spreads.
The cover essentially chose itself because the two photos I took of this couple were incredibly popular whenever they were shown on social media. The other really enjoyable element was in discovering slides that I had overlooked at the time, including the ‘Think Big’ photo taken at Pacha that is now one of my favourites.
You were the Time Out Nightlife Editor for nearly 25 years. What was it like covering London in that way?
I was lucky to be in that job, that’s for sure! Nightlife in London expanded dramatically in the late ’80s with Acid House and rave culture but many other scenes and developments followed (Drum ’n’ Bass, Asian Underground, DJ Bars, Cabaret clubbing, Electroclash, superclubs and Nu Rave come to mind) so that it continued growing and there was always something fresh to get excited about.
The challenge was to expand with it, as everybody working at Time Out wanted more space too, but fortunately there were new staff members and a lot of great people worked for the Nightlife section over the years (I’d happily mention many names but this isn’t an Oscars speech!) so that collectively we really did a good job. It was a real privilege to be in that position and to be able to celebrate so many brilliant clubs – to be honest it felt more like a social service than journalism. And I got to know London pretty well too, as I certainly didn’t know the city when I started at Time Out.
Finally, we ask all of our Journal interviewees to complete the following phrase:
You Must Create… because creation liberates the imagination and promotes new possibilities