Simon Barker: Punk’s Dead
Interview by Wynn Smith
Images by Simon Barker
“We needed something nearer to home and not just in music.
We wanted it in film, fashion, art...
—Simon Barkereverything needed to be turned upside down. ” — Simon Barker
Simon Barker is a photographer currently living in Prague, known for documenting the early years of the punk movement. He is a former member of the infamous “Bromley Contingent”, the group of original punks and avid Sex Pistols fans.
Known for his tongue-in-cheek humor and anti-establishment designs, Wynn Smith has quickly built a cult following for his Wink (the name is a combination of Wynn’s sister’s name, Mink, and his own). Wink, launched in 1997, is known for its punk-meets-upper-crust sensibility. The Arkansas native studied fashion in San Francisco. His designs have inspired and been borrowed widely in the fashion industry from J-Crew to Marc Jacobs. You can view his design blog here.
(October 13, 1925 – April 8, 2013) The 20th centuries’ longest serving Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the only woman to have held office. During the Thatcher years England faced high unemployment, racial tensions, the miner’s strike, and the Falklands war. Thus, Thatcher became punk’s muse. Bands like The Beat, Morrissey and Elvis Costello protested Thatcher in their music, the most famous being the Sex Pistol’s classic, “God Save the Queen.”
Former member of the legendary Bromley Contingent, photographer, Simon Barker sits down for some nostalgic talk with cult-label designer, Wynn Smith (WINK). Together they reminisce, and dive into Barker’s newest project – Punk’s Dead a compilation of never-before seen photographs depicting the founders of punk in their earliest expressions. Punk’s Dead is releasing in April, 2014 (DIVUS).
Wynn Smith: Did punk come from certain groups of artistic kids’ reaction to Thatcher’s grey, industrial, no-hope London, as well as a crude reaction against glam rock?
Simon Barker: Maggie Thatcher came a few years later, but it was a time of no-hope – both in London and I think New York too. There was a sense of “Do-It-Yourself” in the air because what we wanted just wasn’t available – except for a few major exceptions (the New York Dolls, Iggy and The Stooges). We needed something nearer to home and not just in music. We wanted it in film, fashion, art… everything needed to be turned upside down.
(22 January 1946 – 8 April 2010)British musician, impresario, visual artist, performer, clothes designer and boutique owner. McLaren largely initiated the punk movement, to which he supplied fashions from the Chelsea boutique ‘SEX’, operated with his girlfriend Vivienne Westwood. McLaren managed the Sex Pistols, to whom he recruited the nihilistic frontman Johnny Rotten.
Fred Vermorel is a Professor and author. Vermorel draws on his experience in the music industry, and in fashion and design related journalism. He has written such books as; “Sex Pistols: The Inside Story,” “The Secret History of Kate Bush,” and “The Kate Moss Brand.” Vermorel currently teaches Communications at Richmond University in London.
WS: Did Malcolm McLaren have Tourette’s syndrome?
SB: I think this is a favorite theory of Fred Vermorel (one of Malcolm’s friends from his art student days). I’m not a doctor, but it implies that what he was doing was involuntary and compulsive, which wasn’t really the case. Malcolm was one of the most anti-authority people I have ever met – which I loved about him. He had a drive and a vision and wasn’t just talk. He made things happen – plus he had a great team of ideas people around him.
(February 27, 1958 – October 12, 1978) Nancy Spungen was the girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and a figure of the 1970s punk rock scene. Their relationship was punctuated by bouts of domestic violence and drug abuse. In October 1978, Spungen was found dead in the bathroom of the couple’s Chelsea Hotel room of a single stab wound to the abdomen. Sid Vicious was charged with her murder but died of a heroin overdose in February 1979 before the case went to trial.
WS: Was Nancy Spungen as big a bitch as everyone says?
SB: Well she was a fuck-up that’s for sure. What more can i say? She’s dead and can’t defend herself but yes, guilty as charged.
WS: Were you ever inside Vivienne Westwood’s sex shop? If so, any photos?
SB: Many, many times. I loved the sex shop more than Seditionaries. It had a unique atmosphere. Once inside you didn’t want to leave; a single visit to the shop could last for hours. The mix of the clientele was glamorous and eclectic: prostitutes, newsreaders, pop stars, models and perverts. Unfortunately the shop was remodeled into Seditionaries before I took any photos inside.
WS: Was Billy Idol a punk?
SB: Was anybody? This word is just a media word. It depends on who is using it and how they’re using it.
WS: Is Justin Bieber trying to be a new punk?
SB: He is just a ‘Belieber.’ That’s all I know about him.
WS: Two iconic images of punk to me were safety pins in the cheeks and trash bag dresses. Do you know where they came from?
SB: Most of these looks came from outside of London – quite a lot would came up from Wales. They would hire a coach and then half way to London they would get the unwitting driver to stop on the motorway and then transform themselves with their safety pins, trash bags and extreme make-up. Again it was a zeitgeist DIY mentality.
WS: Was it a violent group?
SB: That was blown out of proportion by the media – like they did in the early days of Rock n’ Roll. For the first time in any teenage movement there was tolerance and acceptance of anyone who wanted to do their own thing. It was a time when women, gays, artists could stand on an equal footing and perform. Unfortunately, it didn’t last and bit-by-bit the corporations have clawed their way back in control. Pop idol, X Factor, etc. can you imagine any original talent coming out of that shit.