Paul Slattery interview 2014


I regularly attend the monthly residency gigs of The Fallen Leaves at London’s 12 Bar Club. Another regular at these gatherings is photographer Paul Slattery – renowned for his absorbing pictorial work on the likes of The Ramones, The Smiths, and Oasis amongst many others. Paul graciously agreed to be interviewed about a certain photoshoot he undertook on July 28th, 1979…..

Photoshoot 28 July 1979 (C) Copyright Paul Slattery and reproduced with permission

Lee: How was the session arranged?

Paul: I was working for “Sounds” magazine at the time, doing a lot of photos with a journalist called Dave McCullough – who was a really hot, fantastic writer from Ireland. Dave had come over a couple of years earlier and we hooked up because we liked each other – and liked the same kind of music and politics and everything. A few weeks previous (to the session) he’d got this tape from this band called Joy Division. He’d been playing it in the “Sounds” office in Covent Garden and a lot of journalists had been complaining that he’d been playing it far too loud – and it sounded a bit dirgy!

Lee: Was this the “Unknown Pleasures” album?

Paul: Exactly. Dave had the (pre-release) tape of it – and so later we drove up there because Dave wanted to interview the band and we were going to see them at the “Stuff The Superstars” festival at Manchester’s Mayflower later on that evening.

Lee: So this was the first time you met Joy Division?

Paul: That’s right. We wended our way through the industrial streets of Stockport – ended up at Strawberry Sound Studios. There we met the band.

Lee: Were you present at their recording session that day?

Paul: We weren’t, no. When we got there they were kind of waiting for us – I think – and playing pool. We found out who Ian was and Ian dragged the rest of them out of the studio, and after what seemed like an age we managed to coax them outside down to the Waterloo pub.

Lee: When you say “an age” – what was stopping them? Did they want to get through a few more games of pool?

Paul: No – I just think – bloody mindedness from Peter Hook! He wasn’t really keen on having his photo taken, although at the end of the day he turned out to be a fair old sport. Ian was certainly the guy who was smoothing it all with the rest of the band, and at the time, Dave didn’t even know the names of everybody else in the band! They didn’t have any of their names written on the demo tape, and he didn’t have any information about what their names were! There’s a copy of the interview online – the interview in Sounds is from August ’79 and we did the interview in July ’79. In the actual transcript – even at the end of the interview Dave didn’t know any of their names apart from Ian Curtis!

Lee: Do you reckon Ian had a kind of idea of the image they were trying to portray in the photoshoot, because obviously Hooky wasn’t interested…..

Paul: I was a young photographer. You meet bands in various different places and sometimes you just don’t know what to do with four people. What you have to do is get a picture of them in their environment – so I thought we could go for a walk down the street, see something interesting, maybe a bit of wall they could stand next to… after we came out of the pub we ended up in a street called Hopes Carr. I found out later this was where the Argonaut had come down in 1967 in the Stockport air crash. The pilot had aimed the plane for a tiny bit of open land next to Hopes Carr and he managed to save twelve people. A lot of people were killed but the pilot’s skill saved even more deaths. Just the other day I saw what Hopes Carr looks like on Google Street Maps. It was a lovely, beautiful cobbled street in 1979. Now they’ve put tarmac on it and it doesn’t look the same, but a couple of the mill buildings in the background of the photos are still there.

Lee: Is Strawberry Studios still there?

Paul: The building is still there – 3 Waterloo Road – and the Waterloo pub is still there.

Mayflower 28 July 1979 (C) Copyright
Paul Slattery. Reproduced with permission


Lee: I notice all the photos from the shoot were in black and white. Was that a conscious decision by yourself and the band, or was this just down to the availability of film?

Paul: For me, rock photography is black and white and always will be. If there was ever a black and white band it was Joy Division. I spent a year on the road with Oasis in ’94, and 99% of the stuff I shot of them was black and white. We shot a bit of colour when people wanted it and that’s it. The timeless images in rock ‘n’ roll are black and white – and the picture of Joy Division standing on the corner of a cobbled street in Stockport says it all really.

Lee: That was the first Joy Division picture I ever saw.

Paul: It was one of those photoshoots where you felt the band really didn’t want to be choreographed. You just took them down to a place – “look over here”. I think the image they were – or Hooky was – trying to project – wasn’t a playful image. It reflected the music, which I thought at the time was melancholy. They’re not love songs. It was a different kind of vibe to what I was used to. I’d been taking pictures of punk, power-pop bands who project this kind of pop song vibe, so you get three guys and they’re all smiling. Joy Division was a different vibe. I just got them on the corner, saw how they interracted and took a few frames. Obviously in retrospect I wish I had taken about ten rolls of film (laughs).

Lee: You saw them at the Mayflower that night. People often remark on the marked difference between their live and studio sound. You’d heard “Unknown Pleasures” in the office – how did you react after seeing them live for the first time?

Paul: I thought they were amazing. I felt they really came alive. Hooky was there with his low-slung bass and I thought – “Well he’s learnt something from Paul Simonon anyway!” (laughs).

Lee: He’s admitted the same to me!

Paul: They were great. Ian Curtis had so much charisma. Live they were tremendous. There were some great bands on there – Ludus, The Fall, The Distractions were a really great pop band from Manchester, and Joy Division. I never knew whether Joy Division’s band of music would surpass the Distractions. I’d seen the Distractions a few times and I like that kind of pop music. But for me, the gig was very powerful and Ian Curtis was amazing live.

Electric Ballroom 26 October 1979 (C) Copyright Paul Slattery. Reproduced with permission

Lee: You photographed them later at the Electric Ballroom.

Paul: That was a tremendous gig – they were supported again by The Distractions. I was out in the crowd there – I didn’t want to get to the side of the stage. I didn’t take too many pictures of them, but I thought – “Ah well, I’ll see them again” and I never did.

Lee: Have you kept in touch with the surviving members since?

Paul: No – I’m a photographer. I just take pictures of bands. I’m not really there to make friends with them. My social life in music has been taking pictures of the bands, having a lig with them after a gig, seeing them play live, enjoying them at the time, and going home and leading my private life. I’ve not really made any close friendships with rock musicians.

Lee: Was this still the case after touring with Oasis for a year?

Paul: Yes – exactly the same with Oasis too. It’s a job really. Sometimes when you’re a photographer you want to keep things at arm’s length. I always had other things to do in my life. If you get too close to what you’re doing…..for me it’s work, although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I don’t want to spend all my time doing it. Musicians lead complex lives and they’re entitled to their privacy away from photographers. I think that’s a good thing.

Lee: Regarding the photoshoot – especially the pictures where they’re standing by the railings – they have featured in websites all over the world, and I’ve even seen one on a pirate T-Shirt. What’s your stand on this?

Paul: That is a problem because it’s my copyright photo. I take everything down from ebay. I’m on the case with that – I don’t like that. I know how to do it now. Ebay – quite honestly – I hate them. They make a quid out of every T-Shirt sold so they don’t give a shit whether any of the merchandise is legal or illegal, and it pisses me off. Unfortunately you have to be the policeman of your own copyright because nobody else will do it for you. If I see them on various websites – I’ve been in touch with Joy Division websites and said – “If you want to use my pictures, I’d sooner that I send you some low-res pictures with my signature on them and then you can use those, rather than having these ones you’ve scanned from books without any photo credit. Fuck me – at least you could have the decency to credit me”. Some people don’t. That is so annoying. They’re using my pictures for free – at least credit me. I know it may be a site that is put up for people and no money is being made from it – but I took that picture, I set that picture up, it took my effort and my nous to do that – so at least give me a bloody credit for that.

Electric Ballroom 26 October 1979 (C) Copyright
Paul Slattery. Reproduced with permission

Lee: It’s just common courtesy.

Paul: It’s not difficult to get in touch with photographers. You can get in touch with photographers if you really want to. It’s people’s bloody laziness and it pisses me off.

Lee: One last question – Marko from Joy Division Central was asking about the picture where Barney’s pointing at Ian. Do you remember the story behind that photo?

Paul: He was probably making a joke – going “Yeah?” (pointing as he did so). Something like that I imagine.

Many thanks to Paul Slattery for agreeing to the interview – and for the original iconic photography.

- Lee McFadden 13 April 2014