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Rock ‘n’ rolls of film

Dan Carrier talks to music photographer Douglas Cape about his exhibition in Kentish Town

03 October, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Douglas Cape’s photo of Queen at Wembley

FROM traipsing around north London after The Pogues in the hope of getting a shot of them all in one place, to fixing a background that satisfied Morrissey, Douglas Cape’s life as a music photographer gave him the opportunity to shoot some of the most iconic faces in the industry.

This week, a collection of his work from stints on publications such as NME in the 1980s is on show at Kentish Town gallery Flaxon Ptootch – and, rare for the period, the prints are in colour.

Douglas, who lives in Tufnell Park, has been sifting through his archives and rediscovered a wealth of shots featuring Shane McGowan sipping beers on Hampstead Heath, Robert Smith relaxing in the NME office, Joey Ramone drinking tea, and Robert Cray playing the blues in Notting Hill Gate.

He began his career as a photographer when musical weeklies and monthlies sold thousands of copies – and could afford, and needed, eye-catching photography to go along with the big-name interviews.

Douglas was working as an actor and running drama workshops for young people in Harlesden through the Moonshine Community Arts Workshop when he first started taking photographs.

It was the early 1980s. He had a job as the Cockpit Theatre, served on the Brent Arts Council and would later work for and then run photo studio 360.

“As I worked in theatre, I began to get interested in photography,” he says. “There was a dark room at the workshop so I began to learn about processing. I then taught myself dev­el­oping and built a dark room at the Kingsgate workshops in Kilburn. That was around 1984.”

Starting out as a freelance, Douglas found work with theatre companies through his contacts – until he walked into the offices of NME with a portfolio of pictures.

The Pogues – all in one place – at a bar

“I was heavily into music. NME was my favourite magazine. I got a job straight away,” he recalls.

“It was a case of right time, right place. They needed someone and they happened to like my portfolio.”

The pictures in the show were taken between 1984 and 1988, and are in the main in colour – not usual for the period in terms of music photo­journalism – and show the range of genres the magazine covered.

The Smiths and Morrissey feature, and Douglas remembers the shoot well. “That was a high point for me at NME – I liked The Smiths,” he says.

They arranged to take images at the famous Hacienda nightclub in Manchester – but things didn’t quite go to pan.

“Morrissey said he didn’t want the pictures to show he was at the Hacienda. He said it had already been done, and wasn’t an original idea for a picture – so I had to make this complicated stage set so he could have been anywhere. But it was cool to do a shoot with him there.”

The photographs made it to NME’s front cover in 1985.

The show features shots from a pre-digital age. “Today, everyone can be a ‘photographer’,” he says. “It used to be technically very different, and difficult to get a good shot.”

He also covered Freddie Mercury and Queen in their pomp at Wembley Stadium in 1986, a year after their seminal Live Aid show.

“We were told we had 15 minutes to get our shots and then could watch the gig back stage,” he says. “There were fireworks going off everywhere in our faces – it was dangerous. And with 100,000 people at Wembley you couldn’t really see much back stage – so I left after I’d shot 15 minutes worth of pictures.”

To get The Pogues together in one place for a job required some patience.

“I had to follow them around for a few days,” he remembers. “I was trying to get a group shot but they would never be in one place at the same time. They were shooting a video and were all dressed up, and as it was so posed, it didn’t really look like The Pogues – I didn’t want to take a photograph like that.

“I followed them about for a few days and managed to get two shots of them as a group. It was a bit intimidating – but they were very nice.”

The exhibition runs for a month at Flaxon Ptootch, 237 Kentish Town Road, NW5 2JT, 020 7267 5323

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