Boom Boom Boom Boom
American Rhythm & Blues In England 1962 – 1966
The Photographs of Brian Smith
ISBN – 978-0-9561439-4-5
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Back in the late fifties and into the sixties Manchester was a happening centre of popular music, rivalling Liverpool and London. Local lad Brian Smith saw it happen. In the mid-1950s a friend’s older brother took them to shows at Manchester Free Trade Hall where Brian was introduced to skiffle, early rock and roll and the blues boom. A keen amateur photographer, Brian got his first proper camera in 1961 and began combining what were now his two passions. He soon became known to door staff as ‘the fan with the camera’. He strived to get a decent frame or two, had them printed up locally, then went along the next time to have the photograph signed. Along with his friends they got to know theatre managers and staff, who were happy to let them backstage to meet musicians and chat, with Brian invariably photographing the scene. Spurred on by the excitement of mixing with famous musicians, they founded the Northern Society Of Popular Music, printing up letterheads and business cards to help them gain access to the venues and dressing rooms.
Towards the end of the fifties promoters and artists began adding ‘guest stars’ to their bills, and many blues artists first appeared here in that role. Brian took a keen interest in the emerging blues scene after seeing Muddy Waters on a bill with Chris Barber in 1958. Over the next decade Brian saw and photographed most of the big American blues musician who played in Manchester.
There is an acknowledged irony that black blues artists began to enjoy a cult following in Britain and Europe while they were still largely unknown or acknowledged back home. Through the distribution of records in specialist shops and the concert performances, the scene burgeoned in Britain in the early half of the sixties, until British bands, hugely influenced by the music, assimilated (sometimes acknowledged, sometimes not) much of the music and spirit, and took it back to America to massive acclaim.
To be there witnessing the scene at first hand is enviable enough, but to be there with a camera recording it is something blues fans worldwide can be grateful for today.
Brian began frequenting venues such as the famous Twisted Wheel Club as soon as he was old enough. After the start of Roger Eagle’s legendary r’n’b allnighters at the Twisted Wheel in 1963 (which later led to the birth of Northern Soul) the groundbreaking music magazine R & B Scene launched the following year. Put together locally by Twisted Wheel regulars, Brian became their main photographic contributor for the next fifteen months until the magazine folded.
Money was always tight and Brian could only afford a couple of rolls of film at any one time. Once the magazine folded, Brian’s photography began to take more of a back seat.
It wasn’t until the 1980s and a revival of interest in blues music that Brian’s images began to be sought out by CD compilers. Since then his pictures have appeared in magazines, books and exhibitions, yet until now nobody has attempted to present a published collection of his work.
In doing so, and taking the book title from the John Lee Hooker classic, Easy On The Eye have had unique access to Brian’s extensive archives, working directly with surviving negatives and prints which have been newly scanned for the book. The photographs are annotated and fully captioned. The selected material shows the blues artists who most interested the young photographer, as well as the British bands who often idolised them as well.
Brian produced images with a real presence and quality, and managed to capture a unique and relatively short lived scene in fascinating detail. Not only on-stage, but back in the dressing rooms, he photographed these giants of the blues relaxing with a beer and a pack of cards, or posing for souvenir pictures with British fans, male and female, a remarkable cultural melting pot considering that many of the musicians themselves could not even travel next to whites in some States back home at that time. It shows how music could and can cross any boundaries.
FEATURING : Johnny Guitar Watson, Big Joe Turner, Chuck Berry, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Hubert Sumlin, Howlin Wolf, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, The Rolling Stones, Carl Perkins AND MANY MORE.
PHOTOGRAPHER : BRIAN SMITH. Brian was born and bred in Manchester in 1943, Brian Smith’s day job for 46½ years was as a Tax Inspector (but as one writer said, we’ll not hold that against him!). He retired in 2007. Married in 1968 to his wife Shirley, they have four children.
CONSULTING EDITOR : MARK STRATFORD. Mark co-founded the respected reissue label RPM and has worked as a music consultant to most of the specialist and major record labels for over twenty years.
DESIGN : SIMON ROBINSON. Simon has worked on the design and packaging of archive CDs since before the format existed and now concentrates on popular culture books.
168 pages / CMYK printing of monochrome images / softback / published summer 2017
Nice mention of the forthcoming book here on ModCulture website: