Sheila Rock - Punk + (4 stars)

Sheila Rock - Punk +

Superb and powerfully put-together photo-history of punk

(First Third Books)

Sheila Rock’s superb photo-history of the short-lived but aftershock-long punk scene ends with a series of John Lydon shots. It’s 1980 and punk is indeed dead, the ex-Pistols sneermonger now fully ensconced in his new PIL project. Mooching around in a room full of records, books and punk memorabilia, we get the familiar sideways grin and the iconic manic stare.
But the very last picture is something different altogether: Lydon is caught in a more reflective pose, a little boy lost, perhaps stunned at having come through the late-70s ructions relatively unscathed and grateful that, unlike Sid, he still has a chance to put his own stamp on musical history.

For Sheila Rock, the post-punk years meant a career-defining stint at The Face, but for four years, this American snapper took crate loads of pictures which captured the essence of punk and evoked the moments in between the hysteria. The fact that Rock admitted to being wholly unsure what she was doing half the time merely played into the genre’s hands and allowed her access to a juvenile pack that may otherwise have been wary of ultra-professionalism.

Split into sections -- Fashion, Crowd, Scene, Music and + (about life after punk for some of the punks) – many of the photos are accompanied by chat from those heavily involved in shaping the genre’s style, music and legacy such as Jon Savage, Jeannette Lee, Don Letts and Chrissie Hynde, reflecting on everyone from Siouxsie to Strummer and Weller to Westwood.

Removed from the history is the violent exhilaration of the gigs and there’s just one shoo-shooing mention of the movement’s occasional flirtation with Nazi imagery but this warts-if-not-quite-all document is powerfully put together. And if you think this book won’t have at least one person with a finger up their nose, then praise be to little Dee Generate of Eater. According to Don Letts, Dee is now in social work.