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Rip It Up: Harry Papadopoulos’ snapshot of early eighties Scottish indie music

As National Museum Scotland prepares to chart the progress of Scottish Pop Music in their major exhibition Rip It Up, this selection of photos taken by legendary photographer Harry Papadopoulos featured in the exhibition, offers a glimpse into the world of Scottish post punk and indie music of the early eighties

Billy Mackenzie of the Associates

a close up photo of Billy Mackenzie staring over his sunglasses and wearing a beret

Billy McKenzie, singer from The Associates, photographed in September 1981. courtesy of Street Level Photoworks

One of the most memorable voices from any era of Scottish pop, Billy Mckenzie and his band The Associates (formed with bass player Alan Rankine), produced operatic, polished pop songs awash with synths, weaving bass lines and disco rhythms. The epitome of eighties indie dance pop, tragically this most unique of voices committed suicide in January 1997 aged 39 after he became depressed following the death of his mother.

Edwin Collins of Orange Juice

a photo of Edwin Collins wearing a check shirt whilst skating

Lead singer of Orange Juice, described Harry as ‘the unofficial Postcard photographer’

Edwyn Collins, pictured here skating and sporting a fine check shirt, fronted the Glasgow indie guitar pop band Orange Juice, which grew out of the punk band the Nu Sonics in 1979. In many ways the quintessential indie guitar band, signed to the quintessential indie label, Postcard Records, (which Collins co-founded) Orange Juice eventually signed to Polydor and morphed into an early eighties indie pop band with the eponymous Rip It Up (1983) providing them with their only Top 40 hit.

Collins later launched a successful solo career until, in 2004, he suffered two brain haemorrhages that left him partially paralysed and unable to talk. Undaunted, he battled back to resume his musical career in 2007 and has since recorded albums, performed at festivals and released a highly successful monograph of drawings of birds.

Clare Grogan of Altered Images

a photo of Claire Grogan with a scarf draped

Clare Grogan lead singer of Altered Images, taken in 1981. ‘Harry made me feel okay about being the world-class show off that I was then.

The poster girl of Scottish post punk, Claire Grogan’s band Altered Images progressed from a thrashy guitar band supporting Siouxsie and the Banshees on the Kaleidoscope tour of 1980 into one of the most successful Scottish post punk acts of the 1980s. Hits like Happy Birthday (1981), See Those Eyes (1982) and Don’t Talk to Me About Love (1983) made Grogan into one of the most recognisable faces of the early eighties. To indie screen fans she had already made her mark as the love interest in Scottish independent film Gregory’s Girl (1981). After Altered Images Grogan returned to acting with roles in everything from EastEnders to Red Dwarf.

Roddy Frame and Aztec Camera

a photo of the three members of Aztec Camera pretending to smoke pipes

Aztec Camera, 1981. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Roddy Frame (centre) said of Harry’s style, ‘He seemed to have a very casual attitude to photography. I found out later that behind scenes he would work until dawn, shooting the right shots and perfecting the prints in his darkroom.’

Fronted by Roddy Frame, Postcard Records’ Aztec Camera made perfectly crafted pop songs based around Frame’s lyrical gift and acoustic guitar. Eventually signing to Rough Trade, they also made forays into the British charts during the eighties with hits like Oblivious (1983). Aztec Camera, with Frame the only consistent member, released six albums before folding in 1995. Roddy Frame still records and gigs and in recent years teamed up with Edwyn Collins for live shows and recording.

Josef K

a photo of the four members of Josef K looking over a bridge in front of a high rise tower

Josef K guitarist Malcom Ross said that ‘Harry achieved great results from sessions which were relaxed and effortless. He would get great natural shots while his subjects had a laugh.’

They took their name from the protagonist in Franz Kafka’s The Castle, so it’s not surprising that Edinburgh’s Josef K were the more cerebral band in the small but perfectly formed Postcard Records stable. Their album, The Only Fun in Town, was the only album release on the label and is today a highly collectable post punk classic.

Unlike label mates Orange Juice and Aztec Camera they didn’t make the leap into chart success, splitting in 1982. Singer Paul Haig (right) went on to have a long and varied solo career whilst guitarist Malcolm Ross (second right) joined Orange Juice and then Aztec Camera for their forays into the British charts in the early to mid 1980s.

The Bluebells

a photo of the five members of the Bluebells photographed in a row

The Bluebells early in their career in 1981. Singer Ken McCluskey said that Harry’s approach to taking photographs was ‘employ a minimum of fuss. Don’t complain about what’s wrong, just get on with it.’

With their check shirts and semi-acoustic jangly guitars, the Bluebells came at the end of the first wave of Scottish indie new wave bands, but they headed straight for the charts with a trio of hit songs penned by guitarist and founder member Bobby Bluebell (pictured here at the rear). Their biggest success was “Young at Heart” which made it to number 8 number in 1984. Bluebells guitarist Craig Gannon later went on to join Aztec Camera before briefly becoming the second guitarist in the Smiths.

Strawberry Switchblade

a photo of the three heavily made up members of strawberry switchblade with large ribbons in their hair and plates

Strawberry Switchblade, Jilly Bryson and Rose McDowell, and friend Mandy McSporran, 1983. Jill said ‘I love this candid shot as it’s so evocative of the era – home-made frocks and oceans of make-up! Post-punk Glasgow was an exciting place to be.’

Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall formed Strawberry Switchblade in Glasgow in 1981 and quickly became renowned for their folk influenced indie pop – and their flamboyant polka dot outfits and make up. They took their name from a song penned by James Kirk, the original guitarist with Orange Juice, and were eventually noticed by Bill Drummond of KLF fame who began managing them. Their 1984 single Since Yesterday, catapulted them to chart stardom peaking in the charts at number 5.

The Pastels

a photo of a man with a floppy haircut and a guitar - the singer of the pastels

Stephen McRobbie, singer and guitarist of The Pastels described Harry’s ‘guerrilla-style live shots’ which he felt in this photograph captured Stephen’s ‘seriousness of my youth and a self-belief I didn’t know that I carried.’ Courtesy of Street Level Photoworks

Slightly at odds with the Postcard sound, the Pastels formed in 1982 and effectively bridged the gap between the likes of Orange Juice and the later waves of ‘C86’ bands that emerged via indie record labels like the Scottish based Creation Records. The Pastels are also one of the most enduring Scottish indie acts – progressing throughout the eighties into the nineties with Stephen McRobbie still leading the band today.

Caption quotes taken from What Presence! The Rock Photography of Harry Papadopoulos, Polygon, 2013

Rip it Up: The Story of Scottish Pop is at The National Museum of Scotland from June 22 – November 25 2018. Tickets £8 / £10. nms.ac.uk/ripitup

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National Museum of Scotland

Edinburgh, Lothian

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