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Punk Survivors

"Golden girls and lads all must / like chimneysweepers turn to dust"

Walking back from the postal depot with an oversize parcel, I pass a coffeeshop I never glanced into before. Actually it’s a large black-and-white photo in the window that catches my eye: Joan Jett in LA in 1978, sat on a hotel bed in a homemade Sex Pistols T-shirt. From the date she must be 20, but she looks much younger. The picture’s familiar, and in fact a wall inside the shop is hung with a mini-exhibition, of work by US rock photographer Bob Gruen. Gruen made his bones on both sides of the Atlantic in the ‘70s chronicling punk and proto-punk as an outfall of pre-punk US and UK rock, classic rock as it’s generally termed now.

So far so uncomplicatedly nostalgic, I suppose: echoes of the passions of my youth still resonate, when I run into them unexpectedly. But this story begins with Gruen only by way of contrast. It’s actually about another photographer, Bradford-based John Bolloten, whose Punk Survivors project I discovered on the internet, while searching for current information on Gaye Advert of The Adverts. Punk Survivors is self-explanatory: Its key strand consists of full face portraits of figures from UK punk in full early blush, 1970-80. As they are now: some long retired; other still very much active (Bolloten also photographs the shows and the fans).

Now the first thing you have to remember about UK punk in full early blush is that it happened a long time ago and was over almost before it began. And Gruen isn’t wrong: It did emerge from what came just before it, especially in America, and remains very much part of the first third of the story of rock so far. But much UK punk was also very determinedly local, even parochial in tone and stance: America was a cultural illusion to be broken with, which meant declaring yourself in the brogue of your own birthplace, whether th...