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Oh So Pretty : Punk In Print 1976-'80

  • Written by  Marky Edison

Oh So Pretty is a presentation of Toby Mott’s collection of punk ephemera. There are over 500 fanzines, posters and flyers from the emergence of 1970s punk. The presentation is eye-catching and the book is overflowing with cut-and-paste graphics, ransom-note lettering and innovative designs. Published by Phaidon to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the birth of punk, the coffee-table sized book is, unusually, in paperback format. The 512 pages are high quality scans and there is an introduction from the editor and curator Rick Poynor, as well as an introduction by Mott himself detailing what the new wave meant to kids like him at the time.

Mott lists records labels that released punk records; Step Forward, Stiff and Polydor. From this distance in time it is hard to imagine Polydor as an indie, let alone at the forefront of musical revolution. Nevertheless, punk has now been appropriated in British heritage. The year long celebration of the 40th anniversary of punk sponsored by the London Mayor's office and various corporations is not the first instance of those punks rebelled against using the scene for their own ends.

The chronological sequencing of the images in the book shows the cultural appropriation and assimilation of the new media by the mainstream labels. The sanitised presentation of punk-like images that began quickly has become little more than another marketing device and is mostly shunned by modern punk bands. You are unlikely to find a punk musician nowadays with spiked hair and torn trousers. It is tantamount to carrying a sign declaring your ignorance of their genesis and explains the distrust of Green Day and their ilk by modern punks. It is also interesting to see that most contemporaneous bands and fans referred to themselves as ‘new wave’ rather than ‘punk’.

The appropriation has provoked a reaction in some quarters. Joe Corré is the son of the late Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and pioneering designer Vivienne Westwood. His collection of punk memorabilia is estimated to be worth around £5m and he is scheduled to publicly burn it on 26 November in Camden. In an act of minor defiance worthy of the new wave themselves, Corré’s conflagration is being promoted by the very people he is subverting and it will coincide with the 40th anniversary of ‘Anarchy In The UK’.

Hopping on the punk bandwagon is nothing new. Julie Davis published a punk book in 1977 and the first punk novel The Punk by Gideon Sams was published by Corgi the same year, both of which appear in Oh So Pretty. There are also posters for Don Letts’ film that documented the scene; The Punk Rock Movie.

Throughout the entries by skilled designers and enthusiastic amateurs, the Sex Pistols iconic artwork by Jamie Reid stands out. Other notable pictures include the ad for The Damned’s tour which reads “The Damned can now play three chords/ The Adverts can play one/ Hear all four of them at...”, and possibly the most exciting piece is the “Play’in In The Band” (sic) feature from the first issue of Sideburns that famously reads “This is a chord/ This is another/ This a third/ Now form a band”. That picture also appears on the back cover. Poynor contextualises the music with features on the Queen’s silver jubilee, Rock Against Racism, the Anti Nazi League, and the National Front; the punk movement attracted the attention of the extreme right and the extreme left.

It is incredible to see flyers for the Sex Pistols tour with support from The Clash, Buzzcocks and Johnny & The Heartbreakers. Even more so, a poster for the Roxy showing a Siouxsie And The Banshees gig with support from Iron Maiden and X-ray Spex. There is a flyer for a week of gigs at Leeds Polytechnic featuring The Clash, Ramones, Talking Heads and The Heartbreakers.

Like the music itself, the images get less interesting with the progression of time and, prior to the arrival of Adam & The Ants‘ bondage themes, things get repetitive and staid in 1978. Nonetheless, the DIY spirit and readily identifiable aesthetic are still relevant today and the ideals these artefacts represent still influence musicians and labels 40 years on. All of which make Oh So Pretty a must-have for any fans of punk and also for aspiring designers.

512 pp, 550 Illustrations, ISBN: 9780714872759

Oh So Pretty is available from amazon.

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