Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Photographers’ Gallery’

Roland Kirk in Swinging London

roland-kirkHere’s a surprise: in the middle of an assembly of frames snipped from contact prints included in a Photographers’ Gallery show of the work of the late Terence Donovan, there’s a picture of Roland Kirk. It was taken in 1963, during the American multi-instrumentalist’s first visit to London, when he played a season at Ronnie Scott’s Club — the original one on Gerrard Street in Chinatown — and a few concert dates around the country.

Donovan was primarily a fashion photographer — one of the trio of working-class London boys, along with David Bailey and Brian Duffy, who revolutionised the profession in the early ’60s — and his image of Kirk is surrounded by shots of Jean Shrimpton (to be seen directly above Kirk), Celia Hammond, Paulene Stone and other celebrated models of the era.

I saw Kirk for the first time during that short tour in 1963, in Nottingham, where he was accompanied by a British rhythm section. He had yet to add the “Rahsaan” to his name, and he was still wearing a dark business suit on stage. He was startlingly good, whether playing three reed instruments at once — the skill that had brought him to public attention — or just one. And to preface his tune “We Free Kings” he spent a good five minutes telling a very funny and very hip version of the story about the Three Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem, holding his audience spellbound.

The music-related element of the Photographers’ Gallery show also includes Donovan’s nice colour portrait of Jimi Hendrix, swathed in silks, from 1967, his famous videos for Malcolm McLaren’s “Madame Butterfly” and Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”, and his series of portraits of British pop stars — including Elvis Costello, Jarvis Cocker, Supergrass and Bryan Ferry — for an issue of GQ magazine in the 1990s.

But it was the reminder of Kirk that I took away. There’s a new documentary about him, Adam Kahan’s The Case of the Three-Sided Dream, which is just out on DVD. It includes a marvellous sequence from a 1971 edition of the Ed Sullivan Show on which Rahsaan leads a band including Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp and Roy Haynes. After Sullivan has announced that they’ll be playing “My Cherie Amour”, they cut loose instead on a wild version of Mingus’s “Haitian Fight Song”. Sullivan takes it in his stride; following the appearances of Elvis Presley in 1956 and the Beatles in 1964, it was his third great moment of musical history — and maybe the one that finished him off, since his show ended its 23-year run a few weeks later.

Humph and Coe

Humph : John DeakinThis picture of Humphrey Lyttelton rehearsing with his band some time in the 1960s is currently to be seen in a show of the work of John Deakin on the northern fringe of Soho, amid the portraits of Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, the Bernard brothers and other notable figures of post-war London’s bohemian society. Next to the trumpeter, unidentified, is a young alto saxophonist: none other than the phenomenally gifted Tony Coe, on his way to becoming one of the distinguished musicians ever produced by the British jazz world, although no one seems to talk about him much now.

Three other musicians are visible, and I would guess — although someone will probably put me straight — that they’re the trombonist John Picard, the drummer Eddie Taylor and the bassist Pete Blannin. Humph began his musical life as a New Orleans revivalist, but his approach broadened to encompass mainstream jazz and he employed many excellent musicians who were sympathetic to more modern styles. I’d love to have been present to hear how this line-up sounded the day Deakin, a former Vogue photographer who lived the Soho life to the full, took his camera to record them.

* Under the Influence: John Deakin and the Lure of Soho is at the Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW, until July 11.