Ridgers reminisces. Photo & text: Derek Ridgers (3/5)

Ann-Sophie and Jenni, The Torture Garden, London, 2010. © Derek Ridgers.

Derek Ridgers writes:

I’ve been taking photographs in London fetish clubs since 1981.  And the occasional fetishist in other clubs since about 1978.

To the best of my knowledge, the popularity of fetishism really started in the UK in 1976 with the emergence of punk rock and the appropriation of elements of bondage and fetish wear by many of the punk era designers.  Prior to this time, people who wanted to dress in rubber and PVC had to do it behind closed doors, ordering their outfits by mail-order in brown paper parcels.

To begin with it was just a handful of people in a small dingy Soho club called Skin Two, which resided in what was, the rest of the week, a gay club called Stallions.  Skin Two was started by an actor called David Claridge.  He went on to become famous as the hand up the furry arse of TV star ‘Roland Rat’ and after his nocturnal predilections were exposed by the gutter press, he disappeared from the scene.  The atmosphere in the Skin Two club was oppressive and sometimes menacing.  Outsiders, especially ones with cameras, were certainly not made to feel welcome.  But, pretty soon, big name photographers like Bob Carlos Clarke and several others brought fetish style images into view more and things got a lot more relaxed.

By the mid-’80s PVC and rubberwear was all over fashion magazines and pop videos.  By the late ’80s/early ’90s some of the bigger fetish clubs like Submission and Torture Garden could easily attract 3000 people a night and people came from all over the world to get there.  And then some of them went back home and started their own fetish clubs.  Nowadays, Torture Garden has become very mainstream and it’s not completely unlike any other large club in any other major western city, except sometimes people are dressed very oddly.

In the early days, I got threatened with physical violence in Skin Two several times.  One guy seized me by the neck and we nearly came to blows.  A couple of women grabbed me one night and tried to drag me over to where one of the dominatrixes was waiting, whip in hand.  I had to manhandle them off me and make my getaway.  But I was clearly an outsider back then and I would never have even gotten into the early fetish clubs if I hadn’t become friendly with some of the people running them.  I know for a fact that most of the old-time fetishists resented my presence.  But it was obviously people like me that helped to publicise and promote the scene, so the people who ran the clubs have always been very welcoming.  These days you can’t move for photographers in these kind of clubs.

I’m not really sure what it was about the fetish scene that appealed to me.  I’m not a fetishist myself and don’t even really like wearing the leather trousers I’m obliged to wear in these clubs.  To begin with I had a real compulsion to photograph the way people were dressing and the amount of humour and invention some people put into creating their own, largely home-made, outfits was certainly worth somebody recording.  These days, most people in fetish clubs are wearing shop bought, off-the-peg outfits but there are still many remarkable individualists.

Nevertheless, some people say that there’s something badly wrong with any man over 30 who still wears leather trousers, whatever the excuse. In my case, they’re probably right. Exactly what that something “wrong” might be, I’ll leave you to draw you own conclusions.

Anyone who wants to know more about the fetish scene could do a lot worse than go here – http://www.thefetishistas.com/

© Derek Ridgers. From The Ponytail Pontifications.

Ridgers reminisces. Photo & text Derek Ridgers (2/5)

Enoch Powell, Eaton Square, 1984. Photo © Derek Ridgers.

Irrespective of his ridiculous views on race relations, Enoch Powell was certainly one of my strangest ever subjects.

I was commissioned to photograph him by the NME and, together with the writer Mat Snow, we turned up at his very grand flat in Eaton Square to meet a guy who seemed determined, for some reason, to try to make us laugh. For someone who achieved a starred double-first from Cambridge University, and who was often referred to as the greatest political mind of his generation, he struck me as a bit of a twit. To start with, he began by deriding my accent and the way I talk. He enquired as to whether I might be an Australian?  I’m a Londoner, born and bred and though my accent isn’t of the typical gor-blimey cockney variety, it’s never (outside of the US) ever confused anyone before.  Then he asked me about the origins of my name and started to try to find something funny about that.  Next he spoke to a woman who had been detailed to bring us some tea and called her “dear” and invited us to speculate on what his precise relationship with her was (it was his wife).  All the while he was grinning at us like Sid James in a Carry On film.

His desire to trivialise the situation must, I guess, have been some sort of bizarre tactic to make us forget to ask him anything remotely serious.  It was a little patronising of him and it didn’t work.  Mat Snow was far too canny an interviewer for that and he managed to ask him all the questions I’m sure he would rather have not been asked. Mat Snow writes “being interviewed as he was by New Musical Express, rather than await my questions he launched straight into an interminable monologue about Nietzsche and his philosophy of music, and seemed rather put out when I tried to get the interview back on track by asking him if perhaps his infamous ‘rivers of blood’ UK race war prediction of 1968 was perhaps a tad wide of the mark as things had panned out by then.”

Enoch Powell was a proud man but, in my judgement, by this stage of his political career, a little sad.

© Derek Ridgers. From The Ponytail Pontifications.

Ridgers reminisces. Photo & text: Derek Ridgers (1/5)

Chrissie Hynde, Soho, 1990. © Derek Ridgers.

Derek Ridgers writes:

In the late ’70s I was working in an ad agency that was slap bang in the middle of Soho and through the first floor windows of said agency, we had a front seat view of the rich pageant of Soho life only a few feet below. The agency was only about 50 yards away from the passage next to Raymond’s Review Bar and we were able to observe the prostitutes, armed policemen, con men, clip girls, drunks, junkies, glue sniffers and all manner of street people. These types were very thick on the ground in the Soho of the ’70s.

One got very used to seeing some of them. There was one guy I used to see a lot. A dyed-black haired, lanky twerp, normally dressed from head to toe in leather, who obviously thought of himself as some sort of covert rock star. He also wore eye-liner. He always looked totally messed up, emaciated and completely out of it. It was not always an appealing sight. I remember being particularly appalled by seeing the lanky twerp walking through Soho market with his scrotum hanging out of a hole in his trousers. He seemed totally oblivious to this.

Working right in the middle of Soho did have it’s advantages though. My office was a 45 second jog away from the best second hand record shop in the country – Cheapo Cheapo – and every Wednesday morning, at about 11.00 o’clock, the new review copies would arrive and be put straight out into the racks. I was, by this time a voracious reader of both Sounds and NME and my heroes were Charles Shaar Murray, Nick Kent and Danny Baker.  I pretty much bought everything they gave a decent review too. So, every Wednesday at exactly 10.55, I’d make an excuse at work and run down to Cheapo Cheapo to buy, at about half the RRP, some of the records that had been favourably reviewed in the previous weeks rock papers.  I didn’t realise it at the time but there was every likelihood these were exactly the same copies that had been so reviewed. I’d often see the lanky twerp hanging about Cheapo Cheapo at about the same time as me and I assumed he’d worked out what time the review copies arrived too. I always tried to make sure I got to the best records before he did and, for some strange reason, I always seemed to.

I’d been doing this for a few years during the late ‘70s.  Until eventually I got the sack from the agency, became a photographer and I met the NME writer Cynthia Rose.  Through her, I got a crack at working for NME myself. One day when we were both hanging about Virgin Records, in Oxford Street, she introduced me to my hero, the writer Nick Kent.  And I recognised him as the lanky twerp. The very same lanky twerp that I’d seen rather too much of once before.

(And so it dawned on me that he hadn’t been hanging about Cheapo Cheapo waiting to buy the records but rather selling them the ones I’d subsequently been buying).

The above story is just an excuse to recommend Nick Kent’s fantastic book Apathy For the Devil which is a ’70s memoir of his time as a rock writer and it has some absolutely fantastic stuff about the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop and the Sex Pistols.  It’s just about my favourite rock book since his last one The Dark Stuff. I don’t have a photograph of Nick Kent.  But his book has quite a lot about the time when he lived with Chrissie Hynde and so I’ve used a photograph of her. Coincidentally it was taken almost right outside Cheapo Cheapo.

And if you should ever read this Nick, I apologise for once calling you a twerp.

© Derek Ridgers. From The Ponytail Pontifications.

V2 Woolworths disaster, New Cross, 25 November 1944.

Air raid shelter sign, Jerningham Road, New Cross, SE14. Photo © David Secombe 2010.

Today marks the 67th anniversary of the worst single bombing incident of the 2nd World War – when a V2 rocket scored a direct hit on a Woolworths store in New Cross. The V2 hit Woolworths when it was crowded with Saturday morning shoppers:  the official death toll was 168, but it was often said that the real figure was much higher – although it seems unlikely that a significantly higher casualty number could have been withheld until now.

The V2 was unlike the earlier ‘Vengeance Weapon’, the V1 (A.K.A. ‘doodlebug’, a cruise missile) in that it was impossible to detect – let alone intercept – before it exploded. The first impact in Chiswick in September 1944 was first thought to have been caused by a gas explosion. Their sudden deployment was a source of grave concern to Churchill, and prompted the construction of deep-level air raid shelters in Bloomsbury, Clapham and Stockwell. South and east London received a disproportionately high number of V-strikes, largely because of a British intelligence coup: the double agent Eddie Chapman managed to convince his Nazi ‘handlers’ that V1s were overshooting the centre of London (they weren’t),  hence the rocket launchers recalibrated and bombs began falling on Brockley, Woolwich, Deptford, Catford, Barking, Ilford, etc., and across Kent and Surrey.

The literal impact of these weapons may still be seen in London, where pockets of undeveloped bombsites remain – like the dead spot on Tottenham Court Road opposite Heals, final destination of a V2. South London is peppered with anomalous green spaces or abrupt changes in architectural style on a residential street, characteristic traces of Vengeance weapons. Perhaps the most bizarre legacy of the V2 campaign was the subsequent career of the project’s architect, Werner von Braun. The majestic Saturn V rocket which took Neil Armstrong towards the Moon was von Braun’s creation, the end result of his wartime experiments in rocketry and ballistics. As for Woolworths, they’ve put up a plaque. There is an Iceland store there now.

(The Londonist has a fascinating map of V2 bombsites on London; and further information may be found on the site flyingbombsandrockets.com.)

David Secombe.