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Innes Reekie – Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn

Innes Reekie didn’t take his camera with him to the first gig he witnessed by The Birthday Party, the self-lacerating Australian band fronted by a young Nick Cave. He did, however, get invited backstage in London’s Moonlight Club after Cave spotted a tattoo of Iggy Pop’s first band The Stooges on the then twenty-one year-old’s arm.

In London to watch Scottish bands Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, Josef K and The Bluebells take on the capital, Reekie’s diversion kick-started a pilgrimage of sorts, as he followed Cave and The Birthday Party around the country.

It would be a year or so before the band’s chaotic howl of self-destructive trash-blues sooth-saying made it to Fife-born Reekie’s adopted home-town of Edinburgh when they played The Nite Club, one of the city’s main small venues, situated within the confines of The Playhouse. Having bonded with Cave and guitarist Rowland S Howard, this time Reekie made sure he had his camera.  

More than three decades on, some of the photographs he took that night and over the next few years in London and Berlin can be seen for the first time in Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn, Reekie’s 40-page zine-like collection belatedly launched next weekend at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow.

“Looking at the pictures again brought a lot back to me,” says Reekie. “I can remember the chaos and the aggression of the shows, but not any aggression in the people. I was really surprised to find everyone in The Birthday Party was so articulate, well-read and literate, and yet onstage it was almost like everything was stripped away to the most basic bones of absolute nihilism, and almost hatred for the audience. They got into a lot of fights that I witnessed, but after the show once things had calmed down, they relaxed with a bottle of bourbon, and you could chat with them about James Joyce or Dostoyevsky.”

The idea for Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn came after Reekie put some of his hitherto unseen archive on social media, and was approached to contribute to an exhibition in Los Angeles called Nick Cave Smoking. Reekie submitted four prints, one of which sold for $500. As Reekie puts it, “If someone in LA’s willing to pay that for something I’ve just got lying in the cupboard, maybe I should think about doing something.

“I’ve always thought of doing an exhibition of my archive, but never got round to it. The book has already travelled as far afield as America, Japan, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bosnia, Scandinavia and Canada. It’s never going to make me a millionaire, but I feel quite validated by that.”

Reekie’s images capture an unguarded sense of ease amongst Cave and co, with the band captured backstage making their own mark on the back of a torn-down Sad Café poster. Despite a strung-out demeanour that foresaw the self-destructive effects that heroin would have on the band, there is a sense of camaraderie at play, with Cave and Howard in particular looking like brothers in arms. It was a bonding perhaps caused by the absence of bassist Tracey Pew, who was serving a prison sentence. This necessitated Howard’s brother Harry stepping in.

“It was chaotic,” says Reekie. “Harry had never played onstage before, and you could tell that Mick Harvey, as the only non-drug taker in the band, was trying to keep everything together.”

Later images reveal a haunted-looking Howard captured with his post Birthday Party band, These Immortal Souls. Elsewhere, a now solo Cave looks increasingly messianic. While Pew was dead by the end of 1986 and Howard passed away in 2009, one of Reekie’s fondest moments is of offering Howard, his then partner Genevieve McGuckin and These Immortal Souls a bed in his flat following an Edinburgh gig.

“I went through to take Rowland and Genevieve tea in the morning,’ says Reekie, “and they were both sitting up wearing matching silk pyjamas, and were so polite in a way that no Birthday Party fan would believe.”
   
Sadly, no pictures of this myth-busting incident were taken.

While he continued to take photographs, Reekie went on to become a music journalist of note, writing for Esquire, GQ and Loaded after that side of his career was kicked off in 1980s Scottish music magazine, Cut. The cover image of Reekie’s book was taken in the Groucho Club, where Cave held court about his newly published novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel.

“That was my first cover feature for Cut,” Reekie remembers. “I wanted to do the photographs for it as well, but they got Gavin Evans to do them.”

Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn is the first in an occasional series of photobooks produced by Stereogram Recordings, who have released albums by the likes of The Eastern Swell, James King and The Lonewolves and The Cathode Ray. It is also the latest example of an ongoing unearthing of photographic archives from a pre-digital age that document often hidden histories of the post-punk era.

This came to prominence in 2012 with What Presence!, an exhibition and book of lost images by Glasgow-based former Sounds photographer Harry Papadopoulos. Produced by Street Level, What Presence! featured images of the Sound of Young Scotland era of bands, including Orange Juice, Altered Images and Fire Engines. Revealed! was a similarly styled document of the same era in Liverpool by Francesco Mellina, who photographed the likes of the late Pete Burns’ band, Dead or Alive, and the post-punk scene based around Eric’s club.

The Scene Inbetween and Untypical Girls are two volumes of DIY images taken of bands and fans in the 1980s and 1990s collated by Sam Knee, and which feature several images by Reekie. In a similar vein, former journalist turned A&R man Ronnie Gurr’s Hanging Around Books has launched an ongoing series of booklets featuring never before seen seen images of the likes of Simple Minds and the Skids.

As the age of the archive runs on, Reekie himself has thousands of photographic negatives in storage. These include shots of Edwyn Collins and Roddy Frame performing at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, and of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon alongside Lydia Lunch in their short-lived duo, Harry Crews.

“I reckon we’ve got enough to do another seven books,” Reekie speculates. “I could do one of early 80s club life in Edinburgh. That’s more about the people who were there rather than the bands, which might appeal to people of a certain vintage who were around then.”

It is this sense of empathy that makes Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn such a crucial document of its era.

“It’s a step back in time,” says Reekie, “and because it’s all fly on the wall stuff, you can see there’s a trust there, which the people in the pictures didn’t have with a lot of people at that time. That’s what I think makes them worthy.”

Sometimes Pleasureheads Must Burn: The Birthday Party and Beyond 1982-89 – Photographs by Innes Reekie is published by Stereogram, and launches at Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow on January 17.

The Herald, January 10th 2018

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