The Bludgeoned Pigs at the Smilin' Buddha, by Bev Davies. Not to be reused without permission
Bev Davies (official site here) is a Vancouver institution, like smoking pot, coveting recognition, and complaining about the weather. Her photographs - on album covers, in fanzines, and nowadays on the internet - have represented rock music in Vancouver, and especially punk rock music in Vancouver - for thirty-odd years, though her concert photography dates back even further and is not limited to any one genre. I recently scooped a 1979 Triumph Of The Ignoroids DOA ep from Audiopile - sure enough, two of the pictures on the back are by Bev. Look at Nardwuar's homage to the Subhumans' famous Incorrect Thoughts cover - and you'll see Bev, in the background (as "the little old lady from Pasadena," she jokes), immediately behind Nardwuar's right elbow. Bev has been The Eye of Punk for a long time, and is still active; it's been my great privilege to have photos by her illustrate articles of mine, though she's so generous and unassuming that I never quite get to indulge in fanboy geekdom with her. But I do get to interview her now and then... I first spoke to Bev at length here about her 2008 Punk Rock Calendar, and occasionally have solicited her opinions (about the recent Art Bergmann/ "Poisoned reunion" concert at Richards on Richards, which she provided an amazing pic for) and sometimes just her pictures, like this reflective, somewhat sad shot of Jonathan Richman, also at the newly defunct venue. I'm delighted that - with the help of Carola from the relocated/reconfigured JEM Gallery - there will be a new show of Bev's work, opening this Friday, June 24th, at Chapel Arts (Dunlevy at Cordova) with Brian "Wimpy/Sunny Boy Roy" Goble" on hand to give an acoustic performance.
Allan: I wish I had known you had something coming up - I'd've done something for The Skinny!
Bev: It's got the cover. I haven't seen it yet, but Tanya gave me the cover. So it's a large photograph of The Subhumans from a long time ago.
Allan: Is it one I've seen before?
Bev: Maybe not. (Note: actually, Bev - yep! Not sure where, but I've seen this image before).
Allan: Ooh. But - okay, to put something on my blog, then - what's the show?
Bev: It's called Play It Loud, and all of the photographs are live stage shots - live band shots onstage - and they vary from black and white ones from 1979 through to last weekend at the Folk Festival, with Arrested Development... that would be the newest one.
Allan: And is there some colour, as well?
Bev: There's some colour as well. The larger format ones are on metal - they're vinyl on metal with bolts in the corners of them. And there's a huge banner with a picture of Anton on it (Bev is a big Brian Jonestown Massacre fan, didja know?) - and then there's some colour ones and larger black and white ones.
Allan: And things are for sale?
Bev: Yes they are.
Allan: What's the price range?
Bev: I don't know!
Allan: Is the intention to keep them affordable, so people can buy'em?
Bev: I don't really have an intention - I mean, given a choice, I would keep them all, because of the difficulty in actually printing and doing that kind of stuff. Financially, of course, I'd like to sell them, but I'm not thinking of - "everyone gets to take one home when they leave" (laughs).
Bev: But I think it's important to show the work and getting people listening to the music again and talking about it, and now that there's the internet, maybe researching some of the bands. The Pointed Sticks are coming up with a new album in November, and people here - Carola and her friend - have heard parts of it, and it's supposed to be just incredible, just amazing. They've been in the studio doing that... I think it's important that people come and they look at it, you know? And they enjoy themselves here and ask questions and talk about the people in the pictures. And some of the people will be here, and of course some of them won't be here, because they're not around anymore...
Allan: For example...?
Bev: Oh, there's a picture of Johnny Thunders in the show, and there's a picture of Joe Strummer of the show. They won't be here - tho' it's at a funeral home, so you just never know who might show up here!
Allan: Alive or dead. The Joe Strummer photo, what show is that from?
Bev: It's similar to the one that you've seen before, except he's making a fist with his left hand. It's from the Us Festival at San Bernardino, and he's onstage. I just never printed this one before. I tried to look for the one-offs, the ones that I might not have printed before, and that was Carola's suggestion. "Let's not put the same old crap up," I think was her expression (chuckles).
Allan: I see!
Bev: When I did the 144 pictures at her gallery, I found that with maybe 60 of them, or maybe 50 of them, I could have sat down and done a drawing, they were so familiar to me, and they couldn't be left out of a show like that. But the rest of them were ones I had never printed before. There was one of Dead Kennedys - a posed shot - that I had absolutely no memory of ever having taken, until I started looking at them. "Oh yeah, I remember that now..." So I think it's important to go through such a large body of work that I have and look for some of the other pictures that are in focus that may not have been exposed before. And some that have been...
Allan: Of the ones that haven't been seen before, what are the ones that excite you?
Bev: Okay, let me go through the list. There's an early band that Randy Rampage was in called the 45's (or is it the .45's? Big difference - singles or guns?). I don't believe they did any recording at all. And they had Karla Maddog from The Controllers from Los Angeles, and Heather Haley singing, and Brad and Randy in the band. And I don't think I've ever printed that photograph - Randy'll know if I have...
Allan: Was that before or after The Sick Ones?
Bev: It was right around the same time. That'd be a really good question for Scott... I could also figure it out. But I would think it might even overlap - I know where was living when I took .45's pictures, because I took some pictures of them on stairs and stuff, so that would have been early - 1980, pre-'81.
Allan: What else is there?
Bev: There's one of Art Bergmann. I found it when I was scanning some stuff, just recently. I've never printed it - I've never even seen it before. Though someone could call me a liar on that - they could bring me a copy of The Georgia Straight with that picture in there, but a weekly paper for the kind of lifestyle I was living is like a daily paper for everybody else, y'know? You got the deadline, you get it in, you start working on stuff for next week. So there's stuff that could be published in the Straight that I just totally forgot about.
Allan: Tell me about the Art shot...
Bev: A lot of pictures of Art - he seemed to wear a white coloured shirt onstage, or a light-coloured jacket. And there was a real sort of bleakness to the photographs of him. And this one is so dynamic and loud and it has shadows. I think my flash probably didn't go off for this picture, and that's probably why it's got this shadowy appearance to it. But I quite like it. There's Circle Jerks at the Rats Hall in San Francisco...
Allan: I noticed, by the way - I had a really sweet moment looking through the inner sleeve of The Evaporator's Gassy Jack And Other Tales, because there's a photo of Slow when they opened for The Cramps at UBC, where they were all wearing bloody nurse's costumes. Some your photos can really evoke memories, because occasionally I'll encounter pics like this from shows I was at, back in the 1980's. I didn't GO to too many shows back then, so it's really nice to have the memories reclaimed... I was delighted to see that again.
Allan: Your photographs don't only document the Vancouver scene, but they capture the lived experience of the people who were at the gigs, and remember them. They can have real sentimental value, real emotional force for people... You're not just salvaging the history, but people's own lived experience and memory. What's the shot that has the most sentimental value - not that you're proudest of technically or aesthetically, but for emotive power...
Bev: I'm not sure! I think each one of them does in its own way. And I think letting people see them over the last three or four years - because there was a long time when people didn't really see my work; they might see it in a publication or a fanzine somewhere, but as far as seeing any bunch of them together - and... just what you were saying, or, this is what I'm saying about it: people stayed simple and black and white in my pictures, and their lives went on and became complicated. And whatever happened to them? And that was really interesting, to come to that realization of how simple my photographs had stayed and how complicated and intricate people's lives had become. That was an eye-opening thing - meeting some of those people, hearing about that.
Allan: But there is something very simple about the experience of going to a venue and listening to music and enjoying yourself. It's a very basic pleasure, and your photos capture that...
Bev: Yeah, I agree...
Allan: Are there other plans that I should mention?
Bev: There's another calendar in the works with Carola and I. We're in talks about doing a psychedelic band calendar, with psychedelic colours and stuff.
Bev: One of the colour prints is the drummer from Boris, in the show... so the colour ones are for the most part newer, but Carola's going to have me bring over my 1965 photograph of The Rolling Stones in their hotel room. So it will ground it back to the original photographs. That's kind of the concept of the show. The progress of me as a photographer, and what I've taken pictures of - it's pretty much been "rock bands, rock bands, rock bands." And whether it was the Stones in 1965 or Arrested Development at the Folk Festival, it's the same kind of thing. And by being mounted on metal... I had a real drive to mount these on metal of some sort. These metal plates came to me by way of a friend that had them on their balcony and had to get rid of them. But I had been mumbling and telling Carola how I needed to do them on metal, I needed pieces of metal... And that goes back to, I think, my photo etching at the art school. Because I graduated in etching printmaking. And if I still had those skills as an etching printer, which I don't, I probably would have gotten involved in using a little sulfuric acid on the plates. But at this point, they're photographs on metal.
Allan: Sorry - which art school did you go to?
Bev: I went to Vancouver School of Arts, which is now Emily Carr.
Allan: The photo in 1965, that wasn't in Vancouver, though.
Bev: No, that was in Toronto.
Allan: Are there other shots from when you were in Ontario?
Bev: Not a lot. I mean... what went to my parents' house survived - anything I took with me, didn't survive. If I took it back to Toronto, I lost it, someone stole it, it was gone - you know, whatever. So no, I don't have a lot of photographs from the 1960's.
Allan: It sounds like there'll be quite a variety of work on hand...
Bev: The installation pieces are the ones with the bolts and the metal and stuff like that, and there'll be the same prints at different sizes. I thought I would get around frames by doing the metal plates. What it is, is like, glorified mack tack that it's printed on, and then it's peel and stick on the metal frames, and I did this on Monday at this wonderful print shop called Van Print. And they gave me a table to do everything - and it's just a little small place, right? And there's 24 of those huge prints, and I finished them at quarter to six, and I was carrying them out the car. And the guy said, "Wow! I didn't think you'd be finished until Wednesday." And I said, "I'm really glad you didn't tell me that, because I'm mad that I didn't finish by noon hour - I had to spend the whole afternoon at it! And 24 is, like, - you've heard that crows can only count to four? They did tests with crows. They had, like, a field with a woods, and a hunter went into the woods, and all the crows came out. And when the hunter came out of the woods, the crows went back in. And they did that with two people, and three people, and four people... and five people and six people, and as soon as four people came out, the crows went in. Regardless of how many went in. You could send a hundred people into the woods, and as soon as four people came out, the crows went back in. So they figured they can only count to four.
Allan: I see!
Bev: That's kind of it with art, you know. 24 is too many! It's too many to keep track of. I've gotta go out and buy more bolts, because I somehow or another shortchanged myself two of the spiky things and eleven or nine of the other ones. I must have counted them a hundred times, and I still got it wrong. So if there were only four pictures...
Allan: Speaking of animals, I've always wondered, is Grinder (Bev's cat, viewable on her Myspace) named for the Judas Priest song?
Bev: No, he's named because Keith and I were going to the Canucks games when they went to the Stanley Cup round in 1964. And all we heard about is the Canuck "grinders," and Keith named him Grinder, after the Canuck grinders, the ones who just ground everybody along the boards.
Allan: Is it okay if I print that?
Bev: Sure. Grinder only reads Spanish....
Bev's list of the larger, mounted photos that will be on display:
1) The 45's, Smilin' Buddha, April 2, 1980
2) Art Bergmann, Commodore Ballroom, August 11, 1980
3) Billy Idol, Memorial Arena, Kamloops BC, March 22, 1984
4) Bludgeoned Pigs, Smilin' Buddha, March 1981
5) Bolero Lava, Commodore Ballroom, May 18, 1984
6) I Braineater, Helen Pitt Gallery, March 1981
7) Circle Jerks, Rats Palace, San Francisco CA, April 11, 1981
8) Death Sentence, York Theatre, Nov 1984
9) D.O.A. at The Commodore Ballroom, July 10, 1981
10) Randy Rampage and D.O.A.- High Over O'Hara's - May 17, 1979
11) Iron Maiden, Pacific Coliseum, June 27, 1983
12) Joe Strummer and The Clash, US Festival, Glen Helen Regional Park, San Bernardino, CA, USA, May 28, 1983
13) Johnny Thunders centre, bass player Tony Coiro left and second guitar Luigi Scorcia right, Gary Taylor's Rock Room, May 6, 1981
14) Michael Jackson, The Victory Tour, BC Place Stadium, Nov 18, 1984
15) The Modernettes, Gary Taylor's Rock Room, Oct 2, 1980
16) No Exit, Smilin' Buddha, March 1981
17) Rabid, Smilin' Buddha, Feb 8, 1980
18) The Spores, Bumpers Surrey BC, Feb 24, 1985
19) The Subhumans, 179 Legion on Commercial Drive, April 1980
20) Tunnel Canary , Smilin' Buddha, Mar 28, 1980
21) X at Dingwalls London England, July 1980
22) Zero Boys, Smilin' Buddha, June 28, 1982
23) Black Flag, Smilin' Buddha, April 17, 1980
24) The Crowd, Helen Pitt Gallery, Mar 1981
See you at Chapel Arts!