Poster for Rock Against Racism Carnival, Victoria Park, David King, April 30, 1978
The U.K. punk scene represented one of mankind’s greatest explosions of populist mass art, as represented not only in the songs and the album covers the scene generated but also a well-nigh endless variety of punk clothing, handbills, flyers, posters, badges, fanzines, and who knows what all. The DIY and countercultural ethic of that moment reverberates down the decades to us today—and will for some time. We’re not done hearing the echo of that moment.
Oh So Pretty: Punk in Print, 1976-80, a new book from Phaidon Press, offers a detailed look at one of the world’s great agglomerations of U.K. punk ephemera, Toby Mott’s collection, which took decades to bring to its current state. This generous volume is bursting at the seams with punk energy, its whopping 500+ pages offering approximately that many riveting punk artifacts. The book is surprisingly affordable at $22.76.
Mott was in the thick of the action during the original U.K. punk era as one of the founders of the Anarchist Street Army, a late 1970s organization based in Pimlico that specialized in street disturbances. Later he appeared in Derek Jarman’s 1985 movie The Angelic Conversation, and the art collective he co-founded, the Grey Organisation, was responsible for the iconic day-glo cover art for De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising.
The Mott Collection includes essential punk artifacts such as Jamie Reid’s “ransom note” designs for the Sex Pistols, Linder Sterling’s astonishing “Orgasm Addict” art for the Buzzcocks, Barney Bubbles’ memorable work for Ian Dury, as well as grassroots fanzines such as Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue.
The book features an essay by Rick Poynor, who writes:
One of the revelations of this collection is the unswerving focus on the bands. No matter how wild and thrashy the lettering and graphics may be, the pieces produced by fans mainly deliver pictures of the performers rather than other kinds of imagery. Punk was a highly sociable scene and it attracted people who loved to dress up and show off. They identified with the groups, and in fanzines like Sniffin’ Glue and Ripped & Torn they celebrated them as makers of their own grassroots culture. This is an illuminating departure from the usual picture of punk as an essentially political act of rebellion and the scene’s fixation on punk’s stars hasn’t been so obvious in previous surveys. Within only a few years, some post-punk groups would shun the spotlight and insist that the music was the essential thing, but the 1970s punks embraced the performer as an anti-glamorous star figure just as surely as earlier audiences embraced conventional versions of the pop star. The means of adulation were much the same. By 1977 Punk magazine was publishing a double-sided colour poster featuring all the favourite bands, the Clash were posing moodily for a pin-up in Oh Boy! magazine and punk was ripe for “punxploitation” in a picture publication titled Punk Rock Rules OK?
Here are some samples from Oh So Pretty:
Back side of flyer for Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Adverts, Motorhead, The Vibrators, Generation X and Buzzcocks at The Greyhound, Croydon, February/March/April 1978
Poster for X-Ray Spex’s single “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” October 1977
Poster for Siouxsie and the Banshees at Eric’s, Liverpool, May 14, 1977
Bored Stiff #1, C. Terry et al., Tyneside Free Press, July 1977
Crass, ‘IN ALL OUR DECADENCE PEOPLE DIE’, graffiti stencils, 1980
Flyer for the Sex Pistols at The Screen on Islington Green, May 17, 1976
Concert poster for Generation X, 1977
Poster for The Adverts at The Windmill Club, Rotherham, September 15, 1977
Bondage #1, Shane MacGowan, 1976
Flyer for 999, Art Attacks, The Flies and Now at The Vortex, August 30, 1977
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Sniffin’ Glue: The definitive first wave U.K. punk zine
Punk posters from London’s legendary Roxy club