Mavericks exhibition by Peter Ashworth, Lever Gallery
PUBLISHED: 11:39 06 December 2018
Iconic 80s album artwork for Eurythmics, Bryan Ferry and Tina Turner goes on show at a Clerkenwell Gallery
When Mari Wilson sang ‘I’ve Got Just What I Always Wanted’ she included an ‘Ashworth snap’ in her list of must-haves.
The lyrics referred to Peter Ashworth, whose vividly-coloured images graced the iconic album sleeves of the 80s music scene.
Tina Turner singing into a Hoover nozzle for her 80s comeback Private Dancer; Bryan Ferry smoking moodily; Frankie Goes to Hollywood nestled in a psychedelic jungle, and Wilson posed in a ‘50s room, were all shot by the Hampstead photographer.
Many were taken at Bagley’s Warehouse in King’s Cross on the box-shaped Hasselblad 500: “A square-shaped camera shoots square pictures which makes sense when you are making record covers,” he says.
A dozen, including a masked Annie Lennox for the cover of the Eurythmics’ Touch album, are in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection.
“London, in 1979 still felt like the second world war had only just finished. It was a grungy, ghastly place and no-one wanted to live in it, but it was the making of it. Because it was relatively empty, creative people could live and work and discover unused warehouse spaces which allowed me to shoot large often complicated, sets. As long as I didn’t mind spending most of my fee I could achieve almost anything.”
At the tail end of the grey 70s, the New Romantics injected a splash of colour with elaborate costumes and make-up, they partied at Covent Garden’s Blitz club where host Steve Strange would only admit “the weird and the wonderful”.
Studying at the London College of Printing, Ashworth, who was also a drummer in bands, became social secretary and gained access to music contacts as he booked and promoted gigs.
His first commission was from Strange and Rusty Egan for their band Visage – his picture of Strange dancing at the Blitz with Vivienne Lynn was inspired by Brassai’s photos of the Parisian demi-monde.
Another was for his friend Stephen Jones’ first hat shop, and soon he was working for album sleeve design company Rocking Russians.
“From then on everything just got bigger,” he says:
Adam and the Ants, Soft Cell, Dead or Alive, Ashworth was right in the mix of what he calls “a feverish decade in which many experimenters in music, fashion and style became household names”.
Although his work has featured at the V&A, his first solo show Mavericks runs at the Lever Gallery in Goswell Road, Clerkenwell.
On display is Adam and the Ants’ Kings of the Wild Frontier sleeve, which sprang from an August 1980 rehearsal session. Ashworth shot stills from the monitor screen during a video test ahead of their Top of the Pops debut.
The sleeve for Euruthmics’ first album In The Garden was shot in a private house in Belsize Park. Later Lennox in strongman pose photographed at Bagley’s in September 1983 made the cover of The Face the following month. Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome sleeve involved sourcing props and building an elaborate jungle set, and Soft Cell’s Bedsitter was shot in a basement studio in Mount Pleasant in September 1981 with pots and pans hazardously falling off the wall.
Taken in Ashworth’s Clerkenwell studio in May 1985 his image of a relaxed Bryan Ferry came after the Roxy Music singer arrived with a battered suitcase containing rumpled shirts “which he proceeded to iron while I was setting up the lights.”
Sadly Ashworth shot these legendary images on colour slide transparency and handed the film to the record companies who had employed him.
“I thought I was being fierce because I spent most of my budget on the job and when you are shooting colour transparency you had to be at the top of your game and have everything perfect. I thought the other photographers were being lame wusses for shooting in colour neg, but I was being an imbecile. I didn’t realise how little the record companies cared. They have thrown my film away and there isn’t a copy.”
Salvaged from the “clip tests” - scraps of frames cut off and developed to see if he had exposed the shot correctly - Mavericks is Ashworth’s bid to: “preserve a history before it totally disappears.”
Mavericks runs at the Lever Gallery until December 20.levergallery.com