Paul Gorman: the punk writer on London, the Sex Pistols and why the suburbs are where it's at

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Words: Elliott Lewis-George
 
Paul Gorman is a writer and cultural commentator living in suburban London. Since 1978, Paul’s amassed an expansive body of work around the visual identity of pop culture, which has been the spark for many of his own projects. 
 
These include his book, The Look: Adventures In Pop & Rock Fashion; a series of exhibitions presenting the work of the late cultural iconoclast Malcolm McLaren and, recently, a map/guide, Punk London: In The City 1975-78, which marks 111 addresses across the capital that played host to the scene.
 
Here, he talks about some of his work and research into culture.
 
“I gravitate towards visual culture; covering fashion, art, design, photography, interiors and the built environment, and I’m particularly interested in where visual identity relates to mass culture in terms of popular music.”
 
“Ever since people were running around in loincloths there’s been popular music; a genre that’s consumed by a mass of people in one form of the other, but what fascinates me is the interaction between popular music and visual expression. I don’t think one comes before the other.”
 
“After the war there was a certain set of social and economic circumstances which enabled young people to express their individuality more openly, and part of that was dressing in new ways.”
 
“Punk was one of the most exciting times in British culture. It blew the doors off a lot of expectations which came out of the ’60s – a period that was supposed to be the great liberating time but in fact wasn’t for the masses.”
 
“It was pretty tough in the ’70s because of the social and economic circumstances that came into play. We’d just been through the global oil crisis, the end of the Vietnam War, conflict in South America, Africa and the Middle East, and a series of recessions. Punk coincided with the lingering aftermath.”
 
“Punk presented various musical and visual choices that could take each person down different paths if they chose. Ultimate individualists such as George O’Dowd (Boy George) who became his own fabulous creation and influenced people on the other side of the world such as [shocking transgender clubber] Leigh Bowery. You can’t pin Bowery directly to punk but for sure he would not have found the form of expression he did without it.”
 
“Mapping out my guide, Punk London: In The City 1975-78, wasn’t too much of a challenge because I’m naturally interested in many of the locations as a Londoner. I believed I understood the importance of the particular addresses and wanted to share their cultural significance.”
 
“I tried to ensure the project didn’t trot out the familiar punk narrative. Sure, we had to feature the 100 Club or The Roxy, but also we wanted to include places which were a bit more obscure but still important to the scene, such as Mark Perry’s Deptford flat where he put together the first issues of punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue.”
 
“I wrote a book on the life and work of graphic designer Barney Bubbles because his contribution to the visual identity of popular music from the late-’60s through to the early-’80s was undervalued. He was the link between formally educated commercial design and counter-culture of the ’60s and then a bridge to punk, new wave and post-punk.”
 
“I’m currently writing a book about The Face magazine for a simple reason. Nobody else has done it. This surprises me. In my view it was arguably the most significant British publication of the late 20th century. The Face prefigured the digital consumption of visual information that we see today in social media such as Instagram.”
 
“There has long been a push-me, pull-you dynamic between regional cultures and those born out of the capital; things like Madchester broke the exclusivity of London in the late-’80s for example. I believe the suburbs are now where it’s at – the centre of town and places like Soho are property driven theme-parks. However, it’s a fact that London is involved in the bigger cultural interplay with Paris, New York and Tokyo, and benefits from that in ways which take a while to trickle down to, say Leeds, or Manchester.”







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