Thursday, March 29, 2018

A chat with John Coles - A Coventry Music Photographer and More

A chat with John Coles - A Coventry Music Photographer and More.

by Pete Clemons

John Coles started out as technician with the influential Coventry Silk Disco in late 60's to the 70's and then flourished as a Two Tone and music photographer and more.....
John Coles

In life, you come across folk who claim to have done it all, yet in reality, have done very little. And then you come across those who have indeed done it all, yet say very little about it.

For me, and in terms of gig going, photographer John Coles certainly falls into that latter category. Admittedly, he hasn’t done everything, but there is little doubt that he has been to more gigs and music related events, over the last 50 years, than most.

John always mentions on social media, where he is going and what he is going to be doing. And we all love to see the resulting images.

But I have been aware of John for over 40 years now. I remember him from his days
working in Virgin Records. And I certainly remember seeing him at gigs I attended during that time.

In lieu of some kind of book of his work, which he really needs to do at some point, I figured that John has a lot of important memories that needs to be documented. So he kindly sat down with me while I attempted to tap into some of them.

I began by asking a non-question really……………

I won’t even ask you how many gigs you attended but it must be thousands: - to which John answered ‘yes’.

But then I started to probe a little……………

What was the first ever gig you attended and what year would this have been?: - ‘The Overlanders at the Royal Show 1962/63. I was only 8 or 9 and I remember that they played Michelle’.

What was the first ever gig you photographed at and what year would this have been?: - ‘Black Sabbath at Coventry Theatre June 1974 with a Zenith E camera’.

Do you have a favourite music photograph?: - ‘That would be from the AC/DC lock up your Daughter tour at Bedworth Civic Hall 1976’.

Of the thousands of gigs you attended which one, locally, sticks in your mind the most?: - ‘Queen Coventry Theatre 1975. My favourite ever gig would be Coldplay at Wembley’.

What other memorable gigs did you photograph at?: - ‘Dr Feelgood at Coventry Theatre, punk and new wave bands like The Clash, London, The Jam, The Stranglers, Sham 69, The Damned all Tiffany’s. In fact at The Clash gig at Tiffs it was during the sound check in a totally empty room……Thin Lizzy at Mr Georges, Status Quo at Coventry Theatre, The Groundhogs at the Lanch, The Selecter at the Lanch. Also I remember The Selecter at a venue I cannot remember the name of but characters like Buster Bloodvessel were up on the stage dancing. The Funboy 3 at the Lanch. When Queen appeared at Coventry Theatre I photographed them in black and white during their first visit and colour the second time they played there. The Who at Charlton Football Ground’, and so the list went on.

John used to work at Virgin Record between 1976 and 1982. I remember him and Brad behind the counter where I would buy records and gig tickets. During our chat John revealed that he used to take the ticket money from Virgin to the venue for whatever gig Virgin were selling tickets on behalf of.

Working at Virgin, and through his photography, obviously gave John access to memorabilia. Again I asked a bit of a non-question. I won’t even ask you how much memorabilia you have but it must be tons: - ‘Yes tons’. 

John Coles was with Silk Disco in the late 60's and 70's featured on this new book about Coventry

What is your favourite piece of memorabilia?: - ‘A Sex Pistols signed poster from Mr Georges’.

You also worked with a few bands selling merchandise etc. Who was this for and when?: - ‘Thin Lizzy and Sham 69 spring to mind. I cannot remember the exact years but I do remember that you had to get yourself to Earls Court in London in order to collect the merchandise. My first official tour with a band as photographer was the 2 tone tour of 1979. I also worked with The Selecter on their first photo shoot. This took place under the ring road and was just 4 days before their first tour’.

Even today you are as keen as ever to capture bands in action?: - ‘Yes more recently I have photographed The Specials at the Ricoh in 2009 and also at Cheltenham Racecourse. And again, when The Specials played the Alexandra Palace where I was just one of 50 photographers all vying for space. And then there is the Godiva Festival which I really enjoy doing’.

From the 1970s and 80s your photography seems to have extended to weddings and functions. How did that happen?: - ‘The first wedding I covered was in 1993 as a favour. It is quite an undertaking and carries a great deal of responsibility!. The functions, particularly the Rugby events come from a company called Under the Posts who specialise in sporting and celebrity dinners and lunches and also charity events. These too, come with responsibility’. 

John Coles with John Bradury of the Specials with the Coventry Virgin Records plaque.

Finally I concluded the questions with a couple of quick fire one………

Do you have a favourite ever photograph: to which John answered: - ‘To hard’.

What motivates you John?. You always seem to be on the go, you never seem to stop: - ‘I just love taking photographs’.

I must say that I really enjoyed my chat with John. I know from personal experience, just how difficult it is to remember events from so long ago. So it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if new memories come to light. I feel I just managed to scrape the surface. I will finish with one of the last questions I asked. And that was, are you ever going to retire?: - ‘When the time comes’ was John’s excellent reply. 

Above and below - two fabulous photos taken by John Coles from his website - Selecter and the Specials live.
More can be seen on his website.

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