Friday, 21 May 2010 The photograph above has become quite well known due to it's association with Morrissey's 1992 'Your Arsenal' tour.
This has been written about by others before but, since I now have a blog, I may as well write my own version of how this came about.
A couple of times during 1991 the well known music biz publicist Murray Chalmers mentioned, whilst we were engaged on other work, that Morrissey (who I knew to be a friend of his) would like to buy some prints of my photos of Skinheads. I was rather flattered that someone like Morrissey would know about this work and possibly my vanity led me to assume he just liked the images and intended to stick them on his wall.
In February '92 I received a short note, through the post , from Morrissey himself. It comprised a photostat of one of my photos, from the cover of a skinhead fanzine, and it said - "Derek, Can you send me a print? I'll explain why." This was followed by a couple of phone calls from Murray urging me to do so.
I produced a print and sent it to Morrissey, via Murray, and that was, I thought, the end of it.
But a few months later, I received a call from Jo Slee who told me she worked for Morrissey and that Morrissey would like the okay to use the skinhead image in a montage which would be projected during a one off performance in France. She said very specifically that it was a one-off and if they decided that they wanted to use the image in any other way, they would come back to me. Again, I was pretty flattered by this and it didn't seem like a big deal. My chief concern, at that point, being the reaction of the two female skinheads themselves.
I heard no more from Jo Slee but when I eventually saw some live photos of Morrissey's infamous 'Madstock' gig in Finsbury Park, I recognised my skinhead image as the stage backdrop.
I can't say I was particularly pleased. For a start Jo Slee had told me the French gig was just a one-off. But more importantly the image was being used in a completely different way than the way I'd been led to believe (solus as opposed to part of a montage) and I had no knowledge or understanding of the precise context of it's inclusion. I had no way of knowing what the skinheads themselves would think, or do, if they saw it.
NME did a cover story on the gig and, since I was one of their senior photographers at the time, they asked me for an explanation of the circumstances surrounding how Morrissey had came to use the image.
I did my best to explain the little I knew and I sent them a xerox copy of Morrissey's note.
Unfortunately for all concerned, the NME article pretty much came out and called Morrissey a racist (which I thought was really dumb) and soon afterwards I received another call from Murray who said that Morrissey was particularly aggrieved that I'd let NME see his note to me. I couldn't really see why, but Murray pointed out that Morrissey had put his home address on the back of the note and was livid to think that anyone at NME would find out his address. I told Murray that Morrissey had written his address on the back of the envelope, not the note, I hadn't shown the envelope to anyone and had anyway sent NME only a xerox copy. Either way though, I was given to understand Morrissey was extremely unhappy that I'd shown NME anything.
Nevertheless, I came to an arrangement with Jo Slee for limited use of the image on the entire tour.
Some weeks later, I was in LA working on a piece on Gallon Drunk for NME (who happened to be supporting Morrissey on Tour) and we were eager to catch their gig at the Hollywood Bowl. "No chance" we were told "NME's banned." As you know, journalists and photographers never like to take "no" for an answer and, since I happened to be mates with one of Gallon Drunk at the time, we were added to their road crew for the night.
I was completely gobsmacked to see what had been done with the image of the Skinhead girls. Besides the backdrop, it was used as the cover of the tour programme, they were selling it on t-shirts and it was even the image on the tour passes.
Despite many, many letters and phone calls between myself and Jo Slee I never got paid a cent for the use of my photograph and, following conversations with several people who had better remain nameless, I realised I obviously never would. I just had to put it all down to experience and try to learn whatever lessons I could from it.
You may notice there is no actual or implied criticism of Morrissey himself here. Other than the note, I had no direct contact with him whatsoever. He never did "explain". I was a Smiths/Morrissey fan before this and I still am. I love his music.
Incidentally, if you’ve read all the way down to here, you might want to know that this photograph is included in my Skinheads book, published by Blurb, and it can be found here -