This Is the One – A photo essay and exhibition by Dennis Morris
Dennis Morris started young: at the age of 11, to be precise, when a photograph of his made it onto the front page of the Daily Mirror. Since then his career has encircled him in some of the most legendary posses of musical history. He has followed Bob Marley on tour, photographed the post-punkers PiL and documented the wild early days of the Sex Pistols. As an important musician in his own right –forming and playing with the influential black punk band Basement 5 – Morris is often praised for the sense of familiarity, understanding and trust he is able to establish with his iconic subjects. For his latest project, Morris takes on the story of the Stone Roses, charting the pioneering four-piece’s rise from their early days on Manchester’s punk scene to their now legendary place in musical history. We caught up with Morris at the London Newcastle exhibition to talk about his career and latest project This Is the One.
Just to start off, can you tell me about your history with the Stone Roses?
My history with the Stone Roses was, well, basically the first gig they ever did in London I put them on. I was in a band called Basement 5. Martin Hannett produced the band and he rang me up one day and said: “I’ve got this band who are big fans of Basement 5 and your photography and they want to meet you.” So I went up to Manchester and met them there in the rehearsal room and started talking. At the same time I was doing a one-nighter at a club in Bond Street, so I asked them if they wanted to play a gig. So they came down and played a gig with the Chiefs of Relief – that’s the drummer from the Sex Pistols and Matthew Ashman from Bow Wow Wow.
And were they a big success?
Everyone hated them! No one liked them. Everyone kept saying to me: “What are you doing? This band’s rubbish!” and I said: “No, no, no they’re going to be big!”
So you’re a musician yourself, and have obviously photographed some musical legends. How does your experience as a musician influence the way you treat the musicians in your photographs?
Basically for me, the most important part is not the musician side of it; it’s the photography side of it. And with the photography side of it, I use my experience of reportage – a very old technique that’s focused on creating studies. So that’s how I really get into the music side of it. When I work with musicians I like to get inside of them, get inside their minds, and get into the music. That’s what produces the images that then become iconic.
So was it important for you to become quite close with the band or did you maintain a degree of artistic distance?
Yes, I was very good friends with them. Basically what happened was, over the years, every time they’d come down to London they’d come to my studio, we’d all hang out, have some drinks and whatever and I’d take all these photographs. We were just doing pictures, as artists, just hanging out and being creative. And over the years I gathered over 1,000 images.
Wow. So how long did it take you to gather all those images?
Well, it’s like that golden period of theirs, you know? There’s a section that is mainly portraits, then you’ve got the Spike Island gig, the Glasgow Green gig, so it just focuses really on that period.
And of course they’ve just had their big comeback gigs – do you think the band have aged well? Are they timeless?
Yes! They’re a very important band, as important as the Pistols because they created a movement. Very few bands can create that sort of cultural movement.
That leads me to my next question: do you consider yourself primarily a photographer or a musician, or do you think an artist can be many things at once?
I’m an artist. I’m an artist, one that just happens to use a camera, basically.
And just to round up, what is your favourite memory of your career
My favourite memory is all of it really. I mean, Marley obviously was very, very special. I learnt a lot from Marley: he showed me how to be me, to believe in myself despite all the adversaries around me. That was very, very important. The Sex Pistols, as well, were very important. I learnt from Malcolm [McLaren – the Sex Pistols’ infamous manager] how to kick the door down and take what you want [laughing]. And over the years I’ve taken those two sides of things and put them together to take me to where I am today.
Great! And just to end, what is your favourite Stone Roses track?
Not This Is The One?
This Is the One is a great track but Fools Gold I just love the rhythm of it; I love the beat.
The exhibition of Stone Roses images will be showing at London Newcastle from 13th-19th July on Redchurch Street, London, E2.
This Is the One by Dennis Morris is available here at £295 accompanied by an individually signed print.