Louder Than War Interview: We Talk To Photographer Grant Fleming Whose Hasta La Victoria Exhibition Has Just Opened
It really is something to try and take in all of that Grant Fleming has achieved since his teens within music, art, photography and other mediums…
…from musician, tour manager, film director, political agitator, writer / author and of course photographer. And it all started with Jimmy Pursey (frontman of Sham 69) giving him his first job … and bass guitar.
From playing in punk bands and going on the road with Sham 69, the avid West Ham fan then went on to work with a whole host of groups and artists and and on many projects. These include his designing the ever-so iconic Screamadelica logo and photographing an outstanding list of well known figures including Joe Strummer, The Stone Roses, Oasis, Ronaldo, Beckham, Castro and Nelson Mandela, one of his own hero’s and inspirations.
Grant Fleming was also the official Primal Scream photographer and as such he catalogued the band’s glory years. It was Grant who took the classic ‘Wasted’ Scream band pic which adorned the cover of ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’. He even nearly ended up in Oasis taking over Guigsy’s spot when the bass player left the band in the late 90s.
But all that’s just a fraction of his career up to now. He’s already looking ahead to his next photo exhibition ‘The End Of Apartheid’ as well as preparing a new book covering all his mad, creative, wonderful and inspiring adventuress. It’s safe to say Grant Fleming’s as busy and creative as ever – and he’s showing no sign of slowing down. He’s a real-life rock ‘n’ roll troubadour who’s already amassed what would probably be for many a life-times work … and he’s got the pictures to prove it.
The last few months of Grant Fleming’s life have been dedicated to his latest photography exhibition ‘Hasta La Victoria‘. It features images taken from his one man mission to the war-torn revolutionary countries of Central America which he went on just as the UK was experiencing house music and the ‘second summer of Love’; 1998. Navigating his way into the heart of the action he captured not only the chaos and destruction of the battle-zones and war itself, but also the spirit and energy of the people too. A charismatic and extremely striking collection of images, the ‘Hasta La Victoria’ exhibition is currently showing at selected venues from Brighton to Glasgow before it moves on to Spain, the US and eventually it’s final destination, Nicaragua.
In this fascinating in-depth interview Louder Than War caught up with Grant to cover all the above and much more. In the interview below he talks about his influences and inspirations, how Joe Strummer gave him his nickname, how he got into photography, how he escaped with his life in Central America and even the controversial collapse of his film covering DJ Paul Oakenfold. Its all in here in fact so read on…
Hi Grant and thanks for dropping by Louder Than War.
Right now it’s all about your photography exhibition ‘Hasta La Victoria’, a powerful collection of images taken during a trip you made to Central America and its war torn states and covering the fighting and revolutionary upheaval of late 80s.
Can you tell us please how the trip and project came about. Was it a personal ambition to document what was going on in Central America around that time?
Grant Fleming: Well Carl / Louder Than War, thanks for wanting to know about all this … so, this 1988 trip in particular came about as I had set it as my first test to myself to see if I could hack it in conflict zones as a photo-journalist, a career change in itself as I’d previously been living ‘the easy life’, touring the world as a rock star (ha ha I’m not actually so serious about that), and holed up in Hollywood living the whole sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll life. This was after a good few years in less successful bands since punk, so I was making the most of my fame lets just say that. Also because of punk (especially Paul Weller & Joe Strummer) I’d become politicised in the early 80s and latched on to the many struggles being fought in those days, particularly due to The Clash’s ‘Sandinista’ album the Nicaraguan Solidarity Campaign.
Since a kid, I don’t know why exactly, I’d always been drawn to Latin America (I know that after seeing a picture of Rio and Sugar Loaf Mountain about aged 5 I’d dreamed of going there, and never in a million years did I think one day I would.) So this, added to my growing interest in photography of the social documentary type mastered by the likes of Don McCullin (he was also a working-class Londoner and self-trained so he was a big inspiration) and W.Eugene Smith & Weegie from the States, plus the ‘acquisition’ of a half-decent camera in my ‘light-fingered’ days was the starting point.
When the group I was in split up I had a choice. I could have carried on playing bass in other people’s bands (Billy Idol’s was being mooted) and I could’ve carried on having myself a quite lucrative but pretty self-indulgent nice life I suppose, but I did feel that I’d ‘been there, done that’ so I turned it all on it’s head, got a backpack on and headed down into the war zones of the Central American jungle. To test myself as I say, to further my political education, to volunteer on some projects, and I won’t pretend, for the excitement of the trip too. It was different, at least…
The ‘Hasta La Victoria’ pictures are amazing, they include some very striking images which catch the drama, the realness and power of that whole period in Central America; from the civilians, to the soldiers to the men in power (as well as shots from the New Orleans Republic Convention and Reagan of the same year.)
What kind of trouble and situations did you get into getting those shots … what was the terrain out there like while you went after the pictures?
Without wishing to over-dramatise, which would be easy here as it was pretty mental at times. I always tend to play things down (I guess almost as a safety-valve to make sure there’s no danger of your bottle going because having a gun held to your head (not that its uncommon even on our streets now sadly)) but being run out of Panama City springs to mind after I’d been arrested by a blind drunk ‘migration’ officer. It was actually more like a scene from a film – writing postcards in a bar, armed with nothing more than my wet washing after a trip to a launderette and this lunatic starts, and suddenly he’s on me, saying he’s immigration and all the while holding on for dear life to the table I’m sat at. “Papeles! Papeles!” Whether this was a pre-cursor to asking for some dough I don’t know, but I wasn’t having any of it, and just tried to humour him, fuck him off and get out of there.
I didn’t wish to show my concealed passport to any old pisshead as robbery like this was common at the time out there. I caught the eye of the owner who I’d become friendly with. He gave me a look as if to verify this idiot’s credentials but as I tried to give him the swerve, he ran out in the road and shouted to a nearby military patrol. Next thing I’m being bundled into the back of an APC (armored personell carrier), and being Latin American style I’m wedged in between a dozen snarling non-communicative burly soldiers (they just didn’t like ‘gringos’ there on account of the Panama Canal and the huge US bases in the country, even if I wasn’t American myself.)
If I had ever had any previous delusions about being a bit lively and tough enough on the exterior … right at this point I felt like that 5 year old kid again and wished to hell I’d never seen that fucking picture! I was whisked across to a presidential HQ where the drunk bloke, who had ridden in the front, proceeded to tell his superiors that, “El es Colombiano! Y una narco-trafficante”. Now my growing Spanish had me translate that on the spot and I knew I was getting in deep.
Fortunately a combination of me whipping out my British passport, telling the superior (thankfully sober, or at least a lot less drunk) that I’d been photographing and having tea with President Noriega himself that day, and the bag of wet washing that was now dripping puddles all over his office, made the ‘borracho’ realise I was straight up. He apologised to me and ordered the captain of the APC squad to drive me back to where I was staying.
Now to say that the drunk gave me a look of daggers is an understatement, but I accepted the “Loooo Siiieeennnnttoooo” said through gritted teeth and wanted to get out of there.
A lucky escape, quite funny actually and I put it all down to adventure. Until the next day.
(Image right – ElSalvComandos.) I was in the same place, writing notes this time (and wearing nice clean clothes.) It was much earlier in the day and outside I could see something wasn’t quite right. This little firm of local street kids were massing and they were all putting the eyeball on me. A couple walked past the open front and flashed some ‘tools’ at me under their tops. Fuck this. The owner, my mate (some mate) gave me a blank when I asked for the back entrance and went away and hid himself. I tried to call their obvious leader in for a drink and to check what the fuck was up but they were just waiting … waiting …
After some time a gap appeared and I made a dash for the Taiwanese-owned grocers shop across the road where I’d had breakfast every day and where my friend’s suddenly weren’t my friends anymore. They’re saying it’s the ‘famous ones’ (top street gang) and they’re looking for me (and it can only be on account of the piss head officials revenge) and in broken Spanish they explained the equivalent of “they want my guts for garters”.
And then bang! The door is kicked open, the ‘leader’ is pulling a gun out of a plastic bag, it’s on my temple and he’s trying to drag me out into the street. There’s a girl there I remember who starts screaming at the gunman, I’m screaming the name of a local lad I’d had a few words with who had some kind of welsh connection and was a bit of a hoodlum himself, well he must have been because this stopped everything in it’s tracks and like slow-motion the guy is saying, ‘ok … ok … I know … come hotel … we go …’ and as the chica starts pulling him away I see my exit – up the hill opposite I see a taxi approaching and I make a bolt for it, I literally do a Tienanmen tank, jump in front of it, stop it and dive in and scream ‘VAMOS! VAMOS!’ (‘lets go! lets go!’) and I make him drive around town for about an hour before coming to my senses and working out that I should go to the consulate for advice and if needs be, some kind of refuge.
The woman there was a saint actually and paid a lot of attention, but her advice came from years of working in this unstable environment – get out of town. ASAP. Because if they are on you they are on you for good, life is very cheap here and if he paid them $20 dollars to do the job and it didn’t happen then sure as hell there’d be plenty of others willing to take another 20, or even a 10-spot, all depends how desperate they are. And I already knew how many desperate people they were who needed readies just to survive on a daily basis. What was I to them? Nada.
So I took her advice. I went to the offices of TACA airlines, bought a flight, slipped back to the hotel under cover of darkness, collected my stuff, and got out of dodge.
That’s crazy! So which shots for you are the stand out images in the collection, the ones that made all the madness worth it, and why?
It’s mad really as pictures you maybe hadn’t considered before, or remembered, have increased significance with age I guess, and become more historically important as time goes on. So naturally the shots of Reagan, the Bushes Snr & Jnr, Calero, Ortega, Noriega, as they were THE major players in the conflict at that time make it quite a collection I’m proud of. Especially considering I had no official accreditation at all before I left! To end up bumping into a Republican convention and getting that iconic shot of Reagan (and the thought did occur to me at the time that I was close enough to shoot AT him and maybe do the world a big favor in the process. Thoughts like that and even the fact that I got so close to him would these days have you whipped off to Guantanamo blindfolded in an orange boiler suit).
But ‘political celebrity’ aside I wouldn’t be lying to say that, as I’ve never taken a picture I didn’t want to, every single frame has its reasons, and if there are people in the picture then my take on it is every single person’s life is as important as the next one. By and large, they’re all, at the heart of it, just striving to get by, get through this life with as little drama and as much joy as the rest of us.
But pushed for faves of course I love the Sandinista stuff, the Walkman kid, the marching girls, the AK boys.
Will these images be a part of your forthcoming book ‘Who Let Him In’ (an alternative to your own mantra on world travelling – ‘I’m going There’).
You’ve literally travelled all over the world – so will the book be a collection of shots from an array of trips and projects?
No, conversely the only photography as such will be personal pics to illustrate the story, it’s an out-and-out written auto-biography and to be honest, my photographic archive is so huge that that’s a whole different series of books, which will follow along the way some time!
But of course photography is just one of your passions and professions isn’t it. A real brief run through of what you’ve done in the past include being a musician, an author, a tour manager, a film director and obviously photographer – and that’s to name just some of it! Your name was even brought up when Guigsy dropped out of Oasis in the 90s.
But it all could have been so different for you with a life working on the docks in the area you grew up in. So what was it that initially pushed you and gave you the confidence to work within so many different roles and professions … maybe the punk movement and being around the bands and people who were doing ‘something’?
Less than a life on the docks, which wouldn’t have been a bad thing of course. I was only saying yesterday to someone from Malaga how much I loved her city and how I’m magnetically drawn to port cities, wherever I go in the world – they’re always a bit lively as well. The likes of Naples, Marseilles, Veracruz, Boca / Buenos Aires; it’s funny how port cities usually produce lunatic football firms too.
I actually left the docks on my 18th birthday. Unconnectedly but uncannily a scene from ‘The Wire’ mirrored my own departure. After the ‘waving-off’ do at the pub, as most sauntered back to work I appeared mid-afternoon on top of a container drunk out of my brain and singing ‘Bubbles’ at the top of my voice. A colleague was quickly dispatched to get me out the gates and see me home safe and sound, sharpish.
It was music in fact that had made me give up my job, I’d been following The Jam, The Clash, and Sham 69 religiously (so yes, punk) and the singer of Sham, Jimmy Pursey, offered me a job. At first it was opening fan mail and as a general ‘personal’ for him, and then it progressed to tour manager at the tender age of 18. That was a baptism of fire as every one of those gigs in those days were pandemonium. It was a good job I was used to riots and violence from being a football hooligan, because it was 7 days a week with that lot, utter madness across the land, and into Europe, the States, an (undeserved) reputation about the band preceded us and we may just as well have been billed as Riots-R-Us
It was also Jimmy who bought me a bass guitar one Friday, we were mooching about Tin Pan Alley, wages in hand and he plonked me straight into his brother’s group The KIdz Next Door, and suddenly 2 weeks later I’m onstage at the Nashville rooms supporting the Angelic Upstarts. I loved it though and hence began a 10-year ‘career’ playing in bands. Most definitely in those instances you can say punk did what it said it would, get people involved, have you believe that you had a chance too, no matter where you came from and to just have a go. So I did.
Photography ran alongside, and almost by accident it went on to a more serious level as a mate from football on our estate in West Ham had developed a bad habit on the brown, and unbeknown to us, was going into stores all over London and asking to view hi-end cameras and the like and then scarpering, and boy when he needed a fix did he run fast. It caught up with him eventually of course and put him in a box forever, but for us in those times, money was too tight to mention and all that, no questions were asked and cameras were acquired for knock-down prices. I’d already developed an interest in documentary photography from the Vietnam war etc, Tim Page and Don Mccullin and people in the states like Weegie and W.Eugene Smith, so with the political atmosphere and the poison of Thatcherism as it was at the time (and again, becoming politicised via punk and Joe Strummer, Paul Weller etc), I was taking a camera to demos, of which there was one every weekend, plus the long-standing Anti-Apartheid & CND campaigns, the eternal Miners strike, Wapping print protest etc etc etc etc was a natural progression.
Initially I have to admit I used the camera as a decoy to enable me to be right at the front and be ‘involved’ and unhindered (the ‘press’ were allowed that at the time – you’d take the odd clump from the old bill but could also use that cover to issue a few back, but not now, you’re likely to be bashed senseless from both sides sadly.) I soon relished being right in the heat of it, something I’ve loved and been drawn to all my life I guess, and even though at the start I wasn’t very good. I was giving pictures to Sogat which gave them proof that the police were using illegal tactics, not wearing numbers, using dye on the protesters, it showed me that even on a tiny level I could possibly have an effect with my photography.
This soon became an all-encompassing and arrogant idea that I could ‘change the world’ with my pictures, even though I clearly failed in that respect, I certainly changed the world of some people, a few here and there by what I’ve covered, and that’s an achievement to be proud of in itself.
What would you say have been the most defining moments in your life, who and what’s influenced you most, there must be so many but could you name a few and why?
Grant – I’ll just keep it to people who have influenced me…
My Nan Farfort:
God bless her, survivor of the blitz and an absolute stalwart (and very funny person). A ridiculously hard-working matriarch of an extended East End family who couldn’t do enough for anybody who crossed her path. She gave me the sage advice and encouragement at a very early age saying “you go and do whatever you want to boy, don’t let anyone say you can’t do something, you can do whatever you want.” Plenty enough of a ‘follow-your-dreams’ speech to stick with me through life and which I’ve always referred to, its tattooed on my heart.
The gentleman maestro footballer of a different age, someone we are so proud of in the East End, the only Englishman to lift the World Cup (probably ever) and as everyone will attest to who saw him play or were ever in his presence, as cool as fuck. He turned up to a charity game in Mile End that my Dad was involved in with his West India docks team who had played a part in rescue duties when the flat in the Roman Point tower block had a gas explosion (have a look at pictures on google, the place practically folded) and Sir Bobby Moore turned up to lend his support, just a shake of the hand and an autograph is enough for me to know I have been touched by greatness. A true role model for me if ever there was.
Only briefly in 1973 whilst he was doing a recording for a TV show to be aired on NBC in America, the 1980 Floor Show (and glory be to the Internet as footage is now available on YouTube to prove a story that nobody believed!) me and Tony Hale, my classmate from Stratford School had gone ‘up west’ and got into the old Marquee, being just into our teens we were the youngest there and were taken under the wing of an assorted array of Bowie’s pals, Wayne County, Cherry Vanilla, Leee Black Childers, Marianne Faithful. Freaks one and all but bless them they took care of us in a way that defied their fame and stardom. In between takes DB would saunter off to us and chew the fat … starstruck I was, maybe, but I really think a little of that stardust fell on me that day, I ended up on stage with him and from that point on that’s all I wanted to do, be a pop star.
Now chairman of Grays Athletic, but my oldest friend and my cohort in the whole West Ham ‘fanatic’ thing. We’ve been solid mates since day one when my school Stratford played his school Brampton over Wanstead Flats in the early 70s, and with a mutual friend we went off on a bus and formed a mini-teenage firm on the South Bank, Upton Park on the very same day. (The EELF – Essex East London Firm, all 10 teenage tykes of us haha.)
We’ve been through thick and thin together over land and sea (our exploits with West Ham behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union will one day make the big-screen you mark my words.) He was a fellow Knocker. We shared the maddest time during Acid House and although at times we haven’t seen eye to eye over any number of subjects, he is the person who is always there when I fall, the one who looks out for his mate. Always had my back and we’ll be mates forever, solid as a rock.
As above, for firstly giving me the job and escape from the 9 to 5, which in turn allowed me to take a first plane ride (to Brussels to support Peter Gabriel), and who also turned out to be a very positive influence. JP also for buying me a bass guitar on a whim and putting me in his young brother’s band, recording us and sending us out on tour. That was a proper punk gesture if ever there was one and it started me off on a musical career that lasted 10 years, which also added to my eternal wanderlust, whilst being on tour (especially if you’re performing) is quite frankly the best fun ever. He also put me on a record (That’s Life) and as a result we ended up on the BBC, me acting in a loose interpretation of that record, in the Arena programme ‘Tell Us The Truth’.
For sheer electric inspiration to get up and go, and an honesty, dignity and directness that I’ve always admired and a smart style that probably for me is the best ever.
And for being a man of his word – he once said to me very early on when I was talking after a gig about organising a trip to Europe to see the Jam play, “give us your number and I’ll get the exact dates for you and let you know”. Sure I thought – pop star rings fan at home, just doesn’t happen. But it did, a couple of days later, which not only have I respected him for to this day but also the trip happened and as a result started me on yet another creative tip, as I wrote about the adventures for the leading Modzine at the time, ‘Maximum Speed’. I’ve always tried to follow this bloke’s lead.
For educating me in politics and a way of looking at the world. ¡HASTA LA VICTORIA! is most definitely inspired by him and the Clash’s Sandinista album more than anything else, I was fortunate to have many ideas-forming conversations with Joe, and the man could tell a story in a way that I think has also inspired me to tell mine. He is also the author of my nickname and twitter handle GrantyRio. After telling him I was next heading for the Colombian jungle to hang out with the FARC, a couple of days later at a dinner at the end of the Big Day Out tour in Australia, he suddenly stood up, banged his glass for ‘Order! Order!’ and then proclaim “I want you all to raise a toast to Gran-ty Rio! He’s going into the jungle with the gue-ri-llllaaa!!” I’m sure most there did not have a clue what he was on about, nor do I know why he threw Rio into the equation but I was speechless, am eternally honored and now have a testimonial from Joe Strummer himself and what more can you ask for in life?
For sharing a heady time in my life and our history (Acid House), seeing something in me and giving me a major role in Creation records, which in turn led to me meeting Bobby Gillespie, Andrew Innes and Noel Gallagher. Game-changers all who have given me great inspiration too at different times, and also with whom I’ve spent some of the funniest, craziest, wildest times of my life.
Apart from being for me the greatest and most important writer of our generation, he’s been an inspiration for me beyond limits. On first meeting him with Primal Scream just as Trainspotting came out it’s been an unbroken tale of friendship, madness, encouragement and broken bones ever since. Easily one of the most genuine blokes I’ve ever met, an all round top geezer with not an ounce of side to him and just so much fun. 20 years of it and don’t it just fly when you’re having fun. We now work together occasionally (put ‘Trainspotting20’ into You Tube for a short film we made last year and there’s soon-come feature on the incredible city of Detroit in Esquire magazine) and from the day he picked up a Loaded magazine at Heathrow on his way to India with a mate, and then followed the journey there Id written about. Literally day by day he’s always been a big fan of my writing, and incredibly supportive and helpful with it. No surprise then when I say I’m actually writing this in his place in Edinburgh which he has allowed me to decamp to to finish ‘The Knockers’ screenplay.
The biggie. The only true hero I’ve ever had and the only person to render me speechless when I met them. It was by pure good fortune that whilst scouring news and event details in the ANC HQ in Johannesburg just before the elections in 1994 I could hear those dulcet tones in the distance. I looked outside in the corridor and there he was coming towards me, flanked by a couple of aides. I ran out, spluttered ‘excuse me Mr Mandela, I just wanted to wish you good luck for the election…’ “Oh where are you from?” “London”, suddenly this most amazing man has turned it completely on its head, he’s taken my hands in his and is thanking me and the British Anti-Apartheid movement for their major involvement in the struggle and for actively helping in getting him released from prison … what???!!! He’s thanking me now!! It’s supposed to be the other way round … but it’s true, it’s all true – the warmest, most sincere human being you could ever hope to meet in your life. How lucky I am. I wished I’d done the old ‘arms-round-my-mate’ picture with him but didn’t, I still had my photo-journalist’s head on, and took a couple of lovely intimate shots that will feature in the upcoming exhibition ‘The End Of Apartheid’. But nothing can match or stand up to the feeling I got from this wonderful man, easily the most important person I’ll ever meet in my life and now we have lost him. I hope his inspiration lives on for many generations to come and that he rests in a truly deserved peace
As a photographer you’ve shot so many people, from David Beckham, Ronaldo and Maradona, to The Stone Roses, Oasis, Strummer and Lemmy, Mandela, Scargill and Castro … and that’s just to name a few. Plus you were Primal Scream’s official photographer and captured some of the band’s greatest images.
But who gave you the best picture, which images are you most proud of?
There really are too many to even contemplate, but I’ll give you these two…
The Primal Scream ‘Wasted’ picture that was on the cover of ‘Rocks’ and on the vinyl gatefold sleeve of ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’. It’s not only become the iconic image of those hedonistic times with a group well know for their ‘antics’, but also it’s seen as classic of rock and roll photography now of which I’m incredibly proud. The funny thing is they are less wasted but rather just exhausted having literally just left the stage in New York City on their first tour of America. The ‘exhaustion’ didn’t last long of course as 12 hours later you’ve found us still well at it in some house party downtown, taking Screamadelica to Mahattan.
And not just because I am in the middle of production on ‘The End Of Apartheid’ exhibition upcoming in London, but Ive always said I doubt I’ll ever take a better nor more important picture than the one that I call ‘Victory’. It was 1994, on the streets of Hillbrow, Johannesburg during the best street party there ever was and will be for me. It was quite simply the day apartheid died forever, the day that the Nationalist leader De Klerk telephoned Nelson Mandela and conceded the elections to him, thus carving in stone the ascent of Mandela to president of the new South Africa. A momentous day and a momentous time, I feel this picture just sums up what everyone surely was thinking, ‘finally it’s over’. It was completely fortuitous how the composition fell into place, and it was taken with the cheapest of cameras, and although I’ve been told this was a world-wide front page picture if I’d got it into a press agency that night, I didn’t know at the time – I was as drunk and delirious as everyone else and was quite probably dancing with the fella himself. The final word I’ll leave to 6 Music DJ Mary-Anne Hobbs when I posted the picture on twitter the night that Nelson Mandela passed away. “Never have I seen a man look so ecstatic in my life.”
So what’s on your radar these days Grant, what are you diggin as far as music and anything else going on right now?
I think the music scene is really in rude health again on this island, I really do. Last night I photographed Ibibio Sound Machine for example in Dalston and they are rocking! Young Fathers, The Bohicas, the Metronomy record is really good, loved London Grammar and The XX – there’s just so much great stuff it’s hard to keep up. And if the rumours are true that the Stone Roses are going to lay some new material on us – I expect that will be mind blowing because like so many acts that have ‘matured’ so-to-speak, and you can include Primal Scream and Paul Weller in that, they just get better and better. And Lord knows what would happen if Oasis ever did re-form (and I’m up for bass on that one let it be known now! haha).
It’s just nice that there’s a generation coming through that think the whole X factor bollocks is as redundant as all us old punks do. Lorde, Kings of The City, Jagwar Ma, The Strypes, M.I.A. Then there’s all that Soundway Records latin stuff I just love, and the new house music of Disclosure, Daniel Avery, Shea Burke. And then our American cousins Chic and Prince are still ripping up the dance floor, Bowie who I’ve followed since I was 12 appears out of the blue with a masterstroke, and I still believe The Roots Manuva album is yet to come … and the prospect of that is just mouthwatering.
As well as the ‘Hasta La Victoria’ exhibition you put together the ‘Trainspotting20’ film with Irvine Welsh, and I believe you’re working on your own book as well as something to mark 20 years of Screamadelica?
‘Trainspotting20’ was actually just a short film I made with Irvine to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the book’s release last year. That was fun, I like working with Irvine a lot and he’s really encouraged me as a writer and a director. It wasn’t a commercial release just something he wanted to do and put online, and for me it was a great opportunity to pay homage to one of the greatest novels of the 20th century.
Book-wise it’s the story of my adventures that will be next, and then when I can find the time I’ll collate all the Primal Scream video and film I’ve shot alongside the stills for 20-odd years. There’s amazing musical history right there and it will come under the title of Screamadelica. Hopefully I can release a trailer in the next couple of months. I’m also working on directing a (definitive) Jam documentary and also looking at doing something with the vast amount of material I have from the period around the turn of the century when the dance music thing went truly global. And The Knockers feature film will come out ASAP!
Is it also true you’ve actually shot a film covering the DJ Paul Oakenfold, if so when can we see it?
Well whether that will ever see the light of day who knows … once a good mate (of 17 years) I foolishly entered into a partnership without a contract with him to make a full-length feature, a tour documentary shot all over the world that took 2 years to make, on no money. OK, I’m not complaining, the travelling was great, but we still have to pay our bills whatever we do and then, just on the eve of release (of an agreed cut he had signed off on) he had what can only be described as a ‘funny turn’. No one can get to the bottom of what went through his head but he stamped on the film, killing our friendship in one go, and then when I tried to at least get my expenses and my own investment back he put lawyers on me that started an elongated nightmare scenario that quite frankly I wouldn’t want to revisit here.
That’s a real shame, not too mention a big waste of time and effort, but more so the financial input you must of put into it. Can I ask you what it’s like when some thing like that happens, what does it do to you as a film maker, a photographer and artist, never mind financially?
It is, it’s a big shame because it was nothing but good for him, a decent film I believe given the limitations of digital film-making at the time, and as a result so much was lost. Least of all my respect for him and what he did with Acid House, and the negative effect it had on both photography and film-making for me is incalculable. It put me back many years and sunk me into a debt that having been caused by a multi-millionaire (mate) is just lower than low and very hard to take.
I will re-cut some of this material as I said above for a completely different look at that period and I will catch up with him one day (that’s if the bad karma accrued doesn’t get to him first) but obviously I’m in no rush to do anything for or about a tragic old ex-superstar DJ ever again.
Lastly Grant, where and when can we see the ‘Hasta La Victoria’ exhibitions?
- Outlaws Yacht Club, New York Street, Leeds until March 10th.
- The Old Hairdressers, Renfield St, Glasgow 13-25 March.
- The Pelirocco, Regency Square, Brighton 3rd till end of April.
Then dates to be confirmed in either Liverpool or Manchester and Bristol.
At this stage, from there it’ll go to Granada Spain, New York, Mexico City and rightly so it’ll end in Managua, Nicaragua, on the anniversary of the revolution.
Follow Grant Fleming on Twitter – @GrantyRio.
The full gallery of photos Grant sent to us is below. Click on each to view full size.
All words by Carl Stanley. More writing by Carl on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.