Going Deeper: With Peter J Walsh

Going Deeper: With Peter J Walsh

We sat down with legendary photographer, Peter J Walsh, to discuss our new ‘88 collaboration, his working life and all things ‘Madchester’ during the revolutionary time when ‘Manchester became the centre of attention for the world.’

From pursuing his passion for photography and combing this with his fascination and love for the music and nightlife scene across Manchester, Peter J Walsh witnessed first hand the euphoric 'Madchester' years and the birth and transformative effects of Acid House on youth culture, fashion and club culture across the world.

Delve into our sit down talk with the man himself and really gain a feeling of what club culture was like back in the day and the inspiration behind our recent '88 capsule.

BODA : Hi Peter, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us! Launching straight in; You originally began your career working in areas of photography specifically surrounding music / nightlife.

How did this speciality materialise?

PETER: I started working as a documentary photographer, developing my own black and white pictures at a place called Counter Image which was on Whitworth Street, just up the road from the Haçienda. Before I started taking photographs in the Haçienda I used to go there as a punter. One night I came out at like 2 o’clock in the morning and I was walking past and saw this sign in the window saying ‘do you want to learn how to develop & print your own pictures?’ I thought ‘I'll go for that!’.

I used to go there and one of the first things they got us to do was take pictures of stuff that you liked or loved in Manchester. I came out of Counter Image, turned right, took a photograph of the outside of the Haçienda, and then went across the road and took a wider picture. I never thought I’d be in there a few years later just taking photographs all the time.

Your speciality of shooting live music and taking pictures in venues, was that something you fell into or was it due to an underlying passion and love for ‘the scene’ [nightlife]?

I loved dance music anyway. I used to go to the Haçienda about five or six years before I was working as a photographer there. I originally started working at City Life in Manchester as a freelance photographer doing portraits, fashion shoots and covers. They had a club section so they’d ask me to photograph different clubs like the Boardwalk or the Haçienda and they’d send a journalist to do a little write up so people could see what the night was like. Then, people could make a choice to go there.

So it wasn’t just about the music, it was about the cultural significance of it? You were going to capture the fashion and atmosphere as well as the music?

The thing was to try and photograph the nights to make them look as good as possible for the magazine. I was going to photograph the clubbers and get a wide shot of the club, stuff like that. Then, when the article came out, people could see how amazing it was and that it was a great night with great music. In those days there were no phones or Google so the magazines helped to promote massively.

You’ve mentioned previously that you recognise this period as an ‘iconic cultural moment on par with Swinging Sixties and Rock n Roll’. Was there a specific time or defining moment where you thought this and just how defining do you think that period [‘88 Second summer of love] was?

I think going into the Haçienda and photographing ‘Hot Night’. I had been there before and what was happening with the music and the people was revolutionary. As I was taking the photographs I thought there is definitely something going on here, not just in the Haçienda but in the wider cultural sense.

The city, bands, people, promoters, DJs and fashion labels all just seemed to come together.

I thought I needed to document as much as possible, something different is happening here so I need to photograph this for the future. 

It just exploded over a short period of time. The music was underground stuff as there were only a couple of radio stations playing acid house and house in Manchester. 

It wasn’t something everyone knew about, it was really word of mouth stuff. It was very organic in how it happened. Suddenly Manchester became the centre of attention for the world. There were people coming over from Europe and America all the time.

Looking back, just how significant was that period [‘88 Second Summer of Love?]

Yeah, it was quite amazing really. At the time, [Margret] Thatcher had been in power for quite a number of years and young people had basically been sold out. She wasn’t bothered about you and didn’t care.

With house music coming in and then the Second Summer Of Love, there was an explosion of creativity. All these people were going to the Haçienda and other clubs thinking ‘I can be a DJ, Promoter or I can start a Fashion label’. It was a real opportunity for people who were going ‘wow, this is amazing’.

There was a real community, you knew everyone who went to the Haçienda. It was underground for a couple of years before it went quite mainstream so people thought ‘I can do this, I can do anything really’. You’d be in the Haçienda and there was no VIP area because Tony Wilson said they were communists in the Haçienda [laughs]. So basically, you’d be in there and you bump into New Order, the Happy Mondays or Inspiral Carpets. People wouldn’t hassle them, you’d just be like ‘you alright, how you doing?’ and carry on. There was a real community atmosphere and it was really significant culturally. Because I had that documentary training from working as a documentary photographer, I sort of realised how important it was and that’s why I took a lot of photos of what was going on as well as stuff for the NME.

You’ve mentioned the positive impact that coming out of the Thatcher years had on people's creativity. Could you see a similar thing happening in response to the current Conservative Government and coming out the other side of COVID?

Yeah definitely. I think back then we lived under Thatcher for a few years and it felt like young people had been written off. There were no opportunities and no jobs. I think the melting pot of Manchester helped with the creativity,  the music and people like Tony Wilson and Factory Records. Tony believed in the city, its people and the music; his belief got things moving. Now is definitely a similar time, young people are much more switched on with politics and what’s going on and yeah, I think there could be a real creative surge against what’s happening.

Your first studio was on Sackville Street, could you tell us a bit more about this area and its role as an almost epicentre of this revolution?

Acid house happened just at the time all this was happening for me so I moved into a studio on Sackville Street. In the building there was me, Johnson / Panas who used to design all the posters for the Haçienda, and Central Station Design who did all the Happy Mondays covers. The Inspiral Carpets also had an office there where they used to print all their T-shirts and there was the Bailey Brothers who used to make all the Happy Mondays’ videos. It was this really creative hub and basically it just took off from there. It was this real, vibrant community. We were there for about a year and a half and then they sold the building.

Bringing it back to your collaboration with BODA SKINS, 1988 was a time synonymous with bigger, baggier and bolder clothing, something we’ve tried to channel with this collection.

How well do you think we’ve captured the essence of the time and what are your thoughts on this cyclical nature of fashion?

I'll be going through London and I'll see people dressed like they could’ve been coming from a rave! I think ‘wow’, this fashion’s really coming back so yeah, it’s definitely cyclical. It’s the same with the music which is coming back with new DJs and producers who weren’t around  when this stuff was happening. They’ve probably been listening to their mum and dad’s record collections; there are loads of old ravers that have kids now!

You must have some memories from your work as a photographer! Are there any live gigs or any personalities you recall the most?

I took pictures of the Happy Mondays at ‘The Other Side of Midnight’ which was Tony Wilson's programme. They did an end of series party with the Happy Mondays where A Guy Called Gerald and Mike Pickering DJ’d. Tony Wilson asked me to come and take some photographs, which I did. I asked before the gig ‘where can I go on the stage?’ and Tony said you can go anywhere, so I was about 4 or 5 feet away from Shaun Ryder and I took a really nice series of photographs of him.

I was later on set for the videos for ‘Kinky Afro’ and ‘Step On’ by the Happy Mondays - they were brilliant! I was also at Spike Island [Stone Roses]. There were about 30 photographers on some scaffolding and every time the crowd moved the platform swayed forward! I thought we all might die but we all just kept taking pictures. 

Following on from that, did you sometimes struggle to enjoy or appreciate these cultural events you were at because you were there working?

I was always appreciative of being there. I would be really focused on what I was doing but you could always ‘feel’ the event and at the end of the day, you have to get good pictures. It really drove me to get something good that captured the spirit of whatever I was at.

Can you give us a bit of background on the iconic pink-bathed dance floor shot of the Haçienda we’ve used throughout this collection?

I would always try to get really close on the dance floor and capture moments when people were lost in the music. I would look at the lighting in the club and how people were moving or what they were wearing and go ‘right, I'll get this image because that will look great.’ For that picture, I was up on the balcony waiting for the lights to change. I only had 36 shots before I had to change the roll and there was quite a wait for it to be processed! When I got that Pink Haçienda one developed I thought ‘woah’ that’s fantastic. It encapsulated everything about the club really. 

The energy was incredible in the club and that would seep-out into Manchester. You can’t describe it really, it’s like everyone was buzzing. It was an unstoppable energy really, and then it just spread out from Manchester, through the UK and then to Europe and the World. It was an incredible time.

One last question, if you could ‘bottle-up’ the atmosphere from the time, what three words would you use to perfectly describe this?

I think Acid House forever.

Thanks so much for your time Peter!  Is there anything else going on in your life that you’d like to share?

PETER: I’m talking to a new magazine called Disco Pogo who used to make Jockey Slut, a DJ mag back in the day. Have you heard of Altern 8? They used to wear masks before Covid and chemical warfare suits, their music’s quite hardcore rave. I’ve just done some photographs of them for Disco Pogo. I’m also just getting images together for another book.

You can shop our ‘88 by Peter J Walsh collection here.