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Derek Ridgers

Derek Ridgers

Interview Gary Kemp

Portraits Kirk Truman

“I’ll tell you one thing though; vulnerability is very photogenic. You can see that 

in people…”

Derek and I are talking at Fitzrovia’s Berners Tavern, a few yards from the Soho neighbourhood where both our careers were born. Derek Ridgers is not a photographer – he is more than this. He is a social documenter and Londoner. His work has now spanned five decades of youth culture in our capital and beyond, appearing in the NME, GQ, The Face, Time Out, Loaded and The Independent.

Gary Kemp: Have we actually ever met?

Derek Ridgers: Oddly, no. I photographed your first gig at The Blitz Club in the late 1970s. If I remember right, I think I only got about three frames.

GK: Tell me, how did you get into this?

DR: When I was young, I didn’t really want to be a photographer at all. I wanted to be a painter. I knew the basics of photography and when I left art school, I became an art director in advertising. I started to carry a camera around with me, and one day I took it along with me to the well-known Eric Clapton concert he did with Pete Townshend and Ron Wood in 1973 at Finsbury Park Rainbow. I was right at the back, but decided to go right to the front to take some pictures with the camera I had with me. Back then, there was hardly any security at gigs. You could get as close to the artists as I see you now. When I got the images back from the lab, they weren’t all that bad, but they weren’t brilliant either. The following year I lined up a commission to shoot Betty Davis at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. This really felt like the beginning of me establishing myself as a photographer.

GK: You’re most famous for your pictures of youth culture, especially street and club photography. When did that interest spark in you?

DR: I went to see the The Vibrators in ‘76. As soon as they came on, the audience went wild. There was a lot of Punk types there. At this point I hadn’t really developed the confidence to turn the camera away from the stage, and onto the people – though this was the night where I made the change.

GK: Tell me about your work in clubs and your documentation of youngsters. How did you manage to get into the clubs as a photographer?

DR: When clubs like The Roxy opened in December 1976, I didn’t quite have an obsession at this point, but it soon developed and the Punk movement became key to my work. Youth culture was as much about the individual as it was me. I was able to relive a much more exciting, much more dangerous youth as a photographer that never existed in my own life.

GK: Would you say that the camera helped you with a certain level of shyness in yourself?

DR: Yes, totally. Like many teenagers during my youth, I was trying to avoid getting beaten up. Luckily, I never did. I spent my youth trying to avoid the Mods, Teddy Boys or the Skinheads in fear of a beating. I toyed with dressing up a little like a Mod as a kid, to dressing like a skinhead, but never felt like I got it right. Thus, I’ve ended up spending my life looking at other people.

GK: What was so exciting about that period I guess was that there was something happening on the street which was stepping up onto the stage. I suppose to me it makes total sense that you would want to photograph these kids who were trying to find their tribe.

DR: Dressing up was never really my thing. The camera became something I could hide behind. I could go up to Skinheads, or Hells Angels and talk to them as a photographer, whereas I wouldn’t have been able to have done that without a camera.

GK: How did you obtain the trust of these individuals in order to photograph them?

DR: I started photographing the Skinheads in 1979. It was accidental really. I went down to the club Billy’s expecting to arrive at the Bowie Night, but it’d been moved. There were a few skinheads and a few New Romantics hanging around. So, I started to take their pictures. I’ve always stuck to the same approach: be kind, be friendly, don’t tell them too much and if they say yes, take their picture!

GK: For me, what always captivates me about your images of these kids, is that there’s a sort of ordinary, working-class look about them. I feel that I can see an innocence and naivety in them. Do you look for that?

DR: Its never been something I’ve looked for. I’ll tell you one thing though: vulnerability is very photogenic. You can see that in people, especially some quite hard people, too, who are quite happy to go round beating people up. I just try not to do anything. Usually I just ask somebody to stand there, be still and be themselves. I will ask them to stand away from their friends so that I can capture them alone, regardless of their tribe.

GK: What do you think about most in taking your images – fashion, reportage or social history?

DR: Once I got properly going, I was told about the German photographer August Sander who I’d never even heard of before, and had come to realise there was a similarity between what I was doing and what he had done. I wanted to try and make my work a social document, though in the beginning there was little intention of doing so.

GK: Is there still youth culture today?

DR: Yes, definitely. They’re all over the place, but of course the Internet has changed how you find your tribe. Though I have this belief that when it’s warm, everybody comes out. And then you can see them. However, as a street photographer I have found that the level of access to images today makes it much more difficult to stop and photograph somebody.

GK: When the New Romantics hit, how did you get into The Blitz? I thought we were very quite strict about who we let in…

DR: Steve Strange didn’t want to let me in at all. Eventually I wore him down. At first he said to me, “Not tonight. It’s a private party,” which is what he said to most people. He kept me out there on the pavement until he eventually let me in. That’s usually the case anywhere I go. After an article was published in The Sunday Times about my documentation of that scene, Strange never excluded me again.

GK: Is there a frisson between yourself and your subject?

DR: Yes. I don’t think its any different to any relationship between the subject and the camera lens. There’s always an interpersonal frisson there. For me, my work is as much about London as it is portraiture and social documentation. I’ve been all over the world to take photographs, though I see myself very much as a London photographer. I’m a creative who wanted to become a painter. At a young age I guess I believed it was destiny… until I picked up the camera.





Words & Photography Kirk Truman

Once the home of London’s rag trade, Great Titchfield Street has more recently become home to a wave of thriving new businesses, ranging from dining – some of the best cafes in Central London are to be found here – to health and fitness. PerformancePro, co-founder Anthony Purcell tells me, arrived in Fitzrovia six years ago, because this was where its clients lived and worked.

After a career in fashion, Anthony went back to university to begin a new career as a personal trainer. “I gave up my role as a buyer at Paul Smith and took on a job as a cycle courier, which ignited a new passion for fitness and cycling,” he says. While working at a private personal training business, he met his PerformancePro co-founders Mat Grove and Daniel Boulle, and they decided to unite in creating their own fitness space and gym. “We always had a view of making the space a full circle of care for clients – physio, nutrition and science-led personal training,” explains Anthony. “At PerformancePro, we are a group of educated trainers who understand the science behind training. We believe in training people as if they were athletes. Basically, we train Londoners – and that can be anybody from financiers to creatives, from Fitzrovia and beyond.”

One such Londoner, no stranger to exercise himself, is Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, a keen cyclist. In 1981, Spandau Ballet’s first album, Journeys to Glory, turned the band into a household name and launched Gary’s career as a popular musician, respected songwriter and successful actor. Away from his life in the music industry and the stage, Gary has developed a passion for life on two wheels, and keeps up a regular training programme at PerformancePro. “I got into cycling about 10 years ago and discovered a real passion for the sport. I guess you could say it quickly became an obsession. I came to realise that cycling wasn’t only about spending time on the road, but about strength training to enable this. You might say that cyclists often forget about their top half, putting their energy below their waists. Originally, I begun working with PerformancePro to develop my cycling technique, stamina and general fitness,” says Gary. “Anthony and I met through our mutual passion for cycling, and later embarked on a number of group cycling trips in the UK and Europe. Since my mid-twenties I’ve tried to work out at least three times a week, maybe more – sort of essential and difficult at the same time when you’re spending so much time on and off stage in a band. I have trained with Anthony for a number of years now at PerformancePro. For me, having a trainer encourages me to push myself, and continues to further educate me about my own physical health.”

Gary explains that about 20 years ago, he had “an embarrassing rollerblading accident” in Toronto in which he broke his wrist and injured his shoulder. The injury, combined with years of playing guitar on tour, later required surgery to fix his broken shoulder tendon. “I spent six weeks with my arm in a sling. Though the real recovery from the injury itself came from the rehab I received, and the fitness regime built around my injury by Anthony and PerformancePro. It was key that I took the time to build up my strength again, otherwise I could’ve easily have ended up with a frozen shoulder in the long run. I guess this is a consequence of nearing 60 – you need to seriously take care of yourself!” he laughs. Luckily for Gary, he can call PerformancePro his local gym and Anthony his trainer.

As a regular myself, I can report that sessions are led by trainers who help with nutrition and realistic health goals in an environment which is tailored to your individual needs, and with no more than six people in the gym environment at any given time. PerformancePro is bespoke, small and highly praised by its regulars, who value its focus on rehabilitation as well as personal goals.



Thanks to all of our readers who attended our recent panel discussion with Gary Kemp at PerformancePro. For those of you who didn’t we would like to offer you a FREE 75 Min consultation with the team at PerformancePro which involves a little bit of investigation and a gym based assessment. After the consultation a 10% discount will be added to any purchase of 10 or more sessions.

Get in touch here…

Gary Kemp

Gary Kemp

Words & Portraits Kirk Truman

“There’s an artistic decadence about the area which still lingers – it’s the most artistically vibrant neighbourhood in London…”

It’s just shy of 10am and we’re siting up on the first floor of the Rebecca Hossack Gallery on Conway Street: me, Gary Kemp and Piper, his friendly miniature labradoodle. Gary has been coming to the gallery, just round the corner from his home, for many years. On this particular grey Monday morning in March, we’re surrounded by the work of the artist Barbara Macfarlane. But we’re chatting about fashion, not art, as Gary tells me how clothes have been an important part of his career, upbringing, and life. Designer Oliver Spencer joins us to dress him in a number of pieces from his latest collection, while Gary and I reminisce about Fitzrovia’s past, moving back and forth between Victorian London and the seedier side of the neighbourhood during the New Romantic era, when he first discovered Warren Street, Fitzroy Square and the Post Office Tower. To cut a long story short: we’re talking Spandau Ballet, music, fashion and Fitzrovia.

Born just up the road in Islington to working class parents, Gary was raised in a council house with his brother, and later fellow band member, Martin Kemp. As he was growing up and becoming a musician, place was everything. In his words: “You couldn’t find your tribe unless you went out the door. Today, you can find it on your laptop. In those days you couldn’t.” For Gary’s new wave band Spandau Ballet, the legendary clubs of Soho’s yesteryear – Billy’s, The Blitz Club and Le Beat Route – served as the colourful backdrop to the New Romantic era and helped propel them to massive popularity and lasting fame as one of the biggest British acts of the 1980’s.

Kemp’s relationship with music started at the age of 11, when his parents bought him a guitar from a shop on Holloway Road as a Christmas present. “I still can’t work out to this day why my father thought it was a good idea,” he says, “but for me, it was an immediate epiphany of wanting to write songs. I didn’t want to play anybody else’s songs, so instead I wrote my own. I think, in truth, I quite like being alone – I quite like the company of a guitar. When you’re a creative person, you sort of make your own friends, whether it’s a piece of art or a song.” Despite having started acting as a youngster, Gary now focused on a career in music, forming a band called The Gentry with school friends. His brother Martin was later to join the group as a bassist. After a friend of the band, DJ Robert Elms, saw a phrase scribbled on the wall of a nightclub lavatory during a visit to Berlin, The Gentry was renamed Spandau Ballet. Soon, they became a staple act of The Blitz Club in Soho, a hotbed of talent for new music and fashion, boasting an array of rising stars, from Boy George to Steve Strange.

Frequenting Soho during these early years of his career meant Gary soon discovered Fitzrovia: his first encounter with the area came in 1979, when he visited Boy George’s squat on Warren Street for a photo-shoot after a gig in Soho. “At this time, Fitzrovia was quite a seedy area. The square was a slum, the centre of the used car trade. It wasn’t residential, not in the way in which we know it today. Warren Street was where Boy George and his crowd lived. At the time it was the most famous squat in London, and we used to visit quite a lot. It was painted completely white inside, and they’d hung up lots of nets that would float around the place, with mattresses on the floor. It was full of the most interesting, cross-dressing, wild people. Costume designer Michele Clapton was there, stylist Kim Bowen, Steve Jones and Christos Tolera too; it was full of St Martins students, so it certainly wasn’t a squalid place like you might imagine,” he says. “The first time we went there was after we’d played at The Blitz that night for a photo session with the photographer Graham Smith. In those days, George – who wasn’t called Boy George back then – was a cloakroom attendant at The Blitz Club on a Tuesday night; he’d famously steal everything from peoples’ pockets. I remember him shouting down the bannisters ‘I can sing better than your fucking singer’, so I shouted back to him ‘Get your own band then!’ And of course he did,” laughs Gary.

Buying a synthesiser, Gary wrote what in 1981 became Spandau Ballet’s first album, Journeys to Glory, which led to the band becoming a household name. During the 1980s, Spandau Ballet’s success went from strength to strength, with Kemp writing many of the band’s early hits in his parents’ council house. In 1990, the band split – the same year that both Gary and Martin Kemp appeared in lead roles in the film The Krays, with Gary starring as Ronnie Kray. Tensions between the former bandmates spiralled over the publishing rights to songs, with singer Tony Hadley, drummer John Keeble, and saxophone player Steve Norman taking legal action against Kemp.

At this time, he lived in Highgate. By the early 2000s, many friends and acquaintances were beginning to move either to the then up-and-coming Primrose Hill or Marylebone, but Gary had other plans. “Even at this time, Fitzrovia was still run down. It’s always been this kind of no man’s land between Soho and Regent’s Park. It’s always had a kind of roughness about it, and has only recently become a decidedly upmarket area,” he says, “I like that Fitzrovia has a uniqueness about it. That’s what’s exciting about it; it’s inviting and is creating its own social existence. I suppose, the truth is I’m quite fascinated with the history and the people of this place. I like the idea of walking around the area and sensing the ghosts that came before us: the Pre-Raphaelites, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf. A pet topic of mine is the furniture, architecture and art of 19th century London, especially the work of architect-designer E.W. Godwin, which I am an avid collector of,” he says. Today, the area’s still full of creatives. There’s a very Downtown New York feel to the place now, that when I first moved here wasn’t around. There’s an artistic decadence about the area, which still lingers – it’s the most artistically vibrant neighbourhood in London. Fitzrovia has continued to pass the artistic baton down to the new generations.”

Gary moved to Fitzrovia about 15 years ago with his wife Lauren, having been drawn by the appeal of the area’s Georgian streets and squares. “The architecture and space of Robert Adam’s vision is embracing and wonderful. The square is like walking into St. Mark’s Square after emerging from the back alleys of Venice: the space just opens – it’s an embrace of oxygen. It’s a real pleasure to have Fitzroy Square as the centre and crown-jewel of the area,” says Gary. In 2009, Spandau Ballet reformed, with their reunion documented in Soul Boys of the Western World (2014), which Kemp co-produced. Following on from a nine-month world tour, relationships between band members are stronger than ever, and it looks as if there’s more to come: Gary and his band-mates are now talking about recording a new album and continuing to play live.

Gary Kemp

Gary Kemp

Words Kirk Truman

Portraits Sandra Vijandi

“In those days, place was everything. You couldn’t find your tribe unless you went out the door…”

He explains to me, “Now, you can find it on your laptop. In those days you couldn’t.”Gary Kemp is talking about the reality of his youth. He goes on to say that where the internet has triumphed, the place has died out. “Any important youth movement was based around a place. Our place was Billy’s, The Blitz Club and then Le Beat Route club.”Guitarist and chief songwriter for new wave band, Spandau Ballet, Gary Kemp unravels his own youth at the epicentre of the new romantic era and the origins of Spandau Ballet here on the streets of Soho.

Born and raised into a working class family, Gary grew up alongside his brother and fellow bandmate, Martin Kemp, in a council house in Islington. Kemp began acting in 1968, appearing on TV and film from an early age. When he was just 11, his parents bought him a guitar that they’d seen on Holloway Road, for Christmas. “I still can’t work out to this day why my father thought it was a good idea” he says, “but it was an immediate epiphany of wanting to write songs from the age of 11. I didn’t want to play anybody else’s songs so instead I wrote my own. I think in truth I quite like being alone, I quite like the company of a guitar. When you’re a creative person, you sort of make your own friends, whether it’s a piece of art or a song.” Here, moving away from acting, Kemp began to concentrate on a music career.

Kemp began his relationship with Soho as a youngster. The neighbourhood has been an integral part of his life–forward from his upbringing and into his career as a musician and songwriter. During the 1960s, after a screening of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’at what was then The Cinerama on St. Martins Lane (now London Coliseum), Gary’s mother and father walked him and his brother through Soho for the very first time. “My father was completely confused by the artistry of Stanley Kubrick’s movie,”he says. “On the way back, we walked through Soho to get a bus. In those days it was incredibly seedy. There were pictures everywhere of various models and naked women. I remember having this red face. There was this silence in the Kemp family; my parents were old working class Islington people, and anything remotely to do with sex wasn’t spoken about. I remember Soho having this danger about it.” And, of course, inevitably post-pubescent Kemp was quite excited by the place, unlike the child who had seen it in the mid-sixties.

Kemp recalls his first solo trip to Soho as a teenager very clearly. “I went to buy a pair of trousers that looked like the pair Bowie had on the back of the Hunky Dory album sleeve, sort of big loons, and then I bought one of those long-sleeved big scoop neck t-shirts covered with stars trying to look all glam-rock”he says. On another later visit, he attended a David Bowie gig at The Marquee Club when it was based on Wardour Street, Bowie’s last ever gig in Soho. After the gig, The 1980 Floor Show, he wandered with a girl and some of his friends about the streets of 1970s Soho, which was to be his first real glimpse of the neighbourhood. “I really felt it that day. There was this frisson of sexuality in Soho when wandering around its streets.”

With music becoming an ever-prevalent part of his life, he was quick to form a band with school friends, called The Gentry. His brother, Martin, who was more a sportsman than musician, was later to join the band as a bassist. The band started to make their mark on Soho’s club scene, and Kemp regards Billy’s as the club that changed everything. At this venue, the band became acquainted with the late Steve Strange – who, in 1978, began organising ‘Bowie Nights’, a club night that was later moved to The Blitz Club. At this time, The Blitz had been a normal wine bar in Great Queen Street. Soon, a mass of outrageously dressed former punks, soul boys, rockabillies and art students descended on the club. Thanks to Steve Strange and ‘Princess’ Julia Fodor, The Blitz Club became a thriving realm of creativity – the beginning of the Blitz kids. “Soho was a very scary place for us to dress up in,” says Gary. “We’d arrive looking like space men from the 1920s. There were teddy boys, punks and skin heads patrolling the area. To me it was just full of rats and old rubbish. It was very, very seedy.”

The Blitz was a collective – the most out-there of former punks. It became a hotbed of talent for new music and fashion. The club boasted an array of rising pop-stars, from Boy George to Steve Strange. After a friend of the band, DJ Robert Elms, saw a phrase scribbled on the wall of a nightclub lavatory during a visit to Berlin, The Gentry was to be renamed Spandau Ballet and became a staple act of the club. “Steve Dagger and I decided this was our time. I bought a synthesiser and wrote what became the first album. We became a household band. We’re more of a 70s band, really – the blue plaque is still there where The Blitz Club was, to say we played our first gig there in 1979.”

Their first album, ‘Journeys to Glory’ (1981), propelled Spandau into the limelight, with subsequent albums seeing them rise to worldwide fame. “Our band started on the steps of a club in Soho. As the band succeeded, became globalised, and our lifestyles changed, so did Soho,”he says. During the 1980s, Spandau Ballet’s success went from strength to strength, with Kemp writing many of the band’s early hits in his parents’council house. In 1990, the band split –the same year that both Gary and Martin Kemp appeared in lead roles in The Krays, with Gary starring as Ronnie Kray.

Tensions between the former band mates spiraled over the publishing rights to songs, with singer Tony Hadley, drummer John Keeble, and saxophone player Steve Norman taking legal action against Kemp. “There were various no-go areas on the map in fear that we might run into each other,”he says. “The day I won the court case was the same day the Admiral Duncan was bombed in 1999. I thought to myself, ‘my band is destroyed and somebody is trying to bomb Soho back to the dark days’. It was a bad day. Nobody really won, I just didn’t lose.”

With Gary taking on a number of acting roles in-between living his life and having children, 19 years since Spandau’s break-up had soon passed. “I was remixing a live DVD of the band about 10 years ago and I couldn’t believe the legacy of the band. I felt that the records that got played on the radio weren’t a true representation of the band and what we were best at. We gave a good show, my God we were good, and we had so much fun.” In 2009, the band reformed, with their coming together documented in ‘Soul Boys of the Western World’ (2014), which Kemp co-produced.

After a nine-month world tour and relationships between band members stronger than ever, Fitzrovia-based Kemp expresses a desire to record a new album and continue to play live. At present, he is starring in the suitably entitled play ‘The Homecoming’by Harold Pinter, directed by Jamie Lloyd, at the Trafalgar Studios. And Kemp is walking to work, through his old haunt of Soho, six days a week until the end of its run in February.