David Bowie, 1978. Photo: Bruce Jarvis, courtesy of Gow Langsford Gallery
Stairway to Heaven was barely audible over enthused voices inside Gow Langsford on Tuesday 25 May, where patrons of art, angsty teens and survivors of the 70s stadium rock scene were gathered to check out photographer Bruce Jarvis’ exhibition Rock Legends. The pictures were as diverse as the crowd – Stevie Nicks, Bob Geldof and John Mayall hung alongside Frank Zappa and Bryan Ferry; well coiffured businessmen in black suits chatted with aged rockers, while long haired 17 year old boys kept their distance from one and all.
“You won’t remember any of these,” DD Smash guitarist-cum-gallerist Gary Langsford told me, standing next to a 1979 photograph of The Talking Heads. “I’ve seen David Byrne twice, and he’s even better now than he was back then.” “Are there any of you?” I asked. “Unfortunately not,” he replied, “But there’s one of Hello Sailor over there looking very pretty.”
One wall devoted to frontmen mid-chorus was attracting plenty of attention, where a particularly tight-trousered Mick Jagger was flanked by two Bob Marleys, dreadlocks in flight. Another side of the room held photos of a historic – or curious – nature. Neil Young on a windsurf in the Auckland harbour, Eric Clapton (bearing a striking resemblance to Lawrence Arabia) on stage, Joe Cocker on heroin (or so one would assume from the dazed look on his face).
Each picture came with a story; one spoke of Rod Stewart plucking the toupee off a local promoter’s head at his concert’s after party, another of a press conference attended by Ray Columbus, Phil Gifford and Arthur Baysting, another of 41,000 people jammed into a David Bowie concert.
“They’re amazing!” trilled Noelle McCarthy, as Billy Apple, wine glass in hand, ambled past. “I want a Johnny Cash!” Then, pointing at a hazy shot of Robert Plant, she noted, “Imagine him rocking out in New Zealand in 1972. He would’ve been like a creature from another planet.”
I caught Bruce Jarvis in between conversations with friends. Does he have a favourite? “Maybe the one of Robert Plant, I have it hanging in my office. But they’re all my favourites.” Did he enjoy the ride? “It was work. I love music, and loved photographing the concerts, but it’s more enjoyable when you leave the camera at home.” How many did he go to? “Over 50 gigs in the 70s. There are 20 represented here. 30 photos from 20 gigs. These are the best of the best.”
No matter how glamorous a guy’s job might be, to his children, he’s still plain old Dad. Jarvis was no exception. Midway through our talk, his young teenaged daughter tugged on his sleeve. “Dad, I need some money.” He politely excused himself. She must have gotten what she wanted – just as her father took to the microphone, she ran out the gallery door trailed by two friends.
“Thanks for showing up, everybody,” said the photographer. “I think you should all buy a big one of Mick. And watch out for the book – it’s coming in November.”
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