With his candid black-and-white photographs, Paul Hallam captured unique moments in the revivalist mod scene of the 1980s.
We talk to him about music, social media and feeling like ‘a member of Steps singing with the Beatles’.
“I was a mod in the 1980s and when I was out and about I took pictures just really to document what was going on,” says Paul.
“I am not a photographer by any means.”
Paul first encountered the mod scene in 1977 when he watched a horror movie trailer featuring the music of the Beatles.
“I liked it so I went round to my sister’s house and said ‘Can I borrow your Beatles albums?’.”
Attracted by the style and music from there he discovered other bands including the Kinks. However, he was initially sceptical about mod revivalists like The Chords and Purple Hearts.
“I think I was too young to appreciate it at the time, it’s weird because they are my friends now.”
In 1980 Paul asked for straight trousers and Hush Puppies for Christmas. When he got them he was ready for his first club night at Feltham Football Club.
“I carried on and I got into it, I got into it deeply.”
The club scene
Paul started to DJ when he was 17. He laughs he was ‘arrogant’, didn’t like the music clubs were playing and thought he could do better.
He went on to run Sneakers in Shepherd’s Bush – still remembered as ‘the’ mod club of the 1980s.
“I did my fair share of DJing around the country and around Europe,” he says.
“A lot of the pictures were taken while I was DJing which is nice.”
However, he said touring Europe wasn’t so easy to arrange before the days of social media and international calling plans.
“When I used to DJ in Belgium they would write me a letter saying ‘Hi its Belgium, can you come and DJ?’ and I would write back saying ‘sure’. Occasionally you would use a phone call.”
Odds & Sods by Paul Hallam
Between 1982 and 1985 Paul took around 70 pictures on his Olympus Trip camera, developing them in black and white.
“I didn’t do much with them really, I just put them in a box and left them on the shelf.”
Then, a few years ago Paul started putting four or five images a week on social media when he ‘had a bit of spare time on a Sunday’.
It was these posts that led to him being approached by Ewen Spencer. Ewen was writing and narrating Street Sound and Style for Channel 4.
The show aimed to cover the symbiotic relationship between style and music with the first episode, New Breed, looking at the mods and skinheads of the early 1980s.
When Ewen discovered Paul’s amazing stash of images he asked if he could create a book from them.
“I thought ‘Who wants to see those, it is just a lot of old pictures of people in clubs?’ but obviously he did publish it and its been massively successful,” says Paul.
Paul describes the end result – Odds & Sods published in 2016 – as ‘just absolutely fantastic’.
“I publish books but I didn’t have anything to do with this, I just gave a metal tin to Ewen and he picked which images to include.
“It is a real work of art, it is printed on really heavy duty paper.
“The way it is printed and its introduction it has been so well received. I don’t think I have read anything where someone has said ‘This book is a load of rubbish’.”
Paul says it was interesting to see which images Ewen chose, laughing that he might have chosen more ‘populist’ pictures of as many different people as possible in the hopes they would buy the book.
Stepping into the limelight since Odds & Sods’ publication, Paul has done TV, magazine and radio interviews and been invited to give talks at photography exhibitions.
“For me it has been absolutely fantastic. I haven’t made a penny out of it but you don’t do it for that. Someone is interested in what I was doing 33 years ago and that is amazing.”
The publicity has also allowed him to reconnect with people from his past.
“Social media is a wonderful thing for getting people together. I stayed in touch with lots of my mod friends over the years. But obviously you can’t stay in touch with everyone.
“I must have met 3,000 old acquaintances and some new ones, from social media.”
It has also allowed him to get a new perspective on some of his own images.
One in particular, taken in 1985, captured a group of people laughing and one guy throwing his arms up in the air.
Paul only found out after a recent talk that the guy – Enzo – had just found out his girlfriend was cheating on him with one of their friends.
“I had no idea, for 31 years I had no idea, I thought it was just a happy picture,” he says, adding luckily the group remained friends.
Another bonus has been discovering some previously undeveloped images.
“It didn’t necessarily bring back a lot of memories because every so often I would get the pictures down and look at them.
“But what it did was inspire me to look through all the negatives to see if there was anything I hadn’t developed.”
Paul had the previously undeveloped negatives professionally scanned and ended up with 30 new images.
“It is great seeing these pictures and saying ‘I have never seen these before’.”
Behind the Beat
Most recently, Paul’s images have been featured in the Behind the Beat exhibition at Spectrum Photographic.
He describes it as an honour and says he loved meeting the ‘proper’ photographers.
“I was like a member of Steps singing with the Beatles,” he jokes.
“It was absolutely brilliant. I did a talk last year at the Photographers’ Gallery and again it was that feeling of ‘I shouldn’t even be here’.”
Among the ‘proper photographers’ taking part in Behind the Beat was Gavin Watson. Paul says he was thrilled when Gavin took the time to comment on the naivety and freshness of his images, praising the way they were about capturing the moment rather than trying to be artistic.
Paul says there wasn’t much to be artistic with – his old camera had four settings, a flower, one person, two people and a mountain.
“In 1984 that worked for me so thanks to Olympus for making it easy for me,” he says.
Behind the Beat is on for the final time this weekend (May 27 and 28) from 10am to 6pm as part of Brighton Fringe.
It is being held at Spectrum Photographic, Frederick House, 42 Frederick Place, Brighton, BN1 4EA.
Main image © Paul Hallam
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