Saturday, December 11, 2010

Chalkie Davies

Chalkie Davies, from Penarth, is one of the people behind the Davies and Starr photographic agency in New York. Back in the Seventies and Eighties, however, he was one of Britain’s foremost rock lensmen.

Originally from Sully, he was schooled both there and in Penarth. His dad was a head of dept at the South Glamorgan Institute of Higher Education in Llandaff. At sixteen Davies dropped out of his grammar school and went to work for Cambrian Airways. This meant going to London to complete an apprenticeship. Davies had started taking photos as a kid; and going to see bands from the age of 12. After hitting London he got swept up in the music scene and decided to pursue a career in photography.

In 1973 he went to work for the NME after telling them that he could improve the photographic content of their music paper. He worked for them for 4 years. He also did stuff for The Face and other style magazines, before going freelance. Often working 20 hour days Davies came close to burning himself out and at one point had to take 6 months off work suffering from exhaustion.

In 1981 Davies published a book of rock photography called Pointed Portraits. Included were a couple of snatched shots: John Travolta at a London premiere of Grease; and Rod Stewart with Britt Ekland in a Hollywood restaurant – but most of the pics were posed. David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Adam Ant, the Buzzcocks, The Clash, Debbie Harry, Keith Richards, Dolly Parton, Mick Jagger, Sid and Nancy, and many others graced the pages of his tome.

Davies was particularly at home with new wave bands as he was of the same generation himself. He was a favoured snapper of Elvis Costello, for instance; and would later do the cover for The Specials’ debut album. He was even on friendly terms with Sid Vicious. Commenting on Sid’s relationship with Nancy Spungen, he said: “They were a really sweet couple. When they were away from everybody else, you couldn’t imagine anyone nicer. The trouble was when people encouraged them to do silly things.”

At the time Davies cut an enigmatic figure. He refused to be photographed himself. He apparently acquired the moniker ‘Chalkie’ after turning up at a football match wearing a white top. His real Christian name is “very Welsh” and so he stuck to the nickname just to avoid having the piss taken out of him in London. A cursory trawl of the internet will turn up many of his music pics including some nice shots of Tom Waits at Ronnie Scott’s. Davies eventually became disillusioned with rock photography and moved to New York.

I don't understand why this guy is not on our stamps. Or hosting a prog about photography on Welsh telly. At the very least it would be cool if Chalkie Davies’s rock’n’roll work was exhibited in Wales at some point.