‘70’s Rock Archive Photographs
13th May 2004 @ Sphere Studios, Battersea
She came a long way from St. Louis! At art college in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri (now Webster University in Webster Groves), Debi developed an interest in photography. (Actually, the first project she embarked on was a Super 8mm film of The Who performing a preview of ‘Tommy’ at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis – but her dog subsequently ate it! The beginning and end of a film career.
Cash earned working part-time made enough money for Debi to buy her first camera – a Nikon FTN. Combined with her interest in English rock/pop music, she began her photographic career by taking pictures of Rod Stewart & The Faces (among others) at a festival at Southern Illinois University (across the Mississippi River from St. Louis) in 1971.
Arranging to undertake an independent study in photography in England (tracing the history of folk and pop music) Debi and fellow Webster student, Dianne Mitchell, arrived in London in January 1972. They holed up in a bed and breakfast in Victoria (too afraid to attempt to use the ‘foreign’ currency) for a few days but eventually left the cold toast and soggy bacon and ventured further afield into London…and King’s Road (where Debi discovered Terry de Havilland and SHOES!). After three months, Debi and Dianne moved across the road to a small flat on Belgrave Road.
Debi then started on a whirlwind of concerts in London, photographing Elton John, Free, Procol Harum, Yes, Humble Pie, The Faces (again) at Reading and Led Zeppelin – all in the first year of her arrival. She met fellow female photographer, Jill Furmanovsky, at a gig. Jill was also a student, at the Central School of Art, and Debi used to sneak into the darkroom with Jill to process and print her films.
In this same year, Debi discovered she could sing. She had always sung harmonies to Beatle songs through the hose of the hairdryer at home in St. Louis, so why not join a band. She answered an ad in Melody Maker and found herself as one of two singers (Dave Thomas was the male vocalist) in a band called Reign, guitarist Robin LeMesurier’s group (Hattie Jacques’ and John’s son). Reign auditioned for a third singer and Shirlie Roden was hired, after an unforgettable performance of ‘Honky Tonk Woman’.
Debi wrote some of the songs and the band performed at venues like the Speakeasy where, one night, Robert Plant told her she was very good. However, a conflict of interests arose when Reign was booked to play the Fulham ‘Greyhound’ and Debi had the opportunity to photograph The Rolling Stones in Rotterdam. Debi went to Rotterdam; Robin fired her from the group for not taking it seriously…and then fired the rest of the group and became a Womble!
Shirlie had been working on a recording project at Konk studios, owned by The Kinks and heard that Ray was planning to tour a musical theatre piece called ‘Preservation’ with six singers and a horn section. Debi auditioned for Ray and got the job. For the next 3 1/2 years Debi performed as a backing vocalist with The Kinks, touring the US and Europe with ‘Preservation’ and Ray’s other projects, ‘Schoolboys in Disgrace’ and ‘Soap Opera’. They performed in St. Louis where Ray gave Debi a special introduction as a local girl. Strange to think that, at 12 years old, the first single Debi bought was ‘Well Respected Man’ by The Kinks.
Photography then took a back seat, except for the odd occasion. Debi did an album cover for Tom Paxton (Marquee Club) and Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance - and dressing room shots of Lindsay Kemp at The Bush Theatre, as she’d attended some of Lindsay’s mime classes in a church in Battersea and was mesmerized by his performance.
Debi then toured as a backing singer for the next 10 years, working with The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, Heat Wave (when Rod Temperton was the keyboard player just before he went to LA to work with Michael Jackson on ‘On the Wall’), Hot Chocolate…and Kajagoogoo. She also started working as a session singer and sang on Trevor Horne’s and Geoff Downe’s ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ with Linda Jardim. The Buggles asked Debi and Linda to perform in the video with other band members, keyboard player Hans Zimmer and drummer Warren Cann (from Ultravox). Debi was on tour with Hot Chocolate in 1979 when the song went to No. 1 and Errol Brown gave Debi a bottle of champagne and the day off to whiz to London to perform on Top of the Pops with The Buggles.
Debi also worked as a session singer for Dave Gilmour (on his first solo project from Pink Floyd), Ultravox, Chris de Burgh (‘Missing You’), Cilla Black, Twiggy, Mike Oldfield, Duncan Browne, Colin Blunstone, Ali Thomson, Pete Bardens, Steve Hackett, Nick Magnus, Bill Fredericks and Bill Wyman (as one of his ‘Rhythm Kings’).
In the ‘70’s Debi joined a three-piece female group put together by songwriters Dominic King and Frank Musker called Love Force. Debi, with Kim Goody and Kara Noble, sang ‘Fighting on the Side of Love’ and the single was released on RSO Records. At the same time, fellow label-mate Paul Nicholas had success with Frank & Dominic’s ‘Dancing With the Captain’, while Love Force sank without a trace!
Debi then joined forces in 1981 with songwriters and producers Tim Smit and Charlie Skarbek and the three signed to CBS Records as The Rhythm Slaves with ‘Electricity’. Muff Winwood, with Tim and Charlie, then decided the next single ‘Silver Screen’ should come out under the name of Dream Regime. Not the commercial successes they had hoped for, Tim and Charlie then produced Debi and a solo single, ‘Romantique’, was released on Ariola in 1984. Too quirky for its time, this single got airplay in Europe but was never released in the UK. So much for the solo recording career! (NB: Tim went to Cornwall to do a bit of gardening and established the Gardens of Heligan and…The Eden Project!)
At this point, Debi gave up life on the road for motherhood and also began singing jingles. She is the original singing ‘cow’ for Anchor butter and has sung on numerous other TV and radio commercials. In 1993 Debi decided to return to university and did a BA in Drama and Music at Brunel in Twickenham. For her final dissertation she wrote (for music) and performed (for drama) in a short musical theatre piece, ‘Two’s Company’. A PGCE in Drama at the Central School of Speech and Drama topped off her studies.
Debi has subsequently taught drama and singing to young performers and continues to work in the music industry in musical theatre and as a session singer.
The ‘70’s rock archive photographs were sitting around in Debi’s house for 30 years – in the attic, the garage (!), under the bed and in cupboards when she finally decided to have a look at them all. This has coincided with an interest in “retro” ‘70’s music (Debi’s daughter Lauren now listens to Blondie, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and even covers some of Blondie’s songs as a singer herself!) – so Debi thought that others may have an interest in seeing these pictures, some of which have never been printed before (The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Free, Chuck Berry). Debi only discovered the David Crosby/Willy Nash guitar cases negative by accident, when doing a darkroom refresher course last year!
In 2002, Debi was asked by Eagle Records to take photographs in Brighton of the Fatboy Slim (aka Norman Cook) beach concert. The day is infamous because 250,000 turned up on the beach in the sunshine. Debi was assisted by her daughter, Lauren (who took better pictures of Norman at the photo call at the Brighton Centre than her mum!), and the photographs were used for the Big Beach Boutique II DVD cover and booklet.
That concert started a new photographic career, 30 years later and Debi has since photographed Peter Green, Chris Rea, Toto, Electric Soft Parade and Madness. Only last month, Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran saw previews of this exhibition and Debi was telephoned by their management in NY to be their “official photographer” for the UK tour. At the Wembley concert, Debi was asked by Nick Rhodes to take a group photo. Debi ushered the boys into the ladies’ toilets backstage and took a group shot. Not rock archives yet, but give it another 30 years!!
Debi hopes you enjoy the photographs!