[photo: Peter on the right with Marc Zermati from Skydog International]
TEDDIE: You were the first punk photographer with inside access to the figureheads of the movement. How did you get into it?
PETER: It was quite bizarre actually. I was a working fashion photographer and advertising photographer in London. I was quite friendly with a girl called Judy Nylon. She went on to form a band called Snatch with my first wife at the time Patti Palladin. Judy was from the States and I knew her from modelling. She was like a model/stylist and she was going out with a guy called Brian James who was the guitarist in The Damned. She asked me to take pictures of the band for free as they had no money. I agreed to take pictures as long as I got to do what I wanted, and we did the pies in the face photos. Basically, I did one photo session. Soon after that, about 6 months later, they got signed by Stiff Records. Andrew Jakeman aka Jake Riviera at Stiff Records saw these pictures I’d taken and loved them and wanted them for the album front cover. So I went down and worked a deal with them, because again, they didn’t have any money, bla bla bla, the usual story. There was also a poster and they did a songbook.
Barney Bubbles (Colin Fulcher - radical English graphic artist) had worked for Stiff records during Glastonbury, and he came back in to the equation. I felt it was like getting the old guard back together and mixing it in with some new blood. Then I did a single cover for Nick Lowe at the time called Bowie, which was part of the deal and they had to pay for that photo session. And also at the time, I opened up a company with Barney Bubbles, which very few people know about, called Exquisite Covers. As the Punk thing advanced and every record label was signing a token punk band or repackaging some of their older bands in a more modern up to date punk aesthetic, Barney and me would churn out the record covers. Basically they would be sending us a lot of material that they had. We would send back fluorescent blue and pink with black lettering all over it. They would love it. The worst job we could do, the better it was for them. That was a money-spinner for a while and it snowballed.
People were using different names at the time like Rat Scabies etc and someone asked me if I would like to use my name on the photos. At the time I had a number of fashion clients and I don’t know what they thought about that work, but more as a spoof I used Peter Kodick, which was a play on the word Kodak, obviously. I had a couple of other names I used to use. As the years progressed it became more and more difficult to remember who people knew me as, Peter Kodick, Hugh Heffer was another one, or Peter Gravelle, so it got a bit crazy. Anyway The Damned weren’t the first punk picture that came out as I’d already done some single covers but it was the first punk album and it got me a lot of exposure. I was working with Generation X and the Sex Pistols. I went to Scandinavia on the tour with them [Sex Pistols] and trying to get a lot of pictures of them, but Malcolm McLaren wasn’t paying me. McLaren was too cheap to hire anybody.
What happened afterwards was like an explosion. Every major record company would sign a punk artist, just in case it wasn’t a fluke. In the beginning hardly any of them had been in front of a camera before, let alone thought of record covers. And there was also a lot of bad press, mostly around the Pistols, spitting on photographers and stuff. Some of the old guard photographers, people like Gered Mankowitz, didn’t want to know any of these people. So the record company had signed the band and then thought about who they should get in to do the photographs? I know, lets get a punk photographer. Ray Stevenson was a good photographer, but he was a “snapper”, he was a very good snapper but he mostly did live gigs. He wasn’t a record cover guy. Later on, there was Dennis Morris, he was the same. He did do a PIL first album cover. If you take a look at the original photos and how they came out on the album cover, well that’s quite interesting. He too was not a professional studio photographer. My conflict became more of, I wanted to do just the photographs. I didn’t always come up with the ideas. That would be a collaborate effort, but I didn’t really want to be stuck doing the graphics. People more and more tended to want you to. I really should have used it as a springboard, looking back, getting into doing video’s and all sorts, but I was at the time, and probably still am in a way, a purist as regards photography and I can’t change that. I can’t be one of these universal people. So I enjoyed a period of about two years where I could just go to any record company and ask for whatever I wanted. It cost £2000 back then for a photo session, so it was a fortune. And they would say yes, because they didn’t really have an option. That worked up until about 2000 or so when hard-core punk was sort of demising. Then came the New Romantic etc and the market had fallen through. By that time I had moved to New York anyway.
TEDDIE: I just want to stay in the late 70’s for a little while longer. You have done some amazing work, but we can’t ignore the elephant in the room, our mutual friend, Sid Vicious. Every time I talk to someone that knew him, Maida Vale seems to come up. Did you also live in Maida Vale, North London?
PETER: Yes. We all basically lived in Maida Vale. Sid didn’t live in Maida Vale at this time, but he did soon after joining The Sex Pistols. Maida Vale used to be known as the place to keep all the prostitutes for the west end. It was still a nice area, but there were a lot of empty houses so people squatted. There was a mixture of people there, which was quite good. And because of where Maida Vale was situated it was just one short buss ride and you were at Marble Arch. So a lot of people lived there. Sid had moved in to an apartment, not very far from us. So basically after the club ended, everyone used to end up back in Barry Jones (guitarist for The London Cowboys and Johnny Thunders and co-owner of The Roxy, club in Covent Garden) house. He had a bigger apartment than the rest of us. He was in the basement, so we could play music loud and do whatever kids get up to. So that’s where we used to hang out mostly. Sid then moved down the road. Malcolm McLaren got him a mews place in Pindock Mews, and I lived in Elgin Mews, which was nearer the tube station. Five minutes walking, ten at the very most and you were at another mate’s house.
TEDDIE: So how did you meet Sid?
PETER: I can’t really remember. I might have seen him “out”. In the beginning there was these bars and clubs that people went to. There was The 100 Club; The Nashville was another place in west Kensington. It was a big pub that had a stage and they put bands on. I think I saw The Damned down there first of all. Basically there were places that people played around the giggy circuit. But there was no real meeting place. I think the only real meeting place was when The Roxy opened in Covent Garden. It opened in two phases. The first phase was for about 3 months only. That’s when Andrew Czezowski and Barry Jones were involved. They got fed up because it was basically, owned by a band of east end gangsters. It had been a gay bar before that and they took it over for certain nights. Then I think these people saw that the revenues had shot up and that there was something in this. When Barry and Andrew left, they found somebody else to take it over and run the place. But by then it had become the punk scenes place to be. I’d say it only lasted about 3 to 6 months. I’m not sure about the time span on that, but 6 months at the very most that this club ran for. It was a place to go every night. And if you look at the club listings you will find Siouxsie And The Banshees followed by Generation X followed by Chelsea followed by Eater. All these bands went on to have success and do well. Then The Heartbreakers came over and they would have this regular weekend residency there. The Clash played there a couple of times. The Sex Pistols never played because the Pistols weren’t allowed to play in England, which has all been proved to be false anyway. But they would hang out there all the time. Barry Jones’s flat in Maida Vale is where I think I met Sid and got to talk to him, the first time.
TEDDIE: You came over to Scandinavia in the summer of 1977. I actually missed meeting you.
PETER: Yes, I didn’t actually come up to Norway. I was only on the Stockholm part of the tour. We were playing pubs and it was ridiculous. They were tiny places. People knew the beer at the pub would be watered down or whatever, so people would be coming in absolutely loaded as they knew they wouldn’t be getting much alcohol at the gig. Drunk driving must have been a problem in Sweden at the time. Everyone had long hair and had come to rock. I guess it was a good place for them (The Pistols) to warm up together. They didn’t really care who would come. They did their 45 minutes or whatever and then it was on to the next one.
TEDDIE: Later Sid and Nancy went to New York they stayed at the Chelsea Hotel. Did you also live there at some time?
PETER: I did actually live at the Chelsea hotel for a little while, but I don’t actually think it was the same time as them. We used to rent a room at the Chelsea Hotel from Tennessee Williams. He was basically a slumlord, because he rented out 2 rooms to me and my girlfriend, Shawn, one of the many Miami girls that seemed to make up the New York City scene. Debbie Day was another. You could do what you wanted with the rooms. If you wanted more mattresses then you could have more mattresses. He wouldn’t know whom these people where, but as long as the rent was paid at the end of the week, he was happy. I think I lived there for a month, on and off, and then I got my own place.
TEDDIE: What do you think of what they are trying to do with it?
PETER: Well now it’s being turned in to a sort of regular hotel, isn’t it? It’s probably just a moneymaking venture. It’s funny what happened to Sid’s room. The room where Nancy died got turned in to a laundry. There were too many people going up there and wanting to be photographed outside the doors and all sorts of things. So they closed the room down. Everything they say about the Chelsea is true. It was like a real mixture. You walked in to reception and there were beautiful paintings hanging on the walls, some of which were worth a lot of money. There were some apartments right at the top that were very beautiful, and the rest of the hotel was just a dive. There would be drug dealers and vagabonds and vagrants. You could have as many mattresses you wanted in the room and if you’re not in the room that much and trust the people you are sharing with then it’s just a cheap place to crash.
TEDDIE: Have you tried to make any sense of the Nancy killing afterwards? Do you have a theory?
PETER: Yes, of course. There were too many open doors. When I bumped in to Sid afterwards, it’s too hard to go to someone you’ve known for a while and say “Did you kill her?” But why did he go to the methadone clinic? That’s the one thing that holds against him. Maybe he didn’t realize how badly she was messed up. You had to go to the clinic at a certain time and they gave it to you in a little cup and you had to drink some water afterwards. So him going to the clinic is strange. Then there are too many other questions that are unanswered. Like what happened to all the money that was there? What happened to their belongings? Too many things went missing. The door was open. I think something had happened that night. They got themselves involved in the low-level junkie scene in New York.
Sid would go down and play Max’s (Max’s Kansas City Bar), which wasn’t very far away. He put together a couple of messed up musicians to back him up. He would walk away with a lot of money. I forget the figures, but it was a lot of money and it was all cash. And all that money would then go in to Nancy’s bag. They were terrible, they would be walking around with money falling out of their pockets. Then they’d go to the hotel room where the doors are open half the time. People were walking in and out. It was too easy for someone to come in, maybe to steal from them. I imagine Nancy wakes up in the middle of the night and shouts “What the hell are you doing?” Pulls out the knife Sid bought the day before, and ends up getting stabbed herself. As much as Nancy was a complete pain in the arse as an individual, and as a human being, and virtually, in every regard, Sid sort of loved her in a strange way. You don’t live with someone without liking them with all their faults and everything. I don’t think he wanted to kill her, but if he did, she would have driven him to it. I think it’s more likely that somebody else came in and it was death by misadventure. The police stated Sid had said “I did it because I’m a dirty dog”, but that is a typical Sid expression if someone had been pestering him saying “I know you killed her.” It was a typical English sense of humour when doomed. Sid would have been mocking them in a sense. “Yeah ok I did it because I’m a dirty filthy pig”. And the police are saying “Yes great you admit it!”
TEDDIE: What did you think about the incident with Todd Smith, Patti Smiths brother? Was Sid spiralling out of control?
PETER: I wasn’t actually in New York when Nancy got killed. I arrived about a week later. I can’t remember how long he was in prison for after Nancy’s death but I bumped in to him at Max’s Kansas City. We were all sitting at a table. People were saying “Hey Sid’s out!” and they were coming up to him and slapping him on the back. Then this huge biker type guy came in. He was 6ft 4 tall and about 6ft 4 wide. He came over to the table and he said “So you’re Sid Vicious? You don’t look so vicious to me”. We all just ignored him. There were probably 6 or 8 of us at the table. So Sid gets up and we are saying, “Sid, what are you doing?” He stands up and says, “Fuck you!” and the guy says, “Fuck you too!” So anyway, we all get up. I think there were pills around that evening, probably quaaludes. You mix them with drink and you can go a bit doolally. So we left and went up to Hurrah’s, which is a club on the upper west side and quite large. It was myself, Sid, I think maybe Barry Jones might have been there too, but I’m not sure. And there was Dave Burkeman, who was my assistant. We went up there and the place was empty, but there was a band playing, loud as anything. We got a drink and had a look around to see if there were any cute girls around. Sid was standing quite close by, certainly not very far away, and the next thing I know Sid smashed a glass in a guys face. We just grabbed him and dragged him along to the elevator and took him off in a cab, but of course he was highly visible. People didn’t know who I was, but everyone knew who Sid was. So of course the next day he gets arrested. I gave a statement that there was an altercation between the two, as I didn’t want to see him go back to prison. I basically lied and perjured myself. I didn’t really see it. I mean Sid was tall and thin and Patti Smiths brother was a little guy. I asked Sid “What could he have said that bothered you so much?” But he would have this crazy bit where he just saw red and lashed out.
TEDDIE: Tell me about that last night at Michelle Robinson’s apartment.
PETER: What was really strange about that whole evening was that I’d met Sid earlier that day. I’d gone down to the courthouse with Terry Ork, from Ork records, who had gotten busted buying quaaludes from an undercover cop and he wanted me to come with him. This guy walks up to me and said “Your friend’s going to be let out in a few minutes”. It was someone from Sid’s legal team who had recognised me from making the statement earlier. He told me they were letting Sid out and that he should be downstairs within the next hour. So I told Terry I had to leave him as I had something else to take care of and I went downstairs.
I saw Sid’s mother, Anne Beverley, sitting there. Now his mother was a “no go” area. A lot of people maintain that Sid had this wonderful close relationship with his mother. Not that I saw. Any time that I was with him and he saw his mother come in to a place he would say “Lets hide, Peter”. He didn’t want to see her. His mother couldn’t take care of herself, let alone take care of Sid. Malcolm McLaren should have done a much better job on that one. It was like “send one reject over to take care of another reject”….Get a grip, Malcolm! But as long as he could wash his hands of it and as long as he didn’t need to pay too much for it, then it was perfect. It led to the guy’s death, maybe.
It was only about 5 minutes and Sid came down. We left the court together. Sid’s mother had picked up some “stuff” for him. It turned out she had been ripped off totally by Jerry Nolan, and had bought basically rubbish. He started asking me if I could get him something. He had things to do that day. I had things to do that day. So we agreed to meet up in the evening. He gave me his telephone number. I didn’t even know Michelle, or whatever her name was. He said he was staying over at this girl’s house. I said I’d see what I could do and I’d give him a call either way. Sid had to go and pick up some new clothes. When he came out of the courthouse he had black jeans, black t-shirt and black jacket. It was February and freezing cold.
TEDDIE: You gave Sid Vicious the heroin he overdosed on later that night. Where you a drug dealer?
PETER: If someone was getting some pot and someone else asks if they can get some for them too, that doesn’t qualify you as a drug dealer. Everyone did drugs and had their own way of getting them. You knew who to ask. But no, I was not a drug dealer.
TEDDIE: So when did you meet up later?
PETER: I went over to the house, I would say, probably about 8 o clock. There was nobody in the house apart from Michelle, Sid and Sid’s mother. I arrived on my own. Everywhere I see it portrayed like there was this huge party at Michelle’s house the night before Sid died. There are even people who claim they were there. Well maybe they were, but it must have been a 6 o clock in the afternoon kids party. There were two people who Sid knew from London that say they came over and “arrived”. Rubbish! It was only me. Some people just want to be associated with him and it’s pretty hard for me to comprehend. Michelle actually won’t say anything about that evening. A lot of people gain kudos’ by saying they were there the night before Sid died. I never said anything. The day after when I learned Sid had died, I felt it was time to lay low and stay out of it. The police never interviewed me. I was never asked anything. As far as the Police were concerned the case was closed. Junkie died; death by misadventure. Who killed Nancy? Well probably Sid killed Nancy, so we won’t really reopen that case. .
I got to Michelle’s house, as I told you, at 8pm and I left at 2am. And during that time, there were no phone calls, and nobody else arrived. I had to leave as I was going to see, I think it was The Only Ones, play their first gig of their US tour at Hurrah’s. I arrived so late they had finished. So I ended up just taking a taxi and going home. I was woken up the next afternoon by somebody telling me this story about Sid. I was more in shock then anything else because he wasn’t suicidal. We spent most of the evening talking about the songs that McLaren wanted him to do - one of the amusing ones being YMCA. And Sid was saying “There is no way I’m doing this song!” I didn’t ask him face to face – Did you kill Nancy? But we did get on to it a bit. I think his answer was more that he couldn’t really remember, but he thinks he didn’t. The more that it goes on, the more he thinks he didn’t and the more he wants to clear his name of it. I don’t think he would have killed her. They had been together for some time. I mean, did he not see any other way out of it? He could just have gotten on a plane to London, leaving her behind.
TEDDIE: Have you ever looked back and thought that if you had the chance to do it all again you would never have gotten him the heroin in the first place?
PETER: Probably, but if I hadn’t gotten it to him, somebody else would have gotten it to him. The person that sells a bottle of vodka to a guy who drinks it and runs over somebody, would he not sell that bottle of vodka again?
TEDDIE: Has being the person that got Sid his last heroin shot had any impact on your career?
PETER: No. Nobody knew about my involvement for a long time. I only told about my involvement years later when the Sex Pistols reformed. I did something for the Italian edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and it came out on Rockin On in Japan, just to clear the story about who killed Sid and who killed Nancy and what actually happened on the night of Sid’s death. If you look at the Gary Oldman movie, they didn’t really know how to end it because nobody said anything. Michelle never said anything and I never said anything. I was never interviewed. It’s quite annoying that people know more about that about me lately, than the photography work I’ve done. But it doesn’t bother me now. There is more to this story, but I can’t really go into that because it involves the possibility of a set up. It’s a tricky road to go down. There are certain things I can’t be absolutely sure about, but I could have been used as well.
TEDDIE: Yeah but why? Sid wasn’t important. He was just this guy called John. Why would anyone be interested in setting you up?
PETER: I don’t know yet. But I don’t think I can go into this at the moment.
TEDDIE: Do you know if they did an autopsy, or was it a case of “Junkie died – case closed”
PETER: It was a quick autopsy. I have never seen a toxicology report about what exactly was in his system. I think they see the needle marks and just assume it was just a heroin overdose
TEDDIE: Alan Parker made the film Who Killed Nancy and recently there was a documentary called Sid Vicious By Those Who Really Knew Him. You were in both, what do you think about them?
PETER: None of them came to any conclusions. Parker seemed to include everybody and anybody he could. It sort of gave him kudos’. I mean the guy has a big tattoo of Sid on his arm, so he’s got to be a bit strange. I think Parker took advantage of a lot of people. I think he’d make up a story, just for the sake of it. I mean, how many books has he written on Sid? 3 or 4? Talk about flogging a dead horse, and basically none of them are coming up with anything new. Parker brought in all these people who said they knew Sid. It was like “Yeah I was in a band and I played with him one time out in Utah”….”Oh really! So lets see what your opinion is”. Person didn’t know him, only met him briefly one day, for Christ sake.
The other documentary Sid By Those Who Really Knew Him, by Mark Sloper was the most sensible. The people that he interviewed were closer to Sid and did have some sort of idea what he was like. But some of them are almost gushing over with comments about how gorgeous he was bla bla bla. Obviously had been secretly in love with him back in the day,
it was just embarrassing. And others told their story about being a close friend and I’d never seen them with Sid ever…. So again people just seem to want to get attention and exaggerating their friendship with him, I think. People could say all sorts of things. Alan Parker has come out with all these things and then retracted them, the most outrageous being that Sid’s mother went in there and gave him his fatal shot on the night because she couldn’t bare to see Sid go through the pain and humiliation any longer. I saw it, but he says he didn’t say that because they “took me off camera”. Well he did say it. It’s just that he was caught off camera, so to speak. He would make up anything to make a story. There isn’t really anything that interesting in it. It was death by misadventure. And it wasn’t necessarily the heroin that killed him. When I left he was fine. Michelle had a number of sleeping pills, Quaaludes or whatever. They were drinking wine when I arrived. It was low key, but that’s not a good combination. I mean it could have been a combination of a whole bunch of things. He was clean when he got out. He wasn’t just clean from drugs, but alcohol, cigarettes, sleeping pills, a bunch of things. I think he choked on his own vomit in his sleep and that’s how he died.
TEDDIE: So what do you make of this punk revival that’s going on - old punk bands, reforming and touring again?
PETER: I guess they have to live. They can make money from it. I saw Gene Loves Jezebel are touring and I couldn’t believe it. They are a band that were never really big anyway and are now playing O2 Arena and stuff and selling out. And Siouxsie is still going. I mean if you are a musician and doing something valid, there is no reason you shouldn’t keep going for as long as you want.
TEDDIE: Who were you dating back then and where did you go after London?
PETER: I was married to Patti Palladin. Well we broke up, the least said about that, probably the better. She got a mews house out of it, so she was happy. I moved to the states for a couple of years, to New York, and then I went back to London and I lived with Victoria Guinness for the next 2-3 years, which was good and bad because obviously I had tons of money, but it wasn’t good work wise. I got myself together and moved to Los Angeles. Victoria and I split up and I moved to Italy and Milan was my base for the next 15 years. My basic first love was photography.
It seems like a lot of people from the whole punk era, their whole life was lived during that short period. I meet people and I ask “What happened to you? What are you doing?” And get the answer “Oh I don’t photograph. There is nothing like this around any more.” –to quote Stevenson or Morris. I had moved on and it was just one small incident in my life and didn’t involve the whole of my life. The only reason I even remembered it was as I was stuck in Italy for 15-20 years and I’d keep getting younger male models would come in some times and they would know more about punk and punk bands than I did. They would be reading up on all that stuff. They know the names and the dates and I’d say “wow, are you following this religiously?” For me, it was finished.
TEDDIE: What are you doing now? What are the latest photo’s you’ve taken?
PETER: I worked 15-20 years with fashion photography. Harpers Bazar, Vogue, Marie Claire. I’ve worked with them all. I’ve done campaigns for Versace and several others. I used to get embarrassed telling people I was a photographer. 15 years ago, before digital came I was also embarrassed to tell people I was a photographer. I mean every model that had been photographed decided they wanted to pick up a camera and take photo’s saying “I know how to do it.it’s easy”. It has become even more so now it’s digital. It has become more accessible, which in some ways is good, but the standard has lowered.
During my career I have managed to photograph a lot of people, not only the Sex Pistols and Sid, but also Tarrantino, Stallone and all sorts of people and some in very bizarre situations. When I used to write for Rolling Stone Magazine, they were basically interested in the Sid thing, and they asked me if I had any other stories and anything I wrote they would publish. I’ve met some brilliant, brilliant people and some absolutely crazy people. That work has to be catalogued down and I’m looking at doing a series of at least 3 books. The idea was to write a photography book, but with no pictures in it, I’ve virtually finished that. I’ve got a lot of my old stuff catalogued, which includes pictures of the Pistols and punk things that I did, plus all my early fashion work and later fashion work. It’s such an easy medium to copy so I have to keep things quiet, or someone steals the idea.
I do a lot of older music stuff these days as those always sell, and I sell a lot of other pictures. I never sell anything that’s not at least two years old. It’s the amount of time it takes me to digest that work. I’m not doing any more magazine dates, being super trendy. I’m not getting any younger and fashion photography is sort of like a young mans game. So for me to go back and do that, I would have to work with a team of assistants. Actually I wouldn’t mind doing that, we’ll see, but to do that work you need a strong ambition. You can make vast sums of money, but how much money do you need really? What I am going to do, will certainly be in a climate warmer than this one.
TEDDIE: And finally have you ever considered writing a book about your life?
PETER: People keep asking me to, but I think it will come out in the photography book. It will be the stories behind the pictures. I feel that writing about yourself is something you do at the end of your life and I don’t really feel that I’m finished with my life yet to be doing that.Interview by Teddie Dahlin