Part One: Jamie Reid
Reid had been at Croydon art school with Malcolm McLaren in the sixties before forming the Suburban Press in 1970.
“It started off with our own community magazine which eventually lasted for six issues. From rather naïve beginnings it very quickly settled into a shit-stirring format, with thorough research into local politics and local council corruption, mixed with my graphics and some Situationist texts. […] We uncovered an amazing amount of information about prominent local councillors and MPs […] there was a lot of wheeling and dealing – jobs for the boys, construction jobs for big office blocks going to companies that they were chairman of, all the usual things that have always gone on…”
He would return to many of the graphics from Suburban Press as deadlines loomed during the heady days of designing for the Sex Pistols. And loomed they did – he was only given one night to knock up the artwork for the Pretty Vacant single by McLaren. The back cover used the “Boredom” and “Nowhere” buses which Suburban Press had designed for US “pro-situ” group Black Mask/Up Against The Wall Motherfucker. The front cover was done by buying and smashing a picture frame on the way to the office the next morning…
The Pistol’s next single Holidays in the Sun used the SI’s technique of detourning existing comic strips, in this case an advert from the Belgian Travel Service. It is quite amazing that the sleeve got through Virgin’s lawyers at the time, but given the outright hostility between Reid and Branson* and the downright subversive nature of some parts of the Sex Pistols camp, perhaps full disclosure was not on the agenda!
Inevitably the Belgian Travel Service took out an injunction and Jamie had to destroy the original artwork in front of their solicitor. That sounds both overly theatrical and completely meaningless in the 21st Century – with digital media destroying “the original” is an oxymoron, and I’m sure that ad agencies would be more than happy to strike some sort of co-sponsorship deal in these post-modern times. Having said that, I’m guessing that the destruction order was as much about humiliation than ensuring no further copies were circulated.
Reid’s work before, after and during Suburban Press is detailed in Up They Rise: The Incomplete Works of Jamie Reid (Faber & Faber 1987).
*Obligatory name drop – I had a brief chat with Jamie Reid at the 1989 Festival of Plagiarism held at Transmission Gallery in Glasgow. We discussed the sudden disappearance of the “Cyber-Punk” issue of Vague Magazine from Virgin Megastores across London. I asked him if he knew anything about it, given that he’d designed the cover – which featured Richard Branson in a balaclava. (The inside cover was a flyer by persons unknown ripping the piss out of a Virgin store in Glasgow for being run by hip-capitalists).
Anyway he didn’t know anything about the mag disappearing, but was happy to confirm that he’d always hated Branson, and had never trusted him. Jamie seemed well into what was happening at the Festival of Plagiarism, though – in his element wandering around chatting to people.
Part Two will follow in due course…