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New Zealand Music Features


Anthony Phelps, the photographer behind the new book "From AK79 to the Class of 81 (Photos from 1978-1982)" talks a bit more about his experiences behind the camera during this time. We also include a few photos and the book preface.


What was it that drew you to the music scene during this period -1979-1981? What inspired you to take photos?

I was doing 6th form certificate photography at Selwyn College, we were the first school in the country to have it as a subject I believe. Toy LoveThe TerrorwaysRetrox (Nigel Russell's first band - later in The Spelling Mistakes and others) and maybe the Scavengers all played lunchtime concerts at Selwyn which I photographed.

People often talk about how the live scene was a lot rougher back then. Did you ever run into trouble as a photographer? How did the audience and bands treat you?

I didn't have any problems that I recall, so assume I didn’t. I was only 16 when i striated in 1978 but was 1.95m (6’5”) so not a small fella. It was rough on occasion and I certainly saw fights. The Ramones was the roughest gig i can remember and I got very little in the way of photos from up near the front. I was thrilled to find the black and white negatives of pix taken from up high and behind the stage which I didn't remember taking at all until I took them out of the envelope they were stored in. Generally I pretty much ignored by the audience as best I can remember! The bands were good. I knew a fair few of them by sight and had done shoots with a few of them so a fair few of them sort of knew who i was. I gave or sold pics to quite a few of them in those days too.

For the photographers out there - what equipment did you use? Good Live Photos are hard to take, especially infirm. How did you manage that?

It was all a learning experience for me as I was just starting out in photography. I used Nikon gear in those days - a Nikon F2AS and later a Nikon F3 - 35mm film cameras. All manual focus in often very low and poor light pushing film to its limits. People just getting into photography in the past 10-15 years with Autofocus digital cameras have no idea how easy it is in comparison.

Why do you think this time was special in music?

There were gigs on at multiple venues many days of the week. We had loads of choice and many of the bands were very very good.


In 1978, as a 16 year-old, I started sixth form certificate photography at Selwyn College. Later that year I heard the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’ (it could have been ‘Anarchy’ or ‘Pretty Vacant’ - it’s over 40 years ago now) on Barry Jenkin’s show on Radio Hauraki. I was so excited I recorded it on my radio cassette to take to school and play for my mates.

I’d found music and bands I loved and still have the vinyl now that I bought then. The adventure had begun.

That year I photographed gigs by the Scavengers, Rooter, the Rednecks, The Enemy and at Selwyn, Retrox, featuring Nigel Russell, later to be seen in Danse Macabre. He is the older brother to my classmate Harry Ratbag, seen in this book both on the cover and in his band the Herco Pilots. I had lobbied at school for photography as a subject. In my spare seventh form period in ’79, I was doing my own photography course which helped hugely with processing film and making prints. That last year at college, Toy Love and the Terrorways played lunchtime concerts at Selwyn and I was out in town regularly covering most of the bands I now liked - Toy Love, the Scavengers, the Spelling Mistakes, the Terrorways and more. I sadly missed out on the Suburban Reptiles who were a no-show at the State theatre gig when I went to see them.

Somehow or other, even as a not very worldly 17 year-old I blagged my way in everywhere with no problems. I was 1.95m and had been the designated beer buyer amongst my friends since I was 13, so I must have looked older than I was!

The Ainsworth’s Hilary Hunt got me involved with the Class of 81 bands and I photographed many of them as a result. Later, I travelled to Sweetwaters in the back of the band truck and camped with them during that festival.

This book is the result of needing to go through all my old work to save negatives and transparencies partly-damaged from damp issues in storage over many years. Luckily there have been very few photos I haven’t been able to save by scanning and repairing them on the computer in Photoshop.

I was inspired by Stephen Penny’s book Punk Shots to take a better look at my own work from that time, and after poring over thousands of frames from hundreds of rolls of film shot mainly between 1978 and 1982 I found that rather than the 8-10 bands I thought I had good images of, there were many, many more. I don’t remember taking a fair few of them and some were a huge surprise and pleasure to find - like the Ramones shots from up high behind the stage on pages 32-35.

I initially scanned around 300 images from over 50 gigs and/or band shoots, with photos of around 40 bands, resulting in the 180 or so seen here.

As Simon Grigg says in his flattering preface, possibly my most seen or well-known photo is the AK79 record cover (see page 18) showing Terrorway Dean Martelli’s hand and Burns Flyte guitar, which was shot at the lunchtime Selwyn College gig. Most of the credit for the cover belongs to Terence Hogan, the sleeve’s designer.

I have a few favourites here - two of which are the Screaming Meemees train pic on Page 66-67 and Chris Knox with his head in bandages on page 50 and the back cover.

I hope you find images you like and that they bring back good memories of a great time.

Anthony Phelps Blenheim, February 2021. 


1 comment

  • I want this book From Ak79 to The Class of 81. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

    Bec Ball on

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