Interview: Sheila Rock on ‘New Romantics “From Billy’s to the People’s Palace” Book
We caught up with Sheila Rock on the day of the launch of her new book New Romantics – “From Billy’s to the People’s Palace”.
Tell us about the new book of photography. What should we expect?
New Romantics – From Billy’s to the People’s Palace is a celebration of a time when the catwalk was on the streets and night clubs; where young people expressed themselves freely and creatively through fashion and makeup. It was the beginning of transgender awareness in that many barriers around self-expression and identity were challenged and broken down.
Who or what inspires you to capture culture in your work?
I’ve always been interested in the creative and peaceful rebels and mavericks in society who dare to take risks for their own self exploration. Often they are artists in varying fields who challenge the mores of society by pushing boundaries and challenging the status quo in new ways.
Tell us about what it was like at clubs like The Blitz, Billy’s and The People’s Palace.
The one-off party night at People’s Palace was on Valentine’s Day and walking into the Rainbow Theatre at Finsbury Park was like a dream; a waterfall of splashy colour and flamboyance – this was the ultimate event for dressing up and displaying sartorial extravagance. Before this, Billy’s and The Blitz were regular evenings, and although they of course attracted a flamboyant and stylish crowd there was a different atmosphere as they were small venues with more of an exclusive feel. The Billy’s and Blitz crowd were there for the music – Billy’s was specifically set up by Rusty Egan and Steve Strange as a ‘Bowie Night’.
What advice would you give those wanting to document counterculture?
Things have changed – it is not the same as it was. This New Romantic period, like the formative years of punk, will never be repeated – a jewel to be remembered. Finding yourself in the right place at the right time is a great opportunity and my advice to photojournalists is to keep your mind open, eyes wide and just do it – you won’t get a second chance to capture these fleeting moments in social history.
What are your favourite London haunts?
Nowadays I love The Chelsea Arts Club – I haven’t danced in many years though!
I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like free, cheap & offbeat London, especially: cabaret, art, theatre, pop-ups, eating out, quirky films, museums, day trips, social enterprise & much more.