Bruce Springsteen, Hammersmith Odeon, 1975: Photographing the man against the (hype) machine
In late 1975 Bruce Springsteen came to London. The record company hype machine in America proclaimed him the messiah, he was on the covers of both Time and Newsweek wearing a cute ‘Po Boy’ cap. But he was a shy and sensitive artist and the hype bore heavily on his shoulders.
He played two shows at the Hammersmith Odeon and the NME sent me to the second night. There was to be a reception after the show in the Balcony Bar. I knew that the only way to get from backstage to the bar was to walk around the building to the front entrance, so I waited patiently near the theatre figuring I might be able to get a photo of Bruce.
Eventually a disheveled looking Springsteen walked alone out of the stage door and headed towards where I was waiting with a few fans. Then someone called his name from a car and he walked over to talk to the people inside, wearing the same beaten up woolly hat that he had performed in. He looked just like a homeless person asking for change, not like the “future of Rock ‘n Roll” at all.
A couple of fans ran over to get autographs which he happily gave them, then, as he walked towards the Odeon, he looked up and saw the large sign above the entrance, “Finally London is Ready for Bruce Springsteen.” I got one frame of this moment, exactly as he read the sign.
Springsteen’s mood immediately changed, he appeared agitated and upset. I refrained from further intrusion with my camera, but I watched as he went inside and started ripping down a poster from the wall inside the theatre. He had a heated discussion with some Record Company Executives before sitting on the stairs and spent the rest of the evening talking with his fans, he was much more at home with them than the Music Biz people at the party. Later he had his manager tell CBS that they must drop the campaign, and sell records because of the music rather than with hype.
It was one of the greatest live shows I ever saw, starting with an a capella version of Thunder Road with only a piano accompaniment before he was joined by Big Clarence, Little Stevie and the E Street Band and launching into a full blown Rock ‘n Roll experience like no other. He called his songs Street Operas and that’s exactly what they were.
His success has probably been even greater than anyone expected. Nearly 40 years later he continues to enrapture audiences worldwide with his performances.
Editor’s note: Chalkie Davies was one of the UK’s major music photographers of the 1970s and 1980s. Starting with London’s New Musical Express and later working with style magazines and shooting album covers, he captured some of the defining portraits of the era’s biggest artists from Elvis Costello, The Specials and the Clash to Wham!. Moving away from music in the 1980s to establish a successful commercial studio in New York, most of his archive has not been seen for 30 years. See more of his work on gettyimages.com.