London Rock: The Unseen Archives by Alec Byrne - review

Vintage snapper’s priceless legacy curated

Cover art for London Rock: The Unseen Archives by Alec Byrne

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Ah, charisma, that most elusive of all qualities, has it ever been in shorter supply? It would appear not. Then again, we’re a tough audience; a rock generation long since spoiled by a surfeit of the stuff, rendered immune to any given starlet that sparkles short of a Bowie. A single glance between these reassuringly substantial pages is evidence enough to suggest that Alec Byrne is more than partially responsible for our predicament, because his (largely monochrome) portraits of 60s and 70s rock royalty often serve to define the term precisely. The Who, Kinks, Bowie, Bolan, Hendrix, Beatles and Stones are all here, looking almost supernaturally ‘cool’, before the word was hijacked by dullards and rendered meaningless.

An NME photographer from ‘66 (when just 17), Byrne had an intuitive eye for an image, and often reached beneath the surface to capture the story within. There’s a 1967 shot of The Yardbirds here, where Jimmy Page’s steady front-and-centre gaze of entitlement – as Keith Relf struggles to peer into shot from the rear – foretells the near future with a crystal clarity. 50 quid, but a thing of rare beauty.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.