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The Marianne Faithfull Broken English Session

Exhibition preview

IN JUNE 2010, Snap Galleries, specialists in rare and exclusive music photography, are hosting a world exclusive exhibition in their new central London gallery space for acclaimed photographer Dennis Morris.

The exhibition brings together, for the first time anywhere in the world, a collection of unseen images of Marianne Faithfull from the session that produced the cover shot to one of her most important albums, 1979s Broken English.

Entitled The Marianne Faithfull Broken English Session, it will be on display from June 11 to July 31, 2010.

In 1976, Dennis Morris was a hungry young photographer with big ideas. Photography was his world. To say it saved his life would not be an exaggeration.

It was while bunking off school to wait for Bob Marley to arrive for a soundcheck at the Speak Easy Club in London that Dennis’ career really began. The photographs he shot that day of Bob Marley and The Wailers became famous the world over.

Sex Pistols frontman Johnny Rotten was a huge reggae fan, and personally requested Dennis to make the first official photographs of the Pistols.

By 1979, Morris was on the lookout for new opportunities. A major challenge came in the form of a job offer from Island Records. Dennis recalls:

“I had just accepted the post as art director with an A+R capacity, a first in the industry. Chris Blackwell, owner and founder of Island Records, offered me the job. My early signings included The Slits and Linton Kwesi Johnson, I also did all the photography and design for LKJs albums. I didn’t really want the job, but Chris was very persuasive”.

In 1979, Island had just signed Marianne Faithfull, Broken English was to be her label debut LP. When Morris heard the album, he was blown away by its lyrical rawness and Marianne’s sultry, seductive voice.

Island were searching for an image for the album cover that would be as arresting as the album. They brought in the big guns of the time: David Bailey, Barry Lategan and Clive Arrowsmith, but no-one produced ‘the shot’.

Dennis recalls: “I kept asking to do a shoot but the answer was always “no”. “It’s too big, you haven’t settled in” came the reply”. Eventually Tim Clark, the Managing Director of Island at the time said: “Give the boy a shot”.

“It felt right to book the studio for a late session with Marianne; I had the shot in my head, it was simple, the set was just one armchair and two lights; it was just about her: the voice, the seductiveness and I wanted to capture this on film.

“Marianne arrived at 8.30pm. Her first words were “Do you know who I am”? “Of course” I replied. “This will make you” she said, then “I must have a drink, let’s go to a pub”. We left the studio and headed to a nearby pub. I asked her what she’d like to drink. Making sure everyone in the bar could hear her, she said “I am not some cheap hooker you know. It is going to cost you at least £200” (the barman looked at me and winked). “No problem” came my answer. After several drinks she declared “I’m hungry, let’s eat”.

“We headed for an Italian restaurant, sat down and she proceeded to order everything on the menu. She only had a few nibbles. I asked for the bill. It seemed Marianne hadn’t been too keen on the food: she promptly overturned the table, stood up and shouted “Don’t pay, the food was terrible”. The whole restaurant sat in stunned silence. I paid the bill and we left.

“On the way back to the studio we bought a bag full of wine and plenty of cigarettes. When we arrived she headed straight for the changing room. I waited patiently for quite some time, then she appeared, glowing like a diamond that had just been unearthed. “Let’s do this”, I said “Do you want to f*** me?” she asked. “No” I said. “You’ll be the first” came her reply.”

Snap Galleries, 8 Piccadilly Arcade, London, SW1Y 6NH

Tel: 020 7493 1152