Snapshots of fame: The Sunshine Bores the Daylights Out of Me

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A treasure trove of photographs of rock royalty lay hidden for years. Now, fans can rediscover them at a new show, says Charlotte Cripps

These black and white images of rock'n'roll greats are just a few selected from a treasure trove of photographs that were lying around for years in boxes in the Brixton flat of the photographer Justin Thomas.

Thomas, a freelancer who started taking pictures of rock stars in 1976, had forgotten about them until a neighbour popped in for tea and spotted them. His reels of negatives turned out to capture some great moments in rock history, many of them in London. The prints go on show next month at the Sydney Street Gallery in Brighton, in an exhibition entitled The Sunshine Bores the Daylights Out of Me.

The snapshots include some of Prince, taken at the Lyceum in 1981 at his first British concert, carrying his leopardskin guitar and wearing a long mac and woollen stockings with silk pants.

There's a picture of Iggy Pop on a tour bus, with a front tooth missing and reading the Nursing Times. It was taken in July 1981, while he was promoting his new album Party. Another photograph shows Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood at a secret pre-tour gig where they performed all their Rolling Stones hits, at the 100 Club in London in 1982.

There are early pictures of The Cure at their first London gig, at the Hope and Anchor in Islington in December 1978. Thomas says: "I'd heard the controversial Cure song 'Killing an Arab', and I thought I'd check them out. I found them in their dressing room, which was like a little cupboard."

Blondie playing the Roundhouse in 1978 gave Thomas his first magazine cover, for Sounds. "I was very proud. I shot the image from the crowd," he says.

Rather more unusual is a shot of The Clash's Joe Strummer, crouching down with his microphone, with Paul Simonon behind him, wearing white jeans. They are performing with Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols at The Music Machine, again in 1978. "I was on top of a stack of speakers," Thomas remembers. "As far as I know, this is the only time The Clash and The Sex Pistols were on stage together."

Another image – of Paul McCartney onstage with The Who's Pete Townshend at a charity gig at Hammersmith Odeon in 1979 – is also an unlikely pairing.

A shot of Bob Marley at Crystal Palace Bowl in June 1980 captures him with his locks flying. "There was a big lake in front of the stage, so I went in chest high, with rolls of film tucked in my shirt sleeve," Thomas says. The photographer doesn't remember taking some of the pictures, such as The Specials at an early gig.

There is a picture of Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye singing with Stevie Wonder at his concert at Wembley Arena in 1980. "He brought on a couple of guests. Suddenly, there were the three kings and queens of Motown in front of us," Thomas recalls. "It looks as if it's a posed shot, but it's not. After the interval, Stevie Wonder was brought to the front of the stage dressed as Little Stevie Wonder, the 12-year-old, to sing his first hit, 'Fingertips'. It was so moving. Then he was guided back to the keyboard and he played for hours. Most people had left before he finished to catch the last Tube home, but I stayed right until the end."

Thomas remembers the Stones gig at the 100 Club as a highlight of his career. "It was a warm-up for their European tour. No mobile phones in those days, and it was just a rumour that they were playing. I hunted them down by dropping by at all the small venues in London. There was one girl outside the 100 Club, and when I asked her what was happening, she told me the Stones were playing. There were only 250 people in there. Because it was such an intimate venue, everybody was trying to touch Mick Jagger. He was furious, because I was in his face taking photographs. He threw a bucket of water at me and flattened my girlfriend's hairdo. The gig went on for hours, and they played every classic Stones song."

Thomas, who has many more negatives to investigate, hopes to cover the Britpop years next – "The Stone Roses, Oasis, Radiohead, Blur"; then the New Romantics – "Duran Duran and Wham!"; and girls in rock – "Aretha Franklin, Madonna and Britney Spears."

The Sunshine Bores the Daylights Out of Me is at Sydney Street Gallery, Brighton (01273 818 163), 13 September to 16 November

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