New Young Pony Club's Tahita Bulmer: 'How I discovered my father's glamorous past hanging out with Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones'

Bulmer's father, Rowan, was a commercial photographer in the 1960s and 1970s, friend to a myriad of the era's luminaries, and unofficial documenter for the rock and pop TV show Ready Steady Go! and the Marquee. One day in 2012 he turned up at her door with a cardboard box filled with contact sheets of previously unseen images of Swinging London...

In the early Noughties, the idea of a music genre that melded the confrontational energy of punk and the louche cool of disco was the conversational equivalent of napalm. Mooting the idea provoked grimaces, barely concealed snorts of derision and loud coughing. But that didn't stop Andy Spence and I from continuing with our extremely enjoyable musical experiments in his box room. By the middle of 2005, we had christened ourselves New Young Pony Club and released the global cult hit 'Ice Cream' on tiny weeny dance label Tirk Recordings.

We were soon followed by a plethora of similar acts with whom we shared a glut of utterly meaningless genre definitions bestowed on us by confused journalists, who couldn't seem to get their heads around the idea that disco punk/new rave/tropical pop/new disco and electro pop were all essentially the same fusion of pop, disco, and alt guitar music with different ratios of archaic keyboard riffs vs live drum fills.

I'd been always been musical, studied opera in my teens and I'd been in several touring bands before, but New Young Pony Club was different. We were doing well in a manner that our parents understood, straight from the underground to the glossy mags falling out of the Sunday papers, which they could show their friends. A good deal of the success that followed, from 2005 to 2014, passed before our dazzled eyes like the ground seen from a rollercoaster with all of its breakneck turns, highs and lows.

My father, Rowan, had always been interested and supportive of my ambitions. As far as I knew, he had been a commercial photographer in the 1960s and 1970s, followed by a politically active phase while he lectured in fine art and photography through the 1980s and 1990s, until he met my stepmother and they started a business together importing porcelain lamp bases from China. He all but left photography behind, and his expansive collection of cameras and equipment was slowly diminished by a series of break-ins and thefts. He barely mentioned his past and certainly not his intense love of the blues and early R'n'B as a teenager, or the fact that it had led him to a more than cursory brush with the music industry.

 

At the Latitude Festival in 2007, we were pulled off stage after three songs by security as 5,000 people tried to barge their way into a k staging area meant for 1,000 and pushed the safety barricades down. My father had come from Bedfordshire to see us and professed himself disappointed at the truncated set. He sat down backstage with a cider and asked me if I was enjoying myself. I said yes and he smiled wryly and replied that I had better make sure that I did as the first 18 months of a band's ascent were the fun bit and everything would probably just become work after that. This struck me for months afterwards as a tremendously intuitive statement from a man who didn't work in the industry.

As the months and hangovers piled up there was more advice, all of it insightful and experienced; it was more like speaking to a veteran of the music industry than my father. "You're too much like me," he murmured, with subtle sphinx-like disapproval.

He worried that I wasn't interacting with the right people (I wasn't, they probably intimidated me) – people who could really move the band forward. He fretted that we had the wrong team around us (perhaps true). "Management is so important," he would sigh. And when I asked the importer of Chinese porcelain and Highland terrier enthusiast what he knew about the world of managing bands, he replied: "I managed Jeff Beck. I was terrible at it."

I prodded at him mercilessly whenever we met, conscious of the fact that there lurked a whole onion's worth of layers in this man, which he had previously hinted at but that I, with all the hubris of youth, had ignored as fatherly exaggeration. But I had vague memories of being a child surrounded by boxes of his photographs, housed in yellow Ilford photo boxes, a picture of Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and Scott Walker peeking tantalisingly out at me, proving me wrong, urging me forward with my questions.

The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger in 1967 The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger in 1967 (Rowan Bulmer)
Rowan loves London, knows it as intimately as anyone who ever completed the Knowledge. As a sullen teenager I would sit in the passenger seat of his clapped-out BMW while he pointed out the haunts of his youth; the house on the way to Chiswick, for instance, where Mick, Keith and Brian lived in one room and wrote the early Stones hits. "Did you know them?" I asked. "Oh yes," was the response, "Brian mainly. We discussed getting a flat together but it never happened." At the old family home in Chiswick, west London, where my dad grew up, Eric Clapton used to stay over when he didn't have enough money to get a taxi home after a trip to the R'n'B clubs in town. I asked my grandmother if she remembered Eric: "On the sofa, very polite."

We would stop at bookshops regularly on Saturdays during my teens so I could buy science-fiction novels and my father could rifle through the rock biogs, triumphantly appearing at my side to proclaim, "This one's mine!" finger jabbing at a grainy photograph of some rock icon at the Windsor Festival. "It doesn't say it's yours," I would mutter – eager to return to the interplanetary shoot-out in my hands. "No," he would say softly before sloping off to put the book away.

These recollections, coupled with my ongoing campaign to get the full story, culminated in Rowan turning up at my door in 2012 with a single cardboard box filled with contact sheets. Inside was a treasure trove of previously unseen images of Swinging London: Jimi Hendrix joking with his band, the Stones, Biba fashion shoots, doe-eyed beauties in heavy eyeliner dancing in front of Marquee livery, Paul McCartney playing the tuba, beautiful in black and white. I was gobsmacked. "Why has no one ever seen these?" I raged, always far better at fighting someone else's corner than my own. A shrug: "No one wants to see these old things."

Singer-songwriter Peter Frampton in 1967 Singer-songwriter Peter Frampton in 1967 (Rowan Bulmer)
It was at this point that my father's past began to finally unfold for me as a three-dimensional history. Rowan Bulmer, 1960s scenester, with a cavalcade of stunning model girlfriends, friend to a myriad of the era's luminaries, photographer of some renown, acting as the unofficial documenter for the rock and pop TV show Ready Steady Go! and the Marquee, meeting with Brian Epstein a few nights before he died to discuss taking photos of his new project. A someone, a mover and shaker. An artist in his own right, a painter and a sculptor, talented enough for the Indian artist FN Souza to wonder to his daughter Shelley, my father's most luminous paramour of the era, "Why has Rowan stopped painting?"

I couldn't believe he wasn't on a par with Gered Mankowitz in the pantheon of great rock photographers. Gered shared two shoots with Jimi Hendrix; whereas, as my father reported, "Jimi would always call me over and ask me to take his picture if we saw each other out. We got on." Where was the Rowan Bulmer Taschen coffee-table monolith? Where were his exhibitions, his renown for all of his wonderful work?

He was right there, in the thick of it. Countless music fans, cultural theorists and fashion mavens worship that time; they long to have been a part of it, to have had these experiences – and my father is the real deal, with endless tales, scandalous, amusing and always told in his humble way, apportioning no glory to himself, respectful even now of those friends who left him behind on the road to global superstardom more than 40 years ago. I feel I still don't know the half of it.

Singer Rod Stewart in 1967 Singer Rod Stewart in 1967 (Rowan Bulmer)
But it was never in his nature to push himself to the forefront of the scene, he was happy to record it and thrilled to see his friends succeed. But unlike his successors today, Instagramming their way to greatness, self-promotion is something of an anathema to him (as it is to me – in that we are very much alike). Perhaps that is the crux of all our woes, as mere talent does not automatically ensure entry into the VIP room of history. And – contrary to my former, rose-tinted understanding of the past – it seems it never did.

Since 2012, I have moved towards claiming a portion of the recognition that I feel my father's work deserves. I have consulted friends, journalists and photographers in an effort to find a way of putting him in the public eye; he should have his day in the sun. The task is made difficult by the fact that virtually all of his negatives (stored by his friend, John Gee, impresario of the Marquee club) disappeared when the Marquee was sold in 1988.

Despite the setbacks, he is still charmingly amazed at the interest his work now garners, and I think secretly rather pleased to have this opportunity again, at the age of 70. In some ways our roles have reversed: I have played out his missteps in my career in a way I know frustrates him and now here I am worrying about his career as he worried over mine. But there is something satisfying and empowering in coming to an understanding that his legacy is now my legacy in the same way that my legacy is also his. And we are closer than ever.

New Young Pony Club's single 'Sure as the Sun' is out now (wearenypc.com). Follow Tahita Bulmer on Twitter: @tahita29; Instagram: iamtahita

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project