Paul Wright | 29 August 2020, 18:00

Photographer Tony Davis grew up on Nottingham’s Clifton Estate during the sixties and seventies. As a working class kid, his first taste of music and subculture came by way of the football terraces, coming of age listening to Bowie and immersing himself in the Northern Soul scene around the Midlands and North West.

Although having a great social life, Tony was left unfulfilled at work after numerous jobs throughout his twenties. He decided to do something about it and enrolled as a mature student at his local college, signing himself up to do a two year BTEC photography course. This is when he first started to develop an interest in documentary photography and everyday life. One of his first ever shots was of two girls on their BMX bikes in the Lenton suburb of Nottingham, they just caught his eye in the street and were happy having their picture taken. Tony was later offered a place on the prestigious photojournalism course in Newport, but had to turn it down due the birth of his daughter.

Girls on bikes. Lenton, Nottingham, 1989. Photo © Tony Davis.

1990s

In 1990 Tony’s passion for football took him to Italy and the Italia 90 World Cup, an eventful tournament for Bobby Robson’s England and special time for Tony, with a number of his images of fans and players getting published in various magazines and newspapers. However, It was on his return to Nottingham that his time from frequenting the amphetamine fulled all-nighters at Wigan Casino stood him in good stead when he documented the rave scene around the clubs of the Midlands.

“A time when you went clubbing and left your ego at home”

Tony captured the legendary nights by Nottingham’s DiY free-party collective at the Marcus Garvey centre and many other venues around the city. Clubs such as The Kool Kat, Venus and also The Eclipse in Coventry.

Ravers at an event put on by DiY, Nottingham’s legendary free-party collective. Nottingham, 1992. Photo © Tony Davis.

It was a magical time when people were fully immersed in the moment, no mobile phones, selfies or checking yourself in on Facebook. Just pure love and hedonism for the music and camaraderie amongst fellow ravers.

A recent comment left on Tony’s Instagram page summed it up “It was a time when you went clubbing and left your ego at home”

The Eclipse, Coventry, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Sandbach Services

Another legendary club at the time was Shelley’s Laserdome in Stoke, devotees often travelled in convoy from all over the UK, making the pilgrimage to the Longton venue to hear sets by the likes of Sasha and Carl Cox. For anyone north of Stoke a post Shelley’s stop off at one of the M6 services of Knutsford or Sandbach was part of the night, almost as eventful as the club itself. A place where people would meet to talk, smoke, carry on dancing and come down into the early hours.

Post Shelley’s. Sandbach Services, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

“It was a special time” says Tony. The Acid House and Rave scenes of the 80s and 90s were one of the last youth and cultural movements in the UK before the rise of mobile phones and social media. There was a sense of freedom and spirit amongst that generation that wont be seen again.

Tony’s work has been featured in  I-D, Mixmag and The Face. He is now working through his archive and documenting a number of images on his Instagram account. 

Gallery

Kool Kat, Nottingham, 1990. Photo © Tony Davis.

Datura Rave, Marcus Garvey Centre, Nottingham 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Datura Rave, Marcus Garvey Centre, Nottingham 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Datura Rave, Marcus Garvey Centre, Nottingham 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Datura Rave, Marcus Garvey Centre, Nottingham 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Eclipse, Coventry, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

The Eclipse, Coventry, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

The Eclipse, Coventry, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

The Eclipse, Coventry, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Early hours at the Eclipse, Coventry, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Rhythm Collision 2 Rave. Nottingham, October 1990. Photo © Tony Davis.

Venus Nottingham, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Venus, Nottingham, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Venus, Nottingham, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Post Shelly’s. Sandbach Services, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Post Shelly’s. Sandbach Services, 1991. Photo © Tony Davis.

Prints

Norman Jay at Notting Hill Carnival, 1992. Photo © Tony Davis.

A handful of limited edition prints by Tony from his rave and music archive are now exclusively available from our online shop.

All proceeds from print sales support the photographers and help fund our free resource and exhibitions in the UK.

2020 © British Culture Archive.

Follow Us