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Matthew Murray


GRey MaTTeRS 3

Lucia Ganieva




Matthew Murray

Text by Addie & Mitchell Vassie


ka music originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s, arguably as a precursor to rocksteady and reggae music, with the first ska record being cut in 1960. Following

the wave of migration of Jamaicans to the United Kingdom in the early 1960s, and their settlement in – then predominantly white – neighbourhoods, white working class kids picked up ska. By the late 1960s it had become a popular and driving force in music, together with the blossoming British Mod movement.

Jamaican ‘rude boys’ and British ‘skinheads’ were both generally young, disenfranchised and working class, often either unemployed or in assembly line jobs. With their ‘cropped’ hairstyles and Dr. Martens boots, skinheads liked to dress sharply when they went out, just like the original rude boys, despite limited budgets to support their fashion habit. Whatever cultural differences young blacks and whites had in the late 60s, one thing they did share (other than style) was their music – reggae, rocksteady, original ska and soul music were all on the menu. While the political climate and media frenzy were doing their best to demonize skinheads, the 2 Tone and ska movements honoured what skinheads originally loved and focused strictly on music and anti-racism by example; skinheads who were ska fans were unlikely to be racist. In this latest body of work, Matthew Murray shares with us his insights into this passionate and rich world of ska. At first glance, his Ska series would seem to be quite a departure from the usual projects he works on. However, in essence, his immediate environment, feeding off his everyday visual experiences, generally inspires his work. So the Ska series is something that is close to his heart. He grew up in Birmingham, England, where staples in his own wardrobe

were polo- and check shirts, in a myriad of hues. Consequently,

of the genre. All the participants he shot and talked to display

this body of work holds a certain nostalgic aspect for him.

the same verve and passion for the music, the style and the

Rather than Murray’s usual, seemingly candid, observational

connection they have to this subculture. Like a close-knit family,

work, Ska is an insightful and sensitive series, of real portraits

the movement inspires the individual to develop a sense of

of the ambassadors of the ska movement – individuals who see

identity and a belonging within a group. Actively reacting

ska as a lifestyle choice, rather than a trendy whim, and who

against ‘the norm’, seeking a minority style, thereby creating

live and breathe ska.

a culture of individuals with similar tastes and fashion styles.

Murray’s unpretentious and, more importantly, unassuming

A true contrast to today’s mtv ‘cookie-cutter’-inspired society

treatment of his subjects, encourages the viewer to feel like a

of sameness.

participant rather than simply an observer. We are invited to

A key aspect in this body of work is the simplicity and honesty

view the world through Murray’s unaffected and honest eyes,

of ‘the portrait’. Murray wanted to capture his sitters during a

without judgement or cynicism. Murray’s images are never

night out at a club, while taking them out of their comfort zone.

mocking or condescending, celebrating as they do the

“I really like to place people in unfamiliar environments to see

idiosyncrasies of human nature and the ‘characters’ around us.

how they react,” he says. He reverts to the true tradition of studio portraiture, placing his subjects in a sterile photo-studio

During the 60 years in which ska music has made its influence

environment. With the seemingly loosest of guidelines, the

felt throughout British music and culture, a section of

subjects appear to compose the portrait themselves, choosing

dedicated ska followers have remained firmly true to their

to face away from the camera, look down or confidently confront

roots. Not only in the tunes themselves, but also within ska’s

us and the camera head on.

striking visual style, which has become key to this stylistically

The familiar sounds and smells of the club, mixed with the

bloody-minded, elegant and self-believing movement.

unfamiliarity of a mobile photo studio and a conscious lack of over-directing, quickly stripped away the veneers of Murray’s

“Jack is twenty, I found him interesting because in a time where most

subjects. The resulting images are quietly powerful, lacking

young people his age are into social networking and popular culture,

bravado or pretence. With the social layers removed, a certain

Jack is totally into the ska scene. He immerses himself completely in

vulnerability is revealed, exposing the true character of the

this subculture, despite the fact that he gets quite a bit of stick from


Nazi skinheads about the way he looks and the fact that neither he nor the other subjects share their racist views.” – Matthew Murray Murray loves this passion and commitment to the movement, from young newcomers like Jack and Beth to elder statesmen

Alex, 2012

I first got into northern soul when in primary school by hearing it from my dad’s car stereo. I refused to go up to secondary school without a parka for the winter. From there I started borrowing my dad’s cd’s and heavily got into both 2 Tone and punk. I went with my dad to lots of gigs all over the uk. And still do. I went to my first punk festival when I was thirteen and I remember seeing Neville Staples from The Specials and Pauline Black from The Selecter. Noel Davis, the original guitarist from The Selecter also taught me guitar at my secondary school in Bilton, Rugby, he was a great inspiration to me. I dressed punk until the age of fifteen when my friend Bilston Dan (from Wolverhampton) started introducing me to old ska, skinhead reggae, rocksteady and bluebeat. I soon fell in love with it and started to dress skinhead because of this music. I also went to see Bad Manners perform at the Esquires in Bedford (2008) and that was really important to me as it almost confirmed I wanted to be a part of the skinhead culture. I got my hair cut as soon as I left school at the age of fifteen, and still have it to this day. I am now twenty. What I like about the skinhead fashion is that I have a wide music taste and it’s almost acceptable. When I was a punk and still into my northern soul it was kind of looked down on. I am still a dedicated fan of punk and soul but my favourite genre is ska. I have had some trouble in the past with people assuming I am racist or a nazi. However it is mainly young people that do not understand the culture. I go through the lengthy process of explaining the roots of skinhead culture to them and most of the time they take back their comments. They simply misunderstood, which is no fault of their own, especially how a lot of the media wrongly represent skinheads. The older generation seem to like it as it takes them back to their youth.

Beth, 2013

Rich, 2013

Ska by Matthew Murray  

Preview the first pages of 'Ska' by Matthew Murray, third in the Grey Matters series, published by Schilt Publishing in September 2013. The...

Ska by Matthew Murray  

Preview the first pages of 'Ska' by Matthew Murray, third in the Grey Matters series, published by Schilt Publishing in September 2013. The...