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New Film 'Melody Makers' Explores Barrie Wentzell's Iconic Rock Photography

Barrie Wentzell in 'Melody Makers' . Screenshot: Vimeo / Coles Leslie Ann

The annual Raindance Film Festival, which celebrates and showcases indie filmmaking, runs 20 September until 1 October. It’s the festival’s 25th anniversary and amongst the many films, features, and shorts on offer is the debut documentary from Canadian filmmaker Leslie Ann Coles called Melody Makers.

The film focuses on the seminal music magazine Melody Maker and features insights from its chief contributing photographer, and Rockarchive fellow, Barrie Wentzell who worked there between 1965 and 1975 (“10 years of that was a fun party.” he notes in the trailer. “You should have been there.”)

Jimi Hendrix after performing on Lulu's show in London, 1969. © Barrie Wentzell

The doc traces the magazine’s story from being a weekly music magazine that focused on jazz when it was first launched back in 1926 (it published its final issue in December 2000) to its coverage of rock and roll, which it came to define in the 1960s and 70s, And, as the trailer below notes, could make or break a band or record release if featured on the cover.

The doc features former editors—the sub-editor, features editor—and contributors talking about working with the artists back in what now seems like a lost world of music journalism. From the trailer alone we learn that, not only did many of the musicians come to the offices for their interviews—which wouldn’t happen today where swanky hotels are the setting—but more intriguingly that Bob Dylan was thrown out of Melody Maker’s offices (located in Fleet Street at the time), but sadly the reason why is not disclosed.

Recalling the latter was Wentzell, who is a star of the doc, recounting the various musicians and bands he photographed, including Syd Barrett, David BowieJohn Lennon, and many more.

Contact sheet of David Bowie images taken during an interview in Regent Street, London in January 1972. One of the images was used on the cover of Melody Maker. © Barrie Wentzell

Coles has said that originally the project started out as a documentary focusing primarily on Wentzell and his work. The two had met in Toronto when Wentzell had moved from England to Canada. Wentzell told her stories of his time at Melody Maker, but then urged Coles to go to England and speak with the journalists who worked there with him.

“I was initially inspired by the photography and the stories behind the images.” Coles said in an interview with the Whistler Film Festival. “Barrie Wentzell and his colleagues were truly the unsung heroes of rock n roll and I felt compelled to tell their story.” continuing, “It began as an intimate artist portrait about a rock photographer and evolved into a larger story about the magazine Barrie worked on when I received development funding from the OMDC, and traveled to the UK to interview Barrie's colleagues and others who worked on the magazine during its heyday.“

Pete Townsend from The Who in Soho, 1970. Recalls Wentzell, "Pete wrote a semi-regular page for the Melody Maker and apart from being a great writer he’d come up with some great ’visual’ ideas for us to have fun with." © Barrie Wentzell

Along with being the first ever music weekly that took rock and roll music seriously (it became known as the rock and roll bible), it was also a seminal publication because a lot of the musicians that the team wrote about found band members by looking at the publication’s classified ads. And, along with musicians like Ringo Starr and Jimmy Page just casually popping by to talk about their work, it also influenced and inspired rock journalism and the publications that came afterwards. Notably Jann Wenner, who founded Rolling Stone magazine, was a fan (he even tried to write for it but was turned down).

The magazine was also at a time before PR and agents controlled so much, and the writers and Wentzell would get unprecedented access to the rock stars. Meaning they could get great shots, build up a personal rapport, and were free to cover bands they enjoyed or who they thought their audience should know about rather than who they were told to cover by a PR firm.

As to what set Wentzell down the path of rock photographer in the first place. “Why did I become a photographer?” Wentzell ponders in the trailer. “To avoid having a proper job, I think.”

Check out the trailer for Melody Makers below. Find out more about the film at the Raindance Film Festival here.

Rockarchive is delighted to be able to offer these iconic images and more by Barrie Wentzell as limited edition photographic prints which you can buy here.