Steve Gullick + the Road to Nirvana - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Steve Gullick + the Road to Nirvana

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because there actually was a time in our not-too-distant past when artistic rebellion came without a stripper pole. And U.K. photog Steve Gullick’s new book, Nirvana Diary,  is much more than proof positive.

A lot can happen in 20 years.

And if you are neither insensate nor cave dwelling, you can’t have missed the Nirvana news bubbling in the arts, entertainment and crime categories. It’s the 20th anniversary of the band’s front man’s death, and police investigators just released a trove of previously unseen crime scene photos.

For fans who appreciate the non-Grand Guignol aspects of the band Nirvana’s improbable rise and not-so-improbable fall, however, there’s the irrepressible, now-47-year-old Brit photographer Steve Gullick , who’s sharing these first-in-line photos with OZY ahead of his book’s release in July.

”Put me in a guillotine choke. Go ahead. I want to see what it’s like!”

And there is the man in essence: wanting to see what it’s all like.

Gullick was the speaker, a few years ago at a house party in London. The spoken to? Um, me. That is me, who’ll never tell a friend “no.” After a brief struggle, Gullick, now weaving from oxygen deprivation, pulled himself up while leaning on a bannister, his face suffused with the weirdest kind of light and joy and said, ”That was brilliant.


And there is the man in essence: wanting to see what it’s all like.

So, with a lens pointed where he figured there was the most to see, Gullick, a kid born into a working class Coventry family, headed into London and got busy shooting the only thing that ever really mattered to him: music. ”That’s what I really loved,” he said, ”and I worked my bollocks off to try to make it happen.”

Right out of school he photographed loads of gigs, funneling the results to fanzines that got larger and larger until Sounds , the now-defunct British music mag, took notice. When Sounds died in 1991, Gullick made the move to Melody Maker for an assignment that many lensmiths would have killed for back then, and even now.


To wit: the Reading Festival .

Huge venue, huge audiences and a panoply of performers he actually liked . ”Nirvana entered my life in October 1990 when I heard them record ‘Sliver ’ on the John Peel show,” Gullick said. “But when I got the call to shoot them in August 1991, well, I was pretty pleased.”

Nirvana broke through to the mainstream… but they were just one of a whole bunch of exciting and groundbreaking bands.

He should have been, since that was the year that Nirvana went supernova on the release of the first single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from their second album Nevermind . Though their story has been beyond well documented at this point, most of that documentation came from Johnny-come-latelys. Or at the very least, Johnny-came-after-Gullicks. 


Source Steve Gullick

Which is where his book Steve Gullick – Nirvana Diary comes in.

”At the start of last year I did an exhibition called ’Punk as Fuck.’ That was where this ‘Nirvana Diary ’ project began,” said Gullick. ”I really wanted to show the punk shots I’d taken 20 years earlier as a precursor to an exhibition of Nirvana photographs. Nirvana were the band that broke through to the mainstream… but they were just one of a whole bunch of exciting and groundbreaking bands.”

Total Disclosure: Steve Gullick also captured Deputy Editor Eugene S. Robinson’s band OXBOW during their first show in London, circa 1990.

So while Gullick is mostly busy with his own band these days, and still routinely runs work in Mojo , the New Musical Express , Q , Rolling StoneWire and other magazines of note, theNirvana Diary is a labor of deep, deep and abiding love.

”They, and some of the more obscure artists from then, still mean a lot to me,” Gullick concludes. “And I found that even more seeing them again with fresh old eyes.”

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