THE PUNK ROCK EXPLOSION AND 60’s COUNTER CULTURE

This week I took a trip up to London to take in a couple of exhibitions : ‘You Say You Want A Revolution’ at The V&A and ‘Punk 1976 -78’ at The British Library.

PUNK 1976 – 78, The British Library until 2 October FREE (Kings Cross Tube)

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“We’re not into music, we’re into chaos” said the Sex Pistols in 1976 and this exhibition celebrating 40 years since punk exploded onto the scene captures some of the impact punk had on music, fashion and design between 1976 -78. Whilst it’s location in the somewhat staid and strict environment of the British Library was a little disconcerting especially when I got immediately reprimanded for taking photos and questioned if i’d seen the prominent signs prohibiting food, drink and photography! That’s not very punk is it? I enquired as the warning was repeated. Anarchy eh John ? Not likely not in The British Library.

That said I did spend an enjoyable hour perusing the many cabinets of rare and interesting artefacts including record sleeves, fanzines, flyers, audio recordings and ephemera. The Sex Pistols feature prominently as you would expect with handwritten lyrics, rare copies of Anarchy In The UK (promo copy and rare plain black sleeve) and God Save The Queen on A&M which was never released after the storm of protest over the Bill Grundy interview, ‘The Filth and the Fury’ which you could view along with the Pistols first TV appearance on So It Goes.

Other exciting exhibits included the first and only edition of the ‘Anarchy In The UK’ fanzine and rare copies of Sniffin’ Glue, flyers and tickets from The Roxy and Eric’s, original clothing from the SEX boutique run by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm Mclaren and rare photos of luminairies from the scene from Johnny Rotten’s sneer to Poly Styrene’s helmet and goggles.

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What comes across most is the striking visual identity of punk and the value and importance of Jamie Reid’s artwork which brought across the DIY message of punk and became a part of that whole attitude that anyone could create music and art and become part of it, from the cut up xeroxed copies of Sniffin’ Glue to artists like Linder Sterling who designed the Buzzcocks flyers and record sleeves. A crucial part of the punk aesthetic was montage using situationist and dadaist influences dealing with the detritus of consumer culture and dismembering of popular culture and offering immediacy and the ability to produce things on the cheap. “We had no money, so I was cutting up papers and doing collage”. That’s where the punk look came from”..(Jamie Reid)

Overall an interesting exhibition, but also the feeling an opportunity had been missed with the potential to produce something really visually challenging and exciting and more immersive. The most Punk Rock thing that happened was when a clearly unimpressed Viv Albertine defaced one of the exhibits angry at the exclusion of women playing an important part in punk’s history. Oh and there’s a shop selling punk records, books, T-shirts and posters etc, worth a look but given the vastly inflated prices I bought nothing.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records & Rebels 1966-70 (South Kensington Tube)

The V&A Museum, Tickets £16.00 on until 16 Feb 2017

The V&A exhibition was visually impressive taking in the revolutionary spirit and beginnings of the counter culture and the huge social changes that developed in the mid 60’s to the end of the decade, expressed in music, performance, fashion, art and the media.

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Again I was hassled by a ‘heavy’ for taking photos after about 2 minutes so apologies for not being able to share too many here. Revolution! what are they afraid of??? I also rejected the headphones much to their annoyance as I like to see an exhibition at my own speed and hear myself think. The exhibition is densely layered with over 350 objects and starts with a montage of Carnaby Street and 60’s mannequins with psychedelic eyes for heads. There were handwritten Beatles lyrics and costumes and an elaborate Sgt Pepper display and Revolution record shop with classic 60’s vinyl.

The next section gathers momentum with the focus mainly on the US and the era’s social and political issues to the forefront particularly with Black civil rights, anti Vietnam protest, feminism and gay rights. This section is particularly immersive with overhead screens projecting images of bombers, gunfire and chopper blades and protesters and crowds chanting. Effective and disorientating. I found the display showing what happened at Ohio in 1970 at Kent State University particularly disturbing when a demonstration by 2000 students to protest the expansion of the vietnam war into Cambodia ended with the shooting and killing of four unarmed students by the National Guard with a further nine injured, one of whom was paralysed. This event led to a huge strike by 4 million students and increased protest about America’s role in the Vietnam war immortalized in the ‘Ohio’ by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young…

The exhibition also includes events such as the 1968 Paris student riots, the rise of the Black Panther movement and groundbreaking books such as Silent Spring about the detrimental use of pesticides on the environment and was met with fierce opposition from the chemical companies and Germnaine Greers ‘The Female Eunuch’ an important feminist text published in 1970. and Timothy Leary’s ‘The Psychedelic Experience’ .

Among the vast dizzying array of objects and paraphernalia, a few that stick in the memory are : Psychedelic poster art, underground magazines Oz and The International Times, a moon rock on loan from NASA, a Jane Fonda outfit from Barbarella, the Bed-in for Peace signs held by John Lennon and Yoko, shards of Jimi Hendrix’s shattered guitar, The Who’s Pictures Of Lily drumkit, Huey Newton’s peacock chair, and photographs and film from the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970.

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You Say You Want A Revolution culminates with a giant room dedicated to Woodstock in 1969 carpeted with fake grass and beanbags to lounge around on while watching footage from the film including The Who and Jimi Hendrix who as headliner apparently didn’t perform until 9am on Monday morning due to the bad weather and an array of technical problems. Only a third of the crowd (about 180,000) witnessed one of the most memorable rock and roll performances of all time as well as Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner, now a symbol of an entire era.

Well worth a look but marks off for a) the price and b) the annoying V&A staff.

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Author: johnnyr66

Musician. Photographer and Artist

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