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Scenester's Incomplete Record
To Chelsea Space to take a proper gander at ‘Use Hearing Protection’ ‘Fac 1-50/40’, an exhibition / exploration of the first fifty artefacts released on the legendary Factory Records label, curated by JonSavage and Mat Bancroft.
The influence of Factory on music, design and style could hardly be overstated, but this exhibition sticks to its brief well, its only digression being the large volume of material about the internal running of the label. Rob Gretton’s handwritten notes on the character of bands, gigs and venues are like some spy’s treatise. Peter Saville’s draft artworks for record covers are a rare privilege to see, and even with forty years’ hindsight, the decision to use a wave form for the first Joy Division LP cover looks icily poignant.
Designs for record covers are amazingly varied, and rarely repeat themselves in terms of style or content. Only New Order’s seem to follow a theme, their Bauhaus-like simplicity contrasting completely with the rest of the music businesses’ inflexible attitude; a picture of the band in their latest clobber, or nothing. What other record company would put out a LP with a glass paper cover? Mind your finger nails on ‘The Return if he Durutti Column’, please.
Decorating the walls are pictures of the bands were deemed individual enough to grace the label, and the notoriously tardy ‘Use Hearing Protection’ poster is here, and its elements adapted slightly as a publicity poster for the exhibition. The high seriousness of much of the material on show is a window on a certain place and time in music, which was completely at odds with the general run of pop of the period.
Even the most assiduous of label completists cannot claim to own ‘FAC all’, due to Factory’s habit of ascribing a FAC number even to their night club. That leaves the rest of us, so take time to visit ‘Use Hearing Protection’ and wonder if it was all just an elaborate dream. Runs until 26 October 2019.
To the University of West London to view the 40th anniversary of ‘Quadrophenia’, Franc Roddam’s film of The Who’s ambitious double LP of the same name, a head on collision of the troubled youth and social realist genres. Set in the heady days of 1964 but made fifteen years later, our story concerns Jimmy, a working class early teenager played with a fine degree of vulnerability and enthusiasm by Phil Daniels, who works as one of the barely acknowledged child labour force of the times; a messenger/post boy in an advertising agency. As a mod, his life revolves around music, clothes, scooters and the pills which he believes he needs to help him stay awake and enjoy it all to the full. His regular forays into night clubs bring him into contact with other mods, mostly like himself; ‘tickets’, or stereotyped mods, who prefer to wear uniform cut clothes without branching out into anything too ‘flash’. Apart from the external trappings of mod, Jimmy’s affections are very much tuned into ‘Steph’ (Leslie Ash) a girl who frequents the mod scene but who regards it all as ‘a bit of a laugh’. His hapless attempts to impress her are some of the film’s most touching and well-realised aspects. The films more notorious scenes are, even with forty year’s hindsight, still shocking; the recreation of the fighting between mods and rockers on Brighton beach is visceral, bloody and difficult to watch. Jimmy and Steph’s love scene in a cramped, dingy yard is not exactly a scene from The Arabian Nights.
Viewers can have a lot of fun spotting young actors who have since become household names, such as Philip Davies as Jimmy’s mate Chalky, whom he goes chemist’s shop-breaking with, and Ray Winstone as Kevin, Jimmy’s childhood friend who turns out to be a rocker. Timothy Spall’s ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo as Harry the projectionist is a delight. Toyah Willcox’s portrayal of the hell-for-leather Monkey, made in the heat of her career as an actress and pop singer and Sting’s as the towering Ace Face, just on the cusp of global stardom himself, are essentials.
Is Quadrophenia still relevant today? In this time of poorly paid employment and low expectations for the young, perhaps its portrayal of a world where well paid work was easily available would not appeal to the mass of today’s youth, but the themes of youthful rebellion, tribal belonging, the generational divide, the allure of semi-criminality and the problems of finding love or something like it, are universal and immutable. Long live Quadrophenia.
You Say You Want A Revolution: Rebels & Records 1966-1970 (Victoria & Albert Museum, London)
I admit to having had small feelings of trepidation about this exhibition, as there do seem to have been a lot dealing with the same time period in recent years, and some have definitely disappointed me. I’m still weighing up the pros and cons of this one, so maybe that’s a good sign.
The first thing which strikes you is the sheer size of the collection. Whole rooms dealing with fashion, politics, festivals, movers and shakers, and all sound tracked via a headset which plays something appropriate as you approach the exhibits. Those of you who attended the recent David Bowie exhibition at the V&A will probably have an opinion about these little walkie-but-no-talkie packs, which are not entirely reliable, but that’s a minor grumble. The choice of illustrative music tends to be popular (if not downright predictable) 60’s ditties, seemingly programmed by a recent convert to the music of that decade.
Starting five years outside of the ’66 timeframe, the ever popular subject of the Profumo Affair is trotted out once more, with a copy of the famous Arne Jacobsen ‘Ant’ chair in amongst pictures of Christine Keeler and repro newspaper headlines. The toppling of a government is a dramatic way to start this show, but I tend to the view that the Profumo Affair was where the 1950’s ended, and when the 60’s really began. By the look of the V&A’s judicious use of the Philip Larkin quote, (Sexual intercourse began in 1963…’) they’re of much the same mind.
It’s impossible to understate the importance of The Beatles, and happily, the V&A acknowledged this, managing to secure the loan of George and John’s ‘Pepper’ finery, along with the crowd scene from the famous cover, courtesy of Peter Blake. John’s far more conventional suit from an earlier incarnation of the Fab Four is on show also, by way of complete contrast. Album sleeves from artists ranging from the globally famous to the obscure are pinned up on the walls, like old school record shops, before such sleeves were imprisoned behind glass for security’s sake, or sealed inside cling film.
Covering the style of the 1960’s could easily be the subject of an exhibition on its own, and so the V&A appear to have restricted their view to a few key looks. The mini skirt makes its inevitable appearance, courtesy of a life cast of Lesley Hornby a.k.a. Twiggy, as does Sandie Shaw’s Native American inspired dress by Jeff Banks, again utilising a mannequin clearly based on Sandie. The multi striped jumbo cord suit is perhaps the best of the men’s collection, which could not have come from any era other than the psychedelic end of the 60’s, but a few late 60’s outfits aside, the exhibition barely scratches the surface of men’s fashion, disappointingly.
By far the most powerful statement here is the political overview, taking in the terrible progress of the war in Vietnam and the civil unrest in France. Few who recall that era will have felt unaffected by the nightly news stories about the carnage in Vietnam, and the terrible scenes on the streets of Paris that threatened the French establishment. That old phantom Adolf Hitler materialises both in his own unsightly form, and as a mask worn by a cartoon image of French President Charles De Gaulle, from a poster of the times. The nascent feminist and gay liberation movements are represented here, in stark contrast to the scant media attention they received at the time.
A cheekily designed ‘Festival’ space forms one of the exhibition’s more eccentric highlights, with artificial grass on the floor, a gallery of hippie clothing worn by the period’s luminaries, and a gigantic screen projecting the late, great Jimi Hendrix wrenching the American national anthem from the battered body of his guitar. Some of Jimi’s many wrecked, cigarette burned, or else garishly painted guitars are on display, together with a jacket that almost requires sunglasses be worn to examine it. A scattering of youths sprawled on the floor and colours, colours everywhere; all that’s missing is a visit from the Drug Squad.
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy this exhibition, but it feels like a lot I have attended over the years; all telling the same, often highly American-fixated story of that astounding and significant decade, but not really examining with a critical eye, nor making any attempt to put it into perspective.
You Say You Want A Revolution: Rebels & Records 1966-1970 runs to 26 February
To 35-37 Neal Street, Covent Garden to view ‘Fear and Loathing at The Roxy’ the exhibition commemorating the legendary club, which, in its brief tenure, showcased all of the essential bands making up the first rank of punk. Just a few doors away from the now unrecognisable punk venue, this collection captures the loud, snotty spirit of punk as it burst onto the paralysed music scene of the mid-nineteen seventies. A full gig listing from those dark, strike-ridden, discontented days is accompanied by facsimile diary entries, photocopied posters, fanzine covers and the stark, black and white images of original punks in their home-made finery, and bands at significant and early points in their careers.
Most of one wall is rightly given over to the ladies of punk, who played an equal part to the men in the creation of this uncompromising cult. The image of Poly Styrene in a scaly patterned dress, tongue stuck out like a cobra about to strike, is surely a key image, provoking and fascinating in equal measure. Siouxsie Sioux dominates the stage with her cabaret man-drag outfit and deathly white make up, all but swallowing the microphone. Pauline Murray’s crouched figure, her face a pale mask of waiting menace, perfectly reflects her band, Penetration’s combative music.
Those stalwarts of the punk scene, The Damned, are captured in their grubby first heyday, Dave Vanian a slickly attired Dracula to Captain Sensible’s trash/glam mental patient, evidently the spiritual descendants of Lord David Sutch. Generation X show off their youthful looks, with singer Billy Idol a peroxide hedgehog, whilst The Clash perfect their radical chic stance.
A glance at the crowd shots reveal an assortment of highly individual stylists, their boiler suits, school jackets and old men’s trousers customised with the trappings of the rent boy and the dominatrix, to well beyond the point of parody. Make up is bold and garish, hair is spiky, or floppy, or rigid, or anything else it wants to be, all of it challenging to the gaze. There’s not a Mohawk in sight; they were individuals before punk’s inevitable sub summation into the mainstream, soon after.
This exhibition, curated by Jane Palm-Gold, runs until the 10th of May, and is a must-see before the plaque is affixed to the much-changed building, just a few doors away.
Coming to subscription channel Acorn TV September 3rd, an excellent new thriller series ‘The Sounds’. Set in the dramatic scenery of New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds, the story reveals the dark underbelly of a seemingly idyllic coastal town, as businessman Tom Cabott (Matt Whelan) goes missing soon after he announces the opening of a fishery business. His wife Maggie, played by Rachelle LeFevre, becomes increasingly frustrated at the authorities’ failed attempts to find him, and so goes in search herself. Slowly, she begins to realise that there is a side of her husband she never suspected. With more turns than a corkscrew, ‘The Sounds’ is well worth taking out a subscription for. Trial membership available. Trailer Link;