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A splendid time was photographed for all.

30 Mar

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My first post since January. So, as a toe dip back in the blogging water, I’ll keep it short! It came to my attention that there was a significant pop cultural anniversary coming up and that even today it would be apt to mention part of its creation. The 30th March 2017 marks 50 years since the photography shoot of The Beatles’ iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. An era defining musical game changer or more of a curate’s egg? I have much more to say about that album, but for now, here is some excellent information on that day:

https://www.beatlesbible.com/1967/03/30/cover-shoot-for-sgt-pepper/

 

20 favourite albums (in no particular order). #1: The Velvet Underground: ‘The Velvet Underground and Nico’ (1967).

28 Mar

Velvets

The premise is simple: twenty albums that I either play the most, are my favourites or changed my life in some way (no matter how small). Usually a combination of the three.

First mention for The Velvet Underground and Nico.

 

Discovering this album, and hearing it for the first time, was a rite of passage. That much is true, not just for me, but for millions of young people, and could still be. Lou Reed’s tales from the dark underbelly of New York made The Velvet’s the perfect band for Andy Warhol’s Factory scene. That was a marriage that didn’t last, but the Warhol connection probably gave them more exposure than might have otherwise been the case. Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Mo Tucker were not your average rock band, and nearly fifty years on and I concede that they are not for everyone. Yet there has probably never been a band that has so insidiously changed the music landscape, while selling so few records.

A band that never truly rocked in the traditional sense, The Velvets throbbed, pulsating with a hypnotic allure. Released in the year of Flower Power and Sgt. Pepper, The Velvet Underground and Nico was quite happy to stamp in the shallow ersatz-psychedelic puddle with its leather fetish shoes. This was music at odds with the fashionable  leanings of ’67 and that was to be its strength and hope for its own commercial longevity. There is a solid argument for this album having almost single handedly created (or at least pre-empted) Punk, New Wave. Goth and Indie rock, among other things. I won’t stretch that argument too thin, but I will say, it resonates as much now as it ever did. It’s also a decadent and dangerously sexy album, no doubt helped by the presence of chanteuse Nico. The Velvet Underground and Nico also has a very strong pop sensibility, although most of its songs have a discordant quality that renders them unlikely to make the top forty (which they never did), and yet it makes these rough diamonds all the more precious. This isn’t an album for the masses; it’s far too avant-garde for that, but the irony is it probably did inspire thousands of garage bands to form and perhaps go onto greater things (or at least a more commercial future). To the average modern music listener, this album can sound muddy and dirgy, but like panning for gold in a murky river rich with it, you will find the dazzling beauty very soon, if you truly start listening for it. Also, the one thing you want to know when you’re 15, is that, yes, the world isn’t perfect, but there are parts of it that are for you, and this album was for me. It still is. And if you missed the clues, not just in the experimental music, the iconic album art or even the band’s fashion sense….The Velvet Underground practically invented the idea of what constitutes timeless ‘cool’.

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Nervous Tube passengers be warned: Yeti back in the London Underground for the first time in 45 years (sort of).

11 Oct

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Not the best day to buy a new Oyster Card…

Doctor Who is only a television series. But it’s only a television series in the sense that The Beatles are only a band. It means a great deal to a lot of people. A lot of different people, as it happens, from many walks of life. It’s earned its critical stripes over the last fifty years, despite the odd foray into pantomime and self-parody, and in Britain (with the possible exception of a ‘lost generation’ of children in the ‘90s) each new generation have embraced their own era of the programme. Rather like recalling which Blue Peter presenters we grew up with, many fifty somethings will cite Troughton, Frazer Hines (Jamie) and Wendy Padbury (Zoe) as their TARDIS crew (or perhaps Troughton with Hines and Deborah Watling, but you get the idea). In the same way thirty or forty-somethings might recall Tom Baker with anyone from Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter through to Lalla Ward and K9, and there will be teenagers now who wax lyrical about Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper.

So imagine the excitement amongst millions of kids and kids at heart this week. For some time now there has been increasingly fervent suggestion that a treasure trove of lost Who episodes had been found in some far flung location (Nigeria apparently), and the canisters were on their way back to the BBC. For those not in the know, the systematic junking of old television shows was standard practice in the ‘60s and ‘70s, with many classic series such as Steptoe and Son, Top of the Pops and That Was the Week That Was missing many of their earlier episodes. Often as a cost saving exercise the BBC reused their professional video tape, rather than utilise fresh stock, and no one saw the potential in old television being watched by future generations. That may be a short sighted view from a modern perspective, in an age of on-demand telly, DVD and blu-ray box sets, but fifty years ago TV was viewed as a much more ephemeral medium. If you didn’t see it on transmission, you probably would never see it, unless you got a repeat. Pity ‘60s Doctor Who fans then, who had one repeated serial in the whole of the 1960s. That was such a rare occurrence that the repeated story (The Evil of the Daleks), was included in the on-going narrative of the then current season by means of a character flashback. Being the show’s first ever repeated story, history’s ironic joke is that The Evil of the Daleks can’t be seen ever again as most of its episodes are missing. So the BBC allowed us to see it twice, and that was them being really generous.

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The Doctor! The Brigadier! But he’s still a Corporal! Er…and some bloke to the left that I don’t recognize…

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Not Fade Away…The Rolling Stones at Glastonbury and why age is not a barrier to good rock performance.

5 Jul

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This last weekend, in a (very huge) field in Somerset, the Glastonbury Festival of Performing Arts raised the bar once again on exciting things to do in a field. I’m echoing several other bloggers here, when I say that too much has probably been made of the event’s corporate nature, which in comparison to something such as V Festival, for example, isn’t really the case. Glastonbury has got huge, and has to operate as a viable business to survive. It’s a gargantuan undertaking; the erection of marquees, tents, stages, stalls, even buildings, to make up a temporary small town. That’s before we come to the almost countless performance artists and other contributors at work there. However well organised Glastonbury is, there is always someone, somewhere, moaning about how it doesn’t compare to smaller events (which should be obvious) and how it can’t compete with the memory of the counter-cultural happenings of the sixties. Well, no, it probably can’t; times have changed, and we didn’t really have a festival like Glastonbury back then anyway, if we’re to be completely honest. It’s origins lie in that culturally seismic era, but here we are today with a rather different beast; and it’s great. A huge English garden party in acres of farm land, with music and performance, with a subtle edge of suspect but ambient mysticism. Look, it’s summer. What could be better than live music, fun and games in a field with that great British sense of surreal humour and a background touch of the Arthurian?? Don’t knock it, it’s a great summer tradition.. Continue reading

Don’t ruin New York before I get there!

2 May

Two friends of mine have suggested a road trip across the United States. As I live hundreds of miles away in England, this isn’t the first suggestion I’d have for a cheap holiday (or one that requires just a week). Anyway, in the spirit that I’m provisionally up for this idea, and with the thinking that the more I want it to happen the more it shall (economics and work leave permitting), I got to thinking of some of the sights I’d like to experience on the potential first US stop of this would-be tour. We’ve talked about landing at JFK Airport, ‘doing’ New York, heading up into New York State and the Catskills to see some of my friend’s friends, before heading across to Chicago. Parts of the old Route 66 will hopefully feature, and if I don’t see Monument Valley before I drop off my perch, I’ll be all the slightly more disgruntled (presuming I get the opportunity for such quibbles when my physical battery leaks). LA is our last stop, if this dream scheme gets off the ground.

Anyway, this is all pie in the sky at present, but it got me looking at New York in more detail, and the possibility that the underbelly of NY (it’s more subversive and creative aspects if you will) might have changed beyond recognition in recent years. Although ostensibly a film by women for women, Desperately Seeking Susan first introduced me to this side of the city when I was a teenager. Of the locations seen in that film, the cool thrift shop Love Will Save the Day is now gone, along with the trendy Manhattan club Danceteria. But Battery Park City promenade is still there, and much of the city in a film of that vintage is going to resemble what’s there now, I would expect. But seeing the outside of what was iconic live den CBGBs, for example, isn’t going to be the same as seeing its interior, and the place actually being active. Just as Bernie Sumner, of Joy Division and New Order, once pondered that the Manchester of the late ‘70s was like living in some Eastern Bloc country, but still inspired such great music, so the NYC of the recent past was less than inviting to some but inspired (or allowed for) such wonderful creativity. The place that gave us Blondie and The Ramones was crime ridden and filthy, but the visual and aural evidence suggests a vibrancy and life that I really hope hasn’t been lost in the apparently successful attempts to clean up and modernise the city.

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But I’ll see when I eventually get there won’t I! Another film that has had a lasting impact on me is Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffanys, based on the Truman Capote story. God, what am I saying…I’d like to think you knew that already. So yes, two of my favourite New York films are Desperately Seeking Susan and Breakfast At Tiffanys. Who knew! Forget Taxi Driver, these are my NYC classics, and I’m not even a girl! Or gay!

Also, one of my favourite albums is The Doors second, from 1967, which is Strange Days. I won’t go into the music here, but the cover, with photography by Joel Brodsky, is an emotive winner. Looking like it was shot in some Eastern European location, the atmospheric looking mews in the photo is actually Sniffen Court, off East 36th Street. Another location to visit in my personal NYC itinery.

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Some great web links here, well worth checking out. The Sets of New York one is quite extensive. NYC really has been the living set of so many great films. I’m thinking it may be a case of blissfull sensory overload when I get there.  I may have some kind of fatal orgasm when I see the Empire State Building.

I shall keep you all posted!

 

Desperately Seeking Susan in 1985, and more recently:

http://onthesetofnewyork.com/breakfastattiffanys.html

Sniffen Court, and as it was in 1967 for Strange Days:

http://www.scoutingny.com/?p=5141

The generation who had a new explanation. Remembering the decade I never knew…Destination Sixties.

24 Feb

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I didn’t live through the 1960s; I wasn’t even born during that decade and yet that era has had such a big impact on me that I feel I should share some thoughts on the subject. Of course this is where I should define exactly what the subject is. One decade is a fairly big subject; and just what aspect of a ten year period am I considering and is it really ten years. Is it really so clear cut?

To be precise, I’m talking about the Sixties as a creative influence, a constant reference for what has come afterwards in the Arts. It’s an odd thing, since nobody ever taught me that there was something ‘special’ about the 1960s in the context of the 20th century, although that would appear to be the latter day suggestion- I kind of taught myself that truth. If indeed it is one. Growing up in the ‘70s and ‘80s involved lots of good cultural reference points for one to reminisce about in later yeas, but the ‘70s seemed grimmer and more about ‘making do’. Like the morning after a great party. Or is that just the way I chose to see it? Continue reading