Part 1: Introduction
Mods. Rockers. Teds. Punks. Ravers. Swingers. Skinheads. Suedeheads. Hippies. Yuppies. Rudeboys. Indie kids. Emo kids. Beats. Glam kids. Tribes. Subcultures. Neo-tribes. Groups. Bands. Movements.
All of the above, and more, have - despite their points of origin - been magnetically attracted to the capital. To attempt to cover all of the ages of London’s youth might seem an exhausting task worthy of Peter Ackroyd who wrote of his biography of London that readers may encounter “anomalies and contradictions” for “London is so large and wild that it contains no less than everything”. And so it applies to the musical culture. And to our forthcoming pieces. From the music halls to the jungle raves, from indie’s coming of age in the 90s to the UK Garage parties in Vauxhall nightclubs, from the punks of the late ’70s to the fluorescent-clad New Rave kids. And even more.
The BBC’s recent ’Seven Ages of Rock’ program begins from Jimi Hendrix’s unforgettable onstage jam with Cream at the Central London Polytechnic and ends with the rude health of the current indie scene revolving largely around Camden Town and Hoxton. Central, of course, to all of these movements has been London’s importance both commercially and culturally. It is in this city that Hendrix first came into his own, where the swathes of teenagers were confronted through the likes of Radio Luxembourg with the kinetic thrust of rock and roll, where the post-war cultural and consumer boom came to live in the mid 60s, where Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s Sex shop produced that prime avatar of the punk movement, The Sex Pistols, where the furious wave of dance-influenced urban beats known as UK Garage was born. And (yes, you guessed it) even more.
Even though many of the musical genres (such as rock and roll and punk) cannot claim to have originated in London, the capital soon became the centre of all the events. Keith Waterhouse’s 1963 kitchen sink drama, Billy Liar expresses the importance of London from the perspective of an outsider: Billy is a dreamy, inspired young northerner with hopes of fame and wealth. He is also crushed by his surroundings and deadened by his job at an undertaker’s plus his love problems (he’’s engaged to two girls). His only chance of escape and realising his dreams is to move to London where the gold-plated streets of the Dick Whittington myth are replaced by the bright lights and billboards signifying fame and prosperity. Poetically, just after Billy Liar, many northern groups moved to London and the locales of movies slowly began to move into Swinging London.
It’’s very easy to fall into the trap of writing a series of 'London is everything' pieces and this is a trap we seek to avoid. What we do want is to attempt to relive London’s pop culture highs through the experiences and memories of others. We want this to be as interactive an experience as possible where you the reader can join in and add memories, opinions and anything else that these pieces inspire in you.
We start off next week with the British music hall tradition which symbolised much of London and soundtracked (among many things) the Blitz and London’s post-war optimism. Even the furious explosion of rock and roll in the mid-1950s wasn’’t strong enough to completely obliterate this tradition which has been invoked by many musicians from The Beatles to Blur and on to The Libertines.
Every weekend we will be having posts on the different movements - Rock n roll, Mods, swinging London, Glam, Punk and Britpop to name a few. Included in these pieces will be the importance of London in their rise as well as locations where many of the turning points and major events took place. As ever, we are also counting on you to enrich the piece with anything you wish to add.
By Bharat Azad.