Concrete And Clay: The Early Music Video From The Barbican Building Site

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By M@ Last edited 10 months ago
Concrete And Clay: The Early Music Video From The Barbican Building Site
The band Unit 4+2 perform on a wasteland that will one day become the Barbican. Shouldn't you be in hard hats, boys?

The Barbican stars in more music videos than almost anywhere else in London. But one band got there before the sprawling arts and residential complex was even built.

Unit 4+2 had a number 1 hit in 1965 with Concrete and Clay. It has stood the test of time well — a bright, breezy slice of pop from the golden era of bright, breezy pop. It was also one of the first songs to have a music video, of sorts.

Filmed for British Pathé, the two-minute clip shows the group wandering around a vast construction site among cranes, sand heaps and scaffolding. This being the 60s, the troubadours have not been forced into hard hats and high-vis, but are free to roam in suit and tie. With nowhere to plug in their mics or amps, the performance is entirely mimed.

For a song called Concrete and Clay, the band could scarcely have found a more apt location. They're slap bang in the middle of the Barbican construction site — a building that would become synonymous with concrete and brutalism.

It's impossible to pinpoint their location — all we see in the foreground are the beginnings of foundations. But look to the horizon. Here we glimpse three buildings, still standing 60 years on.

Close up of two band members from Unit 4+2 with background buildings labelled as Central Point, Great Arthur House and Cripplegate Institute

Most prominent is the tower of Great Arthur House. This is the tallest block on the Golden Lane Estate, a precursor to the Barbican by the same architects, Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Nearby, we can see the Cripplegate Institute, a late Victorian building that is still recognisable, though much remodelled and added to. Perhaps the least-known of the three is an office complex called Central Point (not to be confused with Centre Point), which still stands at 45 Beech Street. Built in the 1950s, it is now to be converted into apartments.

We can see nothing else that's recognisable in the video. The band's immediate surroundings were levelled during the Blitz. The devastated area remained a wasteland for more than 20 years, before construction of the Barbican began. The mega-project cleared away almost all remnants of the former Cripplegate area, including the centuries-old road patterns (or "the sidewalks in the street", as Unit 4+2 might put it).

The early music video bridges those two time periods, capturing a moment between the bombed-out ruins of war and the high-rise brutalist future. It serves as an audio-visual time capsule, and reminds us of how modern concrete rose from ancient clay more than half a century ago.

Images are stills from the original Pathé footage.

Last Updated 30 June 2023