Archive for ‘exhibitions’

April 21, 2015

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996

Here’s another music-related post for you — about another music-related exhibition.

On Saturday I got the bus into town, to see an exhibition about fifty years of record shops in Soho. It was the last day before the exhibition closed, and it also happened to be Record Store Day.

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996
(there’s a better view of the map here)

The exhibition was in Berwick Street, which used to be home to so many record shops that it was even known (amongst my friends, anyway), as “The Famous Street of Record Shops”. I think at one point we counted 16, if we included music stalls in the market, and some of the shops on the streets leading off Berwick Street, so although we used the name ironically, it was also well-earned.

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996

As part of the Record Store Day celebrations, there was a mini music festival in Berwick Street, so the area was rammed with people sitting in the streets, although they all seemed to be waiting around for something to actually happen, and there wasn’t any music playing. I didn’t notice many of them holding any record shop bags, either (mostly they were just holding beer), but the sun was out and there was quite a nice atmosphere. You really can’t beat Soho in the sunshine.

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996

The exhibition itself was pretty interesting, and there was quite a wealth of information, ephemera and memories crammed into a small space, of which the images here were only a small selection.

One of the first things I noticed when going around the exhibition was how many of the shops’ bag designs had the same red+black+white colour-scheme.

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996

Record Shops of Soho, 1946-1996
(oops, just realised that Musicland bag is featured twice, oh well)

The other thing was that I didn’t spot anything of the shops I used to go to back in the 1990s, like Selectadisc (which closed down, but still has a shop in Nottingham) and Sister Ray (which is now in the spot that Selectadisc vacated, though it used to be further down the street). I was also puzzled as to why the collection only went up to 1996, which is almost twenty years ago. I know 1996 is fifty years on from 1946, which is a nice round number and all that, but they could have extended the dates to 2006 and celebrated sixty years of Soho record shops, which would have included more of the time I actually shopped there myself (although I was shopping in Selectadisc and Sister Ray before 1996, as well). Hopefully they’ll be able to extend the exhibition and put it on again next year, when it will be seventy years since 1946. In fact, they really have enough stuff to make it into a book. They should make it into a book. (If you fancy reading more about the record shops in the 1990s, this is a great post on those days.)

After seeing the exhibition, I popped next door to Gosh (one of my favourite bookshops), to say hi to my artist chum Lizz Lunney who had mentioned on Instagram that she was going to be there (she currently lives in Berlin). Unfortunately I didn’t really get to chat to her because the shop was heaving with people and she was busy painting the window (one of the things I love about Gosh is that they regularly get artists and illustrators to paint their windows with wonderful pictures). On the upside, I bumped into another artist chum, Andy Poyiadgi who has a new comic being launched at Gosh this very Friday. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s about a postman who finds all the things he’s ever lost have been stored in the local lost-and-found, which is very similar idea to this artwork by Lally MacBeth, don’t you think? It’s funny how certain ideas seem to find their Time.

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April 19, 2015

Secret 7s

Last week I popped into Somerset House to see the Secret 7″ exhibition that’s on display until May 3rd.

Secret 7'' at Somerset House

Secret 7″ is an annual fundraising project that raises money for various different charities (this year is Nordoff Robbins music therapy). Each year they release seven 7″ singles, each one with a pressing of 100, with 700 individual covers designed by various creatives. The “secret” part is that none of the cover designs are officially credited until the records are sold at auction.

Secret 7'' at Somerset House

Some of the designs are completely random and it’s not obvious who’s designed them or which record the design is for.

Secret 7'' at Somerset House

Others are more immediately obvious. I’m pretty sure that’s a David Shrigley design in the middle of the selection above (although the others are pretty random; I just liked them). The ones below are all designs for Reflections by Diana Ross & The Supremes, which is one of the seven songs chosen this year.

Secret 7'' at Somerset House

With 700 different cover designs made in different media, including collage, sculpture, embroidery, crochet, and wood marquetry, as well as the more standard style of record cover design, there’s a great variety of creative design work on display, and the exhibition is worth a look if you’re in central London over the next couple of weeks.

But if you can’t make it, here’s another visual treat for you:

October 1, 2014

the Isokon Gallery

NB: this is a very link-heavy post, but all the links are about interesting people and places, so they’re worth a bit of your time.

Over the past few months I’ve spent quite a lot of time just walking around the area I live in (I’m still trying to work out where the neighbourhood ends), and I keep coming across reminders and new discoveries about the interesting and often influential people who have also lived around here. It’s mind-boggling when you stop to think of how much interesting history has happened (and probably is happening) behind the walls of some buildings, if only they could tell their story.

the Isokon, London NW3

One building near me with a particularly fascinating history is the iconic modernist building the Isokon. Built 80 years ago by the architect Wells Coates in 1934, it was the first residential building in this country to be made out of reinforced concrete, and went on to house many influential and interesting residents (a number of whom I’ve listed at the bottom). It was originally called the Lawn Road Flats, so some people still use that name, but since that implies it’s the only block of flats in Lawn Road, and there are actually several others, I find it pretentious. It’s like calling a pub by its original name, even though you only started drinking there after it got a trendy new refit and a new name to match: you just wouldn’t. In any case, it’s been called the Isokon since 1972, so it’s actually been the Isokon for four years longer than it was ever Lawn Road Flats.

Originally privately owned by its creators, it was sold to New Statesman magazine, who later sold it to Camden council, who left it to rot. The building was eventually passed on to a housing association who renovated it about 10 years ago, and is now mostly filled with key workers.

Ever since being reminded that it had a history of interesting residents, I’ve been intending to write about some of them (as well as some of the other interesting people and events from around the area), a plan which has been made so much easier by the fact that there’s a gallery about the Isokon open at weekends, which is full of information and names to follow up on (at some point).

the Isokon, London NW3

The Isokon Gallery was put together with help from Magnus Englund (managing director of lovely homewares store Skandium), run with assistance from the National Trust. (He currently resides in the penthouse, which you can snoop around here.)

Although it’s only a small gallery, it’s surprisingly crammed full of information considering its small size. The list of former residents alone is really interesting, including as it does influential architects, artists, novelists, archaeologists, physicists, poets, photographers and spies. That’s not even counting all the other interesting people who would visit the in-house bar, the Isobar, some of whom lived close by (and who I also want to blog about at some point). You can only imagine some of the conversations that must have taken place there!

the Isokon, London NW3

It’s amazing how many fascinating and influential people made their home in this one single building (although obviously not all at the same time), including:

the building’s originators, Jack and Molly Pritchard

refugees from the Bauhaus, and associates:
Walter Gropius, former head of the Bauhaus
Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, artist and designer
Marcel Breuer, architect and industrial designer
Arthur Korn, architect
Naum Slutsky, goldsmith and industrial designer
Egon Riss, architect and industrial designer

other artists, architects and art critics:
Marshall Sisson, modernist architect
James Stirling, architect
Alan Colquhoun, architect and professor at Princeton
Kenneth Rowntree, painter
Diana Rowntree, architect and critic (the Guardian’s first architecture critic)
Rolf A Brandt, artist (brother of photographer Bill Brandt)
Jacqueline Groag, textile designer, and her husband Jaques, an architect
Adrian Stokes, art critic

spies and suspected spies:
Arnold Deutsch (the man who recruited Kim Philby and Guy Burgess)
Edith Tudor-Hart, photographer
Jurgen and Brigitte Kuczynski (their sister Ursula, aka Ruth was a highly decorated Soviet spy)
Charles Fenn (who recruited Ho Chi Minh into US intelligence)

writers, poets, historians and others:
Charles Madge, poet and co-founder of Mass-Observation
Agatha Christie, novelist
Max Mallowan, archaeologist (and Agatha Christie’s husband)
Stephen Glanville, archaeologist (who provided Christie with information about Egypt for her books)
Vere Gordon Childe, archaeologist
Nicholas Monsarrat, writer and sailor
Philip Harben, the world’s first TV celebrity chef
Montgomery Belgion, writer
Philip Sargant Florence, economist (whose other residence, Highfield in Birmingham seems to have been a cultural equivelent to the Isokon building)

All of those, just in the one building, and that’s not even all of them, but I hope to blog about some of them, and more about the building, in the future. (Also, in finding all these links to attach to the names, I just discovered that Wells Coates’ grandson is Matt Black from Coldcut. I did not know that.)

The Isokon Gallery is open every Saturday and Sunday until the end of October (although they hope to keep it open for longer), and it’s well worth a visit. You can tie it in with a visit to Erno Goldfinger‘s house at 2 Willow Road and make it a proper afternoon of modernist appreciation (I haven’t actually been to Willow Road for years, but I do recommend it).

More on the Isokon, and other buildings in the area, hopefully to come at some point. For more on similar buildings of the era, check out my post on Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion and Marine Court in Hastings, which I wrote about here.