Archive for ‘music’

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.

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:

January 30, 2014

haunted by the lamassu

One day last week I woke up with a song in my head. That happens quite a lot, waking up with a song knocking around my head, though strangely enough I never remember what I was dreaming about when that it happens. Anyway, this particular earworm was hard to shift, and it kept popping into my head for days.

Mesopotamia by the B52s

I didn’t think much about it, though (because earworms are just like that), until a couple of days ago, when I suddenly kept coming across images of the same mythical creature, popping up all over the internet for no reason at all. There it was on Pinterest, and there on Tumblr and there on some random blog I’d never looked at before… And where did these beasts originate from? From Mesopotamia (six or eight thousand years ago / they laid / down the law / Ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah ah-ah haa)

Well, you know me. I like to pay attention to patterns. So on Tuesday, on something of a whim, I decided to go and visit those mythical creatures. Being in London I can do that, go and visit mythical creatures, because they live in the British Museum.

(Actually, you don’t need to go to the British Museum to visit mythical creatures, you can find places to visit them all over the world, and not just in museums.)

There are actually two types of lamassu on show at the British Museum, some with lions’ bodies and some with bulls’ bodies, but oddly none of the captions attached to the displays refer to them by their proper name — they’re just called “human-headed winged lions” (or bulls), which is a bit of a mouthful and rather boring, especially as the lamassu were considered important — they stood at the entrance to the most important temples and the gates of the city, that’s not a job you give to just any old creature.

This one is described as a “winged male sphinx” — although he obviously has the same characteristics as the other lamassu (but on a smaller scale):

According to the Mesopotamia website (which is actually run by the British Museum), lamassus “were there to frighten away the forces of chaos.”

I like the idea of a totem to frighten away chaos, not that I believe it would actually work (it didn’t work for the Mesopotamians against Alexander the Great!), but it’s a comforting idea. The world always feels chaotic, full of randomness, uncertainty, life in flux: the only true constant is change, as they say.

And yet, amazingly, these giant stone creatures are still here, hundreds, thousands of years later, solid and everlasting.

feet the size of my head

[Zeitgeisty side note: I found out while writing this that Lamassu is also the name used by a company that makes Bitcoin ATMs. I still don’t really understand how Bitcoin works, but it’s a fun coincidence.]

One of the information boards mentioned that originally they would have been painted bright colours, as would the buildings they were attached to. That must have been a sight to see. Actually, it makes me think — nowadays cities are a visual overload, with imagery all over the place in the form of advertising, architectural embellishment, landscaping, graffiti etc. but is that really such a new thing? Imagine living in a place where all the buildings were covered in brightly painted intricate carvings, you’d end up feeling the same visual overload, wouldn’t you. But imagine having some of these guys on buildings today.

This is an ugallu, a protective storm-bringer, he looks pretty bad-ass here, someone you’d want on your side:

This is The Queen of the Night, who could be Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, or it might be Ereshkigal, queen of the underworld, or hey, maybe it was someone else entirely! They don’t really know. But it just goes to show, owls have always been trendy:

This is just the light switch in one of the rooms. I was amused by the notion that someone could plunge Khorsabad into darkness — just like one of the gods.

I had a look at quite a lot of other stuff in the museum, including a number of old favourites (I never get tired of the Enlightenment Gallery), but I was looking for one tiny little object I saw in the museum once, which I’ve never managed to find again since. I was beginning to think I’d dreamed it up, but I just found it online. It’s a teeny engraved gem from the Roman empire, picturing a grasshopper playing the flute for a butterfly. How magical is that? I wonder, was it from a now-forgotten myth? A folk tale? An in-joke or a visual pun? We’ll probably never know (so we can make up our own stories), but it reminds me of The Butterfly Ball.

Anyway, I’m going to leave you with the B52s again, here’s a camptastic live performance of Mesopotamia live in 1990. Gold trousers! Tiny silver dresses! Huge beehives! Shadow-dancing! I’m totally sure the lamassu would approve.