Socialist Worker

Touching tales amid cliche of The People’s History of Pop

by Trevor Jones
Issue No. 2513

The People’s History of Pop is a nostalgia trip. It is, with a couple of exceptions, devoid of politics, presented in a cliche-ridden format, and guilty of at least one unforgivable omission.

The programme’s focus is on ordinary people’s attachment to the music of the period.

It generally examines British artists who had a global impact and their fans.

There are a couple of exceptions—Bob Marley’s impact on black British youth and Jimi Hendrix’s appearance at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970.

Bob Marley

Bob Marley (Pic: Wikipedia)


But considering who is missed, I found the inclusion of extensive coverage of Marc Bolan out of place.

We get three separate fan accounts of the appearances of Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight festival, the Doors at the same, and the emergence of Black Sabbath.

Sadly, these accounts are oddly muted and feel a little rehearsed.

The fans’ contributions are mostly ahistorical anecdotes, interspersed with the usual stock, archival photos of worshipful teens.

Danny Baker serves up a pretty anodyne commentary to proceedings.

History

Nothing new, either, is added to the history of The Beatles or Marc Bolan. In fact, there isn’t much examination of the music as a medium itself at all.

There’s virtually no attempt to draw on fans’ experience of what was a culturally explosive period.

Nevertheless, DJ Tiny T gives a touching account of the emergence of Bob Marley and reggae in Britain.

Tiny talks of how, as a young, black schoolboy, Marley was the first role model he could identify with. 

There’s a fascinating tale of the appearance of Marley and Johnny Nash at Peckham Manor school in 1972.

Arts Teacher Keith Baugh and ex-pupil George Dyer put on the gig.

They talk excitedly about Marley and Nash’s performance on and off stage—Marley was apparently adept at keepy-uppy in the playground, simultaneously holding his guitar.

DJ Tiny goes on to say, “Reggae has done more for race relations in England than a lot of things.

“This is where I managed to integrate, away from school, with other races, and when you’re enjoying something, you’ve now got a common cause.” 

This account is the only moment where a political context is explicitly stated. It speaks to the vital identification for many young blacks with a transformative music that involved a unifying class experience.

There’s also a nod to class in fan Cheryl Saunders’ honest and impassioned account of Northern Soul and the all-nighters at Wigan Pier.

There, mostly white working class women and men danced to underground, mostly black, soul and Tamla Motown.

Weekend

This is the working class “living for the weekend”—enjoying a vital escape from the alienating experience of the weekly grind of industrial labour. 

Despite these brief moments of insight, the programme is mostly a familiar, dull retread of nostalgic format. 

The omission of Dusty Springfield is baffling. Dusty was instrumental in bringing black American soul artists to British TV screens.

Her TV show, It Must Be Dusty, was highly successful and she was also involved in the Ready Steady Go Motown Special broadcast. 

Including her could also have redressed the gender imbalance of the programme.

Springfield’s influence on the music of the time, and her relevance to this day, exemplify the unifying nature of popular music.

It is a shame that The People’s History of Pop makes little effort to do the same.

The People’s History of Pop is a four-part series on BBC4. Episode Two, 1966-1976—The Love Affair, will be screened on Friday 22 July at 9.30pm. Go to bbc.in/29JqCTq for more details

Cinema helped shape the people’s perception of war

This exhibition crams an enormous amount of information and artefacts into a limited space.

It shows excerpts from major films along with wartime artefacts and set designs from films including The Dam Busters, Apocalypse Now, Das Boot and Casablanca.

The century of the title starts with the 1916 documentary The Battle of the Somme.

A scene from The Battle of the Somme propaganda film

A scene from The Battle of the Somme propaganda film (Pic: Wikipedia)


It was seen by more than 20 million people in six weeks and led to an increase in the popularity of cinema.

During the Second World War and the following decade, cinema was the dominant form of culture. Millions visited the picture palaces for a luxurious environment that provided a refuge from rationing, fuel shortages and the fear of bombing.

The films in this exhibition would have been shown with a newsreel and possibly a government information film. One interactive panel shows how British and German governments appreciated the effectiveness of film.

It offers excerpts from a feature film, newsreel footage, and information shorts in English and German.

The German film, virulently antisemitic, was commissioned by Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels in 1939, as Hitler was concerned that people did not share his fanatical hatred of Jews.

Cinema has helped to shape the perception and understanding of war.

Arguably, it also helped to construct the myth of Britishness by emphasising what the curator called “British qualities of pluck, fortitude, stoicism and eccentricity.”

This exhibition is not cheap at £10 for a full price ticket.

But it offers a feast of nostalgia while raising important questions.

Sarah Cox

Real to Reel: A century of war movies. Imperial War Museum London. Until 8 January 2017.

iwm.org.uk


The BFG

Directed by Steven Spielberg. On general release 22 July

This is a new adaptation of the 1982 novel by Roald Dahl.

It tells the story of an orphan, Sophie, who meets a Big Friendly Giant (BFG) and goes off to his homeland.

Wars with other giants lead them to enlist the queen for help.

The original 1989 film was unfortunately quite pro-monarchy—hopefully Spielberg’s version won’t be the same.

The film is released in the year that marks 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl. A series of events to commemorate the anniversary are planned across Britain and December.

They include themed trails through the gardens at Tatton Park in Cheshire and activity weeks at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre in Buckinghamshire.

An exhibition of Quentin Blake’s original illustrations for the BFG include drawings that were not included—and show a BFG that might have been.

For a full list of events go to roalddahl.co.uk

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Article information

Reviews
Tue 19 Jul 2016, 16:24 BST
Issue No. 2513
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