It’s 60 years since Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne and throughout the Commonwealth celebrations are taking place. At the British Music Experience, we’re always thinking about music, but did you know that 2012 is also the Diamond Jubilee of the first ever British Music Charts? What better time then, than this anniversary year, to look back over the last six decades and reflect on the musical landscape Queen Elizabeth has reigned over.
Cliff Richard Lonnie Donegan In the early years of the reign, Dixieland and New Orleans Trad Jazz were the live sounds of London’s club scene, but these were quickly replaced by Skiffle, a hugely popular folk-blues revival craze launched by Lonnie Donegan. With its do-it-yourself creed and musical simplicity, Skiffle allowed a new generation of young musicians to pick up cheap guitars, washboards and tea chest basses and start their own groups. From the mid-1950s, British pop was transformed by Rock ‘n’ Roll. Inspired by the likes of Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, British rock ‘n’ rollers like Cliff Richard sprung up everywhere as teenagers found a new musical, social and economic freedom It was in the 1960s that British music went global for the first time, riding the irresistible tide of the ‘British Invasion’. The original look and sound of beat groups like The Beatles, R&B bands like The Rolling Stones and female singers like Petula Clark took America by storm and were met with mass fan hysteria and huge record sales. Britain became the pop powerhouse. As the British economy recovered from post-war austerity, pop, fashion and youth culture moved into a period of intense stylistic and technological change. Skirts got shorter, music more diverse and bold Pop Art colours and patterns began to light up clothing and interior design. In April 1966, Time magazine published its report on the world’s most fashionable city, “Swinging London”. The Beatles Twiggy From 1966, British pop began to change as it became increasingly involved in cultural exchanges with underground political activity, fashion, art and drugs. Inspired by the mass gathering of hippies in San Francisco during the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’, Britain began to stage their own ‘love-ins’ and ‘happenings’. Drug experimentation and a mass urge to spread peace and love became both the catalyst and theme for music, capturing the essence of the era. The success of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP signalled the shift from the 7” single to the 12” album as the main commercial unit of the industry and as pop evolved into rock and equipment developed, music broke out of the small clubs onto the arena circuit and emerging festival scene. Hippies Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band In contrast to the tough social and economic crisis of 1970s Britain, the charts began to fill with performers singing of escapism, glamour and excitement. Extravagance was the order of the day and the androgynous fashions adopted by the new pop generation expressed the sexual ambiguity of the music. But a darker vision of 1970s Britain soon appeared through albums like the post-apocalyptic Diamond Dogs by David Bowie. Prog rock also flourished in the albums market with classically-trained musicians and art school lyricists, who demanded ever more elaborate stage sets for their theatrical music. Slade Peter Gabriel of Genesis The mid-to-late 1970s were a period of economic recession and unemployment in Britain. Pop music reflected these conditions with tougher, more outspoken styles in reaction the intensity of prog rock and the frivolity of glam. Punk luridly dramatized Britain’s social divisions, while the grassroots Rock Against Racism movement popularised reggae and brought a return to political involvement. As a back-to-basics movement, punk also inspired many new styles, including the ska revival of 2 Tone. In the early 1980s, the impact of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership became apparent, and music began to reflect – and protest against - the emergent social and political events. There was a move back to glamour and fashion with the brief, but influential, ‘New Romantic’ style and the increased popularity of electro and jazz funk dance music. The Sex Pistols The mid-to-late 1980s was a time of accelerated social, economic, technical and political change. A new generation of ‘yuppies’ emerged from the privatisation talks and union struggles to ride the economic wave. New developments in technology meant that all media was more easily accessible through video, CD and satellite broadcasting. The Live Aid concert of 1985 brought performances by the world’s biggest-selling musicians to an estimated 1.4 billion people to raise money for famine-stricken Ethiopia. The late 1980s were also a time of regional and musical diversity. Heavy metal was reborn, imported house music reached ecstatic heights with the ‘Second Summer of Love’ and the ‘Madchester’ scene was blossoming in the North. Happy Mondays: "Rave On" Live Aid 1985 In the mid-1990s, ‘Cool Britannia’ swept through all areas of British identity. New Labour offered political change, Saatchi’s Young British Artists shocked the art world and Britpop revived traditional pop values of the 60s and 70s with a return to guitar-based songs. The period also saw the rise of the manufactured boy band, with Take That and Boyzone in pole position. At the same time, the Spice Girls unleashed ‘Girl Power’ on the world and with it sparked the biggest revival of the singles market since the days of The Beatles. The new millennium has been a celebration of musical diversity, with echoes of past styles updated for a new generation. From X Factor winners to rap and R&B-stars, indie bands and singer-songwriters, artists have come from all walks of life to take the charts by storm. Geri Halliwell of The Spice Girls This is a guest post by Paul Lilley, Curator & Trustee of the British Music Experience