Starting with the fifties, the season celebrates the history of pop music through the decades. Over four special weekends across the year, pop stars and music fans alike will give their own perspectives in this major season of tailored programming and content across the BBC. The stars at the centre of the pop scene and the people who loved the music will celebrate a given decade, with BBC Two focusing on the musicians’ reminiscences of the time and BBC Four telling the stories of those years through the fans’ experiences and memories in the ‘People’s History of Pop’.
We’ve interviewed those who have uploaded their stuff to the online People’s History of Pop project to make a film telling the fans’ stories from the decade 1955-1965.
Episode one will be presented by Sixties fashion icon Twiggy (to be broadcast on Friday 15 April). The programme will celebrate the decade in which we created our very own pop culture. It hears from skiffle players, fans of The Shadows, Liverpudlians who frequented the Cavern at the height of Merseybeat, Beatles devotees, dancers on Ready, Steady, Go!, mods, lovers of ska, bluebeat and Millie Small, and fans of The Rolling Stones.
Twiggy says: “I’m so excited to be taking part in the People’s History of Pop and telling the story of all that pop music meant to us in the Fifties and Sixties. This series is seen through the eyes of music fans, from lovers of skiffle to rock ‘n’ roll, pop to ska, and rhythm and blues to folk… it’s the precious music we all cherished, danced to and went giddy over. And music can evoke such strong memories. In fact, I can remember like it was yesterday, being one of those screaming girls at a Beatles concert. At age 13, I went with a friend to see them at Finsbury Park Astoria. My lovely Dad was going to pick us up afterwards, but at the end of the show we went to the stage door to try and see the group and so I wasn’t where I said I would be, and Dad couldn’t find us. He was frantic with worry but eventually found us and drove us safely home. It was a night I will never forget.”
Stories uncovered in episode one include a young Lonnie Donegan fan asking Lonnie back to his mate’s parents’ house so they could have an impromptu skiffle jam – and he said yes; what it was like to go to a recording of legendary music show Ready, Steady, Go!; and a schoolgirl’s dream comes true when The Beatles turn up at the pub where her mum was a waitress – but will her mum drag her out of school to meet her heroes?
Unearthed pop treasures include a recording of John Lennon’s first-ever recorded performance with his band The Quarrymen, at a fete in Liverpool on the day he met Paul McCartney for the first time – which viewers will see Twiggy listening to at the legendary Abbey Road studios; rare acetates of Merseyside musicians recorded by Percy Phillips (who also first recorded The Quarrymen once Paul and George Harrison had joined) in his living room in Liverpool; and Please Please Me in stereo – from a very rare pressing uploaded by a contributor.
Fans of our music heroes, from The Beatles to Bowie, shared their stories with radio listeners across the country last week, as 39 local radio stations celebrated ‘People’s History of Pop: The Local Story’, culminating in a day of programmes on Sunday February 7.
In an article about the Manchester gay club scene from NSM magazine in 1986, a photo depicts two women posing as they drink Breaker beers in a club. In the background, two others are slumped asleep on the sofa, done in by the night of partying. “I love that photo. I think it captures the scene at that time,” says Abigail Ward. “It wasn’t until the 1990s that Manchester was dubbed ‘Gaychester’, house music took over and LGBT music culture in the city went boom.”
The clipping is just one of thousands of pieces uploaded to the online archive Abigail runs to celebrate Manchester’s long and varied music history – the Manchester District Music Archive.
The idea for the archive came from two filmmakers – Matthew Norman and Alison Surtees. Inspired by historian C.P Lee’s book about Manchester music, ‘Shake, Rattle and Rain’, they started a campaign, with the help of C.P Lee and band manger Dave Rofe, to set up a physical museum in the city. Abigail got involved to develop the website soon after and found that people were sending her stuff from their personal collections, which she would upload onto the site herself. “One day I thought ‘God, I really wish people could do this for themselves!’ It was before Facebook had really taken off so I set about creating a site that would allow people to upload their own images. As the online presence took hold we let go of the idea of doing a museum. Instead of it being a large dreary institution, we took a more of a guerrilla approach.”
The online archive grew quickly as word spread and has allowed Abigail and her colleagues to create pop-up events and exhibitions giving a voice to untold stories. ‘Queer Noise’, for instance, explored the hidden history of Manchester’s LGBT music culture and club life, while ‘Moss Side Stories’ told the history of clubs in the area and ‘City Fun’ collected together memorabilia of the post-punk fanzine collective.
“For a long time, the mainstream perception of Manchester was a very laddish one. It was about celebrating a very white, male culture. We felt that there were other stories that needed to be told and the way to destabilise the dominant historical narrative was to give people a platform to talk about what’s important to them.”
For Abigail, the stories about Manchester’s music scene reveal it as a “radical, pioneering and political city”. That’s her personal experience too. “I am from Preston in Lancashire, which is about 40 minutes away, but it might as well have been 40 million miles away in terms of my ability to get to Manchester. I grew up obsessing about bands like Magazine and The Smiths. Listening to Morrissey in particular made me feel less lonely as a person who was confused about my sexuality. I would pound the streets with my Walkman listening to what he was saying and, when I was very young, Manchester seemed like a romantic place to be. It also seemed like a safer city to come out in.
“With my focus on LGBT club culture I have tried to tell a story about how lots of people only a few years older than me protested on the streets against things like Section 28 in the 80s and 90s. These demos helped to make Manchester a safer space for gay people, so that when someone like me came along, there were good clubs to go to. I’d never even met another gay person before I came here.”
It was in the 1990s, when Abigail arrived in Manchester, that Manto club was launched on Canal Street, flouting the secrecy of gay venues by installing full-height plate glass windows. DJ Tim Lennox had been building the house and dance music scene at the gay-friendly Number 1 Club and that led to the birth of Flesh, a popular house night at the Haçienda billed as ‘Serious Pleasure for Dykes and Queers’.
“As a curator, I would say the thread in my work is celebrating and exploring when communities come together through their music and club life to protest oppression. It doesn’t have to be under a specifically political banner. It’s the coming together and being visible that’s a political act. That’s when the best parties happen.”
You can explore the Manchester District Music Archive here and their collections on Historypin are here.
Abigail’s favourite pieces change all the time, but here are her current top three:
1. The article from NSM magazine in 1986 about lesbian nightlife in Manchester (pages 1, 2 and 3) – with photos by Michelle Smith.
2. A reggae poster for when the reggae artist Johnney Osbourne came to play at the PSV club. “When he came on stage it turned out he was an imposter who was performing under Johnny Osbourne’s name. It obviously kicked off massively in the club.”
3. A photo of Jonny Cash at the Astoria Plymouth Grove: “This is a beautiful shot by a guy called Brian Smith, who was just a fan in the audience. The venue is on the street that I first moved to in Manchester. It’s a fantastic picture of Jonny. It’s his first ever gig in the UK. It’s an Irish social club. And in the background you can see the clock and it’s just past midnight. It just really does it for me.”