Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Combat Rock


 
Oxford Street is never quiet.  Even at 8pm when most high streets would be closing, the barriers coming down whilst tired shop assistants trudge towards a distant bus, it is frenetic: the coffee bars showing no sign of bringing in their seats for the night, the loud music still blaring from the speakers of the fashion establishments.

At lunch time it is worse: the crowds closing in on the pavement, making it impossible to move without playing a never ending chess game of manoeuvre, take and retreat to reach your destination.  

I only have about half an hour so I'm moving fast and trying to think ten steps ahead as I cross the road, turning right into the edge of Soho.  Immediately it's a different world.  The paint on the buildings seems more worn, the streets narrower and the tone of the shops changes from chain store to struggling business.  As I pass the travel agents, the hairdressers and the eateries here I feel sure that if I were to step inside and ask the right questions I would be directed towards the Ladies Of Negotiable Virtue waiting on the upper floors to deal with my enquiries (1)

Just down the road is the shop I'm looking for.  Apparently it was once a hang out for the disassociated youth but now it looks like it is mostly between jobs: taking whatever temporary trade comes its way.  I step inside and am pleased to see that there are others present and that they are more genteel than perhaps I was expecting.  On the left as I enter is the inevitable Over Priced Merchandise store with an array of T-shirts, mugs, albums and other purchasable paraphernalia whilst at the back I can see some evidence of what is to come in the shape of two elderly, battered and yet still inviting electric guitars.

Behind the counter where the shop assistants stand is a flight of stairs heading down below the ground and again I can hear murmured conversation from beneath.  There is a good crowd down here too despite the fact that the exhibition has been open for more than a week: mostly people who are a) slightly older than me and b) in my youth I would have steered clear of.

There's a coffin like container against the far wall, in which lies the shattered remains of a bass guitar that was smashed into three large pieces by its owner, generating one of the most iconic rock images of all time (see above), to the right there is a wall of perspex and through the letters of the name of the band I can see the other items on display.  Some are more interesting than others: the gold disks for instance are perhaps inevitable,  but the hand written set lists, type writer containing lyric sheets and even a chord diagram drawn by one of the members hints at much more.  Scattered in between the rare 7" singles are jackets and boiler suits worn by the band and just the occasional hint of the wider scene that they were a part of.

The only shame is that I have so little time and before I've really had a chance to look around I have to be going: heading back up to the ground floor where I take a brief second to wonder whether spending £20 on a Punk Rock T-shirt is a sensible decision for a Man Of My Advancing Years (yes, I decide, it is) and head out.

Across the road I catch a glimpse of an independent record shop called Sister Ray, which tells me all I need to know about the establishment (2) and I take a brief look inside: sure enough it is a dimly lit rabbit warren filled with nervous looking men in long jackets spending their days looking in vein for an original pressing of some deleted Frank Zappa album.  I know I will have to come again.

(1) I think Ladies Of Negotiable Virtue is a much nicer phrase than Prostitute don't you?  Plus it also sounds like a good name for a band.
(2) Sister Ray - a Velvet Underground/Lou Reed tracks

NB: For all those not familiar with the British punk rock scene of the 1970s let me bring you up to speed by telling you that The Clash (whose pop up exhibition this post is about) were probably one of the most important and influential.  If you don't believe me watch the below


4 comments:

Stephen Hayes said...

Never heard of The Clash but they have a good sound.

PhilipH said...

You paint a great picture of the area. Used to be even more primitive back in the early 1950s when I knew the area so well. A most exciting manor, and no mistake!

Argent said...

I had one of the best days out of my life years ago mooching sround Oxford street itself. There was the 100 club where sweet sweet jazz played to an audience of which my friend and I were easily the youngest members and the HMV store which, although not a small independent store, furnished me with one of my fave albums of all time. Happy days.

The Bug said...

Great story! I've heard of the Clash - although in the 70s I was NOT going to be listening to them (I was more interested in Captain & Tennille - ha!). Love the video - especially their suits.