You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 @V&A, London.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

The iconic music, art, political dissension, literature and design have all been features of their own exhibitions internationally.  The late 1960’s era is indisputably accepted as an historical and cultural creative uprising that forever changed how we live and express ourselves.  The power of this exhibition is in the timing and the scope with which Curator Geoffrey Marsh approaches such a self imposed narrow time frame, focusing the exhibition on the years between ‘66 and ‘70, that is everything between those times with music being the thread that runs through the entire experience.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

Fifty years on we live with an increasing sense that we need another cultural overhaul.  We consume and consume; preselected music on iTunes, block buster movies, ‘must-see TV’, cheaply made clothes to mark every fleeting trend, this years hip food fad and mass produced art.  It is tempting to look back on the 1960’s with nostalgia and longing for the newly won freedoms of individuality and choice without acknowledging the outcome of all of that choice was to once again embrace conformity.  It is important to really look again at this time and understand this is an integral part of what got us where we are now.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

The exhibition is divided into chronological and subject based portions, it is also mixed up, cut up and interspersed into a kaleidoscopic overview of the entire period.  The experience is a clever immersive multisensory experience with audio provided by key sponsors Sennheiser with specially designed sound which responds to your location in the exhibition providing complementary music, commentary and ambient sound.  The introduction of the exhibition starts with notable albums, art in the form of a bank of original album covers on loan from private collection of the late, great DJ and tastemaker John Peel.  After a brief introduction you enter the real Magical Mystery Tour through a chamber filled with a dazzling array of psychedelia, art, book covers, magazine images, soundbites, melodies and movie clips.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

The categories of the exhibition connect through common themes linked at the beginning and end of each six distinct areas.  Starting with a sampler of the best of Carnaby Street; Vidal Sasson, Biba record stores inviting you to “Buy a Beatles Album!” (as if it wasn’t important which one), onto the new cult of celebrity, the photography of David Bailey, Andy Warhol’s Factory and Blow Up with music from the Kinks, The Beach Boys and Martha and the Vandellas.  Then onto the influences of feeding into the fashion industry from baroque to Eastern mysticism. This transitional part of the exhibition includes some significant costumes and handwritten lyrics from the Beatles.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

The next section is concerned with counterculture, alternative lifestyles, drugs, the occult and pirate radio with music from Cream, Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane.  The third section covers civil unrest and political revolts around the world.  Important dates and events in western society and on the global stage and the fights for social change are reported to the backdrop of the folk singing movement with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and the legacy of Woody Guthrie.  From the protest slogans of Bed Peace and Hair Peace comes the forth section on changes to consumerism, advertising and groundbreaking design.  Ranging from glossy pop art to actual technology including the original spacesuit worn by William Anders during the Apollo 8 space mission with music from Procol Harem .

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

The sixth section broadens on the themes of the music and explores gatherings, festivals and happenings.  From Newport, Isle of Wight and the all time definitive festival, Woodstock.  Here the music, fashion and spirit of The Who, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin are projected around 180 degrees with 3D remastered sound from the original Woodstock recordings.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

Garments from performers such as Grace Slick, Mama Cass and Roger Daltry are on close up display.  There are even receipts, purchase orders and typed communications documenting how the festivals were organised and facilitated, giving a fascinating behind the scenes look at how spontaneous and homespun these events were in comparison to the multi-million dollar and pound industry of the modern music festival.  The connection between the festival culture and communal experience leads to the final section which looks at alternative lifestyles and the romantic return to nature and environmentalism.  The idea of ‘dropping out’ of society and living off grid runs in parallel with the burgeoning tech industries and the birth of modern computing.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

With observations from Steve Jobs on the profound effect of the publication of the Whole Earth Catalog to the beginning of the demand for various forms of low tech social media and mass communication and organisation.  The politicisation and science of the environmental cause and it’s own unique soundtrack of The Mamas & The Papas and 5th Dimension.  While free press is touched on with the shift of trust in the press moving from established publications of newspapers and magazines to the zeitgeist of Rolling Stone or self published zines like the highly controversial Oz magazine.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

With such a broad account of a bracketed time there were some notable exclusions and subjects not so deeply analysed.  This whole outlook had the perspective and outlook of the white, middle class, Western male.  The images of women chose to represent the new freedoms of women were so often hypersexualised in psychedelic art and album packaging.  Although female artists are well represented here with fashion, music and the odd piece of art, the section on the womens movement felt token with a nod to less than a handful of authors including Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch and advertising for the contraceptive pill.  Strangely included in this display was Jane Fonda’s thong and chainmail from 60’s space romp Barbarella.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

Once again re-enforcing the idea that female sexual expression goes hand in hand with passive male gratification.  By equal measure the huge, radical world changing events of the Civil Rights movement and Black Power has been reduced to a single display case.  This is a mystery when music is the key theme of the exhibition to sideline one of the single biggest influences on the music with the merging of black culture into music in a way that goes beyond the imitation of ‘negro’ music in rock ‘n’ roll of the 50’s and early 60’s seemed obtuse. With a sound nod to the student movements of France and the European continent don’t expect the view of these events to go any further a field.  The dramatic shifts in collective power won by the LGBTQ community of 60’s San Francisco and elsewhere are mere footnotes marked with a couple of prints depicting lesbian acts and gay contact mag from back in the day.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

The huge achievement of the exhibition is to depict this world shifting period without longing and rose tinting, rather, there is a sense of excitement at looking at all of the things made possible by the Baby Boomers and the failures of the time.  The breaking down of old ways of thinking, being and doing and inversely the lack of a plan for the future, because all things seemed possible although very little in depth coverage is given to how the Baby Boomers went bust and that’s the burden born by Generation X and the Millennials.  All the more reason to get to the V&A and examine the evidence for yourself, draw your own conclusions and hopefully your own inspiration from a generation who are already leaving the party that they started.  Just don’t expect an instruction manual.  On display is a printed leaflet entitled ‘Karma Repair Kit Items 1-4’, which reads, “1. Get enough food to eat, and eat it.  2. Find a place to sleep where it is quiet, and sleep there.  3. Reduce the intellectual and emotional noise until you arrive at the silence of yourself and listen to it.  4.            .”

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 (Belle Piec)

In epilogue to the exhibition the major outcomes of the period are reflected upon and the legacy of the late 60’s on modern culture and politics packaged neatly into a nightmarish rapidly accelerating video montage, juxtaposed with the strangely related treasures of replica of John Lennon’s lyrics to Imagine handwritten on a notepad from the New York Hilton and a beautiful copy of William Blake’s Jerusalem from 1804.  Perhaps suggesting that the spirit of idealism was neither new nor gone, simply something that arrives as inspiration when it is most needed and we may need it now more than ever.

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<script>_psEmbed(“http://images.rockshot.co.uk”);</script>The exhibition will run between 10th September 2016 – 26th February 2017

Tickets £16 with concessions available, V&A members go free.  Advanced booking is advised.

The V&A is open daily from 100.00 – 17.45 and until 22.00 on Fridays.

Written by Sarah Sievers and photography by Belle Piec