Did you don petticoats and rock ‘n’ roll in the Fifties, swing to the sultry sounds of the Sixties, become a punk in the Seventies, experiment with electrics in the Eighties or adore Britpop in the Nineties? Yes? Then you could star in a new television series on BBC Four. That’s right, BBC Music have launched a new project, the People’s History of Pop, which will document our country’s love of pop music over the ages and they’re looking for participants. We spoke to Zoë Jewell, one of the directors working on the project, to find out more.
Over the course of four one-hour episodes (broadcast quarterly on BBC Four in 2016), the BBC will document the history of British pop music from 1956 to 1996 – from Lonnie Donegan and the rise of skiffle, through the summer of love, post-hippie glam rock, hell-raising metal and ending with the arrival of the digital age. Sounds good to us. But this is a show with a difference... There will be no academics with their ‘expert’ opinion but instead people like you and me sharing our memories of the music we knew and loved through a unique crowdsourcing website.
‘We want your stuff and your stories,’ Zoë explains. ‘Go on the website and create a profile (so that your stuff is always linked to you), then upload photos, audio or video of pop and music memorabilia, along with a story or description about what that item meant to you at the time, where you were and when. We will then contact the people with really nice stories and go out to film them in their homes or at a particular venue.’
People will be able to upload to the website throughout 2016 but they’ve already had some fantastic submissions, from an early island reggae vinyl and a photo from a North East Toyah fan, to a recording of a Geordie band influenced by Dexys Midnight Runners and a fan who saved a Skol beer can that belonged to Ray Davies from The Kinks.
‘One woman uploaded a photo of her and her family meeting The Beatles,’ Zoë says. ‘It was on John Lennon’s birthday in 1964 and they happened to be in the same restaurant. While the band were posing for the photo, Lennon put on her mother’s fur coat.’ Priceless.
But from the Pet Shop Boys to the Spice Girls, anything goes. ‘We’re not being snobby,’ Zoë laughs. ‘We’re defining pop as anything that was popular, because the music that resonates with people isn’t always the same. It’s the memories and the stories that are important.’
So while you may not have a snap of you with The Beatles or even a soggy Morrissey shirt flung into the crowd, it’s a project that we can all contribute to in one way or another.
‘People don’t realise what they have,’ Zoë goes on to say, ‘It takes a bit of head shift because you don’t think of yourself as of historical interest, but things that don’t seem valuable are valuable to us because of the stories that come with them.’
Whether you collected band T-shirts, kept your tickets or simply have a photo of you and your friends at a music gig on a Saturday night, it’s all worth submitting to the site. People’s History of Pop are collecting submissions and stories from across the country, but they’re particularly interested in the North East.
‘Somebody recently uploaded a ticket stub from a place called Club A’GoGo,’ Zoë explains, ‘It’s not around now, but at the time it was one of the top music venues in Newcastle. We’d really like some more memories around that so that we can make a real story of it.’
Were you there? Then let them know. The North East has produced some of the most talented musicians of the last 50 years, from Bryan Ferry and Mark Knopfler, to The Animals and Sting and our memories of these figures as fledgling musicians could really help to enrich our understanding of this culture – and of course, put our region firmly on the music map.
For more information about the People’s History of Pop or to upload your own submissions visit www.phop.co.uk.
The accompanying television series will be aired on BBC Four in 2016.