You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970: Trip Back in Time at the V&A
We pay a visit to the V&A's latest groundbreaking exhibition and take a trip back to the late '60s with a feast for the eyes and the ears.
Words by Danielle Morgan
Find out more about You Say You Want a Revolution? Record and Rebels 1966-1970
Towards the end of the 1960s change was in the air, a revolutionary spirit had gripped a young generation who were no longer happy with the status quo, and the establishment were soon going to find out about it. Hemlines got shorter, voices louder, the pill was introduced and LSD was legal. The times they were a changin' in a way that even then, everyone knew would shape modern history for ever.
The latest exhibition to be unleashed upon us by the V&A, You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970, was beyond anything we could have imagined. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. Never have I left an exhibition with such an irresistible to run back in and experience it all again. As you walk through each stage of the exhibit, you really get the sense that you have, as cliché as it sounds, been transported back to a time when something truly revolutionary and significant was happening, and in every corner of life.
Carnaby Street Boutiques
Carnaby Street was the epicentre for new emerging fashions during the mid to late '60s. Biba, Mr Fish and Granny Takes a Trip were the go-to for the likes of Jimi Hendrix and David Bowie, offering affordable designs for a new disposable kind of fashion. It was out with make do and mend and in with paper dresses adorned with psychedelic prints and Warhol-esque Cambell's soup cans.
The conservative and restrictive fashions of the 1950s were long gone. When Mary Quant designed the first mini skirt in the late '60s, apparently, she says, named after the Mini Car, so called because it was just as long as it needed to be, politics were brought into the equation. The feminist agenda had been seeded long before with loose flapper styles in the 1930s and tighter, more revealing silhouettes in the 1950s but now it was really coming home to roost. Young people were the target of these new emerging fashions.
The exhibition features a glut of lust worthy original pieces from the time that'll leave you rushing home and scrawling ebay for psychedelic dresses and outrageous jumpsuits. Highlights include the dress Sandie Shaw wore when she competed in the 1967 Eurovision competition, designed by husband Jeff Banks, as well as original get ups worn by the likes of Roger Daltrey and Mama Cassidy (The Mama's and Papa's) at Woodstock.
To coincide with the social awakening, music became more experimental and expressive during the latter half the 1960s. With the legalisation of LSD, minds were opened and consciousness stirred.
Artists like The Beatles travelled to India and introduced Middle Eastern influences to a Western audience. Psychedelia was a massive influence on pop music at this time; the Rolling Stones were also experimenting with mind altering drugs and channelling these experiences into their music. Up until 1966, LSD was legal , used widely and openly by artists, musicians and students. It fed creativity and awakened consciousness in a way that hadn't been seen before.
If you're a fully fledge music fan, handwritten lyrics from the likes of Woody Guthrie and The Beatles will leave you feeling weak at the knees. The exhibition also boasts the original dress worn by Dusty Springfield on the cover of her Definitely... LP alongside the drum kit used by The Who during their '69 Woodstock set.
Political Protest and Social Change
With commercialism on the rise, the introduction of the Barclaycard, increasingly accessible air travel and advancements in sexual liberation, horizons were broadening and new ways of communicating alternative political agendas were in reach. The poster became a means of doing this in a cheap and easily distributed format, allowing independent distributors to convey unorthodox messages without government control or restraints. In this way feminist and minority agendas were allowed to fall through the radar.
Young students were undoubtedly the most politically vocal during this period. A solidarity between them and other oppressed factions of society existed that raised political injustices that had to be eradicated through any means necessary. What started off as peaceful protests and organised 'Happenings' quickly turned into hostility and violence.
They wanted to revolutionise the social and political agenda of an otherwise stoic and rigid system, and a largely white middle class mob speaking up for otherwise under or misrepresented parties did not sit well with the establishment. It is important to understand how campaigns such as #blacklivesmatter and LGBT marches still play into the hands of this backward ideology. Perhaps the revolution has only just begun. Seek propagandist poster artwork from the period, an original black panther uniform and an early example of the contraceptive pill.
Consumerism played into all aspects of life during the late '60s. The notion of mass consumption was only really starting to take effect during this period as marketing and the financial potential of merchandise finally began to dawn on industry big wigs.
Everything from Warhol inspired Campbell's soup paper dresses to stockings with patterns made from the outline of guitars and The Beatles heads were marketed to a population hungry for a material realisation of their favourite art and music.
The first Barclaycard's were distributed in 1966 making the buying and selling of goods more accessible. Now it was easy to fritter you hard earned pounds and shillings on goods you didn't really need but unexplainably wanted. With thought provoking quotes plastered to the walls throughout the exhibition, possibly none ring truer than the words of Andy Warhol, 'An artist is somebody who produces things that people don't need to have but that he, for some reason, thinks it would be a good idea to give them.'
With a never ending slew of rooms to weave your way through, this exhibition will not disappoint. From fashion and music through to politics and consumerism, the revolution of the late 1960s has been beautifully curated with rare artefacts from unprecedented collections including a healthy chunk of legendary pirate DJ John Peel's mammoth record collection that you can thumb your way through to your hearts' content.
In partnership with Sennheiser and Levi's, with a little help from Fenwick department stores, the exhibition strengthens links to the past. These brands shaped the music, fashion and consumerist culture of the time.
As you walk through the exhibition, the sounds of the sixties are blasted through Stennheiser headphones; from Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground. The music that was played over the wireless and in the clubs and boutiques brings the era to life as you are transported from room to room. Levi's have also leant a hearty chunk of their archive to areas of the exhibition; original '60s denim dress mannequins to fully recreate some of the most iconic looks of the era.
Don't miss out on this landmark exhibition, showing at the V&A until 26th February 2017. Get your tickets here.