Saturday, July 23, 2011

Memories are Made of This

I was overjoyed recently to discover, on-line inevitably, some memorabilia that evoked long-forgotten personal memories. And it reminded me that preserving rock heritage very much includes ensuring that ephemera, even apparently the inconsequential, is saved. The history of the rock age will not be told and interpreted through the 'concrete' artifacts of buildings, stage gear and instruments. The real stuff of history will be the ticket stubs, handbills and posters that contextualise the personalities and performances.

On a recent ‘Classic Rock’ tour we stood outside Finsbury Park's Rainbow Theatre (nee the Astoria and now a Brazilian church). I did my best to bring the building to life with tales of Zappa's misfortunes there, Pink Floyd's seminal performance of Dark Side of the Moon, Hendrix's first guitar burning, The Who's 'Tommy' show, Van Morrison's historic BBC live broadcast, Clapton's return gig, and Bob Marley's triumph. But the thing that really brought the whole thing to life for tour participants was holding a facsimile ticket for the Beatles first fan club show, held in this very building, December 1964; a facsimile copied from an original to be found for sale on the MEM Cinema & Music Memorabilia site (

Palpable shivers were brought to collective spines as each in turn was presented their own 'ticket to ride'. So much history in such a little bit of paper. And to think that the original holder of this ticket would have paid just 8/6d for it. (Here's one for the historians; when did scalpers first appear?). In 'modern' money that's about 44p (75 US$ cents, half a €uro, less than one Brazilian Real). That's what a rock (pop) show was then worth; even for the biggest band.

Fantastic isn't it? McCartney's show in Hyde Park cost about £90 last year. How times have changed. But it is by examining such ephemera that historians begin to understand rock's changing position in our social history. It's not just so called 'valuable' memorabiliia that's the key. For a few months (perhaps years) Amy Whitehouse (RIP) material will now fetch a premium, but will it ever illustrate anything other than the story of yet another poor, troubled kid caught up in, and beliveing, the rock'n' roll dream'? Historians wil have plenty of examples to choose from. The key is to preserve the generic, not the specific. A poster for the Crawdaddy in Richmond will be worth a thousand autographed Stones LPs (especially since the vandals who now own the building have erased all memories of its illustrious rock past.

Me? My emphemera will only interest a limited audience. It's not the real stuff of history. My purchases from MEM’s site were a programme for Frank Zappa's 1972 Oval show (with Jeff Beck and Welsh band, Man, among the supports - and what a show!), and an original handbill for one of the first formal concerts I ever went to; a package tour with Gene Pitney headlining. But the real reason for going? To see my then 'fav' band, Amen Corner, who were also on the bill. It seemed a lot at the time (and a significant percentage of my weekly pocket money), but I'd wager the ticket was not more then 5s (anyone got one?). Happy days, happy memories, and two pieces of rock history that I'm now proud to own.

What your favourite piece of memorabilia? Will it broadly inform future generations or just be something for the grandkids to wonder at?

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