Bristol Music: Seven decades of sound – Questions with the curator

With contributions from over 200 people, M Shed's new exhibition traces Bristol's musical heritage

Talisman by Mike Darby for M Shed Bristol Music
Talisman – © Mike Darby

On Saturday, M Shed opened the doors to their latest exhibition: Bristol Music: Seven decades of sound. Running until 30 September, the multimedia exhibition features contributions from over 200 people who have been involved in Bristol’s ever-bubbling music scene from the 1950s right up until our current climate.

Photos documenting important subcultures (…) sit amongst relics of some of the city’s lost music venues that provided a greenhouse for Bristol artists

Photos documenting important subcultures from 80s punks and 90s ravers to the current grime scene sit amongst relics of some of the city’s lost music venues that provided a greenhouse for Bristol artists to make the groundbreaking music that still permeates tastes today. Portraits of some of these artists also make up part of the photographic part of the collection (including contributions from the Nitelife archives).

Visitors will also be able to listen to music from the last seven decades at various audio points, including the graffiti’ed karaoke car, or watch a variety of films documenting different aspects of Bristol’s music scene.   

Punks in Bristol (1982) M Shed Bristol Music
Bristol Punks (1982) – © Frank Passingham and Simon Edwards

Before answering a few questions, Bristol Music: Seven decades of sound lead curator Lee Hutchinson explains how he ended up at M Shed and why he’s stayed put: 

‘I’ve been working in museums for nearly fifteen years – mostly Midlands-based – before moving to Bristol at around the time of the Banksy exhibition at Bristol Museum in 2009. It was a great time to arrive. I thought, “Yes, I’ve arrived in a good place – a progressive city with an equally progressive museum service”. 

I picked up on a strong sense of independence and passion for democracy in Bristol

‘I picked up on a strong sense of independence and passion for democracy in Bristol, which made me feel right at home. I’d been flitting around from place to place for years, but there was something about Bristol that made want to put down roots. Which I did and I haven’t looked back!’

Why have you selected the past seven decades of sound as significant in shaping Bristol’s musical history?

Because popular music, which is the main focus of the exhibition, really took off with the rise of skiffle groups and the subsequent beat craze that came out of it. Pete Creed arguably formed the first beat group in Bristol in 1955 – The Red Comets – so it seemed appropriate to trace the history of Bristol music since then. 

Ian Anderson and John Turner at The Troubadour
Ian Anderson and John Turner at The Troubadour (1970) – © Ian A Anderson

Did the exhibition pan out as you expected it would when you first had the idea to curate it?

We literally had no idea how it would pan out and we had no preconceived notions about how it would look. We wanted that to come out of public consultation, which it did. We had an advisory group made up of various people connected to Bristol’s music scene, past and present, and at our first meeting we asked them what they would like to see, hear, think, feel and do in an exhibition about Bristol music. Their reactions to that – which we mapped on a chart – directly fed into the subsequent design of the exhibition. So it’s very much an experience-led exhibition, and as much (in fact more) to do with emotions as it is with intellect.

What’s the rarest piece people will find on exhibition?

There are lots of rare pieces, mostly photos that haven’t been seen for decades in some cases – particularly from the punk scene. One of the rarest things we received is a little known track sung by DJ Derek called Burlington Bertie in 1964. He was in a comedy/cabaret beat act called The Burlington Berties during the 1960s and he occasionally sang and played the drums. It was never released, so it’s great that it’s being aired publicly for the first time and his voice is really good – it’s a catchy tune!

One of the rarest things we received is a little known track sung by DJ Derek called Burlington Bertie in 1964 

The Troubadour M Shed Bristol Music
Owners Ray and Barbara Willmott outside The Troubadour – © Ian A Anderson

Do you have a favourite part of the collection personally?

I love the time-travelling section, as you walk in. There are small booths, which each try to capture a flavour of each decade from the 1950s to the present day. They contain video footage, artefacts and quotes from the news sources of the day – it’s a deeply immersive experience and really does help to bring back memories of previous eras.

it’s a deeply immersive experience and really does help to bring back memories of previous eras

Who has contributed to the collection?

All manner of people. At the last count it was over 200 people from all walks of life, from all over the city and beyond. Contributions have mostly come from people who felt very connected to a particular scene, so we have lots of genres covered – from skiffle and beat, jazz and folk, right through to trip-hop, drum and bass and grime. 

90s clubbing in Bristol
90s ravers at Tribe of Frog – © Mark Simmons

In which ways will the exhibition be multimedia?

There’s a stack of multimedia throughout the exhibition. You can listen to different genres of music at various audio points, there are films made by UWE students and young people more widely – exploring what Bristol music means to them. There is a ‘living room’ area showing various films about Bristol music, a karaoke car, where you can choose songs to sing along to (The Wurzels has been a favourite – Ooh-ar-ooh-ar!) and even a ‘mini club’ where you can choose five different clubbing experiences to dance in, from The Bamboo Club, The Dug Out and The Granary through to Lakota and Motion.

you can choose five different clubbing experiences to dance in, from The Bamboo Club, The Dug Out and The Granary through to Lakota and Motion

How long should people give themselves to look around and take everything in?

About five hours – ok maybe a slight exaggeration! But you’ll need to make more than one visit to take everything in.

Lice at The Louisiana M Shed Bristol Music
Lice at The Louisiana – © Simon Holliday

Until 30 September – Bristol Music: Seven decades of sound,  M Shed
bristolmuseums.org.uk

READ MORE >> GALLERY // Backstage with Bandulu Gang, Commodo, Sir Spryo & more at Sequences Festival

Previous Jungle to UKG: Buckfast Boys warm up for Balter Festival with a 40-minute guest mix
Next Kissy Sell Out (KSO) comes to The Doghouse for an intimate four-deck special

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *