October 23, 2009 / 4:56 PM / in 8 years

Beatles-to-Bowie show delights in '60s Britain

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A new show at Britain’s National Portrait Gallery in London captures swinging 1960s Britain in photographs from bopping to the Beatles at the Cavern to the psychedelic explosion that ushered in the 1970s.

The display of 150 photographs, collections of album sleeves, music magazine covers, sheet music and other items celebrate the rise of British pop and rock music giants such as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd alongside U.S. contemporaries including Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.

The portraits by acclaimed photographers David Bailey, Cecil Beaton, Don McCullin and a host of others are organized into decades from the sweet innocence of youth early in the decade to the decadent, drug-fueled psychedelic and sexual liberation which characterized the summer of love in 1968 and beyond.

The early years of the exhibition focus heavily on the Beatles, Rolling Stones and homegrown acts lesser known abroad including Cilla Black and Cliff Richards, although Rod Stewart appears alongside Long John Baldry in a 1964 portrait of a group called Steampacket.

“We just wanted to reflect really who were the big stars in each year,” exhibition curator Terence Pepper told Reuters on Friday.

But Pepper -- who at 60 recalls the era and the music well -- said the show also depicts how quickly the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin changed the musical landscape and conquered the world.

“It was all completely new. It was all happening. Pop music isn’t even on the radio yet,” Pepper said.

“The BBC has got three hours on the air they can play records and hardly any of them what you can call rock and roll or pop.”

Overhead speakers softly play hits from the decade to lend atmosphere to the exhibition that also includes original ‘60s fashion from Biba and Mary Quant on Adel Rootstein mannequins.

The show plays out the rivalry of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in pictures from a variety of top photographers who helped create and endorse their changing images.

Pepper said the show’s title illustrates how the decade which belonged to the Beatles at its inception eventually gave way to stars like David Bowie, who came into his own at the close of the 1960s and flourished in the 1970s.

Younger photographers Fiona Adams and Philip Townsend also feature as the exhibition explores how they took over from established masters of earlier eras such as Cecil Beaton and Norman Parkinson, who were still shooting.

A series of 10 showcases features pop ephemera including pop magazines Fabulous and Rave and pictorial spreads from Town magazine showing McCullin’s photo-essay on a pre-T.Rex Marc Bolan as a Mod before he was famous.

Other sections are devoted to the mini-invasion of U.S. stars, among them the Walker Brothers and later Jimi Hendrix, who moved to England to launch their careers.

The portraits also show Britain’s transition from a post-war era where rationing had ended and the babies of World War Two grew into tentative teenagers trying out their independence, to the sex, love and rock n’ roll lifestyle which characterized the late ‘60s and gave birth to the hedonistic 1970s.

“It’s great to have all these songs playing again,” Pepper said.

Editing by Michael Roddy

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