New Scenes, new dreams

Lisa Tickner – London’s New Scene and Culture in the 1960s (Paul Mellon, 2020)

Andy Neill – Ready Steady Go (BMG, 2020)

I highly recommend these two books, notwithstanding the amount of literature and other coverage the 60s has had.

Tickner’s book contains a breadth of research, continued in the extensive notes. It is an account of, first art, then other cultural media and social phenomena; in that order, but also an indeed new scene of relations and dynamics.

A source new to me is The Image by Daniel J. Boorstin, 1961, published as a Pelican in 1962. I am pleased though that she cites Man About Town magazine, later just Town as a precursor to the Sunday supplements. Copies I have show a joyful debt to the Harper’s designer Alexei Brodovitch.

I’ll jump here to p.19 of Ready Steady Go, a photo of Mick Jagger with a note: ‘Mick Jagger photographed by Terry O’Neill in the foyer of Television House, as Mick’s admirers press against the doors.’ The photographic image is giving those in its eye a new, compelling mix of casual-intimate and glamourously apart.

Tickner invites us to consider her term ‘scene’ by discussing Bourdieu’s notion of a ‘field’ of cultural production and the less prescriptive view of Howard Becker. But a field of some kind it is, as her very interesting chapter-choices unfold.

Chapter 1, 1962, concerns Ken Russell’s TV documentary on London’s art scene for Monitor. Chapter 5, 1966, looks at Antonioni’s film Blow-Up and has the subtitle ‘The Cult of the Photogenes’. The scene’s components are brought together in the ‘Prices’ section of Chapter 2 on the Kasmin Gallery:

‘the availability of disposable income; an aesthetic, social or speculative compulsion to spend it on art; the influence of particular dealers, critics and curators; and competition for a limited supply of signature works.’

…bringing this up to date with an Artforum special issue of 2008 with a Damien Hirst on the cover. For an important exposition of the change from art to Art in the renaissance, see Hans Hess, ‘Art and Social Function’, in Marxism Today, August 1976. The scene’s components and complicities coming under strain, Tickner well accounts for in her Epilogue, looking at Conceptual Art.

Andy Neill’s archiving of Ready Steady Go is of a scope I had given up hope on, such was the importance to us of this TV programme at 5.30 on a Friday. The endpapers reproduce the passes given to dancers from London clubs, recruited as the audience.

The dancer Sandy Sarjeant is one of those reflecting through the book about what was evolving. This alongside Vicki Wickham, Dusty Springfield, Eric Burdon… a wonderful format which reminds me of Jonathan Green’s Days In The Life, 1988, only with photos you’ve not seen.

On the back of the 1964 Decca Ready Steady Go LP Francis Hitching writes:

‘We decided to have none of the frills of scenery or costume, but to let the music and the atmosphere speak for itself.’

It was not the format of TV variety shows, but it did make a scenery. To receive it, it set itself among a new aesthetic of black and white op art, Lulu, the Stones 1965 against an enlarged black and white part-photo of the Animals first LP cover.

The energy of the music and the image.

Robert Galeta

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