A key development for live music between the pre-war period and the latter part of the 20th century, was the dawn of television. As ‘The Tube’ rapidly took over from the Radio as the main form of family entertainment from the 1950’s onwards, bands could play not only in clubs for a limited audience, but be filmed live in a television studio and broadcast to millions of people worldwide.
Suddenly what you looked like became just as important as what you sounded like, bringing an increased, creative focus to visual aspects of performance, such as costume, lighting and staging.
Scores of television programmes dedicated to family entertainment sprung up, showcasing live music performances, such as ‘The Six- Five Special’ and ‘Jukebox Jury’, followed by the era-defining ‘Top Of The Pops’. Over in the United States, when The Beatles played their first American performance for the Ed Sullivan Show, it was watched by over 73 million Americans – more than one-third of the population – springboarding the Sixties ‘British Invasion’, when British bands conquered America and much of the Western world.
As styles became more daring in the latter part of the Sixties and young rockers felt more confident to shed their ‘family friendly’ black suits and ties, live performance became a platform from which to display unbounded modes of spectacle and self-expression. As rock made way for glam and punk in the ‘70s and ‘80s, visual expression through costume, makeup and choreography became increasingly central to modern music culture.
New commercial channels emerged, such as MTV – the first 24-hour channel devoted to televising music – expanding the cult of celebrity. Artists – with encouragement from PR reps and managers – developed an iconic self- image, reproduced through merchandising such as band posters and T-shirts. The commercialisation of media encouraged high production, theatrical and performative music videos and stage performances, casting ever more influence on the fashion styles of young fans.
In 1991, the World Wide Web became available to the public, and it was The Rolling Stones, regular performers in neighbouring Richmond, who would become the first well-known band to broadcast live via the Internet when they broadcast a portion of their 1994 ‘Voodoo Lounge’ tour show in Dallas via a virtual network named Mbone. They were however beaten to the punch by an obscure Californian garage rock band – half an hour before Mick Jagger thanked everyone who had “climbed into the internet” to see them, Severe Time Damage had broadcast a short set of their own, claiming to be the Stones’s ‘opening act’.
Radiohead would go on to become one of the first major acts to use the internet as a promotional tool. Working with Capitol Records, they developed a Java applet called the Iblip that could be shared via email or embedded to fan sites and allowed users to stream the album in full before its release and pre-order the record. Predicting the next twenty years of the music business, Radiohead chose the internet as the place you would go to hear their next album.
Today, the web is by some distance the foremost platform for consuming media, and many musical ‘TikTok sensations’ have been discovered through uploading unassuming performances from their bedrooms.
For our film, we assembled a selection of recorded live performances from various acts who played live in Kingston between the early 1960s through to the 1990s, and asked a group of young people to reflect on the changing nature of the performances.
Cliff Richard and The Shadows, ‘The Young Ones’,
Small Faces, ‘I’ve Got Mine’,
(In film Dateline Diamonds, 1965)
Pink Floyd, ‘See Emily Play’,
Fleetwood Mac, ‘Dust My Broom – Please Find My Baby’,
Led Zeppelin, ‘Communication Breakdown’,
Status Quo, ‘Down the Dustpipe’,
David Bowie, ‘Starman’,
Genesis, ‘I Know What I Like’
Queen, ‘Killer Queen’
Siouxsie and the Banshees ‘Revolver’,
U2, ‘I Will Follow’,
New Order, ‘Blue Monday’,
Dodgy, ‘Good Enough’,
Our Gogglebox Panel: