Apparently if you can remember the 60s you weren’t really there. Which must mean that I was at the heart of the whole groovy thing because my earliest memory is from 1980.
Beatles to Bowie on at the NPG seems to have been sold as a nostalgia riot but that’s doing it a major disservice – the quality on display goes way beyond rose-tinted flashbacks to a better time.
For all that the 60s was the decade that redefined the norm this is a very conventional and straightforward show. The decade rolls by year-by-year starting with a vaguely broody Cliff Richard from 1960 and ending with a riot of colour in 1969. There are magazine covers, neat little descriptions of almost forgotten artists and groups, and every conceivable form of musician portraiture from tiny little black and white things to towering colour prints via adverts for Vox amps and articles for Vogue.
There are some cliches – The Animals are seen in a straightforward shot in front of The Rising Sun pub – but also some shots that leap out: Billy Fury obviously wants to come straight out of the photo to ravish your teenage daughter, Gerry Marsden stands alone on the street he grew up in (neatly partnered by Tom Jones looking over Pontypridd) and Dylan manages to look cool whilst selecting his footwear.
The only downside is the constant presence of The Rolling Stones. Maybe I’m tilting at sacred windmills but with one exception where the photographer has smeared the lens with vaseline they just seem to be trying too damn hard. In keeping with their phoney rivalry though The Beatles come out of it better with a series of images from every stage of their decade – the best being the David Bailey shot of in stark monochrome of Lennon and McCartney looking in different directions. Simple and magnificent.
It’s a fantastic exhibition but I did tell a lie a moment ago. There’s a second downside. It’s £11 of your pounds to get in (£12.10 if you pay the donation entry price) and you will have to stand behind some slow-moving baby boomers struggling to exactly recollect The Troggs. But it’s worth it, it really is.