Thursday, 11 May 2017

And Ziggy played the Poly

Fifty years ago today (12th May) Procul Harem’s A Whiter Shade of Pale was released  - a seminal record and one which was subject to a well publicised copyright dispute around joint authorship. In fact the victor there, Matthew Fisher, can be doubly pleased as changes to duration provisions in copyright law now mean that copyright in the sound recording now persists to 2037, rather than finishing in 2017. 

Whilst not as seminal, on this date 45 years ago David Bowie played our Law School Building. To mark Bowie’s passing we produced a spotify playlist replicating the set list he was alleged to have played that day and this is available here.  Our Little Titchfield Street site has a fabulous musical pedigree and history, with many bands playing here in the 1960s and 1970s, a selection of posters  from this time, sourced from our University Archives, are on display in the Law School and available on line here. To mark this 45th anniversary we are delighted to present a guest blog from our very own Chris Ellins, Course Leader of the LLM Entertainment Law at the University of Westminster  

 
The photo for the album sleeve was in fact taken in Heddon Street,
a stone's throw from the University.

 And Ziggy played guitar – at the University of Westminster
by Chris Ellins


45 years ago on 12 May 1972, as part of what became his iconic Ziggy Stardust tour, David Bowie and his band, The Spiders from Mars played at the Little Titchfield Street venue of the Polytechnic of Central London (which had recently changed name but was still widely known as Regent Street Polytechnic), both predecessors of the University of Westminster. It was the tour that would start his ascent into becoming a global icon. Little Titchfield Street was the home to the student union and a hub of student musical activity at the university and a popular venue on the student circuit. It played host to many bands and singers of the 1960s and 1970s, including Cream and early incarnations of Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac and also was the first place that Jimi Hendrix performed in the United Kingdom.

Bowie released Hunky Dory in December 1971 and in 1972 followed this up with a tour to promote that album and the emerging Ziggy Stardust. The first part of the tour included many colleges on the student tour circuit and the gig at the University of Westminster was part of this. David Bowie was not as well-known or popular at the time as he became, he had only just secured a new 3 album record contract in the summer of 1971 and many gigs were reported not to be full. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars album was released in June 1972, was followed by a tour of larger venues and then the USA later in the year and David Bowie the legend was born. On the Hunky Dory album Bowie referred to himself as an actor and it’s clear the gig at the University of Westminster took place at the moment just before Bowie was on the cusp of worldwide fame during which he was consolidating the development of his Ziggy Stardust persona and showed his acute interest in performance and the art of drama and stagecraft, with his stage shows featuring lights, extravagant (for the time) stage costumes  and costume changes, all mixed with his projection of skilled musicianship and ambiguous sexuality – a whole enveloping dramatic and musical experience. One footnote to the show was that the tour featured guest keyboard players. At the time of the Polytechnic of Central London gig this was Matthew Fisher who had played with Procol Harum, in particular on their famous song Whiter Shade of Pale, which had been released fifty years ago and exactly five years to the day before Bowie and the Spiders from Mars played at The Polytechnic of Central London. This song many years later became the subject matter of litigation brought by Fisher concerning copyright authorship and ownership, reaching the highest court in the land, the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court).

A review of the show showed all of these elements featured. Described as at “Regent Street Poly”, Rosalind Russell reported that Bowie “camped up his show outrageously”, featured a costume change from the first to second part of the set and that he “posed, postured and pouted for the audience.” “Coloured lights flashed in conjunction with the music, and gave good effect to the short set the Spiders did without David” (presumably during the costume change). It also featured an intimate element when “David and his lead guitarist Mick Ronson sat at the front of the stage, and David sang "Space Oddity".  The set was mix of the old Bowie numbers, covers and the coming Ziggy Stardust new. It was rapturously received and Russell reported that “even after an encore, it was a while before the audience would leave the hall, such was the success of the show

She concluded that “somehow it would be a shame if Bowie was to become a superstar, but I don't think fame would turn his head!”. It was clear the super star Bowie soon after became had emerged and had played at what is now the home of Westminster Law School, its Centre for Law Society and Popular Culture and associated LLM in Entertainment Law at the University of Westminster.

Source: Rosalind Russell May 1972, no title given http://www.5years.com/rrussell72.htm  but probably from Disc and Music Echo May 1972 seehttps://www.rocksbackpages.com/Library/Writer/rosalind-russell




Tuesday, 14 February 2017

What Difference Does It Make?

'All men have secrets and here is mine, so let it be known'.

So opened The Smiths' third single, 'What Difference Does it Make?'. To these ears an astonishing clarion call and a fine addition to the canon, although compared against the first two singles undeniably not as strong. Still,  it was an unbridled and unfettered joy to journey to the record shop to purchase, as were all The Smiths releases, at least  until 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore'. Morrissey apparently later disassociated himself with it somewhat as he was not keen on the lyrics. The lyrics in fact, allude to a secret. Perhaps even less well known are the secrets of the University of Westminster, notwithstanding the sterling efforts of our Archival Services to rectify this occlusion. To further help remedy this the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, of which Westminster Law School is a part, has announced a festival that seeks to unlock some of these secrets. 













The University of Westminster has somehow always been different. Our predecessors created a place where the public could explore new ideas, view new inventions and learn new skills, and our University Values today reflect this very public aspect of our mission. The first moving images, the first photography studio, Pepper's Ghost; the Regent Street Polytechnic was famous for making such marvels accessible to all. Similarly, our work rehabilitating servicemen injured during World War One is but one historical example of  commitment to  making a difference and having a real world impact.  The Difference Festival hopefully will showcase some of the ways in which we are different, and make a difference. There are lots of events, all free and open to all, that can be booked, including a rare chance to visit the cinema and hear our Compton Organ being played, so please visit the website and sign up. Morrissey's perhaps rhetorical question is certainly relevant to all academics today as we consider why we do what we do and how we do it.   The University of Westminster more than most has a history and ethos that allows us to respond with some positivity to his question.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

I offer up to you this tribute: Billy Bragg and my dad

My dad died in 2000. I've blogged about him before, particularly around the great work of the Stroke Association who provided my dad with great support after his first stroke, and also after I met Edwyn Collins shortly after his own stroke. It's Fathers' Day today. I think about my dad all the time, but particularly on day's like these. I've taken to posting a link to Billy Bragg's Tank Park Salute every year - its become a sort of small, personal act of remembrance. Its a wonderful song, and makes me quite emotional just thinking about it. An excerpt from the lyrics appears below, and a video of Billy performing this appears in the link above. 

'You were so tall
How could you fall?

Some photographs of a summer's day
A little boy's lifetime away
Is all I've left of everything we've done
Like a pale moon in a sunny sky
Death gazes down as I pass by
To remind me that I'm but my father's son

I offer up to you
This tribute
I offer up to you
This tank park salute'
(from Billy Bragg: Tank Park Salute)

I've met Billy a few times, and he has always been kind and generous. Billy Bragg concerts have been a bit of a constant throughout my adult life - perhaps I will at some point write a piece for my Tickets of Distinction (my other blog, celebrating some of the gigs I have been to over the years) blog about one or two of these, but here I want to concentrate on one meeting, in 2010, at Latitude Festival. Tank Park Salute is of course a tribute to Billy's late father, Dennis. I met Billy by chance outside the poetry tent, and in the course of our conversation I told him about what the song meant to me. Billy was brilliant, and asked me for a hug. In the photo below, pre-hug, Noah, my son, is also telling Billy about how I picked up one of his plectrums at a Red Wedge gig.  

Billy only went up in my estimation that day, and I still remain in awe of his songwriting - Tank Park Salute is a wonderful tribute to his father and a lovely touchstone for lots of us, including this heartbreaking story from Neil Hughes's blog about his daughter. A couple of years ago I met the poet Mike Garry, eager readers may remember some of my previous posts about him
Mike had written a poem as a tribute to his mum, entitled What me mam taught me, which I thought was beautiful. Mike is a firm believer in the power of the word and that we all have poetry in us. we talked a lot about our fathers, both had had strokes, and Mike encouraged me to write a poem about my dad. I've written fragments but its not finished but maybe next year for fathers day I'll publish it. In the meantime, for my lovely dad, I offer up to you, this tribute. x








Friday, 10 June 2016

1966 and all that



I remember seeing this emblazoned on posters around London during EURO '96, and on the eve of EURO 2016 our thoughts turn to not thirty years of hurt, but now 50 years since our last major footballing success. Outside of the triumph at Wembley, 1966 was an important year for all sorts of other reasons. I'm currently reading Jon Savage's book 1966. I am a great admirer of Savage's work, England's Dreaming for example is by far the best account of punk that has been written and Savage's contextual awareness in all his work, Teenage being another fine example, is astounding. Savage describes 1966 as 'the year that the decade exploded', and the first chapter begins; 
'1966 was a year of noise and tumult, of brightly coloured patterns clashing with black and white politics, of furious forward motion and an outraged, awakening reaction. There was a sense that anything was possible to those who dared, a willingness to strive toward toward the seemingly unattainable. There remains an overwhelming urgency that marks the music and movies of that year, counterbalanced by traces of loss, disconnection and deep melancholy'.
I can't vouch for the whole book yet - I have been striving to read the book (which is divided into months) in such a way as to get a sense of the year in real time, 50 years on, so am only up to June, but what the book has illustrated so far is that 1966 is significant on many fronts. At the Centre for Law, Society and Popular Culture we are currently considering using 1966 as our theme for Centre events for the next academic year. We have previously used themes for our Film Matters series, and thought that 1966 might work as the motif for a series of events given its significance.  
In terms of the cinema, Roman Polanski's Cul De Sac received its world premiere at our Cinema in 1966 and we are hoping to show that. Other key films released that year included Blow Up, The Battle of Algiers and Au Hasard Balthazar all of which are currently being considered for screenings. Outside of the cinema but still within visual media we have already pencilled in a screening of Cathy Come Home, introduced by Professor Peter Robson (former Chair of Shelter) and chaired by Dr Russell Orr to mark the 50th anniversary of its BBC debut.
Musically, key albums released in 1966 include The Beatles' Revolver, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, and Dylan's Blonde on Blonde (Centre Member Ken Foster was even at the infamous 'Judas' Dylan concert at the  Manchester Free Trade Hall!). We have previously run Vinyl and Wine events at the Centre where members of the Centre take it in turns to play an album of their choice and might refine this concept for those three albums above. Interestingly there is a far more eclectic soundtrack provided by Jon Savage to accompany the book, the Ace Records' spotify playlist of which is available here.  

Other events are being considered too, perhaps including some celebration of the important House of Lords Practice statement on Judicial Precedent, or even recognising 12 July as the date Tony Macaulay signed his publishing contract that ultimately led to the case of Schroeder v Macaulay. On as more macabre note, 1966 was also the year of the the sentencing of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady (The Moors Murders), and Harry Roberts (The Shepherds Bush Murders), both of which have featured heavily in popular culture.  Any more suggestions and ideas welcome, and keep an eye on the Centre website for news on developments. 
 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Just Like Honey?

This week I have been pre-occupied by bees. On Wednesday I went to a mesmeric live performance of Be: One at Sonos Studios in Shoreditch. This is part of a Wolfgang Buttress project  which seems to have developed far beyond what he even imagined at its inception - indeed at the Q&A that preceded the performance he seemed barely able to comprehend that a project he started with bee expert Dr Martin Bencsik of Nottingham Trent University has led to a booking at Glastonbury  this year and culminates (or maybe it will develop even further, who knows!) with an installation of The Hive at Kew Gardens this summer.
Be One at Sonos Studios, 11 May 2016
The performance itself was magnificent - I bought the album earlier in the year via the brilliant crew at Caught by the River (CBTR) website and the album can be purchased via that link. CBTR was formed by Heavenly's Jeff Barrett and his friends, and to me the man is a touchstone for quality and has barely put a foot wrong over a distinguished career  - Be One is no exception. The album is a beauty, an intensely moving and immersive attempt to harness 40,000 bees, with their very specific communication modes including their 'begging signals', 'tooting' and 'quacking'. Their sound is amplified and complemented by some superb musicians including members of Spiritualised in what Buttress calls 'a dialogue between bee and human'.
Coincidentally, on a research visit to South Africa last year, along with my colleague Steve Greenfield, I was taken to a hive outside Potchefstroom near Johannesburg. Again this was a fascinating experience, and the rituals surrounding beekeeping, and the sound of the bees  as we opened the hive, was amazing. This got me thinking about keeping bees myself, and I couldn't fail to notice the higher levels of bee awareness that were emerging, see the work of the Honey Club for example. Some more research revealed that bees had been introduced to Regent Street for the first time by the Crown Estates in 2009 and this got me thinking about my University, the University of Westminster and perhaps one of the crown jewels of Regent Street, and bees.
As an urban Polytechnic, it appears we have never taught classes on beekeeping. This perhaps  is one of the few practically oriented courses we have not taught, as a view of our history would indicate. Those wishing to delve more deeply into this should look no further than the excellent series of publications published as part of the University History Project. Only this week our esteemable archivists tweeted that Vidal Sassoon studied hairdressing at our predecessor, the Regent Street Polytechnic.  We have apparently experimented with keeping bees at the University, but sadly it appears our efforts up at our Chiswick Sports Ground were met with vandalism and, so far, despite some interest in placing hives on flat roofs and spaces at our various buildings in the West End and beyond, we have had little success. I'm hoping that we can further explore the possibility of using the otherwise overlooked rooftop at Westminster Law School for this and will report back if this comes to fruition. One of my favourite photos of the Law School actually involves students pictured on the roof performing gymnastics, sometime around 1929, an activity now precluded by health and safety considerations, see below.

For now though, whilst this has got me thinking about bees in song and bees in popular culture (the more 1980s popular music literate will have picked up on the reference in the title to this blog) I'll sign off with an excerpt from an earlier performance of Be: One, a link to the whole album on spotify,spotify:artist:06kHjoBIuDUNyFBNBMoAC2 and, with a sense of circularity, the video for Just Like Honey.





Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Do you believe in magic? The re-emergence of the Regent Street Cinema

This month marked the long awaited rebirth of our wonderful cinema,  now renamed the Regent Street Cinema. For a long time for staff at the University it was known as The Old Cinema, and has had various names over the years, as will be clear when the book about this, The Magic Screen, is published in June 2015.  I was lucky enough to be involved with the book, and also have had some small involvement with the Cinema over the years in various guises, see for example some previous blog posts here and our exhibition Classified.  The last few years have seen things really develop apace - a lot of the credit for this must go to our Vice Chancellor - not only has he seen the Cinema as an important project in its own right but has really seen fit to celebrate our heritage, including fully supporting the Archive and our excellent archivists. This was something which had previously been under-acknowledged and utilised and they do some brilliant work -  see for example their excellent online exhibition on World War One and the Polytechnic and recent exhibition of gig posters. They have of course also been heavily involved in the Cinema redevelopment. The Cinema itself is a beauty ands hopefully lots of people will come to visit it. Obviously opening a single screen cinema in the West End, and one that whilst it is a commercial cinema also is heavily linked into the University's educational ethos, which undoubtedly makes it a challenge to programme. That said, the initial programme has been superb - eclectic and imaginative in equal measure, and credit must go to the cinema director, Shira MacLeod for this.

The opening night saw the premiere of Lambert and Stamp for example, with Terence Stamp giving a Q&A and in the days since the programme has constantly surprised. I was lucky enough to Chair a Q&A on excellent new film Bypass. Its a hard hitting and great film, and provoked a vehement discussion. There is certainly a political element to it, and the team behind it were very keen to ensure it was released before the election. As it happened we screened this a week after the election, and the Q&A commenced almost exactly a week after the polls had closed.

Bypass; theatrical poster
We were privileged to have Samm Haillay, the Producer; David Procter, the Director of Photography, and Noel McLaughlin, a media academic and massive supporter of the film in attendance, and the first question, based upon this post election scenario, elicited some passionate audience responses. In fact, we did not have much time for any of the other questions I had prepared (including some classics on genre bending, finance and a discussion of Director Duane Hopkin's father's statement that 'academics don't live in the real world, they are either mentally or sexually frustrated' that I was going to put to David and Noel, the 2 academics on the panel) and as much of the discussion was taken up with audience and panel thoughts on how the film fitted into this and some debate around who the audience for the film was and whether it could reach further. The consensus was that it was an important and passionate film that deserved, and needed, to be seen. The point was also made that it was beautifully shot and it was a privilege to have David in attendance although time constraints meant we could not drill down on this during the Q&A, but luckily we eventually found somewhere to carry on the discussion afterwards, nothwithstanding the big queue at the Social.

I'll post on the Cinema again as its journey continues, and really hope that as many people as possible get to visit this historic space and see some of the brilliant films we are screening. Also, try and catch Bypass  - whilst I read it as a film about hope, Samm wanted it to be seen as a call to arms, and reflecting on it again I can see this as a clarion call and a touchstone for a different sort of hope. I'll end this as the film does, with the quite marvellous Soldier On by Richard Hawley and with a thought for the late Chris Collins, to whom the film is dedicated.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

We are, astronomical, fans of alcohol: World War One and the deadly foe of drink


‘You are, astronomical, fans of alcohol’ 
(British Sea Power: Waving Flags)


1916 poster (courtesy IWM). Campaigns such as this helped reduce
alcohol consumption during World War One


























Alcohol is deeply embedded in British culture and there have been numerous state, and other, responses to its control and regulation. However, as Philip Kolvin has noted in a key text in licensing law, ‘over the last half millennium, the political response to our national trait has been ever changing and contradictory’. Currently the provision of alcohol is largely governed by the Licensing Act 2003, but during World War One alcohol became a hot political topic. In particular, a key Government concern was that the war effort might be hampered by the abuse of alcohol. Shortly before War broke out the Licensing Act 1908 had in fact sought to regulate alcohol consumption but was not without its critics and large scale protests.  David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been a key figure in support of the 1908 Act, saw drink as particular problem once the war commenced;

‘We are fighting Germany, Austria and drink; and as far as I can see, the greatest of these deadly foes is drink’ David Lloyd George quoted in Beer, The Story of the Pint
  
Lloyd George had actually started a campaign for people to take the pledge during the War, something that even King George V acceded to, stating that no alcohol would be consumed in the Royal household until the war was over.  Voluntary measures such as this were deemed to be insufficient however and a series of regulatory measures were enacted, these included the reduction in licensing hours and introduction of no-treating orders. The Intoxicating Liquor (Temporary Restriction) Act 1914 received its royal assent at the end of August 1914. There had been many attempts at reducing drinking hours before 1914 but these really took root during World War One with the 1914 Act drastically curtailed drinking hours, allowing public houses to be open for a maximum of six hours per day and introducing a compulsory afternoon break in the areas of the country where it was operationalised. These restrictions largely persisted until passing of the Licensing Act 1988 first began the process of loosening these restrictions.

Another measure the Government introduced was the No Treating Order, introduced in October 1915. This meant that any drink ordered had to be paid for by the person to be supplied with the drink – effectively it was an ‘anti-round buying’ measure. The tradition of buying drinks for a group in rounds was a well established and popular one, although the Spectator felt this measure would ‘free hundreds of thousands of men from an expensive and senseless social tyranny’! The Government adopted other measures too, including the establishment of a central Liquor Control board with wide powers to regulate supply of liquor and trying to buy up a number of local breweries and constantly extending amounts of duty payable and attempting price control. These measures often were met with resentment, and sometimes satire as witnessed by Ernie Mayne the popular music hall performer, recording the song ‘Lloyd George’s Beer’, as can be heard here.

This is the first of what will hopefully be a series of blogs about the effect of World War 1 on law and popular culture, following a previous blog on the Polytechnic, law, popular culture and WW1, and one on thankful villages. Future ones will include pieces on censorship, court martials, spiritualism and intellectual property amongst other things, and if any readers have any ideas or would like to write a guest post, please get in touch. With luck, we will collate these and draw upon them and later provide the basis for some future developments at the Centre for the Study of Law, Society and Popular Culture.