Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith
Rickenbackers and buttons. It doesn’t get much easier to sum an exhibition up than that… Was definitely my first impression of About The Young Idea, an exhibition dedicated to the success of The Jam since the late 1970s, and the culture that grew from it. There’s a lot more to this exhibition than memorabilia though, with a serious focus on how they defined (half) a generation.
Mods and Rockers seems daft now – I wasn’t part of it, I’m glad I wasn’t – but if you actually compare it to what we have today there’s a serious divide driven down the centre of Britain’s young folk. Whether it’s political, cultural or financial is a big question, and not one for this article, but back then it was almost entirely cultural. Teenagers from all platforms of society were making clear choices about who they wanted to be, and about who they thought they were. Sometimes strange cameos happened with Sting and Phil Daniels becoming weird pseudo-representations of themselves.
It’s a mess to me. Simply put, I have no idea what went on, and I’m glad of it, because I get to come to exhibitions like this and find out. A part of it yes, but a significant perspective non-the-less. The highlight of the exhibition for me was a small room tucked away at the back of the gallery, filled to bursting point with doodles, school reports, and scribbled lyrics. I can’t speak for everyone, but mine were almost exactly the same.
Rooms like this bring the message of retrospective exhibitions home. They always will. A chance to see yourself in the shoes of the subject. What were they like as a child? What happened to them to put them on a pedestal? How can I do what they did? It’s maybe a little dear to get in – £9.50 a ticket on average – but it’s worth it. If you’re taking the kids to the Odeon, you’ll pay five or six times that. If you go to the docks and wander around gift shops, you’ll pay double. In an exhibition that’s all about perspective, it’s worth putting the value in perspective.
You’re not just getting a lesson on how Paul Weller loved the Beatles, and how he buttons his suit jackets either. The gift shop transcends the boundaries of any gift shop I’ve ever been in before. There’s the boring tat, the cheap t-shirts, the badges and the posters, as always, but there’s also an incredible array of rare and vintage records in every format under the sun. And they’re for sale. In one place. And to top it off – If you think that £9.50’s a bit steep for something you’re heading to with the kids; you’ll miss everything; you’ll be rushed around; nothing will stick and you’ll leave £30.odd down – you won’t. There’s even an app available to visitors to keep for life, filled with film and content from the exhibition to take home and browse properly at your own leisure.
And in case I haven’t mentioned, it’s all happening in Liverpool’s incredible Cunard Building’s halls. The building is undergoing a lot of change right now, with the British Music Experience due to open this autumn, and Liverpool’s own Smiling Wolf and BCA Landscape, collaborating on some beautiful new public works on the city side of the building. It’s an exciting time for The Cunard, not just for fans of The Jam.
So go pay your £9.50 and see something incredible, rather than just taking the kids to the IMAX on Saturday. You’ll be supporting the development of a new cultural institution in Liverpool, the refurbishment of our beloved Three Graces, and get to see more badges than you’ve seen in your life (unless you were a mod once).
To find out more: About The Young Idea