Evoking memories of student bedrooms and NME inspired collages, Jeremy Deller’s pop-art exhibition at the Hayward Gallery throws open his cupboard for all to see. Almost like a counter-culture riposte to the hedonism of the New Labour years, Joy in People, offers a sweeping nineties retrospective. Indeed his vision of the decade appears to pine inwards towards the 1980s – a hangover of union brass bands, strong armed marches, Margaret Thatcher, cups of tea and weekly music magazines. Every decade has to be historically collectivised in some way. In that respect this exhibition is a museum of old ideas. A collision of forces that formed and peaked during the passive consumerism of the Blair years.
One rock band in particular, the Manic Street Preachers, form the social heartbeat of the exhibition. With the 1997 fanzine project ‘The Uses of Literacy’ being reinstalled for new audiences, it pays tribute to the obsessive fan culture that surrounded the band in the mid-nineties. Literary quotes, paintings, confessional stories and some fucking awful poetry, the exhibition never veers too far away from an alternative kid’s bedroom. Music is fleeting in that respect. Most people’s inspirational touchstones are formulated from the ages of 14 to 22 and slowly ebb away with each passing year. The pressures of earning a living and the cyclical nature of youth culture pay heed to that.
*Offering my own tribute, written as a 24 year old, I recall a diary piece I wrote as the lights of fan worship were dimming if not completely dying out. Below is my recollection of my last ever Manics gig at the Edinburgh Corn Exchange in April 2005. It’s my late, late offering to Jeremy Deller. If only to serve as a reminder of how quickly one’s memories can become an exhibit in a museum.
Monday, April 18th 2005
After watching my girlfriend collapse in a bucket in tears on my bed I realised I had made a mistake. I felt incredibly guilty but I was scared of being disappointed and I didn’t want my ragged feelings ruining everybody else’s night. I changed my mind of course and later on that afternoon we were in Edinburgh rummaging for sailor suits and jumpers inside a 20th Century clothes shop. I knew then that I had made the right decision. There are some happy memories in the capital and walking through the historic Old Town in the rain was beautiful, it was almost like my footsteps were being drawn in ink.
The Manics were the major pulling factor and they were playing the Corn Exchange, which is deep in the suburbs and we arrived late that evening and the venue looked like an abandoned swimming pool. The rectangle white hall was much smaller than I expected and consequently there was very little room to manoeuvre. James Dean Bradfield looked muscular and extremely fit, while Nicky Wire was really tall and danced around on stage like a glittering Welsh salmon. The Manics reached their saturation point years ago and it felt strange seeing them live again. There was something serene and ghostly calm about them, previous landmark singles that were once powerful statements had now become cabaret and were played with a jukebox familiarity.
I did feel the Manics were slightly cabaret in places, the Holy Bible moments however were absolutely amazing, especially Of Walking Abortion and If White America, which were like vicious snarling scabs and for blurring white seconds I felt like I was obsessed and eighteen all over again. There was also Roses in the Hospital and they ended with a crashing version of Motown Junk, which started off with Paradise City by Guns and Roses and it was coolest send off ever! The thudding drums whipped the crowd to a chaotic frenzy and it was the perfect ending to a heavenly evening. It was the goodbye moment I had always wanted.