Live Music Exchange Resources

The History of Live Music in Britain, Volume 2: 1968-1984: From Hyde Park to the Hacienda – Simon Frith, Matt Brennan, Martin Cloonan and Emma Webster (forthcoming)


Author(s): Simon Frith, Matt Brennan, Martin Cloonan and Emma Webster
Organisation / Affiliation: Ashgate
Date: Forthcoming

The second of three books detailing the history of live music in Britain since 1950.

Hyde Park concert, London, 1975

31st May 1975: The lead guitarist of a group playing at the free pop concert held in Hyde Park, London, 1975. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

By the end of the 1960s rock was the most profitable and fastest expanding music market in Britain and its ways doing business became dominant over the next decade. Rock divisions became sources of power and investment in record companies with classical music moving alongside jazz and folk as a minority interest. Staff rock critics featured on national newspapers and rock altered programming policy on both television and radio. Rock’s power in market and cultural terms was encapsulated by the rise of the rock album, a much more profitable product than the pop single.

In simple monetary terms the rock boom came to an end in 1978.  The oil crisis and the rising cost of vinyl meant that record sales growth slowed globally; there was a 20 percent drop in record sales in Britain in 1978-9 and both EMI and Decca were taken over.

The rock way of doing things, however, continued to dominate musical life for  another decade and in this book we will trace its effects on the experience of live music.  We should stress here that we are using ‘rock’ less as a musical category (a particular sound) than to describe an economic model, an approach to the organisation of music money making in which album selling provided the central dynamic (an approach that therefore also drove business practices in other musical genres).

We will begin by showing how for musicians the value of live performance became tied into the rhythms of a recording career.  Live performance mattered when bands started out—to establish a sound and an audience, to attract A&R scouts waving recording contracts—and then became primarily a means of promoting album sales, the scope and organisation of live tours determined by an album’s sales budget.  But even as these practices became familiar counter tendencies appeared.  The progressive rock and record company emphasis on music listening left a gap in the provision of stars to look at and music for dancing: this period thus also saw the emergence of a new attention to the theatrics of musical performance (feeding into the new medium of music video) and, emerging from 60s discos, a new kind of club-based mass dance music economy.  At the same time, rock’s commercial success, its role in the development of new kinds of multinational music corporation, inspired both localised alternative business structures—pub rock, punk, the ideology of ‘independence’—and a shift in state music policy, as rock took on both economic value in terms of export earnings and cultural value in terms of its aspirations to art.

In making sense of this history in terms of live music we will develop three themes: professionalisation (as the live music industry developed a new technological and organisational infrastructure); politicisation (as live performance became the site for explicit ideological argument—whether at punk gigs or raves, Rock Against Racism carnivals or WOMAD festivals); and the spectacular.

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