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The History of Live Music in Britain, Volume 1 – published today!


Today sees the publication of the first volume of The History of Live Music in Britain since 1950, written by Simon Frith, Matt Brennan, Martin Cloonan, and Emma Webster, published by Ashgate. Volume 1 covers the period between 1950 and 1967, and is subtitled From Dance Hall to the 100 Club.  It charts the history of live music from post-war austerity through to the growth of national promoters and festivals in the late 1960s.

The book is available from the publisher’s website here and from selected bookshops now.


The social history of music in Britain since 1950 has long been the subject of nostalgic articles in newspapers and magazines, nostalgic programmes on radio and television and collective memories on music websites, but to date there has been no systematic scholarly study. The three volumes of The History of Live Music in Britain address this gap, and do so from the unique perspective of the music promoter: the key theme is the changing nature of the live music industry. The books are focused upon popular music but cover all musical genres and the authors offer new insights into a variety of issues, including changes in musical fashions and tastes; the impact of developing technologies; the balance of power between live and recorded music businesses; the role of the state as regulator and promoter; the effects of demographic and other social changes on music culture; and the continuing importance of do-it-yourself enthusiasts.

Drawing on a wide range of sources, the books are likely to become landmark works within Popular Music Studies and broader cultural history. Sources include:-

  • archival research;
  • a wide range of academic and non-academic secondary sources;
  • the memoirs of such musicians as James Blades, Ted Heath, Humphrey Lyttelton, Chris Barber, Bruce Welch, Vic Flick, John Schroeder and Andy Summers;
  • the work of such music historians as Pete Frame, John Fordham and Dave Allen;
  • interviews with music industry figures such as Harold Davison, Stuart Littlewood, Danny Betesh, Tony Smith, Pete Jenner, Jef Hanlon, Harvey Goldsmith and Joe Boyd;
  • snapshots of Glasgow, Bristol, and Sheffield over the period of the books;
  • and a snapshot of The Rolling Stones’ career at the time.

Chapters are as follows: Getting back to business; Live music and the state; A snapshot of Bristol in October-November 1962; Being a musician; Do-it-yourself!; A snapshot of Glasgow in October-November 1962; Youth; The recording industry; A snapshot of Sheffield in October-November 1962; Venues, audience and promoters; The Rolling Stones, Richmond 1963.

An Overview

The Second World War obviously caused a huge disruption to everyday life and  hence to the organisation and enjoyment of live music. The immediate postwar period thus involved attempts by the various established players in the live music world to get back to normal.

In the first part of the book we examine this from three perspectives – commercial promoters, the State and the Musicians’ Union. By the mid-1959s, though, it was becoming clear that new social and musical forces were creating new forms of musical entertainment for new kinds of audience, organised in new ways.

In the second part of the book, we examine the rise of ‘do-it-yourself’ music making and promoting and the impact of jazz, folk and skiffle; the emergence of the “teenage consumer”; and the increasing importance of the record industry in British musical culture following the technological changes that introduced the  vinyl record, the single and the album.

By 1967 a map of live music in Britain shows a very different picture to that of the early 1950s. In the final part of the book we describe this in terms of venues, spaces and audience experiences, on the one hand, and the live music business, on the other.



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