The People's History of Pop review – peace, love and Bowie's chromium head

In this bittersweet documentary, Danny Baker remembers 1966-76 – the loved-up Isle of Wight festival, a demo for Space Oddity and his mum shrinking Marc Bolan’s shirt

‘Everybody likes to fight their corner about which era was the best to be a pop fan,” said Danny Baker at the start of The People’s History of Pop (BBC4), an occasional if not downright infrequent series (the first instalment aired in April). But Baker wasn’t going to waste breath making the case for the period covered by this episode: 1966 to 1976. “I’m afraid, my friends, I win this battle hands down,” he said. “The fact is, the golden years were during my youth.” It’s a typical Baker statement – biased, genially egotistical and, in this instance, pretty inarguable.

The programme looked back at a decade in pop through the eyes of the fans who lived through it: middle-aged men and women with framed ticket stubs and stories to tell. They shared tales of close encounters with idols, of life-changing concerts, of once-new music that is still important to them. HR manager Roger Simmonds went to the Isle of Wight festival (along with 600,000 others) and was so overcome by peace, love and understanding that he decided to move to the Isle of Wight. Graham Bennett had a different sort of epiphany when he went to see an “aggro” band called Earth, only to find they’d changed their name to Black Sabbath.

Fans at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970.
Fans at the Isle of Wight festival in 1970. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty Images

Baker had his own story. When Marc Bolan strolled into the record shop where he worked, 15-year-old Baker worked up the nerve to compliment the singer’s dress sense. A few minutes later, Bolan emerged from the loos, bare-chested under his Afghan coat, and presented Baker with his shirt. “It’s yours,” he said. Baker’s mum shrank it in the wash.

Other fans had better-preserved treasures, including a one-off 45rpm demo of Space Oddity (we were only treated to a taste, for legal reasons) and a chromium cast of Bowie’s face. This wasn’t a documentary about artefacts, though. It was about memory. By restoring timeless music to its context, The People’s History of Pop conjured up something inspiring and bittersweet. It’s hard to look back on those days of innocence and idealism without feeling terribly old.

Contributor

Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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