Glam! at Tate Liverpool

During our trip to Liverpool on Saturday we called into the Tate to have a look at the exhibitions that have recently opened.

Glam! The Performance of Style, which isn’t free, was popular. It was quite busy and people were queuing to buy tickets. According to the Tate website, it’s

the first exhibition to evaluate critically the glam era of the early 1970s, using glam as a prism through which to view the artistic developments of this period in Europe and North America.

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The exhibition featured album artwork, posters, photographs videos, costumes and other artefacts from the Glam era in both the UK and USA together with serious art works from the period from artists including David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Allen Jones, Richard Hamilton, and Peter Hujar.

“Glam” pop and rock was popular during the 1970’s when I was in my early teens. Groups like The Sweet, Mud, T Rex and Slade (and Garry Glitter and his band who was notably not represented in the exhibition) regularly appeared on Top of the Pops. Dressing more and more “outrageous”every time they appeared on the show with their latest hit. The style wasn’t just androgynous but outright camp. But, in the main they didn’t take themselves seriously. It was “a bit of a laugh”, demonstrated by the alternative term used to describe the music – “Glitter rock”

The Sweet (picture source: Wikipedia)

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David Bowie, however, was in a different category. He was a much more serious artist and his androgynous style, at the time, seemed to represent his true character. And his music had depth and meaning, not like the superficial, albeit often enjoyable, disposable pop produced by most of the Glam Pop groups. His album “Ziggy Stardust” was an important factor in the development of my interest in more meaningful popular music.

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Roxy Music too, who were quite heavily represented in the exhibition, produced more earnest music, but, to me, they took themselves far too seriously.

In the UK Glam quickly burned itself out as the youth turned to other styles and types of music. Prog Rock became popular amongst sixth formers, and those soon to become sixth formers (including me) and in the North and Midlands “Northern Soul” with all night sessions of dancing to fast, rare music from black America,  developed a significant following. And it wasn’t long afterwards that the youth scene was transformed by punk – but in some ways the exhibitionism of the punk style had many echoes of Glam with spikes, leatherette clothing and safety pins taking the place of glitter, feather boas, flares and frocks.

In the USA it seemed that Glam was a quite different animal; much more overtly sexual. It was much more an extension of a more serious transvestite scene and closely associated with Andy Warhol and his circle. The music too, was much more earnest with darker lyrics and a heavier sound. As I youth I wasn’t keen on American Glam Rock. There was something about it that I found disturbing and most of the music didn’t appeal. It was too dark. And the cross dressing aspect seemed to be more of a statement rather than a parody as it was in the UK.

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I found the exhibition interesting, especially seeing the album art, costumes and photos from bands that were popular in my youth. But the “serious” art, with some exceptions, largely wasn’t to my taste. The art from that period generally doesn’t appeal to me or inspire me, and that was certainly true of the works on display in the exhibition. But it was interesting to see them, even if this did largely confirm my view. (Cindy Sherman’s photos being the most notable exception. The more I’ve seen of her work the more I’ve found I like what she does)  Glam burned itself out in the mid 70’s. But fads and styles do seem to come round again, even if they are never quite the same. As Noddy Holder points out in an article in the Guardian

Look at Lady Gaga and Paloma Faith: they’re glam rock all over again.

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