Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review : Punk 1976-78 at the British Library – 13th May to 2nd October 2016

Exhibition Review : Punk 1976-78 at the British Library – 13th May to 2nd October 2016




The British Library celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Punk phenomenon with an exhibition that explores the formative years of its development. The free exhibition considers the  impact of punk with a number of items on display include fanzines, audio recordings, posters, flyers, gig tickets and clothing.


The exhibition also sets the rise of Punk in its historical context, the late 1970s was a time of considerable social and political upheaval with high unemployment, the decline of many industries and racial tensions.


Although the exhibition locates elements in the development of Punk in the French Situationist movement and New York City art-rock scene, it is within a relative short period in the UK between 1976 and 1978 when the underground movement moves in the mainstream. An important factor in Punk becoming more widely known were the promotion of the Sex Pistols whose live appearance on the TV programme Today and releasing the alternative jubilee anthem God Save the Queen created a media storm that led to the band and the music being vilified in the press.


Although the Sex Pistols were often one of the main faces of Punk, it was other aspects of the phenomenon of punk that would lead to considerable changes in the music business and beyond. The exhibition features a wide range of items that illustrate how Punk turned its back on many of the accepted practices of the music business and advocated that doing it yourself was better than being under the control of record labels or the music press.


Most people agree that Punk played a pivotal role in the rise of the independent music scene and how the scene was promoted, the exhibition features a range of rare fanzines, unique flyers, exclusive audio recordings and original record sleeves, many of which have never been on public display before. Some of the highlights include copies of fanzines from 1977 including the first punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue and the first and only edition of the Sex Pistols’ official fanzine, Anarchy in the UK.


Rare records in the exhibition include a copy of the Sex Pistol’s God Save the Queen single, which was never released because the A&M record label signed and dropped the band within one week and John Peel’s personal copy of the Undertones’ single, Teenage Kicks. Punk fashion is also features with original clothing from the SEX boutique run by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood at 430 King’s Road, London.


This small exhibition located in the Library’s Entrance Hall Gallery provides an interesting overview to the formative growth of the Punk phenomenon which although relatively short-lived left a considerable legacy on British culture. The more outspoken aspects of the movement tend to overshadow the benefits of the movement in the development and creation of more independent avenues to making and promoting music, magazines and fashion.


The British Library will also hold a series of events related to the exhibition which include: An Evening with John Lydon, lead singer of the Sex Pistols . Me, Punk and the World: Bernard Rhodes in Conversation, Bernard Rhodes was at the forefront of developing the punk scene in the UK and went on to manage the Clash. Buzzcocks: In their Own Words, an evening with original members Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley and manager Richard Boon. Stories from the She Punks, featuring Tessa Pollitt from the first all-female punk band The Slits, Gina Birch from the Raincoats, Helen Reddington (Helen McCookerybook of The Chefs) and Jane Woodgate from the Mo-Dettes.


The exhibition is accompanied by a Punk pop-up shop selling vinyl, t-shirts, prints and books and will offer limited edition prints by punk photographer Sheila Rock, along with a range of merchandise including record players, homeware and jewellery.

The British Library’s punk season is part of Punk London, a year of events, gigs, films, talks and exhibits celebrating 40 years of punk heritage influence in London.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

Punk 1976-78 at the British Library – 13th May to 2nd October 2016

Monday – Thursday 9.30 – 20.00,

Friday 9.30 – 18.00,

Saturday 9.30 – 17.00,

Sunday and Bank Holidays 11.00 – 17.00

The exhibition is free.

For more information or book tickets, visit the British Library website here

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