Saturday, 19 April 2014

rock at the british pathé archive

Last Monday (14th April) British Pathé uploaded a staggering 50,000 films from their archives to YouTube, (bringing their channel total to 85,000 videos!). The logistics of collating and cataloging that lot are mind boggling enough but the very idea that it could be uploaded to their YouTube channel is... well, crazy!
For those of us who have uploaded video to them it would seem an impossible task, British Pathe must surely have sent a very large hard drive to Google and have them dump it into their servers. Oh well however they did do it, the archive is something quite extraordinary.
For those not familiar with Pathé newsreels this is their description -

    Since the invention of the moving image in the 1890's, British Pathé began recording every aspect of global culture and news, for the cinema. With their unique combination of information and entertainment, British Pathé's documentaries, newsreels, serials and films changed the way the world saw itself forever.
As they said "for the cinema", the Pathé newsreels were particularly well known in Britain from the 40's though to the mid 70's where these film shorts were screened before the evenings main feature at your local flea pit. After the mid 70's they just disappeared... guess time marched on for them.

Now you might well ask what's all that got to do with the goings on in the grimy corners of a rock and roll blog. It's this - just what did they collect from the era of rock and rolls early days?
Given that youth culture didn't really exist before the 1950's, until then any young person was considered to be a child and then an adult. No in between point, a child first and then around the age of 15 you turned into your father or mother. But in the 50's the new phenomena known as the teenager began. Mainly by commercial business when they realised they could sell stuff in large quantities to a young post war consumer, ie, the baby boom generation.
And right up there at the top of the list of retail was the music industry and its many splendid desires. And oh boy did the youth get that. And that's when the whole mess was started. Rock and Roll had begun. There's some interesting and amusing early rock and roll in the Pathé archive, not a lot but 1 minute and two minute shorts of these "crazy" early teenagers doing a mad jitterbug type dance (obviously a jive) to the backdrop of Bill Haley.
Pathé delivered their verdict on all this with a slightly bewildered "whatever next" tone. There's a very fine example we'll dig out for a later post. It's of a DIY skiffle group playing in the backstreets of the East End in London to a crowd of bemused onlookers. It finishes with the group being moved on by the plod. "Hello, hello.. what's going on here then" would be the usual approach. All captured in black and white film, and probably set up and encouraged by the film crew.
So hardly a riot going on, which is what the media were all scared of when rock and roll was mentioned. That came a year or two later when Bill Haley actually arrived on the UK shore.

But when it comes to the really good stuff in the Pathé archive we arrive in full technicolor 1960's. Yes, the swinging 60's were lapped up by Pathé newsreels, and we get the benefit of looking at this funfair of activity as if it were yesterday. It doesn't disappoint. This news report might be seen as the beginnings of the Swinging 60's.
Set in 1964 It's a slightly ham fisted attempt at bringing technology and music together called 'Age - AKA Slot Machine Age'.
This technology is a type of jukebox called a scopitone. Which, as it turns out is a fancy name for what would have been an early video player in concept. This jukebox has a screen and on it a beat group is playing. They're called Sandra Barry and Her Boys. (ha).
Then the boys are seen checking out guitars in a music shop (and wouldn't we all like to reach and grab a few of those classics today). The group then goes onto perform 'Really Gonna Shake' in the shop!.. blimey.
'The Boys' try to persuade Sandra to do the shake and she repeats, "No, no, I don't want to shake!" . But eventually she does. In her gold boots! Very slick at the time. Although she doesn't quite shake in the proper sense of "Shakin' All Over", she sort of sashays to the side and back rather gently.
But it is a real live beat group.. and 'The Boys' did go on (another story), only without Sandra who didn't have a hit with this not quite shaking record.
A beautifully clear film capturing the aspirations and hopes of the evolving decade all in 2 minutes. Although the scopitone didn't figure much after this demonstration.
The British Pathé archive on YouTube is here.