While I was in London earlier this week I was fortunate enough to stumble into a lovely record and book shop. Its called Rough Trade East, positioned in the Old Truman Brewery, 91 Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL (www.roughtrade.com). Their aim is simple “to unite inspiring artists with curiously minded listeners”, they must be doing something right as they are the Retail Brand of the Year 2013.
My friend and I browsed for 20 minutes, finding gem after gem of delectable books. I am someone who finds record shops very inaccessible, due to my lack of being ‘to cool for school’. Growing up I always struggled with music, finding a genre or band after they were no longer ‘en vogue’. However this shop was brilliant at making me feel cool and at ease, i don’t think I stuck out like a saw thumb at all.
Imagine our surprise when we realised we were at the book launch for Sheila Rock’s new publication titled PUNK+. A photographic, coffee table style book, highlighting the history of the punk era from 1976. We had accidentally ended up in the coolest place in London on a drizzly May evening. We then started to spot a whole host of ageing punks, gaudy tartan suits, wacky glasses, handlebar moustaches and the inevitable died hair. Some of these 70’s punks were now sporting fashionable suits and italian brogues, others blended into the background in regular high street labels (like myself). The room of gents and ladies in their 50’s was only broken up periodically by a 20 year young student. These were all wearing fancy dress versions of their punk idols and counterparts, the usual safety pins in ear lobes and Sex Pistols t-shirts.
The talk about the book was very interesting, an informal discussion between Sheila Rock and Don Letts, the legendary punk and reggae DJ from the 1970s. The book has a rich, blood red canvas cover. It is full of amazing and vibrant imagery, both colour and b+w, from an important period of UK subculture. We inquired about the book at the sales counter and were told it was £54. Ouch! I picked myself back up from the floor and decided not to buy it.
I have since been considering the whole experience. A book like this certainly needs to be created, a document highlighting the importance and impact that punk had on politics, society and youth culture. My interest lies in how this book was launched. Retailing at £54 the book is vertainly a middle class luxuary, and launching it in such a mainstream, commercial and un-punkish way seemed to devalue its legitimate value. The punks have grown up, made their fortunes and seem to have forgotten everything that they were sticking two fingers up to. Instead they seem to embrace the machine they raged against, take the complementary coke-a-cola on offer and talking about the time when they changed the world.