Early January brought a special takeover to the V&A’s lecture theatre for a weekend of rock & roll history.
Seven Decades – a unique rock and roll experience – weaves together live music, documentary, and rare vintage guitars to tell the epic story of how a simple musical invention had a revolutionary impact on the world.
This 90-minute journey from the 1950s to the present day features some legendary music along the way – from James Burton and Jimi Hendrix to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Rage Against the Machine. All the hits are played by a full live band on vintage instruments.
The show is performed in the set of a vintage recording studio, celebrating the enduring influence that the Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul, and Fender Stratocaster have had on modern music and culture.
Earlier versions of Seven Decades have been staged at Wilton’s Music Hall and Clapham Grand, but co-creators Philip Hylander and Michael John Ross liaised with curators to adapt it for the special environment of the V&A Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre. This meant building an entire recording studio interior complete with false walls and ceiling, extra lighting and a huge LED screen – taking over 24 hours to build across two days.
It was a challenging build but a fantastic opportunity to use a museum space in an entirely different way – and to collaborate with some of the best music professionals in the industry.
A stellar band, led by guitarist and singer Michael John Ross performed the show at the V&A across 3 days, kicking off on Friday 11 January with a special Members’ evening, which included a one-off panel discussion. Will Hodgkinson, chief rock critic for The Times chaired the panel, which featured Bill Curbishley, manager of The Who and producer of Seven Decades; Brix Smith Start, lead guitarist and song-writer in The Fall; Johnny Borrell, guitarist and vocalist of Razorlight; and Shadow Minister for Heritage & Arts and guitarist for parliamentary band MP4 Kevin Brennan MP.
After the panel, the audience was treated to the main event – live music and dynamic educational vignettes that brought the full concert experience to the traditional environment of our lecture theatre. It was the first of a total of five performances across the weekend which sold out to over 1,100 people.
The V&A Theatre and Performance Department has its own exceptional and rare guitars within its extensive collection of rock and pop material. A mirror-mosaic guitar used by the band Kiss, and a partially-destroyed guitar used by Pete Townshend are two of its notable objects.
The department has been collecting rock and pop material since its beginnings and recently curated major rock exhibitions including David Bowie Is, You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 and Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains. Both the exhibitions and Seven Decades explore the parameters of live performance, exhibition, lecture and film.
Phil Hylander, co-creator of Seven Decades said: ‘It’s a very natural creative partnership as both of us are trying to animate the history of rock and roll in new ways. Our starting point is performance and theirs is exhibition, but we are navigating to the same place.’
As many audience members commented after the show – it was an unforgettable event. Look out for future Seven Decades performances at other venues around the UK.
Thank you to Phil Hylander, David Gledhill and the entire Seven Decades team for working with the V&A to host the event. Thank you also to colleagues across the museum for facilitating the installation and management of the weekend.
More information about the Theatre and Performance Department can be found here.
Seven Decades was produced by: Philip Hylander, Michael John Ross, Rocky Oldham and Trinifold Management. Assistant Producer: Freddy Clode. Film by: Nick Morris. Film Editor: Tom Ross. Director of Film Photography: John Simmonds. Film Audio Mix: David Woolley. Filmed on location at Toe Rag Studios, featuring Alex Walton as the narrator. Set by: Broa Sams. Art Direction: Peter Sheppard. Production Director: David Gledhill. Lighting Design: Steven Nolan. AV Technician: Nigel Wond. Stylist: Rozanne New. Photography: Martin and Paul Kelly. PR: The Outside Organisation.
The Seven Decades band featured: Michael John Ross, Tony Holmes, Mike Pratt, Roy Sudan, Rhianna Kenny, Bobbie Gordon and Jeremy Davies.
Special thanks to: Roger Chopping, Handel and Hendrix in London, Liam Watson, Keith Cheesman and John Bird.