Pop-up recreation of original shop marks Virgin Records 40th anniversary

Exhibition includes video installations, photography, clothes, album covers, posters and--of course--music

By Mark Brown

Published October 24, 2013 12:42PM (EDT)

It is a smallish, dingy, even squalid room with bean bags and albums and litter but it is clearly not yet unpleasant enough. "Please do spill some coffee," urges curator George Lee while someone else suggests burning sage to get near to the weed smell it would have had back in 1977.

The room is a recreation of the original Virgin Records shop on Oxford Street – more hippie squat than the cathedral-like megastores that followed – but very much a place that has a "this is where it all started" feel to it.

The shop is part of a pop-up art exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of Virgin Records that opens free to the public on Thursday. It includes video installations, photography, clothes, album covers, posters and of course music – lots of it from the label's dizzying roster that has included Mike Oldfield, the Stranglers and the Spice Girls.

For two days, night and day, Lee and designer Joe Pochodzaj have been leading a team creating what is a strikingly big show in a former warehouse in Holborn, London, aware that next Tuesday it will all have to start coming down again. "It has been intense but fun, we've worked with some amazing people," said Pochodzaj.

The exhibition will be a nostalgic experience for some, how can it not be when Heaven 17's Temptation is being blasted out and you're looking at a photograph of Richard Ashcroft lighting an old lady's cigarette at the bingo?

But Lee and Pochodzaj said they did not want it to merely be a nostalgia fest. "Often those exhibitions are soulless and they are a celebration of ego rather than about the cultural ramifications of the music," said Lee. "We wanted to go right back to the music and what the label stood for and do something raw. We wanted to celebrate the risk taking, the ambition and the madness."

The show is themed on Virgin Records being a disruptive force, whether that is being the label of the Sex Pistols, Boy George or the Spice Girls.

The shop is a recreation of a particular moment in 1977 when Virgin was launching the Sex Pistols album Never Mind the Bollocks – so the shop is jam-packed with just one album on show. Customers in 1977 were encouraged to turn the record over on the deck in the corner or "Turn it fucking over!" as the sign reads.

"We are having to recreate a mess basically," said Lee. She and Pochodzaj used original photographs of the shop, featuring Richard Branson as the cliched bearded hippie-stroke-brilliant businessman; and they talked to people who worked there and are playing the interviews in the shop. "People talk about what a crazy and exciting place it was to be," she said.

Lee said the whole show was a tricky brief because Virgin did not want just a "back catalogue extravaganza".

The show does though have lots of archive and documentary footage – for example, XTC recording at the country manor house of what the BBC called rock and roll's merriest millionaire – and instruments such as Phil Collins' drums and Mike Rutherford's double-necked Rickenbacker. Then there are Boy George stage clothes and memorabilia including items lent by a particularly assiduous Spice Girls collector. In a shrine-like space the show has Spice Girls dolls, a Spice Girls brush and comb set and Spice Girls cheese and chive flavoured Walkers crisps.

Branson was due at the show opening on Wednesday night, able to look at exhibits that include the company's firstpress release promising Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells on sale at £2.19 and Faust's The Faust Tapes at surely a bargain 48p

• Virgin Records: 40 Years of Disruptions. [The Exhibition!] is at Studio B1, Victoria House, London WC1B 4DA, 24-29 October.


This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk

Mark Brown

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