Since 2013, Portsmouth’s Guildhall has played host to an entire floor of musical memorabilia as part of an effort to keep the city’s cultural history alive.
Access All Areas: The Portsmouth Music Experience (PME) was set up on the building’s first floor to celebrate and document the rich musical history that the city enjoys.
Over the last two years PME has grown to include galleries, exhibitions, and even a recording studio.
Now a new photograph exhibition will bring together photos of bands and artists playing in Portsmouth. taken over the last 50 years.
‘It had been on our mind to do it and scrabbling around upstairs I came across some photographs taken in maybe about the 80s, old black and white stuff,’ said Nigel Grundy, curator of the exhibition and one of the founding members of PME.
‘I turned them over and it said Steve Whale on the back. Steve was a news photographer for a while and took these pictures so I rang him up and said “do you want them back” and he came and looked at them and couldn’t believe them.
‘So from that I thought “we’ve got these pictures, let’s see who else has got pictures and take it from there”.’
The Rock Shots Exhibition showcases photographs taken by 11 different photographers of bands playing in Portsmouth venues from the Wedgewood Rooms to the Guildhall itself, including Steve Whale’s shots that were discovered by Nigel.
One of the displays also features Nigel’s own photographs and the story behind how he managed to shoot them is perhaps one of the most interesting.
After selling his Mini to buy a camera in 1967, Nigel, who grew up in Portsmouth, wanted to get more involved with the local music scene so he used an old John Bull printing outfit and a piece of green card to make an imitation press pass.
Allowing him backstage access to some of the biggest shows of the time, his ingenuity resulted in shots of such greats as Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, and Jeff Lynne, taken between 1968 and 1970, many of which are on display at the Rock Shots exhibition.
‘I liked music and I liked seeing bands and it’s also a bit of bravado, you had to walk up and say “Press” and push your way in,’ said Nigel.
‘You couldn’t do it now, in those days it was a bit easier.’
The Portsmouth Music Experience was formed in 2013 by local music experts Dave Allen, Mick Cooper and Nigel himself with the aim of documenting the city’s music scene since the late 1950s.
The group was asked by Portsmouth Cultural Trust, the charity that is now in charge of the Guildhall.
Since then, a large area on the first floor of the Guildhall has been developed and now includes two rooms full of memorabilia, an exhibition room, a cinema, and now a full recording studio.
‘Portsmouth has had such good bands, such good venues, and such good audiences. It’s always been a good place since the 60s and even now, every night of the week you can find somewhere to go and listen to a band,’ said Nigel who has worked hard with the other volunteers to convert the old photocopying room into the new studio.
‘The music scene is more prolific now. Wherever you go now it’s music.
‘Everybody wants to be part of it. Look at Youtube, look at the little snippets that are on there that people have done in their bedroom.
‘We never had that, we had a reel-to-reel tape recorder with an old microphone.
‘I think what this studio might give them if they come in here is a sense of occasion and a sense of place to come to the Portsmouth Music Experience and record in this room as opposed to sitting alone in your bedroom.
‘I think it will give them a sense of purpose.’
Nigel’s wife Audrie is also a founding member of the music project and along with her husband is hoping that the new attraction will continue to bring in the crowds as the project relies heavily on donations and the work of its volunteers.
‘We are getting a lot of footfall,’ said Audrie.
‘It’s surprising, we have quite a few people who come in, bring other people back, they’ll come back and bring other people and spread the word.
‘But it does need promoting and we know that but we are working on it.’
Audrie spoke about organising the Rock Shots exhibition during the preview evening on Tuesday, before its grand opening yesterday.
‘It has come together very well, we’re very pleased,’ she said.
‘Everybody was keen to do it as soon as we explained to them what it was about and what it was going to be a part of and roughly how many photographs we wanted to exhibit. They were all very very keen to do it.’
‘It’s surprising how many photographs people still have in their collections.
‘Each project like this has been different and every part of it has been exciting.’
The preview evening for the exhibition saw the venue full to capacity as the crowds poured in to see the photos and catch a glimpse of the new recording studio.
The exhibition will be running until September 30 and is open from 9am to 5pm on weekdays and 10am to 2pm at weekends. Admission is free.
There will be a free open evening on April 30, from 7pm to 9pm, with live music.
VOLUNTEERS at the Portsmouth Music Experience are enthusiastic about the future of their project, with plans to begin educational programmes and install a ’psychedelic room’.
Nigel Grundy, curator and founding member of the project said: ‘We’re going to build a psychedelic experience room with interactive lighting and sound.
‘When you’re in there it will be completely dark but there will be lighting gantries with swinging lights and moving lights and we’ve also got the front of a Mini and each headlight will have strobes in it and speakers will go behind the grill.
‘It’ll be like going into a club in the old days so it should be a rather interesting experience.’
Audrie, Nigel’s wife and fellow founding member of the Portsmouth Music Experience, is hoping to develop one of the former offices into a room devoted to 60s fashion.
Now that the building of the recording studio is complete, the group is also planning on launching a radio station and holding events to get local musicians together.
‘We’re also thinking of having afternoons where people who have had a guitar for 30 years and never played it can come in and sit with everybody else that’s bought a guitar and never played it,’ said Nigel.
‘There’s a lot of things that are going to happen in the future.’