Top of the Pops picture exhibition is latest venture for Portsmouth Guildhall curator

Simon Poole, curator of the Guildhall talks about his experience curating the upcoming photography exhibition of musical icons by Harry Goodwin at the Guildhall. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (133014-598)
Simon Poole, curator of the Guildhall talks about his experience curating the upcoming photography exhibition of musical icons by Harry Goodwin at the Guildhall. ''Picture: Allan Hutchings (133014-598)
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‘Not many people know exactly what your job entails when you say you are a curator. I’m not sure myself really!’

Simon Poole is the curator in residence at Portsmouth Guildhall, where every day brings a new challenge.

‘There is no such thing as a normal day.

‘My job involves everything from meeting local artists to administration or drilling holes in things. I’m not very good with a spirit level though,’ Simon chuckles.

When he’s not rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck in Simon spends much of his time discovering local talent and helping up and coming artists get their first big break into the exciting world of art.

‘I don’t even have a desk, just a mobile phone. That’s all I need.

‘It’s just a question of knowing people. Finding local artists who have found funding through showing their work or underground artists who might be a bit shy.

‘Sometimes the work you see is dire and you say ‘‘thank you very much’’ and move on, but sometimes you find a real gem,’ says Simon.

But even bad art has its merits according to the Guildhall’s curator.

‘I really enjoy going to see bad art. It is very tempting to heap praise on everything, but I think it is as valid an experience to see bad art. There is merit in going to see something that is bad as well as something that is good.

‘I would like to put on an exhibition of bad art but I would have trouble getting artists to contribute,’ laughs Simon.

Simon’s career as a curator began, by his own admission, almost by luck.

‘It all happened by accident. I got a job at an art gallery in Farnham and started off painting the floors. They let me paint the walls next and do some administration and eventually I was left in charge to look after the whole museum.

‘Eventually I put together my own exhibition combining traditional and contemporary art. I was aiming to demystify modern art for people.

‘I put the photos on Facebook and got a call from the Guildhall to come in for a chat.’

That was more than a year ago and the rest is history as Simon, at just 25, was offered the role of curator at the Guildhall.

‘I think of myself as a curator rather than being employed as one. Being a curator is something innate.

‘If I wasn’t attached to a gallery I would still try to be involved with galleries in some way.

‘I have always enjoyed arranging things and thinking about things,’ he says.

As part of his work for the Guildhall Simon oversees the building’s two galleries, the Zodiac gallery which focuses on fine art and the Access All Areas gallery which features exhibitions about music and Portsmouth’s place in musical history.

From Monday Access All Areas will host My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock, an exhibition showcasing the work of Harry Goodwin, the resident photographer on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops, from 1964 to 1973, who died in September.

‘Everyone who was anyone has been on Top Of The Pops,’ enthuses Simon. ‘My favourite picture in the exhibition is of Mick Jagger singing his heart out.’

Simon sees the accessibility of music as a key tool in introducing people to galleries, and this accessibility is central in his approach as a curator.

‘I think that it is important that people can relate to art. When you have long explanations for each piece it alienates people from it.

‘The emphasis should be on experiencing the art not just reading about it.

‘Artists such as Karl Rudziak present recognisable figures, like Portsmouth football supporter John Westwood, in a fine art style, which makes art accessible to people.’

Simon’s passion for his work is clear and he recognises how blessed he has been to be able to earn a living doing something he loves.

‘It is almost like a hobby but I am getting paid. I don’t do the job for the money, I do it because I love the work and it affords me a lifestyle that Is immeasurably valuable to me.

‘I wander through the gallery spaces every day. For me it takes several days to develop an affinity for a piece of art. I can see a piece hundreds of times because it grows on me,’ he says.

And in this modern world of hi-tech entertainment and short attention spans does Simon still think art has a role to play?

‘Some people think art is impractical but it makes you think and that is important,’ says Simon.

‘Art projects imagination and confidence and people with those qualities are drawn to it.

‘It punctuates the mundane and gives people joy.’

My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock opens at the Guildhall Access All Areas gallery on Monday, November 4. For more details visit

Top of the Pops first aired in 1964, and was presented by Jimmy Savile and Alan Freeman.

The first episode featured the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield and the Hollies.

Because of the BBC’s former policy of deleting old programmes, most of the first 10 years of programming have been lost.

The show played for 42 years, from 1964 until 2006, making it the longest running weekly popular music TV show in the world.

Artists were famously made to mime their performances to backing tracks even though the show was broadcast live, this was because many could not reproduce the performances to the same quality as their records.

Many artists protested about having to mime by performing their songs in strange ways on the show.

When the Stranglers performed their song No More Heroes, Hugh Cornwell deliberately mimed badly and pretended to play the guitar with his teeth while drummer Jet Black sat facing away from the drum kit and drummed the air.

In Nirvana’s performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit, Kurt Cobain deliberately sang in a low monotonous voice.

The Smiths’s front man Morrissey, used a bunch of gladioli instead of a microphone during his performance of This Charming Man.