Book review: FLYPOSTING: Posters Of A Music Revolution by Chris Hewitt


Dandelion Records [Publication date 15.06.20]

‘Flyposting – Posters Of A Music Revolution’ doesn’t so  much document the radically changing times of the 70′s, as reflect an era when the medium became the message.

Up until such times as when local authorities clamped down on flyposting, the underground tour and album poster service was a quintessential backdrop to urban living.

It could be argued that fly posting was an essential  music industry service, without which a lot of punk records might not have ever been made.

But though this book touches on the DIY approach to records and gig promotion, it’s main focus is on the end product itself, as explained by poster designer Steve Hardstaff’s helpful mission statement in a brief preface:

“It’s both important and exciting to have so many of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ (mainly North West) posters rounded up together before they disappear from our gaze forever; after all I doubt that many of them were ever intended to last this long!”

Author Chris Hewitt’s own experience in getting the musical message out there goes back to Rochdale in 1970.

He became part of such worthy causes as Rock Against Racism and the Deeply Vale Festival, a bedrock of the late 70′s counterculture. Beyond that, there’s less revolutionary ferment here than outright nostalgia.

No matter, there’s nought wrong with a good dose of social history to understand how we got to this point.

Ironically the very existence of the poster photos came from Tosh Ryan’s Rabid Records archive of posters and fly posters, which were kept to prove they had done the job for their promoter clients.

Hewitt subsequently added what he found in the work of Liverpool poster designer Steve Hardstaff to help build his own ‘Museum of Rock’ collection.

The book has a lovely scattergun approach that mirrors the flyposting process itself. It further gets inside the whole creative process by drawing on photos of Rabid Records fly posting HQ in Cotton Lane, Withington,South Manchester, circa the John Cooper Clarke era.

It quickly works its way through the 70′s, though not without the occasional unexplained poster from 1968 advertising The Bystanders (later to become Man) at Rochdale Student Union.

The book also thinks nothing of stepping out of its North West geographic remit, with 4 pages of Steve Hardstaff”s design ideas and rough drawings art work for what became Led Zeppelin’s Empire Pool appearance poster.

Hardstaff explains the painstaking process thus: “The finished poster was realised using a hand separated, three colour (three plates) printing process (not full colour, full plates) which gives it a particular luminous quality. Two thousand were printed by Eric Bemrose Ltd, of Aintree, Liverpool, the only local printer with the facilities to print 30″ x 40″.

Such are the rudiments of the revolution.

This is a coffee table book which you can dip into without worrying too much about context, otherwise you would be confused by the mix of psychedelic, punk and arena rock.

Ultimately it’s a joy to recall a time when life seemed so much simpler, albeit the poster printing process obviously took much longer.

There’s the Queen summer tour of ’77 which had reached Bingley Hall in Stafford and there’s plenty of plenty of Bob Marley posters along with fellow reggae artists like Burning Spear and Dennis Brown.

The musical output is neatly counterbalanced by rock posters for the likes of Iron Maiden at Unity Hall, Wakefield, Barclay James Harvest with Steam Hammer and Dandy Shaft at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.

Steve Hillage is to be found at  the Manchester Apollo and Rainbow at the Grandby Halls Leicester.

The club circuit is less well represented, though there’s an interesting line-up at The Mayflower Club in Gorton Manchester, including star turns from Racing Cars, Ian Gillan Band, Snips, Squeeze and Slade no less.

Rafters in Manchester also presented Trapeze and Strider (on different nights), while Stanley Clarke is advertised at Eric’s in Liverpool.

And almost as if to make up club numbers, there’s a poster for Beefheart at The Friars in Aylesbury, while The Friars in Bedford hosted Scotland’s Writing On The Wall, supported by Stackwaddy.

Overall there an underlying balance between the old hippy guard and the new wave and punk era. It all fits together under the live music counter culture umbrella well represented by the poster spread in this book.

Occasionally there’s a poster that just seems out of place, such as Harvey Goldsmith’s  2 shows in Bristol and Bournemouth with Be Bop Deluxe with special guests The Steve Gibbons Band. That said,  I guess both bands were symptomatic of a more interesting time musically than we may have realised at the time.

My final sense of wonder is peaked by a 5th February 1977 Jethro Tull poster for an appearance at the ABC Theatre in Ardwick.

Barely 18 months later they would be breaking gate receipts at New York’s Madison Square Gardens.

Perhaps they were buoyed by the same underlying fervour to be found in this delightfully evocative photographic retrospective, in which the posters are a call to arms for the particular tribe of your choice.

In retrospect what we have in our hands isn’t so much a musical revolution as an evolutionary one, before the dreaded hand of local authority bureaucracy and digital media all but strangled it.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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