Monday, 11 April 2016

'Vogue 100: A Century of Style' at the National Portrait Gallery

Claudia Schiffer in Paris by Herb Ritts, 1989
©Herb Ritts Foundation/Trunk Archive

I remember the very first issue of Vogue that I bought - it was March 2003. I still remember it clearly, not only because it's my favourite Vogue cover of all time, but because I still have it. And just about every issue since.

If you're wondering what 13 years of Vogue magazine looks like, I can tell you that in a vertical pile they are taller than me at 5'8". I've kept them all these years because each issue brings me joy and (unlike newspapers and gossip magazines that are relevant one day and rubbish the next), I love to look back at old issues for inspiration and a stylish snapshot of a certain time in my life.

Vogue isn't for everyone though. I've lost count of the number of people who have said to me, 'but isn't it 50% advertising?!' Not far off, but they're missing the point. If you love fashion and you love photography, the adverts aren't something that you skip past, they're another source of beauty and inspiration.

So for 13 years that stack of Vogues has lived with me – and moved house with me. (If you want to see a look of pure hatred, try telling a middle-aged removal man on the hottest day of summer that yes, there are 10 more boxes of Vogue to be carried up to your top floor flat with no elevator!)

Recently, however, I've been purging my possessions. I did this dramatically a few years ago when we moved from a reasonably large house to a one bedroom flat (London ain't cheap) and, when I realised that I missed nothing that I got rid of, I decided to get rid of even more. I hate clutter and recently I have been looking at my beloved stack of Vogues and asking myself if they are just clutter too. More importantly, if I keep collecting every issue, where the heck will I put them all?!

Limelight Nights by Helmut Newton, 1973
©The Condé Nast Publications Ltd

Enter the Vogue 100: A Century of Style exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, an integral part of the magazine's centenary celebrations. British Vogue was founded in 1916 when the war made shipping copies of American Vogue impossible and has remained one of the world's most influential fashion magazines ever since.

This exhibition is the first retrospective of its kind, including more than 280 prints from the Conde Nast archive, in addition to film footage from shoots and original magazines - one from each of the magazine's 100-year history.

The photographs are grouped in rooms by decade and it's fascinating to see trends unfold and be interpreted by the most influential photographers and models of each era - from that iconic first Kate Moss shoot by Corinne Day to the powerful results of David Bailey's enduring relationship with Jean Shrimpton. The cultural and economic shifts of each decade are also reflected in the shoots; the mood visibly changes from wartime austerity to the swinging sixties, to 80s glamour and 90s grunge.

The final '00's' room is where my heart skipped a beat though. There on the walls were the photos from my personal collection of Vogue, and the designers, photographers and models who stole my heart - Tim Walker, Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, Gemma Ward, Natalia Vodianova and so many more.

Kirsi Pyrhönen in Mongolia by Tim Walker, 2011
 ©Tim Walker

It took us a couple of hours to see everything properly – if you're a Vogue fan this exhibition is well worth seeing. It was more than just an enjoyable morning for me though, it was a reminder of just what an impressive institution Vogue is, and that I'm not completely insane for treasuring my magazines for so many years.

I realised something else important. I had thought I only had two options – throwing all my magazines away, or keeping them and collecting them until the day I die – but I hadn't considered a third. I've decided to keep just ten year's worth and put them pride of place on my living room bookshelf.

If I ever live in a huge house with a library, I'd like nothing more than to amass a full 100-year collection but, in the meantime, my little snapshot of Vogue's impressive 100 year history makes me pretty happy.

Vogue 100: A Century of Style is at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from 11 February until 26 May 2016, sponsored by Leon Max. For more information visit


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The Used at the Kentish Town Forum

I was driving home last night and The Taste Of Ink came on the radio. It's not the kind of song that gets played all that often so I turned it up and immediately felt that happy nostalgia you only get from listening to an old song by a band you have loved for many years.

Then I felt a pang of guilt. I went to see The Used a couple of weeks back, started writing a post about it a few days later, got distracted and never finished it. In my last post I said that I would try to return to my former consistent blogging ways this year and so far I have failed. Spectacularly.

So let's go back a couple of weeks and pick up where I left off....

I'll take any opportunity I can to see The Used. I've seen them numerous times over the years and written about a few of them here. When this tour was announced it was a bit special though. The band decided to celebrate their 15th anniversary (how the heck have 15 years flown by?!) by touring their first two albums.

Last week I had the privilege of seeing them at the Forum not once but twice. Monday was their self-titled album (2002) and Wednesday was In Love and Death (2004). When you've seen the same band a lot of times it's good to see something a little different and this was one of those rare opportunities to see two incredible albums played in their entirety, including those album tracks that never get played life. ( has this tour down as the first time they have played songs like Let It Bleed, Cut Up Angels, Greener With the Scenery and Poetic Tragedy, as opposed to the 500+ times they've performed The Taste of Ink.)

But let's start at the beginning, as we all know that I like to discuss pre-gig dinner. Monday's was at Hache, which I have raved about several times before, and Wednesday was at Southern Joe's a BBQ joint in Kentish Town, which surprisingly had a fantastic Mexican vegan dish on the specials menu!

I've mentioned before how The Used's live shows have changed over the years. The tone was once set by Bert McCracken's unpredictable moods but these days (presumably due to a combination of sobriety and maturity) you tend to know what to expect. Not that this makes things any less enjoyable of course. I actually feel a strange sort of maternal pride at how far Bert's come (a bizarre emotion to have towards someone who is a couple of years older than you!).

Bert's battled a lot of demons in his time – from substance abuse and homelessness to the death of his former girlfriend – and these first two albums are a product of some of that pain. This is so often the way; the hardest times in life result in the greatest creativity. But I hope for Bert that performing these albums, celebrating 15 years of the Used and I believe four of sobriety, is a cathartic experience.

That's not to say he's no longer lacking in emotion, it's just that these days the band are more likely to express opinions on the state of society than heartache. Songs like Revolution, Generation Throwaway, and Force Without Violence from 2014's Imaginery Enemy are prime examples of this. The old mischievous Bert hasn't gone though. After insisting the crowd sing him happy birthday and being presented with a cake, he blew out the candles and subsequently hurled it into the chaos.

For once there is no need for me to discuss set lists; the only addition to the original albums was the inclusion of Pretty Handsome Awkward as an encore after In Love and Death.

Previously when I've seen bands perform entire albums they tend to open with a handful of other songs, but The Used got straight into it. I respected this purist approach and I'm not ashamed to admit I rather like being home with a cuppa by 11pm. Not sure if I'm growing up or growing old, but at least we're doing it together.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Ten things I really should have blogged about in 2015...

One of the best things about writing a blog like this is that it's a nice way to look back and remember the things I've done over the years, especially as I don't have the best memory in the world. However, there are many things in day-to-day life that get in the way of writing and, as a result, there were several events last year that I really should have blogged about but never quite got around to. So, before they are lost to the sands of time, here are few 2015 events worth a mention.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will know all about my love for the Knicks and particularly Pablo Prigioni (damn you Clippers, I hope you know how lucky you are), so it was great to start the year by watching them play the Milwaukee Bucks at the O2, especially now that the O2 is only ten minutes from our house. Other sports highlights of the year were seeing two NFL games at Wembley.

Meeting Hakeem Alajuwon and posing with Prigioni

What an emotional day! My love of The Blackout was a dirty little secret for quite some time, until I decided to confess to the world (you can read that whole sordid confession here), so naturally I was pretty darn sad to hear that they were splitting up. You can always rely on them for a fun show and I have many fond memories over the years, from acoustic sets at Download to a memorable trip to Wales to see them in their home town at a little festival called Merthr Rocks. This show at Koko was their last ever and we weren't going to miss out. It was really fun night but tinged with sadness knowing that it was the last of its kind. Farewell guys and thanks for the memories!

Bayside and Taking Back Sunday at the same festival? Count me in. The weather wasn't great but there's nothing a little Jack Daniel's can't fix. Highlights included Finch, Reel Big Fish, Cartel and YouMeAtSix (another of those dirty little secrets). We also met Sean from the Blackout who very sweetly stopped to talk to the crazy woman who shouted 'legend' at him whilst shovelling chips into her mouth! Yeah, I'm classy.

Bayside at Slam Dunk 2016

Meeting Sean from The Blackout

This was my first time at Camden Rocks and it surpassed all my expectations. What an amazing day! For those of you who have never been, it involves over 100 bands bands playing at various venues across Camden. It's essential like planning your own pub crawl with an incredible selection of live music. Highlights included Funeral For a Friend, Dinosaur Pile-up, The Graveltones and Brawlers.

The only frustrating thing about Camden Rocks was that after we had bought tickets, Bayside announced a show at Oslo (the other side of London) with Tiger Cub. We had accepted that it was one we would just have to miss, but after Funeral For a Friend we decided we had more than got our Camden Rocks money's worth, so we dashed over to Oslo just in time to see Bayside! It was a long day but so worth it.

Dinosuar Pile-up at The Jazz Cafe

Possibly the least rock 'n' roll thing I've done in my whole life, but you know what? I'm not sorry. I spent a fantastic sunny day in St James' Park drinking prosecco with my beautiful sister and friend Charlie, before heading to Hyde Park (via Buckingham palace, because naturally heavy daytime drinking with only a sandwich for lunch convinces you that the Queen would really love you to drop by!) to see the mighty Taylor Swift. Did I have fun? Hell yes. Would I do it again? Probably not. From what I remember there was a lot of talk between each song aimed at boosting the crowd's self-esteem. Wonderful if you are a teenage girl in need of an emotional pick-me-up, but in the words of my rather inebriated sister... "Just shut the f**k up and sing!!"

The Sunset Safari at London Zoo was quite possibly one of my favourite evenings last summer. The basic idea is that you can buy tickets to visit the zoo after hours when it is much quieter and with the addition of some fantastic food and drinks stands. Anyone who knows me will know it doesn't get much better than spending a beautiful sunny evening drinking beers and watching some giraffes eat their dinner!

Louis Vuitton isn't the first name to trip off my tongue when I am asked what my favourite brands are, but I have a deep appreciation for an iconic brand with a lengthy history, and I do love a good exhibition. If it's free then even better! The start of the exhibition was rather abstract and initially I was concerned that the whole thing was going to be a bit pretentious, conceptual, and a little too 'fashiony' for my tastes. But as it progressed I became increasingly engrossed in the world of Louis Vuitton and this incredibly curated exhibition had it all, from 360 degree screens to live demonstrations of bags being made.

This was a very rare occasion for me that I went into a gig completely blind. A friend of my husband had invited us and although I knew The Virginmarys by name, I didn't know the music. The band formed in 2009 and are from Macclesfield (which admittedly doesn't sound very rock 'n' roll) and have previously supported a whole host of great bands including Eagles of Death Metal, Terrorvision, Skunk Anansie, Feeder, Ash and We are Scientists. After a handful of EPs they released their first full-length album in 2011 and I recommend checking it out.

I think my award for best gig of the year has to go to Refused. I mentioned my excitement at seeing them in my very first blog post back in 2012 and expressed how phenomenal they are live here. Sometimes it is very hard to drag your cold, tired, cash-strapped ass out on a week night in December, but this was a classic example of why some bands are worth the effort every single time. Playing a mixture of old and new songs (their highly anticipated album Freedom exceeded my expectations) they remain one of the best live bands I've seen, and this particular night there was nowhere else I would rather have been.

I love film, but my husband really loves film, so aside from the usual regular trips to the cinema to see new releases (I won't start talking about these or we will be here all day), he is very good at finding something a little bit different. In summer there are always plenty of great outdoor screenings around London, and my 2015 highlights include a screening of Alien at Brompton Cemetery, The Princess Bride at the British Museum and Clueless at Camden Lock. We also went to a Halloween screening of the The Exorcist at Pop Brixton.

Last but not least on a personal level there were a few more highlights: two of our beautiful friends getting married (congratulations Clare & Simon!) and the arrival of another gorgeous nephew, Theo.

I think that just about covers it! In truth this post could easily have been called '50 things I really should have blogged about in 2016' but nobody has the time to read that. Anyway, I will try and be a more consistent blogger this year so that I don't have to write a similar post in 2017...

Happy New Year to you all! Hope it's a good one x
© Rock & Runway

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