Unordinary People: A celebration of British youth culture

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

British youth culture over the past 50 years has epitomised rebellion and self-expression. As a new exhibition opens, Charlotte Philby offers a snapshot of the young at heart

It is a mild Spring evening in east London. Outside a dingy pub on the Hoxton periphery, a group gathers in preparation for a night of ambitious body-flailing before one of the country's hottest new bands. In the doorway, three middle-aged bouncers survey the young crowd with clear bemusement; their sober crew-cuts and practical footwear in stark contrast to a hive of vertiginous quiffs, Native American-print T-shirts, skin-tight pink jeans, heavy Nordic cardigans and acid-bright animal prints – all unisex.

Between drags of roll-up cigarettes and swigs of bottled cider, those in line gaze coolly ahead, nodding earnestly to the beats spilling from inside the venue. They are so into the music right now. So in the zone. So very serious about where they are and what they're doing. And to the mature observer, they look spectacularly absurd – which is exactly how it should be. They are young and ambitious and this is their moment, not ours. This is the rite of passage of the British teenager, and it must surely be encouraged by those for whom that moment has past.

Let us raise a glass to them then, the has-beens of tomorrow – who, for now at least, hold the torch on our behalf. Let us revel in the memory of what it was to be young and excited. As the Nobel prize-winning poet and essayist, Rabindranath Tagore, observed a whole century before the "official" advent of youth culture: "Age considers; youth ventures".

By way of illustration, the PYMCA library is presenting an exhibition at London's Royal Albert Hall – part of its "reflect" series – celebrating the creativity and resilience of those youngsters who helped shape modern Britain. Unordinary People documents the progression of youth culture from the Sixties to the present day, showcasing a selection of rare and exclusive cultural photography alongside archive video footage and excerpts from essays highlighting history, fashion, music and subcultures from the past 50 years.

According to the photographer and anthropologist Ted Polhemus, who wrote a foreword for the limited edition book which accompanies the exhibition, the journey begins in 1964, at a time when "Paris handed the baton to a new, feisty generation of designers in Swinging London. For women both hair and hem lengths got shorter, colours brighter, fabrics and boots kinkier."

From here, the exhibition explores every imaginable sub-culture, from the punks and the skinheads to the ravers and the hip-hop heads. Cultural commentators from different eras consider the wider political and social implications of each movement. Youth culture was never just about fashion or music or hair, as the photographer Syd Shelton, who documented Rock Against Racism protests in the Seventies, observed: "The significance of the clothes people wore and their body language could not have been underestimated; there was no time for distance, things were happening so fast."

Presenting a spectrum of imagery, from amateur snapshots to otherwise unseen professional portraiture, Unordinary People highlights defining moments in modern British history, taken from those at the forefront of the movements that helped shape this country. For Ted Polhemus, this collection is a momentous celebration of "the stories, the myths, the memories ... memories of the time you were young and you didn't give a fuck, or at least pretended you didn't."

The youth of Britain past and present – shine on you crazy diamonds.

There will be 300 signed, limited edition copies of 'Unordinary People', the book accompanying the exhibition, available at a cost of £50, at London's Royal Albert Hall. The exhibition runs from Tuesday to 24 May

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine