img145-copyI’ve written before about events at the Jewish Museum in Camden and, once again, they’ve pulled off not only a fascinating dive into a subject close to our hearts but also a superb pun (and see the foot of the article for the alternative version). Jukebox – Jewkbox! explores the links between Jews and the recorded music industry which, we discovered, starts with the invention of the gramophone by Emil Berliner, runs through the founding of a number of iconic record labels, including Decca, the popularisation of ‘portable’ music through the post-war Dansette record players, taking in a wealth of songwriters, musicians, producers and artists along the way.

178_a_mickey_katz_mish_moshAs ever with the Museum’s events, we found ourselves repeatedly experiencing those ‘I never realised he was Jewish’ moments, but then the innovators and artists concerned, like most, did not set out to be defined by their religion but by their art. The exception was the genre of writers and performers who captured Jewish folk and religious music, along with the strain of humour that has woven itself through 20th Century culture, including my own favourites, Tom Lehrer and Mel Brooks.

The exhibits began with the technological side, and a mouthwatering range of vintage record players – including the twin of my own Dansette but in mint condition. The core of the exhibition, though, was a thematic collection of records, ranging from 78s in gorgeous art deco paper sleeves through LPs dating from the birth of the format, through Bob Dylan and punk to Amy Winehouse. Stunningly displayed in hanging walls of colour (oh, to have the wall space to do that at home), working our way slowly down took most of the time we’d allotted, and then some.

Complementing the physical displays were carefully chosen digital samples, including sound recordings on touch screens built into a long central desk, surrounded by copies of the records they reflected (another thing I’d like to do at home, though Mrs M might complain at the damage wrought to her kitchen worktops), to the iPads scattered around a sitting out area with a selection of visual performances (played through Jew-Tube – what else!), including Tom Lehrer again and the immortal ‘Springtime for Hitler’ production number from the original film of The Producers. Only someone with Mel Brooks’ touch could have got away with that one.

img145As well as the Museum’s usual permanent exhibitions, the entrance lobby featured a display of photographs of Sixties London by Dorothy Bohm, which worked perfectly in distracting us from the rather tempting Jukebox-related merchandise on offer.

Of course, we couldn’t spend time in that part of Camden without a trip round the corner to visit the guys at Sounds That Swing. The luxury of a Saturday afternoon with no pressing arrangements gave us the luxury of a leisurely look through the packed racks of vinyl and CDs, adding to the haul that Mrs M and I had amassed the previous day (yes, I admit it, we’re addicted to those black plastic discs of rock’n’roll joy). Mrs M managed to resist the lure of the special boxes behind the counter, but that didn’t stop us from stocking up on repros, CDs, and a couple of lovely Atlantic 78s. The attraction of Sounds That Swing is as much in the banter that comes dsc04378with the stock, including the in-depth debate as to whether Vic Gallon’s ‘I’m Gone’ is the Piltdown Man of rockabilly ‘finds’, or whether the word ‘trousers’ could truly have found its way into a genuine 50s American recording. Add in a few unexpected faces passing through, and the rest of the afternoon flew past. Just as well that a hundred yards back down the Parkway sits a wonderfully original Italian cafe restaurant, the Goodfare, which saw us repeatedly through the course of the afternoon and evening as we refuelled!

Full details of the Jukebox – Jewkbox! Exhibition, which runs to 16 October, can be found on the Museum’s website, and a dedicated Sounds That Swing article will be coming to this blog soon. Oh – and that alternate title… how about ‘Jukebox Jewry’?