If Johnny Marr thinks it's good, its gotta be worth a wander

The John Rylands Library already contains the oldest known fragment of the New Testament, Shakespeare’s First Folio, and original Victorian loos, but soon, these relics will be sitting alongside Ian Curtis’s handwritten lyrics and some original Sex Pistols posters. Move over, the Gutenberg Bible. 

It’s all about celebrating the nation as a trend-setting, cultural hub from the mid-twentieth century onwards, so we’re thinking Corrie, The Smiths and mods vs rockers.

Launching in Manchester on Thursday 19 May, The British Pop Archive is set to “celebrate and preserve British popular music and other aspects of popular culture, recognising its pivotal influence on the world stage”. 

The first national collection of its kind, the exhibition will commemorate classic British bands, UK television, and the youth and counter cultures of modern Britain. It’s all about celebrating the nation as a trend-setting, cultural hub from the mid-twentieth century onwards - so we’re thinking Corrie, The Smiths and mods vs rockers. 

Handwritten Lyrics To Shes Lost Control By Ian Curtis Bpa Archive 2022Jpg
Ian Curtis has touched this piece of paper, just sayin' Image: The University of Manchester
From Manchester With Love Poster Designer Unknown 1986 Courtesy Of The University Of Manchester
Loads of stuff in the collection is coming "from Manchester with love" Image: The University of Manchester

What's in the British Pop Culture exhibition?

Some highlights from the collection include Rob Gretton’s handwritten visions for New Order and Joy Division, Ian Curtis’ lyrics in all their scrawling glory, original posters from Manc-based Sex Pistols gigs, and designs by Peter Savill that “set the visual template for Factory Records”. Get your Doc Martens-wearing Dad ready for a stroll through the library. 

As well as all this rock n roll stuff, the complete corporate archives of Granada Television have also been scoured to find artefacts and footage that celebrate Brits at their best.

City Life Carl Cox Photographed By Hayley Slater Ling 1998 Courtesy Of The University Of Manchester
City Life's legacy will be celebrated at John Rylands too Image: The University of Manchester

Manchester is recognised internationally for its contribution to popular culture thanks to everything from Oasis and Simply Red to ITV and Shelagh Delaney, so it makes sense to display the first popular culture archive within the walls of a Deansgate research institute. That spot that you always take out-of-towners to, to prove that it's not that grim up North, John Rylands contains over ten million items that relate to some of the most important cultural figures throughout history, like Jesus for example. 

British Pop Archives Curators Hannah Jon Mat
Hannah, Jon and Matt are all keen to promote "the vibrant cultural scene" of Manchester Image: Jill Furmanovsky

British Pop Archives' curators Mat Bancroft, Jon Savage, and Hannah Baker, also believe that Manchester is the perfect spot for such works as it “explores the vibrant cultural scene of a city that has driven innovation, creativity and social progress”. We’re not all bee bikes and football banter, honest. 

On 19 May, the exhibition will launch with Collection, a distinctly Manchester-focused exhibition that underlines why this Northern city is deserving of its cultural clout. 

John Rylands Library Exterior For British Pop Archive Exhibition 2022
The library is set to celebrate Jesus and Johnny Rotten simultaneously Image: The University of Manchester

Professor Christopher Pressler, John Rylands Librarian and Director of The University of Manchester Library, explains that “whilst we continue to work on materials in every format and every language from five thousand years of human history, it is critical that we also engage with our own time. The British Pop Archive is part of our desire to reach into areas not always associated with major libraries, including pop music, popular culture, counter-culture, television and film”. It’s all about that perfect balance between the old stuff and the new stuff. 

Rob Gretton’S Creative Approach For Joy Division 1979 Courtesy Of The University Of Manchester
Rob Gretton's band visions are a valuable cultural resource Image: The University of Manchester

An education in pop culture

Highlighting that this collection is also a very valuable educational resource for the people of Manchester, Professor of British History at the University of Manchester, Hannah Barker said: “The British Pop Archive is a fantastic resource for a university with strong links to the creative industries. It provides unique material for a growing range of research and teaching at the University on popular music, TV and film history, counter-cultural movements and youth culture from the twentieth century to the present day, linked to our brilliant Creative Manchester research platform”. 

Sorry Pink Floyd, turns out we do need education.  

The Face Boy George Photographed By Jill Furmanovsky 1982 Courtesy Of The University Of Manchester
oh Boy, the BPA has some ambition plans Image:

Working alongside Jon Savage, Professor of Popular Culture at The University of Manchester, the BPA has “ambitious plans to build on its current collection and create a comprehensive representation of British popular culture”. 

This reminder of the importance of pop culture as an integral part of our city's history brings back to mind the ongoing question of why on earth there isn't a permanent Manchester Music museum.

Johnny Marr recently tweeted that this whole thing is “definitely worth a visit”, a seal of approval if ever there was one, and it's great to have another reason to immerse ourselves in the neo-gothic vibes of John Rylands.  

What other items and institutions would you like to see being celebrated as part of the British Pop Archive? We're thinking one of Dot Cotton's fags and Victoria Wood's Dinnerladies apron?

The British Pop Archive at The John Rylands Research Institute and Library will launch on Thursday 19 May, starting with the Collection exhibition. 

Read next: Arts, theatre, gigs: Manchester's cultural calendar for 2022

Read again: 'Life is better by the water': a tour of the Rochdale Canal Art Trail

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