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Cockney Rebels: Popular Music in Tower Hamlets, 1624-2003

Thursday 20 June 2024 - 21 February 2025

Discover the extraordinary story of popular music in London’s East End at the major new exhibition Cockney Rebels: Popular Music in Tower Hamlets, 1624-2003 at Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives.

From Elizabethan ballads to the birth of grime, this first-of-its-kind exhibition takes visitors on a journey spanning four centuries, exploring how the East End and its people have inspired and shaped popular music. Featuring an array of over a hundred rare and unique items — such as broadside ballads, sheet music, paintings, posters, records, tapes, and ephemera — it will a cover a diverse range of musical styles divided into four chronological sections.

The first section takes a deep dive into the roots of popular music in the East End, from folk songs and sea shanties to the Victorian music halls and pub singalongs. The second explores the influence of migration and American popular culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including klezmer, jazz, swing, and calypso. Moving forward, the third focuses on the rock ‘n’ roll years from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, taking in pop, mod, psychedelia, glam rock and more. The final section covers everything from punk, disco, soul, and reggae in the late-70s, through post-punk, goth, dance, Britpop, and Asian underground to the early grime scene at the turn of the millennium.

Famous names such as Lionel Bart, Helen Shapiro, Small Faces, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Ocean, and Dizzee Rascal are showcased alongside lesser-known but impactful artists like Max Bacon, Stepney Sisters, Bow Gamelan Ensemble, and Joi Bangla Banned.

We will also launch an events programme soon which ties in with the exhibition. Cockney Rebels is on show until February 2025.