On the last weekend of July, the Royal Festival Hall was transformed into a playground of all things retro for Wayne Hemingway’s “Vintage at the Southbank Centre” event. Over the three days, the retro festival honoured all things from the 1920s through to the 1980s with fashion, dancing, film and memorabilia being displayed and enjoyed over the whole of the Southbank area. Following last year’s “Chap Olympiad”, I had an idea of what to expect in some areas but while 2010’s event was enjoyed with tongue heavily embedded in the cheek, “Vintage” was clearly a full-on celebration of yesterday’s lifestyles.

While pricing at £60 a day was guaranteed to dissuade the casual observer, those that live and love the whole culture on show were in their element. With a free market outside for those wanting to see what the weekend was all about, it was possible to sample a little of the lifestyle while deciding whether or not to buy that Bakelite telephone or 1930s wardrobe. For those who were prepared to splash the cash, the Royal Festival Hall was divided up into sections for different eras, genres and fashions and included free retro makeovers and gigs.

With a full big band playing classic swing tunes, couples of all ages twirled and glided around each other under the mirror balls, while upstairs veteran punk band “Spizzenergi” performed with three women in US aircrew outfits. With the earlier performance upstairs by Sigue Sigue Sputnik (yes, I know) mixing with the distant sounds of the horn section from the ballroom downstairs, it pushed the boundaries of what can be described as eclectic. Despite this, everyone accepted each other’s tastes and knew that they could always move on to another area if they wanted a change of pace.

Aside from the clothing and music, the trader’s stalls covered every point of the decades in question, with everything from 1920s sunglasses and jewellery to 1980s action figures and toy robots. Obviously, pristine items like the record player above come at a premium price too, but if it’s survived this long, it’s safe to say that your purchase will actually be a true investment. It’s odd that this crossed my mind as I was just having a discussion with the Mrs a few days ago about how annoying it is that modern things have an accepted lifespan of about ten years. Seeing (and hearing) a record player from nearly one hundred years ago in perfect working order is a lesson to all consumers that disposable crap is not the only option.

With fashion shows and performances by major artists in the evening, the day really was great fun to shoot. I’ve been missing having something to sink my teeth into recently and while I only got the chance to shoot a few hours of one day, it was a pleasure to have such a wide variety of sights and sounds to work with. It helps that I didn’t meet a single person that was phased or upset in any way if I took their picture. Those that I did ask to pose were more than happy to help me out. All in all, a top bunch of people that brought a real friendly festival vibe to the centre of London.

With queues at the door every time I made my way in or out, I would hope that this year’s success will see a return in 2012. I’ll certainly be back, and maybe with a rather fetching fedora.

4 Responses to “Retro-a-go-go!”

  1. Great selection of images as usual Leon. I came across this event when I was down on the Southbank on Friday evening and it certainly looked like it was a popular event with all the retro crowds about.

    The main point of my visit was to see the Press Photographers Year Exhibition in the neighbouring National Theatre.

    As your modesty forbids you from plugging that, I though I would and it was great to see a couple of your own images on display there again too! Well worth a visit for any of your other readers out there. Keep up the great work.

    Posted by John
  2. Leon, great images as always – you’ll doubtless be thrilled to hear that one of your images (of three lay-dees standing around a table and drinking booze) even made it into the Kuwait Times on Monday. Surprised they could show so much flesh in Ramadan!

    Posted by Joel
  3. Cheers Joel. Always a pleasure to make the KT. :) As for the skin on display, retro-flesh gets special dispensation.

    Posted by tabascokid

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