A bit of Hip Hop history….

Martin Jones bookAs the Dudley Archives gets set to launch a brand new book and exhibition, following the early years of Hip Hop culture in the UK, we’re delving a bit deeper into the history of the man behind the story and the photos.

  • Who is Martin Jones?

  • How did he become embroiled in the 80s Hip Hop scene?

  • What does he hope to achieve with this Zulu Dawn exhibition and his new e-book?

All very good questions – and ones we hope we will answer with this article! We hope it will whet the appetite for more and entice you along to see the exhibition in full colour.

The story began in 1978.  Martin went to work as a play-leader at Black Patch in Smethwick and as sports leader at Hockley Port in Birmingham. It was here he met many of the young people who were later to become leading figures in the early UK Hip Hop scene.

He was fascinated to see the visitors to his youth group turning up with ghetto blasters, performing eye-popping breakdance moves to the sounds of Run DMC and Captain Rock.

Recognising the potential of this new craze, he helped form a breakdance crew called The Ace Squad who busked in city centres and performed in night clubs across the Midlands.

For a time, they were the resident group at Midlands Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park and regularly attracted over 100 youngsters to their Hip Hop workshops on Sunday afternoons.

The workshops culminated in the first ever UK outdoor Hip Hop Festival, ‘Thriller in the Park’, which Martin organised in August 1984.

This is where the photo archive on display at the Zulu Dawn Exhibition starts – chronicling the set-up of this festival, featuring pictures of a breakdance battle between Martin’s Ace Squad crew from Hockley and the Smethwick Spades.

Martin went on to be agent for the Wolverhampton B Boys breakdance crew, whose members included a young Goldie. Martin secured them TV appearances on BBC Saturday Superstore and ITV Saturday Starship, and a part in the UK Hip Hop film Electro Rock.

This led to a six year spell as agent and manager for Goldie’s burgeoning other career as a graffiti artist.

When breakdancing faded in popularity Martin championed Goldie’s rise to fame, arranging his first gallery show at Wolverhampton Art Gallery and then a trip to New York City in 1986 that had life-changing consequences for the future star.

Filmed by Channel 4 for a documentary called Bombin’, they met the originators of Hip Hop in the South Bronx including deejay Afrika Bambaataa and graffiti artists Seen and Lee.

In 1987 he arranged a group show involving Goldie and 3D (later of Massive Attack) with New York’s TAT crew, then in 1988 he arranged a 12 hour marathon mural challenge for him at the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios for Children in Need.

Goldie later found international fame as the pioneer of Drum and Bass music, as an actor in Bond movie ‘The World is Not Enough’ with Pierce Brosnan, and as ‘Angel’ in Eastenders.

Among the final shots in Martin’s photographic archive are images of the 1989 World Street Art Contest at Bridlington sea front – which feature artists who later became outstanding creatives on the UK and international scene.

So where did the Zulu Dawn exhibition idea come from?

In 2012, Martin and a group of UK Old School colleagues set up Hip Hop Heritage as an unincorporated charitable association to conserve and promote the legacy of the early UK Hip Hop pioneers. Two exhibitions of photos were arranged at The Public in West Bromwich.

In December 2013 (after an unsuccessful first attempt) they reapplied to the Heritage Lottery Fund and in late February heard that the application had been successful.

Martin has been appointed as manager of The Early Years of UK Hip Hop Project which is running the programme scanning photographs into an online archive, videoing reminiscence interviews with Old School dancers and artists and publishing a Zulu Dawn e-book using the Blurb self publish website.

A partnership within Loughborough University Design School has led to recording a set of motion captures of Old School dancers, while they are still active! There are plans to turn these into a simple game for schools where youngsters can build an avatar of their favourite dancer and animate them.

And looking to the future . . . in the project plan is the creation of Hip Hop related curriculum content for schools, in Literacy, Numeracy, Music, Dance/PE and Art. The content will be prepared in liaison with local secondary schools during the autumn, for delivery in 2015.

All very exciting stuff, we’re sure you’ll agree – and Dudley Archives is thrilled to play its part in showcasing the Hip Hop legacy.

Don’t miss the exhibition and book launch event at Dudley Archives on 27th September, between 2pm and 5pm!