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A dedicated home for music memorabilia, exploring the past, present and future of music archives. Find your own piece of the story.

Elton John's Pinball Wizard boots

Pinball wizardry : Finding music history in the archives of an English regional museum

Continuing with our series highlighting popular music treasures in UK public archives, we focus on Northampton Museum and Art Gallery which boasts over 18,000 shoes in its internationally recognised collection including the largest collection of trainers held by any public institution. Senior shoe curator Rebecca Shawcross shares some iconic footwear worn both by international stars and trendsetters who included music in their list of influences as well as some of the stories behind the items.

  1. Charlie Watts’ soft stage shoes

    Back in 2002 we acquired these through someone we used from time to time to source items for the museum.  We’d had various ballet shoes from him in the past and these are handcrafted by a company called Ballet Master of America.


  2. Charlie Watts’ soft stage shoes

    ‘He got in touch to say that he’d come across Charlie Watts shoes through some agency the band used who ultimately donated them. In terms of provenance they came with a signed certificate and the left shoe is signed by Charlie himself.’


  3. Charlie Watts’ soft stage shoes

    ‘Thinking about it, people seem always fascinated by peoples foot size. I get asked quite a lot – particularly where famous people are concerned. These are a nine and a half by the way.’


  4. Charlie Watts’ stage shoes

    ‘Charlie wore them on the Voodoo Lounge tour 1994 to 1995 and the Bridges to Babylon tour from 1997 to 1999. Nice to think he wore them on both tours.’


  1. Elton John Pinball Wizard boots

    ‘These are the stilted boots worn by Elton John when he played the Pinball Wizard in the rock musical film Tommy. They’re huge standing 4 foot six and a half inches high without the stilts! We received them in 1990 after Elton John had this massive sale of his costumes and outfits. They were purchased by the then owner of Doc Martens but loaned to us in 1990.’

    L.519. On loan from Stephen Griggs

  2. Elton John Pinball Wizard boots

    ‘They’ve been pretty much on permanent display since 1993 in the museum – they’re really really popular even though alot of visitors haven’t heard of the film Tommy. They have a local connection too as they were moulded in resin by Northamptonshire-based chemical firm Scott Beder.’

    L.519. On loan from Stephen Griggs

  3. Elton John Versace boots

    ‘It’s a funny connection how we ended up with these. They were donated by the top Elton John lookalike! He had been to the Elton John auction and bought them but when we used him to launch the new shoe gallery in 2002 he decided to donate them to the museum.’


  4. Elton John Versace boots

    ‘I think in the end he’d worn them for a while and just felt that he didn’t need to anymore. It’s the same with a lot of people. By holding onto these items they feel as if almost a part of that person is kept, for posterity almost.  Having that little piece of them carries that memory on.’


Below are some examples of footwear worn by particular groups in the UK who were influenced by the musical tastes and fashion culture of that time. Flick through to find out how ‘brothel creepers’ really got their name…..

  1. The Brothel Creeper

    1950 – 55

    The brothel creeper with its thick crepe sole became associated with the Teddy Boys of the 1950s. The name of the shoe had its origins from sailors who frequented brothels while in port and then tried to creep out without paying!


  2. The Winklepicker.


    Mods often wore the winklepicker style both as a shoe and a boot with a Cuban heel.


  3. Ankle boots, Shelly London

    1980 – 1989

    New Romantics were closely linked to 1980s pop culture and the club scene. Both men and women dressed in androgynous clothing with an emphasis on makeup. Flowing clothes were coupled with boots inspired by the punk tradition.


  4. Adidas Superstar trainers

    1980 – 89

    For hip hop, the shell toe of the Superstar became part of the look. However the trainers reached a popular high when they were picked up by Run DMC who even wrote the song My adidas in homage to their Ultra Stars.


  5. Trainers, Travel Fox


    ‘In the 1980s the raves scene became popular in response to acid house music. This pair is part of a 650 strong collection of trainers that Northampton Museum have collected over the past 12 years. They are often loaned out for exhibitions globally.’


  6. Dr Marten boots by Dr Martens


    These boots have formed part of an enduring common uniform that has had a meaning for all who have worn them. From skinheads to punks and goths to grunge, and everyone in-between.


  7. Pete Murphy’s boots


    ‘These are boots from local firm Jeffery-West that often make shoes for musicians. It’s Northampton footwear but with a unique twist, often using unusual material like metallic snakeskin for example. They set up in Northampton about 30 years ago and use factories in the town and county to make their footwear. These were inspired by local musician Pete Murphy who was from a band called Bauhaus. It’s his image which is digitally printed onto the boots.’