Preview: The British Music Experience

An interactive exhibition telling the story of popular music since 1945 is making its permanent home in Liverpool after five years in London. Fortunately it’s about more than the Fab Four

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As a musical city Liverpool has consistently punched above its weight. With this in mind, it’s little wonder that when the acclaimed British Music Experience was seeking a new home, following five years in the London O2, Merseyside was selected.

“We’re a city instantly associated with popular music and have a great resonance with the fact that British bands have worldwide influence, particularly regarding us exporting to America,” explains new curator Kevin McManus. “Plus, the Cunard Building we’re located in is magnificent and we’ve got a supportive mayor and city council. If you combine that with the exhibition’s proven track record from London, I think we’ll provide the perfect home.”

Since opening in the capital during 2009, the British Music Experience has showcased the story of popular music from 1945 to the present. Throughout several galleries a narrative binding music to cultural shifts and societal change is told via displays of famous and significant instruments, stage outfits, artefacts and memorabilia. Being such a visceral, ever-changing genre it may seem a little puzzling that pop music can be successfully portrayed in an exhibition at all, something McManus is keen to elaborate upon.

“We recognised that from the off. There are things in cases to look at – and we’re only showing things of genuine significance, not just anything we’ve been offered – but there’s also lots of interactivity, lots of music, space to play musical instruments and a dance area. We’ll be an ever changing entity. This wouldn’t work if it was just a static thing.”

In parallel to the permanent exhibits there will also be an education room for visiting school parties, a live venue and the promise of masterclasses led by leading industry figures.

The backing of the corporate music business is crucial to the British Music Experience, a concept instigated by legendary promoter Harvey Goldsmith. The board of trustees boasts Mark Featherstone-Witty, the founding principal of the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts and creator of the famed BRIT School in Croydon. Sir Peter Blake has recently been appointed the BME’s first formal patron. Co-creator of the classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band artwork for The Beatles – alongside many other album covers, including Paul Weller and Oasis releases, plus the original Band Aid single – Blake has proved the pivotal link between popular music and popular art for the previous half century.

Naturally, no exhibition centring on music and based in Liverpool could possible ignore The Beatles. But while the Fab Four do have a presence, it’s perhaps not as significant as one would imagine.

“The thing with us is we don’t focus much on individual bands,” says McManus. “There is a small section on Mersey Beat but we approach it from a different angle to other places so while The Beatles were massively important in the world of popular music we’re looking to break things down into particular areas of social significance. Because of this, we see ourselves as very much complementary to other musical attractions in the city, not as rivals, with a great story of our own to tell.”

The British Music Experience opens on 11 Feb, Cunard Building, Liverpool

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