Fancy revelling in the soundtrack to the UK’s social and cultural history? Allow KEVIN MCMANUS, curator of the newly-opened British Music Experience, to explain why you can now do so in the most perfect of settings.
I don’t think you will find many people arguing with the view that Liverpool is the perfect home for the British Music Experience. All over the world people associate the city with music; I’ve written about all kinds of Liverpool music for almost 40 years and you can’t get away from the fact that music is an integral part of the city’s lifeblood. The setting in the Cunard Building is perfect too: not just because it is a magnificent building on the waterfront but because of its history, in particular its special link to America. One of the things we explore at BME is how music from the UK and the US has influenced, or been influenced by, each other. The 60s British Invasion is just the most obvious example.
Everyone who visits is amazed by how great the space in the Cunard Building looks. Part of my role will be looking to programme activity and work with partners to bring in events to make full use of this space. We’ve already had live music on our opening night, but the core space is absolutely perfect for showing music films and having music panels or ‘In Conversation’ sessions – when Boy George’s hologram isn’t dancing on it, that is! As well as programming events to tie in with key music events and anniversaries, we will be looking to see how we can work with the music community in Liverpool and collaborate with the likes of Sound City, LIMF and, of course, Bido Lito!. We already have a very special event scheduled as part of the Bido Lito! Membership package, which I’m really excited to be a part of.
Put very simply, the British Music Experience is a museum that showcases and celebrates the best of British music from 1945 right through to the present day. If the word ‘museum’ puts you off, please think again: BME is a vibrant and interactive space filled with music and great visuals throughout, as well as a vast array of fascinating artefacts. The infectious enthusiasm of our brilliant front of house team also adds hugely to the visitor experience.
One of the key aspects of what we do at BME is tracking changes in music over time. We place music in the context of what was happening socially and politically over the last 70 years, and how these contexts impact on the music made at that particular time. Sure, music is often about good times, celebrating and dancing – and it’s this joyfulness that makes it a crucial part of everybody’s life – but music is also political and serves as a reflector of society, or as a means to bring particular issues to the fore. BME demonstrates how music has often acted as a significant influencer, an agent of change, or as a vehicle for protest. In my own case, punk music was probably what made me politically aware for the first time in my life – and I was soon attending Rock Against Racism events.
At BME you can see how rock ‘n’ roll developed as a result of the end of post-war austerity, and the emergence of teenagers with disposable income wanting to be part of a music and fashion movement that differentiated them from their parents. We chart the rise of psychedelia in the 60s and how it was linked to the huge changes taking place in society, and so on right through to punk and ska, the significance of Live Aid, and much more.
We have got so many great artefacts that it is difficult to pick out individual items – and we have more arriving all the time. There are amazing objects from David Bowie, The Beatles, Queen, Rolling Stones, The Who, Stone Roses, Oasis, Spice Girls and Adele, to name just a few. Anyone with even the vaguest interest in music will find it fascinating seeing all this history, and it’s also loads of fun getting hands on with the interactive elements of the exhibition. In our Gibson area you can play guitar, drums and keyboards, have a go in the vocal booth or try out your dance moves.
Personally, I think that music is all about people, and a real highlight for me has been meeting so many lovely individuals over the last few months, from the team here at BME right through to the people who have loaned us material. It has been a joy to work with people like the photographer Bruce Fleming, who provided us with all the material for our Jimi Hendrix case, and Rowena, who ran one of the regional Beatles Fan Clubs. There is something new every day and I’m constantly surprised by people’s generosity. A couple of weeks ago Robert Plant rang me up out of the blue and chatted away like we were old mates. It’s that sort of job, and I feel really privileged to be working on it here in Liverpool. Plus, there’s no soundtrack quite like it!
Bido Lito! members will be able embark on a unique tour of the British Music Experience for our June Special Event, where Kevin McManus and the BME’s other curators will give a special private tour.