When Liverpool’s music heritage is mentioned, you immediately think of The Beatles, or maybe Gerry Marsden; but there is so much to discover about the history of Merseyside’s melody makers at The Beat Goes On.
I popped in for an hour and found visitors spanning three (and sometimes four) generations remembering their past and enjoying the present, with some even aspiring to be part of Liverpool’s musical future, trying their hand and their voices in the singing booth.
There is something for all tastes, from tableaux on Fifties chart-topper Lita Roza and high-kicking Frankie Vaughan, to The Real Thing and The Zutons, while the kids seem to get a real kick out of dressing up in rock star costumes with toy guitars.
Posters, press cuttings and archive photos add authenticity, as do the good old 45 ‘singles’. I marvelled at the Parlophone and Apple labels which I recall from playing my mother’s records when I was a child. But the show also takes you bang up-to-date with interactive digital track mixers.
There are sections devoted to Billy Fury, skiffle, jazz and folk, before reaching Merseybeat. It’s wonderful to see master of mirth, Ken Dodd, in the early years. His ballad, Tears, topped the charts for five weeks in 1965, after all.
For me, listening to visitors’ reactions enhanced the experience. "Ay, look at her!" exclaimed one woman, nudging her husband towards a photo of a very young Cilla Black. They went on to gaze wistfully at Cilla’s frock, one she wore for a 1960s Top of the Pops appearance, on display in a glass case.
A little girl was so excited by the music she was listening to, through headphones, she yelled to her mother: "Come and hear this, Mum, it’s boss!"
Despite being a Beatles fan, I like the fact that theirs is not the first and most obvious display when entering the exhibition and instead they take their place in the exhibition’s timeline. The stage from St Peter’s Church hall in Woolton, the meeting point for Lennon and McCartney, and the blanket from John and Yoko’s Bed-in For Peace protest are iconic, but funnily enough I found John Lennon’s jacket very moving. I could picture him wearing it.
The timeline includes key historical moments, including England’s World Cup victory in 1966, Lennon’s assassination in 1980 and the city’s industrial decline in the same decade. ‘Back In The DHSS’ by Half Man Half Biscuit is a perfect example of how the political scene influenced music and how Liverpool humour always shines though in the face of adversity.
I learnt about Eric’s club and why it closed (licensing problems). Of course, Frankie Goes To Hollywood is celebrated, and there is also an atmospheric Cream club scene installation. And so much more.
Like a favourite piece of music, The Beat Goes On is something I’ll happily revisit. And I am certain to find even more gems the next time … and the next. Meanwhile, I’ll be voting for Merseyside’s best new band on our The Beat Goes On myspace page – don’t forget to do the same!