busy nightclub dancefloor

Garlands, courtesy of Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

When a music scene is closely associated with a particular neighbourhood, it is likely to be for one of two reasons: either people who live there, or who frequent the area, share particular music tastes and traditions; or the neighbourhood is home to some of the key sites that support scene activity. In many cases these factors work in combination.

As with cities, the relationship between neighbourhoods and scenes is a two-way one: neighbourhoods influence scenes but in turn music scenes have an impact on neighbourhoods. For example, people may visit or move to a neighbourhood because of its associations with a particular scene. In so doing they can affect the social and musical life of the neighbourhood, how the neighbourhood is thought about and its reputation within the surrounding area and wider world.

Because a neighbourhood is a relatively confined area, a scene associated with it can become concentrated. In so doing it can attract the attention of those outside the scene who, for whatever reasons, become wary of it or hostile towards it.

Liverpool's gay and Black music scenes offer good examples of these processes at work. During the 1950s and 1960s these scenes were closely associated with specific city-centre neighbourhoods and with the musical underground. These associations were reinforced by local racism and homophobia and restrictive policing policies.

The unofficial centre of the gay scene lay close to the city's music clubs, theatres and marketplace on Queen's Square, Williamson Square, and Clayton Square, and to central train and bus stations. These squares were known for their entertainment, drinking establishments and nightlife and they had long been a hangout for market-goers, theatrical types and visiting sea-farers. The neighbourhood had been associated with disreputable activity by the city's elite since the early 19th century, and a 1962 city redevelopment plan referred to the need to "eradicate non-conformist use of the area".

Near the theatres and squares, gay punters would socialise in pubs such as the Stork and the Magic Clock. These pubs and their punters embraced the dramatic fondness of the theatrical crowd. One patron commented, "The [Magic] Clock's male waiters went by the names of female singers and dressed in wigs, skirts and makeup". Famous regulars of these pubs once included the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, and Joe Flannery, manager of such Mersey music groups as Lee Curtis and the All Stars and Beryl Marsden.

Until 1967 however being a gay man could land you in prison and 1950s Liverpool was not an easy place to be gay. The scene has therefore been described by those involved as

"very hidden, knock on the door three times and you're in sort of thing, it was a very secret circle."

"You wouldn't walk alone, in case you got tapped."

Since then the efforts of gay activists have successfully challenged media stereotypes of gays. The Stork and Magic Clock pubs have been demolished but Liverpool now has a number of openly gay clubs such as the Lisbon, G-Bar, Masquerade, Garlands, Curzon, and Superstar Boudoir. Since 2004 Liverpool has also hosted Homotopia, an annual gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender festival. In 2007 the festival featured internationally acclaimed DJs, as well as a walking tour of Epstein's Liverpool.

In the1950s the postal district of Liverpool 8 was a focal point for the city's Black population comprising recent immigrants and descendents of early immigrants from West and North Africa and the Caribbean. This diversity was reflected in a broad range of musical sounds and styles which included Jamaican mento and calypso, West African highlife and doo wop, a style of harmony singing influenced by rhythm and blues.

These musical sounds and styles were promoted through a neighbourhood scene based around house parties, illegal clubs (shebeens) and a network of communal clubs such as the Ibo, the Yoruba, the Nigerian and the Sierra Leone.

Local Black residents were excluded from many clubs in other parts of the city because of their informal operation of a so-called 'colour bar'. However through their bohemian reputation and late night opening hours the Liverpool 8 venues attracted locals and musicians and music fans from other parts of the city, until they were eventually closed down by the police.