Local diversity in a global context

Street scene outside CBS TV studio with large sign listing guests on the Ed Sullivan Show: 'The Beatles, Georgia Brown and Tessie O'Shea'

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in the US, 1964
© National Museums Liverpool collections

In the sleeve notes for John Lennon's album 'Menlove Avenue', Yoko Ono writes:

"John's American rock roots, Elvis, Fats Domino and Phil Spector are evident in these tracks. But what I hear in John's voice are the other roots, of the boys who grew up in Liverpool, listening to Greensleeves, BBC radio and Tessie O'Shea."

On the face of it, the global spread of popular music might not seem to encourage diverse and distinctive local sounds. The international promotion of music through CDs, radio, television, film and the internet means that the same sounds and styles can be heard almost anywhere in any city, and people in widely different places can hear the same global stars and styles.

The consequence of this is not necessarily 'sameness' however. Having access to all sorts of musical sounds and styles from all sorts of places can influence and inspire local music activity. Liverpool is best known for its brand of melodic rock and pop music but it also has a great diversity of musical activity modelled on 'imported' musical styles: samba and funk bands, a long-standing tradition of jazz and folk performance, festivals of electronic, urban and African music, and scenes based around hip hop, heavy metal and noise music.

Sometimes the imported style itself has been copied with few changes. The influences of American all-Black and all-female vocal harmony groups were evident, for example, in Liverpool groups such as the Chants, the Vernon Girls and the Liver Birds. Similarly, Liverpool's white male 'crooners', such as Frankie Vaughan were clearly based on their US counterparts, as were rock 'n' roll singers such as Billy Fury and local barbershop choruses.

Yet in many cities and countries musicians have taken US popular music and adapted it to suit their own interests and circumstances. This has often resulted in the creation of new musical styles as US sounds become mixed with local styles and traditions, and lyrics are translated and adapted to suit different languages and dialects or to refer to local concerns.

The Beatles began their career by copying the sounds and songs of US rhythm and blues but they eventually combined them with English, Irish and other musical influences to create their own distinctive sound. This has often been referred to as the 'Mersey Sound' or 'Liverpool Sound'. That sound has been the focus of countless stories about Liverpool popular music and its distinctiveness and it has provided a basis for the development of music tourism in Liverpool. But associating a city with one specific sound can undermine the diversity and fluidity of urban music. There are, for example, many other Liverpool sounds and Liverpool popular music has continually changed and evolved over time.