Across the Universe - The Continuing Influence of the Beatles

The British Music Experience is a national museum of rock and pop music based in Liverpool. We are proud to be located in the historic Cunard Building on the famous Liverpool waterfront.

Fortunately, nationally and internationally people generally associate Liverpool with music and that is partly what led to the decision to bring the BME to the city. Obviously, The Beatles play a huge part in the branding of Liverpool as a Music City but even without them Liverpool’s music history would be a really vibrant one. This rich music heritage and ongoing excellence was given formal recognition when the city was announced as a UNESCO City of Music in 2015.

 As someone who was Liverpool born I’ve always felt that music was an incredibly important and deep-rooted part of the city.  While my older sisters were off seeing local lads The Real Thing (who are sometimes overlooked in discussions about influential Liverpool artists) I was discovering my very own music scene centred around a small club called Eric’s. As well as seeing legendary bands like The Clash and Joy Division there, I saw brilliant local groups that included Big In Japan, Echo and the Bunnymen, Wah! Heat, OMD and Teardrop Explodes. That was it for me: I was hooked.  Over the years, at many different venues across the city, I was lucky enough to see the development of more local gems in the shape of bands like Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The La’s, The Farm, Shack and The Coral to name just a few.

 So even a cursory look would tell you that Liverpool is a city that is always generating great music, but there is no getting away from the fact that the attack brand is The Beatles. Their influence is everywhere and if you look out from the BME’s entrance you can see a magnificent statue of John, Paul, George, and Ringo.  Walk past it pretty much any time of day, in any kind of weather, and there will be a queue of people waiting to get their picture taken next to the statue of the four lads who shook the world.

The appearance of Paul McCartney in the city twice in the past month or two has created headlines all over the world. Firstly, the Carpool Karaoke film he shot with James Corden clocked up millions of views online in a matter of days and brought home to people how much affection this music legend still has for the city of his birth.  Then just to underline this fact he shocked everyone only a month later by doing a secret gig for a lucky audience of 200 or so at The Cavern. Again, it made headlines across the world and was the main topic of conversation across the city for the rest of the week. Two of our crew here were lucky enough to get tickets for The Cavern show and both were in a state of deliriously happy shock for hours after the gig.

The huge influence of The Beatles is obviously acknowledged throughout the BME and of course we have a section dedicated just to them. One of my favourite things that we have in our collection is the door from the Apple Corps offices on Saville Row. It’s a unique, tangible, slice of history and the message scrawled on the door by young Beatles fans (known affectionately by the band themselves as ‘Apple Scruffs’) from across the world are incredibly moving. There are also outfits worn by John and Ringo as well as a range of Beatles memorabilia that demonstrates how they pretty much ruled the pop world during the 1960’s. Fans wanted everything they could possibly get their hands on that was Beatles related; from magazines, through to playing cards, glasses, plates, and even your very own Beatles wig.

As part of the display we show an original fan club newsletter and actual letters written by Beatles fans (loaned to us by one of the Regional Fan Club organiser Rowena Houghton). The Beatles were the first group to understand the power and the passion of their fanbase and as a result they had a massive fan club which was run by Brian Epstein’s secretary, Freda Kelly. Freda is a wonderful woman, a good friend to the BME, and officially the Nicest Person I’ve Ever Met (sorry Mum). Recently we had a screening of Good Ol’ Freda, the film that was made about Freda’s life, and followed it up with an interview and audience Q&A with Freda. I think for me and everyone who works here it was probably our favourite night since we opened up. We had a packed audience of people of all ages, and Freda told amazing stories about her life with The Beatles and brought it right up to date with a hilarious tale about being greeted like an old friend by Dave Grohl. 

The Beatles early days as a skiffle group, The Quarrymen, is also referenced in our skiffle case where we are luck enough to have a copy of the 78 record of Lonnie Donegan’s Rock Island Line.  The record was originally owned by John Lennon during his Quarrymen days and loaned to us by fellow Quarrymen member Rod Davis. 

Obviously, the city now has a huge Beatles tourist industry and at the centre of this unsurprisingly is The Cavern. It is a brilliant, always lively venue, and it is somewhere that I always take international visitors when I am showing them around the city.

If you walk out of BME and past The Beatles statue you arrive at the Museum of Liverpool which is part of the National Museums Liverpool portfolio. Between now and April 2019 they have the marvellous John Lennon and Yoko Ono exhibition, Double Fantasy. The exhibition, drawn from Yoko’s private collection, is a world first and it is to my mind entirely appropriate that it is taking place here in John’s birthplace. It is a beautiful exhibition that is thought provoking, funny and often very moving.  If you only have a short time in Liverpool I’d definitely recommend that you combine a visit to BME with a short walk across the waterfront to enjoy this as well.

As a group The Beatles had a relatively short career but they were incredibly productive during those years they were together.  This means that you are never too far away from the anniversary of key points in the Beatles career and we always try to mark these events at BME. Last year we joined with the City Council in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Sgt Pepper album and later this year sees the 50th anniversary of The White Album which we will find an appropriate way to mark.

Before then we have International Beatles Week, an annual event at the end of August co-ordinated by the brilliant team at Cavern City Tours. We are doing our own little bit around this by hosting a fascinating session with Gary Astridge on the 25th August. Gary is a man who knows more about Ringo’s drums than anyone else, except for maybe Ringo himself!  Gary will be giving a talk about Ringo, his drums, and what made his drumming so special. See the BME website for full details.

Other Beatles related exhibits in the BME include a gorgeous Fender guitar that was played by George, and if you want to explore Beatles influences in our ‘On Tour’ section we have a recently refreshed Buddy Holly collection. Paul McCartney famously said that without Buddy Holly and the Crickets there wouldn’t have been any Beatles. What a scary thought that is – can you imagine a world without any Beatles songs in it?