Liverpool Bands Look to Recapture Glorious Musical Past
By David McMahon
LIVERPOOL (Reuters) – It’s 40 years since the Beatles’ landmark album “Revolver” hit the charts and, while Liverpool bands may no longer be top of the world, the music scene in the Fab Four’s birthplace is at its strongest in years.
The city, described as the “World Capital of Pop” in the Guinness Book of Hit Singles, is home to a host of up-and-coming rock bands like The Zutons and the Dead 60s, and a center for dance and electronic music.
“The Liverpool music scene is in great health at the moment,” says Ged Ryan, a long-time session drummer and events manager at the Cavern, the club where the Beatles played almost 300 shows before heading for worldwide stardom.
“There are more live venues around today than I have seen in the 25 years I’ve been performing.”
The Cavern, which reopened in 1984 after more than a decade, still attracts young bands and hosts heavy metal nights, punk, funk and soul events. Liverpudlians, also known as “scousers,” say this eclectic mix meshes with the northern English city’s history.
After all, Liverpool’s music didn’t start with the Beatles. Monks were chanting in monasteries when the city was founded 800 years ago. The city’s musical heritage also draws heavily on sea shanties from its days as the British Empire’s second largest port in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Liverpool also boasts one of Britain’s oldest orchestras, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.
Opposite the Cavern, tourists stop to gaze at a musical “Wall of Fame,” which features bronze pressings of all 56 Liverpool bands’ No. 1 hit singles in Britain since the charts were launched in 1952. The Beatles claim 17 — their last chart-topper was “The Ballad of John and Yoko” in 1969.
The city has not produced a number 1 hit since Atomic Kitten in 2002 but residents say scratch under the surface and you’ll find a thriving music scene.
In recent years, Liverpool has given birth to a variety of styles including “cosmic scouse,” which critics describe as a “weed-fueled mish-mash of skiffle, indie pop and the blues” typified by bands like The Zutons and The Coral. “Scouse house” is another specialty, a bouncy Liverpudlian take on house music.
Liverpudlians have trouble agreeing on whether there is such a thing as a “Liverpool sound” but some see an indefinable quality to the music in the home of 1960s Beatles’ rivals Gerry and the Pacemakers, and Echo and the Bunnymen, a 1980s band whose gloomy post-punk rock still commands a cult following.
“Liverpool music is very eclectic in style,” says Paul du Noyer, founder of music magazine Mojo. “It’s traditionally more melodic in its base and has a surreal strand to it.”
The Cavern’s Ryan says the quirky humor that shone through the Beatles’ “Revolver” is still alive today.
“We write and play some serious music, but always manage to send a smile through the message,” he said.
WATCH THIS SPACE
Music critics say Liverpool has not always done a good job taking advantage of its musical heritage.
The Cavern Club was closed for more than a decade in the 1970s, a time when Liverpool’s docks and manufacturing industries fell into decline, sending unemployment soaring.
Now the economy is regaining its footing and an influx of students and government money are boosting the arts scene. Liverpool’s annual Mathew Street music festival drew a record 60,000 foreign visitors last year.
“Liverpool is really the ‘watch this space’ city right now,” says Gordon Ross, musical coordinator for the Liverpool Culture Company, an organization set up to promote the city ahead of 2008 when it will be designated “European City of Culture.”
“People here are very confident and they have a sense of humor that comes out in the music.”
This optimism is perhaps embodied by the Picket, one of the city’s most famous musical venues, which reopened in May after closing down two years ago despite a high profile campaign by artists including Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello to save it.
Nestled in the shadows of Liverpool Cathedral, the club gave a first break to The Coral and is also the birthplace of the La’s, a cult band that released just one album of alternative guitar pop in 1990 but still has fans as far away as Japan.
The Picket may become a launching pad for a new generation of Liverpool bands, but even those that make it big will live in the shadow of the most influential band of all time.
“The Beatles are viewed as something of a mixed blessing in Liverpool,” said du Noyer. “What group could possibly ever live up to that legacy?”