How important are The Beatles to Liverpool and do they still have an impact on local musicians?

by Kevin McManus, Head of UNESCO City of Music, Culture Liverpool

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It was really interesting to hear the views of musician/producer Forest Swords and Director of Culture Liverpool Claire McColgan when BBC Radio 4 were in town recently to do a feature on Liverpool. As part of their focus on the city there was a short piece on the role of Culture in Liverpool. In the midst of this came a BIG question: how important are The Beatles to the city and do they still have an impact on Liverpool musicians?

I’d argue that the short answer to this is that The Beatles are still incredibly important to the city and, let’s be honest, why wouldn’t they be? Or as Claire put it in her interview “Stratford wouldn’t forget Shakespeare.”

There’s a barrage of stats about the importance of the group to the city. Visitors who come to Liverpool spend a lot of money here. They fill hotel beds, eat in cafes and restaurants, drink in pubs etc. In fact, many local people work in jobs that are supported by the Beatles industry. Take the example of International Beatles Week which has just taken place. The city was awash with tourists from all over the world who had come here for one reason only. Obviously the hope is that visitors come here for The Beatles and then discover all the other amazing things the city has to offer.

But more broadly, why wouldn’t we celebrate the fact that the best known group in the history of rock/pop music are from Liverpool? When Paul McCartney came back to Liverpool in 2018 to do Carpool Karaoke it quickly became one of the most watched videos on YouTube. Then when he returned again to do a secret gig at the Cavern the eyes of the world were very definitely on us. Those two things made news across the globe, providing the kind of impact that no hugely expensive marketing campaign could ever hope to achieve. People everywhere were talking about us. Liverpool was on the television and it looked fabulous.

Not only are The Beatles responsible for some of the best known songs ever recorded but they are also recognised for their creativity, their innovation and the way they influenced and shaped culture across the world. So when Culture Liverpool paid tribute to Sgt Pepper on its 50th anniversary it was as much about recognising and reflecting their innovation as it was about celebrating those enduring tunes.

Given the enduring popularity of The Beatles, it is only right that we celebrate our music heritage. In fact, we need to get better at how we do this and provide an even more compelling offer for our visitors.

But alongside this we need to ensure that there should be even more of a focus on celebrating what we have going on in the city today. That’s why I’m speaking at the Music Tourism Convention, an international event which Liverpool is hosting next week. I’m talking about the importance of a thriving music ecosystem in relation to music tourism.

I’d argue that Liverpool has a really strong music ecology at the moment. We do have a strong talent pipeline (supported by initiatives like LIMF Academy and Merseyrail Sound Station), some great independent venues, a world class orchestra, a thriving electronic music/club scene, an incredibly broad range of festivals and a supportive media through the likes of Bido Lito , Get Into This and Melodic Distraction. It is a music scene and community that is diverse, dynamic and is about much so more than lads with guitars.

That isn’t to say everything is perfect and nothing needs fixing. There are opportunities for us to be even better and a whole bunch of challenges to overcome.

That isn’t to say everything is perfect and nothing needs fixing. There are opportunities for us to be even better and a whole bunch of challenges to overcome. That’s why my role and the City Region Music Board were created. We have consulted with the wider music sector, we know the issues and are getting to grips with how as a sector we can tackle them and make the Liverpool city region even more of a music powerhouse.

Do enough people around the UK or internationally know about what is happening here now? The answer is a very simple and emphatic “No”. It is something I’m looking at in my role here, as are the City Region Music Board. As well as supporting the music sector to grow and be sustainable, we need to come up with a compelling narrative about our music offer and make sure that music fans across the world are aware of it.

Just look at last weekend. The heritage world of International Beatles Week lived happily alongside the very current offer of Future Yard making its first appearance on our festival calendar over in Birkenhead. It was a brilliantly programmed two day event featuring the likes of local heroes such at Bill Ryder Jones, Eyesaw and the Jinx and Queen Zee, playing in unusual and beautiful venues. As part of the event Forest Swords in collaboration with the Kazimier produced a really striking installation piece called Pylon in the lovely surrounds of the refectory in Birkenhead Priory. The hugely popular Creamfields was on throughout the weekend featuring some of the world’s biggest DJ’s. And of course on top of this you had a huge range of choice from the countless gigs and club nights taking place throughout the city as they do every week.

Looking ahead to this weekend, we have another brilliant music offer. Fusion take over Sefton Park for the full weekend while on the Saturday there is the wonderfully quirky Skeleton Coast Festival at Leasowe Castle, featuring more great local artists like the brilliant Mysterines and Red Rum Club.

So of course it is only right that we treasure and celebrate The Beatles. But we should also treasure and celebrate the vibrant and gloriously diverse music being produced every day across what is a unique music city.

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