Liverpool – The Beat Goes On
Straddling the banks of the River Mersey, the City of Liverpool was ideally situated to profit from the UK’s Industrial Revolution. At one point in recent history, Liverpudlians were at the centre of the British Empire and the hundreds of thousands of workers employed on the city’s multiple docks loaded and unloaded ships that brought riches from the furthest corners of the globe.
The golden years of Liverpool as a city of commerce, international shipping, and as a starting point for those seeking a fresh start in the New World, could not last forever and the decline in the British Empire also sounded the death knell for the city’s lifeblood; its famous docks. As other nations rose to challenge British dominance, the fate of Liverpool was sealed.
For many decades, the city and its once thriving river frontage lay in ruins, slowly decaying both financially and physically. After the Second World War, the wharfs and much of the city’s centre were in ruins. As the largest port on the west coast of England, Liverpool played a vital role in the war effort and as a result it paid a heavy price as a target for bombing. In fact, Liverpool was the most heavily bombed urban area outside central London.
But no matter the damage inflicted on the populace, the spirit of Liverpool continued to shine through. The Scouse sense of adventure, humour, and spirit was undiminished. It would take a music revolution to put the city of Liverpool back on the front pages and the 1960s provided just the catalyst for such an event to happen. In America, Rock ‘n Roll was being driven by Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis – to name but a few of the stars. This explosion in music soon made its way across the Atlantic, and naturally its first port of call was Liverpool.
Not far from the once bustling Liverpool docks, nondescript Matthew Street would soon become the centre of the music world. Lined with small pubs and bars, local musicians would play cover versions of the American Rock ‘n Roll hits to adoring fans. But the teenagers of Liverpool craved their own distinct music style – much like their loveable Scouse accent – and four young local lads were ready to provide this musical elixir.
Formed in early 1960, The Beatles that the world knows and loves, were driven primarily by John Lennon. As a teenager, Lennon first recruited Paul McCartney and then George Harrison to join his nascent band, which was originally called The Quarrymen. After one or two name and line-up changes, The Beatles were completed in the summer of 1962 when Ringo Starr replaced Pete Best on drums. Now, the world started to dance to a new sound; The Mersey Beat.
Alongside The Beatles driving the Mersey Beat were other famous bands of the day such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Searchers, and songstress Cilla Black. But it was The Beatles who were really making waves and creating their own identity. Soon Beatlemania would define the group and in a few short years they went from playing gigs to hundreds in the Cavern Club in Matthew Street to tens of thousands in huge stadiums all over the world.
As the group’s music grew in sophistication, with songwriters Lennon and McCartney penning nearly every song, the band started to take on another layer of maturity and in many ways became representatives of the 1960s counterculture revolution. From good clean living boys in the ‘Swinging Sixties’, by the 1970s The Beatles were experimenting with psychedelic drugs and this became evident in their music and lyrics.
After a decade of spearheading the music world, The Beatles imploded and broke up. Many fans pin the blame for this on Yoko Ono, but in fact it was due more to each of the members desire to experiment with their own musical tastes and solo careers. For instance, George Harrison became interested in Indian music while John Lennon’s solo music became more and more introspective. It was left to Paul McCartney to maintain The Beatles’ lifeblood of so many years; pop music.
That each of the band members went on to have successful solo careers is testament to their musical talents. However, the death of John Lennon in December 1980 and of George Harrison in November 2001 meant that Liverpool’s most famous sons would never again perform in the city they loved and which loved them. However, their legacy lives on and over the decades Liverpool has remained a catalyst for British music with new bands bringing their own sounds to the world.
In fact, the Guinness Book of Records declared Liverpool “City of Pop” in 2001 due to the many number one records its musicians have produced. In 2008 World Museum Liverpool, in partnership with the Institute of Popular Music at the University of Liverpool, created “The Beat Goes On”, an in-depth exhibition charting the history of music in Liverpool from 1945 to the present day.
Visitors to Liverpool today can still get a feel for the Mersey Beat with a visit to Matthew Street where the Cavern Club still rocks to the sound of The Beatles every day. Alternatively, for a real trip down memory lane, visitors shouldn’t miss the chance to visit The Beatles Story Exhibition located at the Albert Dock.