Meridian Writers' Group
LONDON-Here's one of the interesting tidbits to be uncovered at the British Music Experience: when the Beatles first performed on The Ed Sullivan Show on Sun., Feb. 9, 1964, 73 million Americans tuned in and the nation's crime rate, for that hour at least, dropped substantially.
The British Music Experience is patterned on Seattle's excellent Experience Music Project, but focused entirely on Brits. Happily, rock and roll has been one of the country's chief exports for more than 40 years, so there's more than enough material for the museum's relatively modest 2,000 square metres (EMP covers 13,000 square metres, but that includes the Science Fiction Museum).
Opened in March 2009, the BME is backed by the British cell-phone service provider O2 and housed in a section of what used to be the Millennium Dome and now is simply called "The O2." It's where big touring musical acts play, so a rock-and-roll museum is a good fit.
Like Seattle's EMP, this one uses lots of interactive technology. Touch screens allow visitors to call up reams of information on bands and trends, and watch rare clips of now-legendary performers when they were just starting out. See the Beatles in Liverpool's Cavern, or the Rolling Stones when Mick and Keith were still fresh-faced. There are also snippets of history from each year. In 1976, for example, Jaws came out, the Concorde first flew and Steve Jobs started Apple.
The museum takes 1945 as its starting point and divides the years since then into seven eras, each with its own hall. It begins by talking about the American post-world-war influences on British music and the creation of "skiffle," a blend of blues, country and folk music that had a short lifespan but encouraged people like John Lennon to take up the guitar.
From there it explores the musical styles each era gave rise to: the British Invasion of the early 1960s, the psychedelic years, the birth of glam and prog rock, the punk-rock reaction, New Romanticism's brief heyday, heavy metal and house, manufactured girl and boy bands, the return of guitar-based rock, and finally the musically diverse era we live in today.
There are, of course, endless examples of the music to listen to. Some of it is very familiar (the Beatles' "Yesterday"), some all but forgotten (the Dave Clark Five's "Glad All Over").
And there are display cases filled with memorabilia, including costumes donated by the artists who wore them. David Bowie's given his Thin White Duke outfit, Suzie Quatro her black leather jumpsuit. There's Keith Richard's prototype for Johnny Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean attire and Freddie Mercury's pants.
Those who want more interactivity can pop into a dance booth, where they can learn everything from ska to the macarena, or they can sit down in a recording studio outfitted with guitars, drum kits and pianos. They can record both their dancing and musical efforts and, thanks to another nifty technological innovation, play them back over the Internet via the BME website when they get home.
For more information on the British Music Experience visit its website at www.britishmusicexperience.com .
For information on travel in Britain go to the Visit Britain website at www.visitbritain.com .
The British Music Experience, a museum devoted to British music from 1945 onwards, has plenty of interactive exhibits that let visitors listen to songs and call up rare performance footage. They can also play instruments in a fully equipped studio, or learn to dance.
PHOTO CREDIT: John Masters/Meridian Writers' Group