The Oasis Cabinet at the BME

Liverpool’s majestic Cunard Building might look formal but inside it’s bursting with skin tight catsuits, god-like glam-rockers, new wave mod fathers and pulsating, powerful pop. that defined their times, changed the world and took no prisoners. 

The British Music Experience (BME) is a charitable trust, founded by legendary music industry promoter Harvey Goldsmith to celebrate the history of British rock and pop and  the UK’s official national music exhibition hall.

But the bright, bold and bustling venue is a far cry away from your typical dusty and discreet museum. It presents a unique chance to relive decades of the greatest music in the world and recapture that euphoric feeling of being madly in love with music, at a time when it and you were at your very best. 

Today Curator and all-round BME impresario, Kev McManus is giving me a guided tour of the international attraction.  Before we get started Kev explains the BME time-frame. “We go from 1945 to present day. The finest British tunes from the past 73 years. The music. The memorabilia and the people that made it happen. You ready?” I am.

Pen, paper and camera in hand, I try to keep up whilst taking notes and snapping photos. The open doors reveal a stage, high ornate ceilings, dramatic concert lighting and a glittering pantheon of the biggest names in British music, each projected onto alcoves above, as if waiting to be worshipped by adoring fans below. 

(Watch the film above to discover the story behind BME staff's favourite music memorabilia.)


To my left, I see images of hysterical girls screaming for ‘The Beatles’. Fainting, grasping and pushing to the front, proving in a single shot that ‘Beatlemania’ was far from hyperbolic. To the right it’s 1945, a simpler time, and a less demonstrative introduction to British music. We turn right.

“In 1945 people didn’t have much and skiffle music emerged from these challenging economic times. They made music with what they had – tea -chests, washboards and cheap guitars. This music produced a unique, DIY sound. Post war Britain was pretty grim. Food was still rationed. If you were a young lad, you would dress exactly like your Father. Young people didn’t have their own identity. The concept of the teenager hadn’t been invented yet, but things were about to change.”


Billy fury in the British Music Experience

For us this change was heralded by Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde and a blazing Billy Fury, complete with dazzling gold lamé suit, swinging hips and serious swagger. 

“Billy was a fantastic early British Rock and Roll star, born and bred in Liverpool. He equalled The Beatles early success in the 1960s, with over 20 hits. Today he’s seen as Britain’s answer to Elvis, both suggested sex in a time when few dared, but he was also a very talented musician.”

We quietly look at music memorabilia from the 50s and 60s. Set lists, album covers, instruments and handwritten lyrics each set the scene. This treasure trove, waiting to be discovered makes me long for a time before I was born. What strikes me the most is that the sights and accompanying sounds still feel fresh. 

 “This culture and music were all about youth. It was created by young people for young people, and there was nothing like it. It genuinely frightened parents and wider society who didn’t know what to make of it and we try to show that. We don’t position them as historical relics, we position them in a very current, very accessible way”. 


As we approach the swinging sixties an unmistakable tune starts to play - ‘She Loves You’ and the mood begins to change. It’s here where the personal items steal the show. One particularly revealing item catches my eye. 

The sincerely written letter is addressed to ‘The Official Beatles Fan Club’ from a fan who, with much regret, has expressed a desire to leave the fanbase, as her soon to be husband wishes it so. “That one letter shows you how different British society and the position of women within it was then.”

We stop to look at a plethora of Beatles memorabilia and merchandise including wigs, crockery, glasses, toys and books. “They were the first band to really capitalise on the commercial viability of merchandise. There was such huge demand for it. People wanted a piece of them. If it has The Beatles on it, it sold.”

We stick with the 60s for quite some time. The original door to London’s Beatles Apple HQ hangs as a centrepiece. It’s much graffitied visage forms a permanent message from the fans and stands as a testament to true dedication. 

 “People would hang around for hours, days even. Being a fan required a real pilgrimage then. It’s not like today, where fans know where everyone is. There was real mystique around bands back then. 

“You’d catch a glimpse in a magazine, hear a rumour or wait for a leak from management or the press. The surprise element fed the hysteria. Beatles fans were happy to wait outside Apple on the off chance that one of them might turn up and while they waited. Affectionately nicknamed the ‘Apple scruffs’ these people wrote messages to The Beatles on the door.”


Some exhibits, like the one dedicated to The Jimi Hendrix Experience, address the transient nature of music, highlighting the eternal push-and-pull of music ideas and inspiration from across the Atlantic.  

Kev tells me how many artists, including the likes of The Beatles and Elton John were inspired by the late, great Buddy Holly, a Texas man who deserves a place in the British Music Experience, thanks in part to his lasting legacy on its development.  

“They worked so hard back then. When Buddy toured the UK, he did two shows a day, 25 days straight. The gruelling schedule ultimately led to his death. After a gig at Silver Lake, Iowa, Buddy couldn’t face another night on the cold tour bus and chartered a plane. 

“Tragically the plane crashed killing Buddy, the two other passengers and the pilot.  He’d only been famous for 18 months, but what a talent. He left an indelible mark, shaping British music before it hit the big time”.


David Bowie Outfits in British Music Experience

Leaving the last of the 60s behind we step into the 70s, a period in British music defined by polarised powers.  At one end of the spectrum post-hippie Glam Rock lets androgynous artists blur the lines, high-concept albums steal the show, and stages, sets, music and performances get more and more elaborate. At the other end Punk Rockers tear it all down, strip it all back and take things in a totally different direction. 

“You’ve got to love 70s music. Larger than life acts like Queen, Elton John and Led Zeppelin transfix audiences with their flamboyant decadence and pure escapism, playing giant stadiums and taking things to the next level, on every level. 

“Then you have the blunt, raw, darkness of Punk Rock, kicking the boot in, taking things right back to basics and being anti-establishment in everything they do. Britain led the charge, spearheading both these movements and this period proves both the visionary and risky nature of British music.”


A Boy George Hologram Plays on the BME Stage

As if on cue, Culture Club’s Boy George breaks though ‘The Clash’ with, arguably the pop song of the 1980s – Karma Chameleon. Kev ushers me to the stage to see a very unique performance. 

Now, I’ve seen 3D holographic performances in the movies. (Frank Sinatra, Marylyn Monroe and Elvis Presley each made guest appearances in this year’s Blade Runner 2049.) But I still wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw. 

Modern Day Boy George, recreated in light, from a real-life performance, capturing every move, gesture and sound, effortlessly taking me back to my ‘Top of The Pops’ days. I watch the entire performance and remark on what a feel-good song it is.

From our conversation I discover that the stage isn’t reserved for Boy George alone.  The BBC’s 6 Music did a show at BME where OMD played live and the installation of a top of the range PA (courtesy of Harman Professional) means that live gigs will become a more regular feature. But there’s plenty of internal talent at BME which has its very own in-house band too.

“It just happened. Everyone who works here is an experienced musician. In our Gibson Brands Studio we’re surrounded by instruments that anyone can use. People play, other people join in and have a little jam, and it has gone from there. It was completely organic. The band are brilliant and give regular performances in the café. Other times they will just join in with guests who come in and pick up a guitar.” 


The Charlatans Exhibition Cabinet at BME

One of the biggest draws for BME’s visitors is the attraction’s diverse programme of events. These consist of talks, films, documentaries, panels and presentations which celebrate and the world of music, from numerous different viewpoints. 

Featuring insider revelations, from managers, promoters, bands members and partners, exclusive showings of explosive new documentaries and introductions to important new voices in British music and reunions from legendary acts, with dyed-in-the-wool fanbases that snap up tickets fast. 

“People love our events and they’re quite revelatory. The inspiration behind the lyrics, the fights, the break-ups, the make-ups. Fans can’t get enough of that stuff and it’s a great to bring people together to celebrate the music. 

“Coming up we have an exclusive exhibition from The Charlatans and we are really excited to have a live performance from them too; a revealing look at Amy Winehouse, from celebrated music photographer Charles Moriarty and a drumming masterclass from drummer David Kelly. We’re also showing the cult classic ‘Donnie Darko’ on Halloween, a brilliant film that showcases the darker side of 80s music. 


Famous Faces Adorn the Walls at the BME Cafe

We blast though the 90s with a blur of Britpop and sprinkling of Spice Girls, before arriving at the 2000s with Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay and eventually Adele. We take a quick tour of the gift shop, with seemingly as much to look as the exhibitions themselves, before ending the interview in the BME Café. 

We meet the Café’s barista Colin Cooper and Kev tells me that he wrote a review of Colin’s former band Mr Ray’s Wig World in 1989, back when Kev worked for NME. ‘Was it positive?’ I wondered. “Yeah, thank god or it would have been awkward” responds Kev.

To say the café features famous faces is something of an understatement. A galaxy of the biggest stars from every recent decade of British Music feature in fine portrait form. Amusingly as a collective, they give the impression that they’re trying to steal focus from one another and I start to ponder which artist I enjoy the most whilst I wait.  

I’m treated to coffee and cake on the house and we choose a table beneath a snarling Johnny Rotten for the remainder of the interview. Our whistle-stop journey through the last 70 years of hits leads us to naturally talk about the state of British music today.  

“Things are a lot more fragmented. There’s lots of little scenes today, and a million channels  to consume music through  which means it is often harder to get noticed and even harder to sustain a career. Of course, there’s a tendency to romanticise the music of your youth and you’re never going to love everything I love discovering new music still.  It’s important to remain open to new music and new technology. To new anything actually.”


The British Music Experience

I look around BME and there’s a true cross-section of society here. Young girls take pictures of themselves next to photos of ‘One Direction’. A group of boys flick through a specially curated selection of genre-defining music bibles, while pensioners bask in the music memories of their youth. Thinking about the future I ask Kev what’s next for BME?

“It depends on what’s next for Britain. Music is influenced by everything around us. You can’t divorce it from what’s going on in society, culture, art or fashion. You look at British music and you see that it’s been about rebellion, risks, politics and reimagination. All of life is here and it’s here to make you feel something. We’ll continue to celebrate British music, whatever shape it takes and hopefully continue to push boundaries ourselves.”

“That’s the beauty of this place. You might lose your mind over Noel Gallaher’s Union Jack guitar or Queen lyrics that are hand-written by Freddie Mercury. I might take a thousand pictures of me next to Mani’s bass guitar, from The Stone Roses.  Whatever you’re into, it doesn’t matter, because people always have a very personal relationship to music and that’s what they come here to discover. 
“We reawaken that feeling of being a fan and the sheer joy it brings. But just like music BME essentially has a very pure ambition and that’s to entertain you.” 

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  • The celebrate their 5-star TripAdvisor rating, BME are now selling an annual pass for £16.00 which includes special discounts off live performances. 

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This blog has been written by Ian Hughes, at Marketing Liverpool. Ian is a rock-climbing enthusiast who enjoys Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain.


British Music Experience
British Music Experience Exhibition entrance point. The  building inside is Italian Renaissance in style with a new lighting rig and projected images.

The British Music Experience tells the story of British Music through costumes, instruments, performance and memorabilia. Whatever age you are, and whatever you are into, there is something here for you.