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Liverpool: Sounds of the City
a city on screen

Merseyside in voice and music

Main image of Sounds of the City

Since the global success of The Beatles in the 1960s, Liverpool has become known worldwide as a music city. But well before the 'Merseybeat' boom, Liverpool had a lively music culture, and its status as a cosmopolitan port city resulted in a rich mixture of sounds and influences. The city's 19th century wealth allowed the establishment in 1840 of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society, now one of the oldest orchestras in the world and an institution that continues to be at the centre of the city's cultural life.

The sounds of the city have been influenced by the different voices and traditions of the people settling in Liverpool from many different places including Ireland, Wales, Eastern and Western Europe, Africa and China. As a thriving port, the city became a hub for entertainment and leisure, creating a demand for home-grown entertainers and musicians. In the 1950s, Liverpool singers Frankie Vaughan and Michael Holliday had numerous hits. Liverpool also provided the first UK number one record from a British female artist, with Lita Roza's '(How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window'.

The multitude of entertainment venues and the city's openness to new music resulted in local country, folk and jazz music scenes. Merseyside's longest running band, The Merseysippi Jazz Band (formed in 1948), played the opening night of The Cavern in 1957 and is still performing today. As young musicians began playing their own versions of US rock 'n' roll, a distinct beat scene began to develop with a network of venues in clubs and dancehalls across the city. While Liverpool born rock 'n' roll star Billy Fury had success as a solo artist, it was the success of the beat groups spearheaded by The Beatles that cemented the idea of Liverpool as a musical city in the national imagination. The phenomenon of Merseybeat attracted huge media attention, and helped build careers for artists like Gerry and the Pacemakers, Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, The Merseybeats and The Swinging Blue Jeans; less obviously 'Merseybeat' acts like Cilla Black also benefited from their association with the scene.

The city's nightlife continued to be a springboard for its musicians and numerous music scenes are celebrated within Liverpool's music history. Just as The Cavern is forever associated with The Beatles, many prominent bands from the late 1970s and 1980s were linked to Eric's, which opened in 1976 on Mathew Street in the city centre. Bands such as The Teardrop Explodes, Echo and the Bunnymen, OMD, The Mighty Wah!, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Dead Or Alive all have connections to this scene. Similarly, in the 2000s the Bandwagon club night is associated with the hit acts The Coral and The Zutons, alongside a host of other bands. Today a strong live music scene, numerous venues and annual music festivals such as Africa Oyé and Liverpool Music Week mean that Liverpool is set to keep its place on the music map.

Marion Leonard

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