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Sgt Pepper at 50: Liverpool music aficionados share their take on groundbreaking album

Sgt Pepper at 50: Liverpool music aficionados share their take on groundbreaking album

As Liverpool revels in a packed programme of events celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, Your Move has assembled a panel of the city’s music and arts aficionados  to get their take on this groundbreaking album.

Words by Lawrence Saunders

 

Sgt Pepper anniversary

Peter Hooton
Lead singer of The Farm and chair of the Beatles Legacy Group.

I think the reason Sgt Pepper is so significant is because it was a game changer. The first concept album – it broke the mould really.

The Beatles were always trying to stay one step ahead of the competition so when The Beach Boys came out with ‘Pet Sounds’, the band knew they had to come up with something that could blow it out of the water and they certainly achieved that with Sgt Pepper.

For John Lennon at the age of 26, and Paul McCartney at 24, to come up with this album is just mind-blowing; although I think the mind-bending substances they were partaking in at the time might have contributed!

Wayne Hemingway
Renowned fashion designer who is bringing his summer Vintage on the Dock festival to the city’s waterfront.

Sgt Pepper was a bringing together of culture. Sir Peter Blake’s truly iconic album cover art (is there a more recognisable cover?) captured the cultural icons of the time, from Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas via Marlon Brando, William S Burroughs, Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors and Edgar Allen Poe.

The ironic satin military uniforms, the moustaches and the saturated colour define psychedelic fashion. Oh and then there are those tunes that will resonate forever. Art, fashion, culture and amazing music… un-bleeding-believable.

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Sgt Pepper anniversary

British Music Experience
Kevin McManus, curator of the British Music Experience (BME).

Sgt Pepper is one of the most remarkable albums ever made, but for me what is even more extraordinary is the fact that it came immediately after ‘Rubber Soul’ and ‘Revolver’.

It’s difficult to say anything new about Sgt Pepper because it’s so rightly celebrated and as a result, millions of words have been written about its significance.

Put simply, Sgt Pepper showcases a band at the height of their power, effortlessly writing some of the best songs ever while pushing the boundaries of the recording process under the guiding hand of producer George Martin.

George gave them the encouragement and space to innovate and the result changed the way albums were viewed forever.

Liverpool Biennial
Paul Smith, executive director of Liverpool Biennial.

Sgt Pepper is one of those happenings which can’t be quantified. Some things just change the landscape so in this case there is simply ‘before Sgt Pepper’ and ‘after Sgt Pepper’.

The Beatles intended people to actively participate in Sgt Pepper, not just to buy it or listen to it, by including gifts within the record – cut-outs, lyrics and a cover that broke the traditions of who or what defines an era.

The Beatles brought contemporary art to a huge audience of people who may not have actively sought it out, and so helped establish the idea that great art should be an inspiring part of our lives, much like Sir Peter Blake’s Dazzle Ferry is in Liverpool.

“The Beatles brought contemporary art to a huge audience of people who may not have actively sought it out.”

 

Sgt Pepper anniversary

Bluecoat
Bryan Biggs, artistic director at Bluecoat which is joining in the Sgt Pepper at 50 celebrations 

The Beatles’ most iconic album cover caused almost as much debate as the record itself on its release. Who were all these people and why had they been chosen?

Were they the Fab Four’s personal heroes? Did this seemingly incongruous collection of artists, musicians, film stars, philosophers, gurus and comedians reflect the cultural zeitgeist of 1967?

With its motif of a crowd assembled behind four central characters and a bass drum, the sleeve became the most studied and copied design in pop.

It was parodied almost immediately by ‘The Mothers of Invention’ and has since been used as a template for posters, adverts, Christmas cards and numerous records.

Photoshop has made it easy to knock out a ‘Pepper parody’ but I still get excited when I come across a new version, even though the music within often disappoints.

Museum of Liverpool
Paul Gallagher, deputy director of Museum of Liverpool.

The Beatles have always been game changers. They pretty much invented the blueprint for any credible band – the group as a gang of freethinking outliers who play their own instruments and write their own songs. It always comes back to the songs doesn’t it?

Their greatest legacy will always be the songs and with Sgt Pepper we are witnessing the gang in their pomp; ambitious, experimental, cocky, inquisitive, pushing forward, crafting a collection of songs that continue to endure and beguile; from Vaudeville to Indian mysticism and everything in between.

I vividly recall buying Sgt Pepper as a callow 13-year-old in NEMS record store in 1974. Whilst I soaked up the music I stared and stared, mesmerised by the Peter Blake designed cover. I even looked up what the word ‘concept’ meant. You wouldn’t get that with an Ed Sheeran album would you?

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Sgt Pepper anniversary

Paul Du Noyer
Anfield-born veteran rock journalist and former editor of Q magazine.

Sgt Pepper was always hailed as the perfect expression of its time, but it was also timeless. It’s not owned by 1967 and it will fascinate generations yet unborn.

I was at school in Bootle that year and I thought The Beatles had utterly lost the plot. I was too young to understand. This was in fact a feast to be savored slowly. In time, Sgt Pepper taught me there was more out there than I had ever dreamed.

High psychedelia from sun-kissed California? The slumland singalongs of Victorian music hall? Magically, this record could be both of those things at the same time.

Sgt Pepper flew you from suburban Liverpool to swinging London, to the banks of the Ganges, via the Isle of Wight.

Along the way we encountered summertime’s drowsy dreams, sharply bittersweet nostalgia, and even a kind of car-crash dread. Now that’s what you call a trip.

Thomas McConnell
Aspiring musician who claims to be able to play every Beatles song – this month starring in a biographical concert based on George Harrison at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.

Sgt Pepper is the first album I remember choosing to listen to. I was only six and I’d become obsessed with The Beatles. I’d get up before school, crawl into the space behind the couch near the record player and put the headphones on.

Being so young, I didn’t know their history so they had no context to me. I thought no one else knew about them and they were still together. To me, I’d just found another record that said ‘Beatles’ on it with crazy, colourful artwork, full of people I didn’t recognise.

Then I put it on and out of nowhere I was exposed to such potent levels of imagination, production and songwriting that it shaped the way I’ve thought ever since. At an age when your head is a sponge, it sent me to another planet that I’ve never wanted to leave.

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Sgt Pepper anniversary

Martin King
Manager at The Beatles Story.

The album means a lot to me. I remember a student teacher playing it to my primary school class the year it came out – and being asked to create a painting inspired by it.

Yes, I painted diamonds in the sky and boats on the river. It was a remarkable cultural event for primary school children and broadsheet music critics alike.

The album cover is almost as iconic as the music itself, and indeed is one of the defining images of the 1960s. At the very centre of that are the resplendent custom-made suits worn by the band, which have gone on to become some of the most recognisable outfits ever worn.

We feel very privileged to have a set of four suits on display here at The Beatles Story in celebration of the 50th anniversary.

About Author: Lawrence Saunders

Lawrence is a journalist at Your Move. He can be contacted via email at lawrence@movepublishing.co.uk or by phone on 0151 709 3871.