Flash Says…

British music – there to be experienced

Posted on: 2011-01-21

Last year I won a ticket and goody bag to the British Music Experience, at London’s O2. On the last available date I decided to go along – after all, it was free! The normal entry fee is £10 which I would normally consider rather steep – there are many excellent museums which have no entry charge – but the BME’s main sponsor has guaranteed to give away 15,000 tickets in the first 3 years, so you too may get lucky. If I hadn’t won a ticket (in a competition which appealed to my musical geek) I may never have considered going – and would have missed out on an enjoyable and memorable experience.

You enter (and leave) the BME through the shop – first entering a cinema room to watch Lauren Laverne give an overview of what’s on offer. Uh-oh, I thought – I’m suspicious of any museum which has to tell me how to navigate. In the event it boils down to “you can visit any room, in any order”. The merits of your “smart ticket” were explained – there are swipe points throughout the museum so you can tag items you enjoyed – which seemed a bit unnecessary, other than as a means of downloading videos you’ve made in the interactive exhibits.

I decided to make a beeline for a period which interested me – 1970s – and then work forward to see how this music had influenced bands up to the current day – then if I had time, go back and see how the sounds of the 1970s had in turn been affected. Seemed simple, and it worked quite well (I had plenty of time for sections which were quite detailed, and didn’t mind hurrying through a brief overview of jazz and skiffle. That said, it was nice to see Humphrey Lyttelton’s trumpet.)

Each room was different, but with generally similar features. Rooms were well balanced – the earliest one covered almost two decades of the post-war era, whereas there could be a couple of rooms spanning a decade where there was a lot going on.

I had assumed that I would simply be viewing display cases of concert outfits and wrecked guitars, while a video played in the background. I was wrong – it was far more interactive than this, with the opportunity to go into depth on many subjects. For example Table Talk, where you pick up headphones and watch videos about how Live Aid came about, and other topics; and Rock Galaxy where you pop different singles on a turntable, while learning about which genre of rock they covered (folk-rock, punk-rock, psychedelic-rock, prog-rock, etc.) and see how they all come together. In addition to these hands on displays, every room had a large screen with a console where you could scroll through snippets of news from that era, to understand the political background of the music you were hearing.

British Music Experience goody bag and smart ticket
Goody bag (and contents) and smart ticket

The benefit of my smart ticket became clear – how often have you found yourself enthralled by an item at an exhibition, trying desparately to absorb everything about it? This system meant I could swipe my ticket and move on, knowing that it was “banked” for later, which in practice merely served as a list of starting points for google. However, it was useful to remind me of a few tracks I hadn’t really known and wanted to learn about, rather than forgetting about them as soon as I walked back into reality – such as “Oh Well” by Fleetwood Mac. If I’d taken part in any of the “video booth” exhibits, I could have used my ticket to download my film clips at home.

The BME really appealed to my enthusiasm for music, with a suitable depth of information, although some people might simply enjoy seeing the Spice Girls’ outfits and watching the big screens. Whatever your interest, you will probably enjoy the exhibition – although it might not hold children captivated for long. It was an interesting place to explore; easy to become absorbed in the exhibits, and I realised afterwards that I didn’t once hear a song I disliked! In fact I’ve started to realise that, with the exception of some Scandinavian artists, I could do without most non-British pop music. Certainly I feel I could manage without America’s contribution – although one display, Atlantic Crossing, demonstrated how their styles have influenced us, and vice versa. The BME also reminded me, with pride, of how many global acts are actually “ours”.

I was too engrossed in the “edge zones” to spare more than a few minutes on the central section, but I noticed that the attractions in this area seemed to be aimed at families and either had a queue (one booth to record yourself dancing, another which simulated being on stage) or were not of much interest to me (display of record and tape decks, or the hometowns of certain artists).

Closing time approached and as I left I collected my goody bag and was quite impressed – a BME branded record bag containing pen, mousemat, badges, travelcard holder, and one of those handy keyrings that doubles as a £1 token for supermarket trolleys. Given that I had enjoyed the last 90 minutes and then received some useful items (a couple of which I’d considered buying) this had been a very good prize.

I wish I hadn’t waited to visit: I could have passed another couple of hours if I’d heard every video or tried all the exhibits – and for that reason I would recommend that visitors go on a day off rather than trying to cram in a trip after work. Having explored most of the material, I don’t feel a need to go back in the near future – maybe I would if a new section was added? That said, I have already snapped up tickets to one of their events later in the year, and I’ll take the chance to catch up on a few extra Table Talks when I return. If you have any interest in music, or just fancy a different kind of museum – then the BME is well worth visiting.

The British Music Experience’s website is http://www.britishmusicexperience.com/

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