March 9, 2009 / 12:10 PM / 10 years ago

New museum cranks out Britain's rock-n-roll history

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Rock-and-rollers have a new place to unleash their inner guitar hero and hear how British bands like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Clash roared their way across the Atlantic to make musical history.

The Beatles in an undated promotional image. REUTERS/Handout

The British Music Experience, which opens in London on Monday, uses video, memorabilia and exhibits to trace Britain’s musical history following World War II with in-depth looks at genres ranging from skiffle to reggae to punk, blues and urban.

An interactive studio featuring Gibson guitars, drum kits, keyboards and a vocal studio also encourages visitors to pick up and play the instruments to live the rock-and-roll dream for themselves, if only for a few minutes.

“Finally we have a home for the amazing and rich talent we have spawned over the past 60 years,” said Harvey Goldsmith, the museum’s chairman and long-time promoter who has helped organize events including Live Aid.

The museum, which costs 15 pounds ($21.34) for a ticket, is located at London’s sprawling 02 arena which Goldsmith and others hope to transform into a musical mecca in the vein of the Rock and Roll museum in Cleveland, Ohio.

The exhibits are chock full of musical memorabilia including David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust costume, Roger Daltrey’s Woodstock outfit, the type of Hofner bass played by Paul McCartney and plenty of pictures of musicians at their best and worst.

“It’s long been important to Americans that music in our culture is something that is worth preserving and celebrating,” said the museum’s Bob Santelli, who also worked on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Grammy Museum.

“From baby boomers on down, this is their story.”

The exhibits put the music in social and economic context, relating how upheavals in British society spawned different musical eras like punk and glam rock and produced bands like the Sex Pistols, David Bowie, Blur and Oasis.

The museum also pays tribute to lesser known genres, including skiffle, the name given to the British revival of American Folk music popularized by Lonnie Doneghan’s “Rock Island Line” in 1956.

That recording inspired a young John Lennon to form his own skiffle group called the Quarrymen, which later became The Beatles, one of the most famous rock bands of all time.

At the core of the not-for-profit museum, however, are exhibits that allow people to sing, dance and play. In addition to the music studio, would-be rock-and-rollers can also test their pipes in a vocal studio or learn any of 12 dances in a special booth, including the macarena, the hand jive and disco.

The organizers acknowledge that opening a museum in struggling economy could prove difficult but they hope their take on Britain’s contributions to rock-and-roll will, like many of the bands they celebrate, stand the test of time.

“This is a 21st Century museum where the music isn’t behind the walls,” Santelli said. “Here you engage it.”

Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Paul Casciato

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