Musicians fight theme-park image

June 20, 1997

Three research projects reveal the many roles music can play

LIVERPOOL - home of The Beatles; New Orleans, jazz capital of the world. Music is the key to the image which attracts foreign tourists to these two cities. Yet the image-makers responsible for tourism rarely consult local musicians on the publicity ploys used to capitalise on their musical heritage.

Researchers at Liverpool University's Institute of Popular Music have found the music industry is rebelling against attempts to turn Liverpool and New Orleans, twinned in 1988, into "musical theme parks" that dwell on the past and ignore the current music scene.

Musicians are shunning the Mardi Gras and flocking instead to New Orleans' new non-profit Jazz and Heritage Festival, which is almost deliberately designed to avoid the stereotypical tourist image of the city. Gospel choirs are refusing to wear traditional robes in protest against not being taken seriously as musicians and being used as a tourist-trap backdrop.

In Liverpool, local bands are staging gigs as an alternative to the annual Beatles convention, attended by thousands of Beatles fans, almost half of whom are under 21. They point out that while parts of the city are being transformed by this new wave of Beatlemania, attracting much-needed new business investment, the manufactured image is chasing others out. Probe Records was the latest to leave, saying it felt out of place in a neighbourhood focused on the musical past.

Sara Cohen, director of the Economic and Social Research Council-funded project in Liverpool, said that while musical tourism was helping to regenerate cities such as Liverpool, there was a danger that the image it encouraged was alienating emerging talent.

"The kind of people who now visit these areas are not the kind of people who created that scene. You do not get artists and bohemian types hanging out. It has become overtly commercial and almost the antithesis of creativity," she said.

Co-researcher Connie Atkinson said most local musicians were not prepared to accept the tourism threat. "The industry does not just steamroller over the culture of the city without local people strongly fighting back," she said.

Dr Cohen and Ms Atkinson interviewed policy makers, tourist operators, musicians and tourists to assess the impact of musical tourism on urban regeneration. Their findings may help guide city tourism chiefs on future policies.

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