Known of only in the most obscure circles of musical archaeology, the story of The Beatles has long been lost in time. These four young beat musicians – their names forgotten, but historians believe they were probably called Jim, Pete, Cilla and Rambo – are said to have made music together in the 1960s, but have barely been mentioned since. What’s more, recent research appears to circuitously link the band to the city of Liverpool, where most residents have never heard of them and will no doubt be delighted to learn – after so long worshipping their primary source of musical pride and inspiration, The Zutons – that they’d been completely unaware of their legendary place in rock history for six decades.
Bravo then, Rishi Sunak, for promising £2million in his don’t-mention-the-tax-hike budget to look into building a much-needed museum dedicated to The Beatles in Liverpool. After all, the city has so long struggled to remember the band with only the two it’s already got, plus the Cavern, each band member’s old house, a Beatles Week festival, numerous Beatles city tours and a brass statue on the Pier Head of the Fab Four looking bored in 1963.
The hope, Sunak claimed, is that his new museum – likely to be named the Rishi Sunak For PM Experience (Goo Goo Ga Joob) – will inspire the next generation of Liverpudlian bands. Just as The Beatles themselves were famously fired up to reinvent rock’n’roll on a school outing to the Bootle Lute Museum in 1956.
Understandably, this tokenistic and pointless cover-up gesture has been widely ridiculed. Sunak is, remember, the man left half of the UK’s self-employed with no meaningful support whatsoever for 18 months, including many musicians and touring crew who were thereby forced out of the industry. Having told these people to give up their long-established careers and retrain for cyber, at least the government is now providing them a job in the sector, working a holographic Ringo from behind a foam rubber Blue Meanie.
The very concept itself exemplifies how little interest the Tories have in pop culture and the arts, let alone how they prosper and evolve. Perhaps they discovered their lifelong philosophy and purpose during an Eton school trip to an exhibit on the burning of 12th Century village paupers, but most musicians get their creative fires lit at live gigs by their formative heroes. History doesn’t record, for instance, that very few people saw the fondly nostalgic animatronic Sex Pistols installation at Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1976, but every one of them started a band.
“This funding will help unlock opportunities so that any child, no matter what corner of Liverpool they come from, or beyond, can become the next Lennon or McCartney,” said ‘Culture Secretary’ Nadine Dorries in a gymnastic display of Olympic level bullshitting.
No Nadine, you unlock opportunities for children to become the next Lennon or McCartney by providing them with instruments, places to play them with like-minded people, youth spaces to rehearse in, venues to perform in and funds and visas allowing them to build a fanbase by touring affordably in Europe like, I dunno, to pluck a name at random, The Beatles did in Hamburg. This funding only unlocks opportunities for the makers of plastic tourist tat to sell a shit-ton of stick-on moustaches and Hofner bass vapes.
With youth centres closing, support for the arts and its educational courses decimated and touring in Europe made so expensive by Brexit that you’d half expect Salt Bae to sashay up at every border and dribble salt down his arm onto your visa, the Tories are doing precisely the opposite of what they’re pretending to do (in this case, supporting the arts).
What’s more, the manner of the funding turns the entire project into an insult, a slap in the face for all of the artists discarded, forgotten and left behind by the government’s pitiful pandemic response. As Music Venue Trust CEO Mark Davyd pointed out, the £2million is only going towards allowing the Liverpool City Region to “develop a business case” for the museum and doesn’t even actually build anything. Davyd suggests that the money could instead be invested in maintaining the city’s existing venues that were left to rot during the pandemic, or even open three brand new ones.
Instead, if it ever gets past the planning stage at all, Sunak’s millions will merely build a monument to Tory cluelessness and complacency. A fitting symbol of their entire philosophy – to play on the glories of the past while letting the present and future crumble for a fast buck.
Without investment in new talent, healthy arts education opportunities, support for venues and a vast reduction in post-Brexit touring costs and bureaucracy the next Beatles won’t happen. If Sunak wants a cultural legacy to be proud of, he should try championing the struggling artists that need it – not the establishment figures that don’t.