It's Sgt Pepper's 50th birthday, and Liverpool is throwing a party
A summer of music, poetry and theatre in celebration of the Fab Four's fabbest forty minutes
Thu 1 Jun marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles' eighth album, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Liverpool wants you to celebrate.
There is, as you'd expect, a concert: the Bootleg Beatles team up with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to present Sgt Pepper in all its wiggy glory, but don't even try to book for that as it's sold out. Instead, if you crave hearing the album played live on Thu 1 Jun by a skilled Fab tribute band, get yourself down to the legendary Cavern Club to hear the Cavern Club Beatles do the job. Trivia fact: the Cavern is possibly the only music venue in the world to have its own tribute clubs.
Elsewhere, the city has put a bunch of events under the title 50 Summers of Love, with events that wisely spread the focus out from Liverpool's most famous sons to encompass other voices, such as the Mersey Sound poets Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri. McGough is teaming with the RLPO's new music group Ensemble 10/10 to perform his wistful-yet-sexy My Summer with Monika. McGough and Patten do a reading with poets of a younger generation. The Unity Theatre presents a new work, Horny Handed Tons of Soil, celebrating the writer Adrian Henri and his response to Liverpool's geography.
On the musical side, Liverpool Sound City returns with a lineup that includes the Human League and Metronomy, as well as John Cale and friends performing The Velvet Underground and Nico in its entirety. Another hero of alternative rock, Thurston Moore, performs a tribute to the Mersey Sound at St George's Hall on Tue 30 May. Later in the summer, there's the Mersey River Festival and the Liverpool International Music Festival. And on Thu 22 Jun, Princes Park hosts the Summer Solstice so you can bask all day with food, drink and entertainment on hand. Maybe there'll even be a teenage skiffle band playing on the back of a truck. If you're in the city anyway, it's worth dropping in at The Beatles Story, a permanent exhibition devoted to to their work and legacy; true fans will want to make pilgrimages to the holy sites of Mendips and 20 Forthlin Road, the childhood homes of, respectively, Lennon and McCartney.
Of all the Beatles' albums, Sgt Pepper is the one that's more than the sum of its parts. The whole thing is organised around the theme of love, in all its forms. Peter Blake's cover photo had the band disguising itself to stand before a tribute to its heroes and friends, while the gatefold photo of them beaming into the camera was put there as a full-on blast of fraternal affection. A relatively insubstantial song like 'Lovely Rita' reinvents that hated figure of urban life, the traffic warden, as somebody worth getting squeezy with. Harrison's 'Within You Without You' may be the track most people skip, but as the late Ian Macdonald put it, it's the sermon that goes with the community singing. Even if you start grinding your teeth at all the warmth and fuzziness, 'Good Morning Good Morning' starts in that exact mood and then cheers itself up, while the last and best song, 'A Day in the Life', sneaks past your defences and breaks your heart, diving into chaos and meaninglessness and coming out the other side with a single, elliptical E major chord: an affirmation of pure sound, or a death knell? You choose.
Objectively speaking, 1967 was pretty crappy. Greece got taken over by a fascist junta, the Six Day War permanently destabilised the Middle East, the Shah of Iran was crowned, the Vietnam War went from this-is-a-bad-idea to oh-crap-it's-getting-worse, and Muhammad Ali was banned from boxing. And yet 1967 has gone down in the popular imagination as a golden summer, in large part because fifty years ago, four young northern punks, working closely with a former Royal Navy officer, decided to sing to the world about love.