That’s the view of the team behind The City That Rocked the World – the first film to chart the entire story of Liverpool’s musical scene over six decades; a scene that has earned it the title the capital of pop – which is getting its premiere at the Philharmonic Hall tomorrow.
And there’s plenty of interest in the music and musicians coming out of the city, with the film already being sold to 35 countries to broadcast in cinemas and on TV.
But audiences here will see it first, with the big screen premiere being followed by a Liverpool Rocks gig at Camp and Furnace featuring many of the city’s new and up-and-coming performers like Dominic Dunn, Buffalo Riot and The Verdict alongside established names like Billy Kinsley and Ian Prowse .
The idea for the film goes back two years.
Director Roger Appleton explains: “The producer Garry Popper contacted me because he’d seen Passport to Liverpool, the film I’d done that had been on TV, and asked me if I was interested in directing a film.
“I think at the time it was basically about Merseybeat. And I said to him, there’s been a zillion films made about the Beatles, and there’s even been two or three films made about the Eric’s years.
“But I don’t think anyone has tried to narrate the whole story of Liverpool popular music from the mid-50s virtually right through to the present day.
“So the project kind of morphed from a Merseybeat tale to a complete history of Liverpool music tale.
“It’s an ambitious idea, and one of the problems with it is it’s like trying to get a gallon of water into a whisky glass!”
Conversations with Bill Harry and Sound City boss Dave Pichilingi led to a ‘wish list’ of interviewees stretching across the decades, and Roger ended up chatting to around 100 people involved in the Merseyside music scene over the past 60 years. The flow of the 100-minute film means only around half the interviews have been used – just imagine the DVD extras.
The director recalls: “One of the people I identified most as one of the kind of unsung heroes of Liverpool music after the Beatles is John Power, having been in The La’s and then Cast. I think John’s a terrific songwriter, a great vocalist.
“I was sitting in the Belvedere pub with Dave Pichilingi, going through this list of people I wanted to speak to. And we got to John and he said ‘well, John’s in London at the moment and he’s a hard man to track down. I’ll do my best, but I’m not sure’.
“He went to the toilet through the bar - and came back with John Power! He’d been drinking in the other side of the pub.”
Power, who is currently rehearsing to play John Lennon at the Royal Court, appears in the film both as a talking head and as one of half-a-dozen musicians and groups who play acoustic sets for the camera – the 45-year-old captured in the basement of the Cunard Building amid the old wooden luggage racks.
The Christians, Billy Kinsley and four members of the Quarrymen (the latter performing Lonnie Donegan’s Rock Island Line) are among those who also feature.
There are rare or never- seen-before photographic stills and archive footage dating back to the 60s, including a Pathe news colour clip of the Swinging Blue Jeans from 1964.
The Beatles may not be the be all and end all of Merseyside music, but you can’t tell its story without them, and the band pops up in all sorts of tales, including The Chants’ singer Joe Ankrah’s memories of Little Richard at the Tower Ballroom in 1962.
Ankrah recalls going backstage after the concert where he bumped into John Lennon and Paul McCartney. When they heard he was in an all-vocal group, McCartney suggested The Chants come down to the Cavern to play for them.
“We didn’t know who the Beatles were,” he laughs. “So five black guys suddenly appeared at the Cavern, and as soon as we got in there, we broke into doo-wop.
“And the Beatles were like, woh! Bob Wooler runs up and says, ‘I’ve just to been on the phone to Brian. Brian cannot come over, but don’t speak to anybody, and don’t sign any papers with anybody. And he’ll see you tonight’.
“And John says ‘well, might as well do some numbers with us as well’. That was the first time we’d ever been on a proper stage. And it was with the Beatles at the Cavern.”
Epstein subsequently (albeit briefly) took over the management of the a cappella group.
With the sheer number of bands and singers emanating from the city, even those who have a slew of top 10 hits like Echo and the Bunnymen only get a few minutes’ airtimein the documentary.
Merseybeat bands, Beryl Marsden, The Real Thing – another of Roger’s unsung heroes – and Deaf School all feature in the narrative. The latter Deaf School were one of the bands who emanated from that other famous Mathew Street club, Eric’s, in the late 70s and early 80s.
Roger says: “The interesting thing about Eric’s, and Andy McCluskey says this in the film, is that it was seen as a punk club. But there wasn’t really a punk scene in Liverpool. There was a band called The Spitfire Boys who were very much a punk band, but actually the Liverpool music scene was far more like an arthouse scene. Much more romantic than punk certainly.”
Meanwhile Big in Japan’s Jayne Casey describes Mathew Street itself as transcending maps and becoming part of people’s “psycho-geography”.
The film comes almost up to date with contributions from Dan Haggis of the Wombats, Kerry Katona, KOF, and Yaw Owasu who is ‘curating’ the inaugural Liverpool International Music Festival.
“I suppose if there’s one thing to come out of this film it’s that the Beatles were a band who changed popular culture – but look beyond that as well,” says Roger. “Acknowledge the Beatles, but look beyond them.”
* The City That Rocked the World is premiered at the Philharmonic Hall tomorrow at 7.30pm. Tickets are £12 for the screening, or £20 for the screening and the following concert at Camp and Furnace, including transport. Call 0151-709 3789.
By Catherine Jones