In May 1967, with the ‘summer of love’ in full swing, the Beatles released their sprawling eighth album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and changed the face of rock music forever. Their wonderfully varied opus, which took around 700 hours to make, marked a huge shift for the most recognisable musicians on the planet: gone were the four mop-topped boys that surfed the wave of Beatlemania, replaced by four men with a desire to be accepted as proper artists.
Hidden behind new aliases – complete with Edwardian militaria costumes and sprouting facial hair – the Fabs were reveling in their newfound freedom. The titular band – kind of a cross between a community brass band and one of the daftly-named San Francisco rock acts of the day (Country Joe And The Fish, The Only Alternative And His Other Possibilities et al.) – allowed them to try things they’d never done before, and get away from the formulas they’d become bored of. It was more than a metaphor: it was them growing up, undercover.
Sgt. Pepper was also an album that nearly never was. After their August 1966 show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the band pulled the plug on their live career. This precipitated a prolonged separation where the band was, effectively, over. The four members enjoyed their first lengthy period of time as adults not in each other’s pockets: John dipped his toe into acting, Paul went on a road trip, George travelled to India, while Ringo stayed at home to play the family man. They were tired of being the Beatles and wanted a divergence from it – and Sgt. Pepper was the perfect bridge for them to slip back into their old roles, while simultaneously re-inventing what those roles were. The cover, by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, would go on to appear on posters and living room walls across the globe, as the defining image of the band’s transition.
In 2012, Rolling Stone named Sgt. Pepper as the greatest album of all time, calling it “the most important rock ‘n’ roll album ever made, an unsurpassed adventure in concept, sound, songwriting, cover art and studio technology by the greatest rock ‘n’ roll group of all time.”
To mark the 50th anniversary of the album’s release, the city has commissioned 13 never-before-seen events to take place across the city, each one influenced by a track on the album. The adventure takes place between 25th May and 16th June, with the SGT. PEPPER AT 50 events aiming to replicate the city’s previous extravagant La Machine and Giants happenings. Internationally-renowned artists are working in partnership with the city’s homegrown creative talent to bring to life this series of incredible reimagined pieces of work. Here, we take a closer look at four of the spectacles we can expect over the coming weeks.
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
Jeremy Deller and Metal
By 1967, the Beatles were the most famous people in the world. For such young men, the global scrutiny that came with such a tag was undoubtedly a totally alienating experience, so it’s natural that they depended greatly on each other and a few trusted friends for support. Their manager, Brian Epstein, was one of those trusted few. Turner Prize-winning artist JEREMY DELLER has made two public art commissions in response to With A Little Help From My Friends, which celebrate Epstein’s devotion to the Beatles via a city-wide dissemination of posters. The piece will culminate in an ‘event’, the location of which will be revealed as the work unravels. The relationship between the individual and society is a powerful theme in Deller’s work, and in his response to this song, he examines the nature of friendship and self-sacrifice, not just with those we know but also between strangers.
Various venues | FREE
Inspired by Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
GroupeF and The Lantern Company
The girl with kaleidoscope eyes has inspired this enchanting light festival, which will transform Camp Hill into a magical land for one memorable night. Part-performance, part-storytelling, part-pyrotechnic display, Suspended Time is planned as a family-friendly experience by pyrotechnic genius Christophe Berthonneau. Berthonneau’s company, GROUPEF, have worked on the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, and they’ll be teaming up with LIVERPOOL LANTERN COMPANY and CIRCO RUM BA BA to animate the park with weird and wonderful street theatre from 8pm, as the event builds up to the final performance at 10.30pm. American-born Scott Gibbons, one of the most exciting electronic music composers around, will also be on hand to craft a piece of music that celebrates the surreal beauty of John Lennon’s song.
Woolton Woods | FREE
FIXING A HOLE
Judy Chicago and Tate Liverpool
An icon of American art, JUDY CHICAGO emerged in the same 60s counter-cultural climate as the Beatles, even if their paths never truly crossed. Renowned for her activism and large-scale collaborative installations, Chicago will be responding to the mind-wandering lyrics of Fixing A Hole with a spectacular mural on the walls of the monumental White Tomkins and Courage Grain Silo at Stanley Dock. This celebratory work will be Chicago’s largest painting to date, which she describes as trying to “honour the incredible path that took four lads from Liverpool to stardom.” Judy Chicago will also be in conversation with Kasia Redzisz (Senior Curator at Tate Liverpool) on 2nd June to discuss the work; and there will be free workshops running at Tate Liverpool between 29th May and 10th June.
Stanley Dock | FREE
RITA RIOT / RITA DREAMING / RITA REQUIEM
Inspired by Lovely Rita
Meow Meow and The Kazimier
We may not always love them when we’re on the receiving end of a parking ticket. But Paul McCartney turned an encounter with a “meter maid” close to London’s Abbey Road Studios into an exuberant and jaunty love letter. Lovely Rita is the inspiration for this inventive parade-cum-performance installation by boundary-pushing performance artist MEOW MEOW, along with her Sleepless Beauties. The piece’s three movements – Riot, Dreaming and Requiem – will see an elaborately theatrical procession along Hope Street between the two cathedrals, with a little help from The Kazimier and Liverpool’s own traffic wardens. An uplifting and thought-provoking piece, Rita’s journey is aiming to be as memorable as the city’s previous spectacular happenings.
Hope Street | FREE
A full rundown of all the events can be found at sgtpepperat50.com. You can also read our interview with DJ Spooky, whose commission Getting Better? is part of the Sgt. Pepper At 50 celebrations.