At the heart of every scene is a hub, a platform that binds a community together. Where street media is concerned, there’s no better way of doing it than going local.
Towards the end of 2016, an article in The Guardian alerted me to a piece of research that both alarmed and encouraged me. Research group Enders Analysis estimated that over a million British consumers gave up buying print magazines or cancelled their subscriptions in 2016, insinuating that the digital revolution was starting to hit the bottom lines of swathes of established media and publishing houses. “Digital has brought down the barriers of entry for [creating and showcasing] content, recommendation and discovery of products. Magazines will have to fight hard to compete with that going forward,” said Douglas McCabe, chief executive at Enders Analysis.
Thankfully the outlook wasn’t all doom and gloom, with the article noting that a clutch of ad-heavy aspirational glossies are bucking this trend. Nicholas Coleridge, international president of Condé Nast (who own the high performing Vogue and Tatler), spoke of there being value in an experience he called a “magazine moment”, that just can’t be replicated in content on a tablet or iPad. “It is very hard to replicate the physical allure of a luxury magazine on other platforms,” he explained. “[It is] something to do with the sheen of the paper, the way that the ink sits on the page, the smell of money and desire that wafts off the page. Readers move into a different mode when they engage with a glossy. Advertisers understand this.”
Though we’re a million miles from the whopping tomes of Vanity Fair hawking their high-class goods and airbrushed lifestyle, I still think there’s a similarity here with inky publications like ourselves that place a lot of value in print. Whether you get your kicks from celebrity-endorsed fragrances or the latest local bands playing a gig in a toilet venue, that magazine moment can be crucial in rooting you in a tangible world that you want to be a part of. For us at Bido Lito!, the allure of documenting the city’s multiple amazing cultural scenes with a vibrant street media presence has always been at the heart of what we do.
There is, of course, a precedent for this in Merseyside; a legacy of regionally-focused zines and independent music magazines that stretches back to the 1960s, that hints at a certain civic pride felt by locals towards the region’s musical might. Perhaps the most famous of these is Mersey Beat – the newspaper run by journalist Bill Harry and his wife Virginia between 1961 and 1964 – which documented a musical scene that shook the world. Mersey Beat became known as the “teenagers’ Bible”, and the trend of calling local bands ‘beat groups’ and concerts being billed as ‘beat sessions’ soon led to the term ‘Merseybeat’ being used by national newspapers to define this scene that had coalesced around The Cavern. The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein wrote a regular column for the fortnightly paper on the latest releases from his NEMS store, which also carried poetry and drawings by John Lennon. When including Priscilla White’s fashion column in one issue, Harry forgot her surname and opted to credit her the author as ‘Cilla Black’, remembering vaguely that a colour was involved. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Suddenly, there was an awareness of being young and young people wanted their own styles and their own music… Mersey Beat was their voice, it was a paper for them,” Harry explains in his book, The Encyclopedia of Beatles People. “The newspapers, television, theatres and radio were all run by people of a different generation who had no idea of what youngsters wanted. For decades they had manipulated and controlled them [see the scene with George Harrison and Kenneth Haig in A Hard Day’s Night], but now the youngsters wanted to create their own fashions. What existed on the banks of the Mersey between 1958 and 1964 was exciting, energetic and unique, a magical time when an entire city danced to the music of youth.”
Mersey Beat was based in an office on the top floor of 81 Renshaw Street, and everyone who was anyone in the Merseybeat era would gather here, including Harry’s close friends John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe. If ever there was a building in Liverpool City Centre that deserves a blue plaque, it’s 81 Renshaw. Today, it’s home to a café, events space and newly-opened basement record store, and is run by another person with a connection to Liverpool’s music publishing heritage.
Neil Tilly started Breakout as a rough-and-ready fanzine in 1981 when he was just 17, printing the 200 copies of its first issue on his work photocopier. Coming in the post-Eric’s era of The Icicle Works and the early days of The Farm, Breakout was part of a collective of DIY mags that sprung up in this fecund political and cultural environment. “What made Breakout different to the other great fanzines that were out there at the time – Merseysounds, The End, Garden Party, Vox,” says Tilly, “is that we encompassed promotion as well, helping bands [to] put on shows and tours.” As well as expanding on the stories, characters and musicians that knitted this scene together, Breakout played an active role in it, which put the magazine at the heart of Liverpool’s creative community until its final issue in 1986. By then, they were distributing 20,000 copies of the magazine across the North West, a boom in popularity that no doubt came from the world exclusive interview he did with Paul McCartney in 1983.
“People want to feel that they’ve got something of worth when they hold something in their hands,” says Tilly as he tries to explain why the appetite for the physical over the digital remains today. “With Reverb, the magazine I did in the 90s, the internet was in its infancy. There was talk then that there was never going to be another newspaper, which has obviously proved to be a load of rubbish. There’ll always be a place for magazines – people are always going to want to see pictures and read things that interest them. [They’re] gonna be around forever.”
By their very nature, movements and scenes are intangible entities that are difficult to quantify – and history would suggest that physical media are the best way of animating the sub-cultures that underpin them, allowing observers to feel more intimately connected to them. It’s into this vitally important grey area that we think Bido Lito! falls, giving all the amazing culture our community produces a place to live. Further to that, we believe that it’s important to not only reflect the art and conversations around us, but to take part in and add to them.
It’s this ‘do-it-together’ culture that we feel is the real glue that binds a scene together, an outlook that unites us with our street media forebears and hopefully with you. Whether you choose to do so with pen, glue and scissors or on a MacBook, if you value something that the mainstream can’t provide, there’s nothing stopping you from taking ownership of the conversation yourself. Having a voice is not about rules – it’s about freedom and power.