Bluecoat reveals Liverpool's country and western scene

Image caption The exhibition is at The Bluecoat until Sunday, 18 September, 2011

The popularity of country and western music in Liverpool, that led to the city becoming known as the 'Nashville of the North', is the focus of an exhibition at the Bluecoat Arts Centre.

Honky Tonk, named after the musical bars found in the south western United States, looks at how Liverpool's country and western scene developed.

Local groups, including The Beatles, were influenced by the musical style.

The exhibition is open until 18 September.

Country skiffle

Exhibition curator Sara-Jayne Parsons lived in Texas for 15 years and after moving to Liverpool saw links between the city and the country and western culture she had experienced in the United States.

"When I moved to Liverpool I started getting a sense that there was a country and western history," she said.

"I'd been to a few of the bars and clubs around town, and they felt familiar to me.

"They reminded me of old honky tonks that you find in Texas."

The exhibition looks at the reasons why Liverpool developed such a strong country and western scene and how the city's location as a transatlantic port looking towards America played a role.

Ms Parsons said: "That connection to America is a very simple one and it was that which turned the The Beatles onto rock and roll.

"There were a lot of little bands in the fifties and the early sixties here in Liverpool that were sort of country skiffle, the precursor of what was going to become rock and roll as we know it.

"Whether that was a transatlantic link through music or quite simply through the shipping lines, or just the notion that Liverpool's always been a bit of the Wild West, I think is a nice way to tie it all together."

The Beatles played country and western-style songs in their early years and in 1970 Ringo Starr recorded an album of country music, Beaucoups of Blues, in Nashville.

Outrageous and gaudy

The exhibition includes a film of Liverpool's country and western scene which has retained its popularity over decades.

"In terms of the stories that you find in country and western songs, people in Liverpool love to hear stories and tell great stories and that typically happens in the pub," said Ms Parsons.

Image caption Artist Nicky McCubbing looks at the life stories of female country music stars

"Also, it's very simple music in some ways connected to Gaelic music or instruments that you find simple, guitar, banjo and fiddle. There's nothing particularly fancy about it."

Trish Simonite, a British artist has lived in Texas for 30 years where she has photographed historic honky tonks in the south of the state.

Her pictures are displayed alongside new images she's taken of Liverpool pubs decorated in the honky tonk style.

"We invited her to Liverpool and we gave her a brief and said 'Right, we want you to go round these 20 pubs and discover the honky tonk of Liverpool'", Ms Parsons said.

"She was here for a week and took some fantastic photographs. We've arranged a series of photographs that showcase the Texas honky tonks alongside the Liverpool honky tonks and actually when you start looking at them you're not quite sure if you're in Texas or Liverpool, there really is a strong connection."

Liverpool artist Nicky McCubbing has been working in the Bluecoat's largest gallery making a series of three separate installations telling the life stories of three female country and western stars; Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn.

"To her they remind her of so many scouse women she knows they're very strong, they might have overcome huge difficulties or tragedy in their life but they still retain, certainly a sense of glamour and a sense of humour and an energy to carry on and keep their families about them," Ms Parsons said.

Honky Tonk is at Liverpool's Bluecoat Arts Centre until 18 September and entry is free.

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