Beatles' White Albums star in Liverpool exhibition

By Tom Mullen
BBC News

image copyrightRutherford Chang
image captionNew York-based artist Rutherford Chang has so far collected 1,018 copies of the Beatles White Album

Dog-eared and well-played, more than 1,000 copies of the Beatles' iconic White Album are about to feature in an intriguing exhibition - reflecting the unique history of each record.

Millions of numbered pressings of the double LP - officially entitled "The Beatles" - have been sold around the world since its 1968 release.

But, few owners would have imagined the record's distinctive plain cover could become a blank canvas for an art exhibition in the Beatles' home city of Liverpool.

New York-based artist Rutherford Chang has spent the last eight years collecting the albums, after becoming fascinated with the way owners often customise them with everything from doodles and scribbles to stickers, signatures, and even love letters.

He has amassed 1,018 copies so far - and hopes his collection will continue to grow.

"There are all kinds of things written on them and they provide an interesting snapshot of the last half century," says 34-year-old Mr Chang, who arrived in Liverpool on Wednesday to set up the exhibition at the city's FACT art centre.

image copyrightFACT
image captionMany of the numbered copies are worn, damaged or defaced, making each album unique
image copyrightFACT
image captionThe artist sets out the albums in the style of a record shop, for people to peruse and even listen to

"It was an album I bought by chance as teenager, and then years later I saw a second album. That's when I realised every copy was unique.

"I've read breaking-up letters written by girlfriends or boyfriends. I've seen love letters and poems, drawings - you can imagine. I'm interested in the White Album as a cultural phenomenon.

"Often, I don't buy them from the original owner so they've been passed down over the years. And being an extremely popular album, there are lots of them. I'm interested in all of them, but sometimes the albums in the poorest condition are the more interesting."

The exhibition will display the albums in boxes in the style of a record shop.

Visitors will be free to peruse and even listen to the records - but not purchase them. That is Mr Chang's job, and he is inviting anyone who wants to sell their own White Album to bring it along.

As part of the exhibition, Mr Chang photographed 100 albums and combined the images on a computer.

The resulting picture shows a White Album which isn't white at all, but rather a multi-coloured composition of decades of the albums' customised covers.

image copyrightRutherford Chang
image captionRutherford Chang combined photographs of 100 of the albums to make this image

He has also made a layered recording based on 100 of the albums playing simultaneously.

Mr Chang, who bought his first copy aged 15, said: "The vinyl discs all have their own dust, scratches and skips, and play slightly differently. Layered together they sounds quite different - a very psychedelic sound."

The exhibition has been to several galleries across the US, including New York, Connecticut and Atlanta, but the artist says it was always his ambition to bring the albums to Liverpool.

The city is, of course, where the Beatles set out on a journey that would see them become one of the most influential bands in history.

As well as hoping to find more albums, Mr Chang plans to visit The Beatles Story museum, the famous Cavern Club, and other places of interest, including Penny Lane - the street which inspired the song.

"I've only just landed so I haven't seen much yet," he said. "But of course it's fantastic to be here. As I gathered more and more albums, I realised it was a collection I wanted to present to the public.

"It's the first time I've been to Liverpool so let's see what it brings. I hope I can buy a lot more albums here."

image copyrightFACT
image captionThe artist spent eight years collecting the albums and has brought them to the UK for the first time
image copyrightGetty Images
image captionThe Cavern Club in Liverpool was a regular gig venue for the Beatles, and is popular with tourists
image copyrightPA
image captionThe Beatles in July 1965, three years before the White Album was released

One person who will be following the exhibition's progress with interest is Beatles expert Bill Heckle, who runs the Cavern Club, which has become synonymous with the band.

Both Mr Heckle and Mr Chang were in New York earlier this year for events to mark the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' arrival in the US - but the club manager regrets not visiting the White Album exhibition at the time.

He said: "I was about 12 when the album first came out, and I remember it was extremely unusual at that time because it was so long. It's about 90 minutes of music.

"There are 30 songs, most of which were recorded in India. For me there's everything. There's avant-garde, country and western, folk, rock and pop.

"Any album numbered 100 or under is worth an arm or a leg. Numbers one, two, three and four actually went to John, George, Paul and Ringo.

"So it's a phenomenal album. I remember there was a real buzz in New York for the 50th anniversary, and a lot of people were talking about the White Album exhibition. It's great that it's here in Liverpool."

Jen Chapman, of FACT, said: "In the city that created the world's most famous band, we hope there will be lots more albums collected - and lots more personal stories about the White Album discovered."

The exhibition opens on Friday.

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