“ City: London / Country: England „
Ever since the Beatles crossed the Atlantic Great Britain has been one of the most influential and one of the biggest exporters of pop music in the world. There' museums to pencils prams and lawn mowers so its only fair there should be one commemorating and celebrating Brutish pop's biggest achievements (so no Aggaddoo in there) . This was realised in 1999 with Sheffield's oil fated National Centre for Popular Music. This project funded by the Millennium Fund folded a year later due to low visitor figures and escalating debts. Ten years on and there has been another stab at commemorating Britain's pop music when the British Music Experienced opened at the 02. London has a burgeoning number of visitor attractions all vying for tourist's time and cash so does the British Music Experience cut the mustard and will it survive longer than its Sheffield predecessor?
My boyfriend and I do have a keen interest in music and popular culture ts decided to visit the British Music Experience one Sunday lunchtime in in August. I was a teensy bit sceptical , as the adverts for it had a question about which two bands fought the Britpopp battle in 19994. Surely th Oasis- Blur showdown was in 1995, I bought the Country house single in Coventry when seeing my then boyfriend which was definitely in 1995.
PLANES AND BOATS AND TRAINS
Anyway, accessing the attraction is fairly easy. The best way to get to the 02 from central London is via the Jubilee Line alighting at north Greenwich its a weekend where there is no Jubilee line (which is a frequentest occurrence) get a mainline train from Charring Cross Waterloo East or london bridge to either Greenwich, Westcombe Park or Charlton then get a local bus to the former Millennium Dome. Once you are there head past the line of restaurants and the cinema to a far corner of he dome and you will find the British Music Experience.
TICKET TO RIDE
When we arrived at the ticket desk there were no queue, as it was fairly early in the day. The price of a full adult ticket is £15 and £12 for all other concessions. Its good to note the child's price is up to 17 with under 5s going in free. A family ticket is £40. This sounds a bit steep for a new attraction but is reasonable for London prices. Top put it into context Madame Tussuad's is £22 and the London Dungeon £20. Being thrifty we used a 2 for one voucher offered by the rail companies, as i did not mind spending £7.50 but was not sure I wanted to pay £15.
The British Music Experience is very much an all singing all dancing all guitar playing hi tech type of attraction which people either love or loathe. I like it if its done properly and I think they do it well. On arrival the mood is set by a couple of flash swiveling screens playing interconnected music videos whilst you wait for the introductory film to begin. The film presented by Miss indie music Lauren Laverne gives a good overview of what you can see in the exhibition whilst how to work it, which is useful for technical Neanderthals like me. At the heart of it is your smart ticket, which is not just a ticket. Its your passport to your the experience. It works like an Oyster Card. You tap it on to a sensor to star th exhibits and you can gain access to all this information and see how badly you performed at the interactive arras. later on at home via the website.
LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU
The exhibition is circular with a number of rooms (or zones as they call them) around a central hub. The first thing we came to was the Gibson Interactive Studio and I'm glad we did that first. This is a glorified but ultra fun version of Singsta Rock Band and Guitar Hero with real instruments. There are ten minute tutorials on most of the major instruments you find in a ban with choice of songs. There's also a singing booth. I was too ambitious and tried Dusty Springfield's "You Don't have To Say You Love me" when I'm tone deaf and could have been better with something less complicated like Oasis's Wonderwall. Boyfriend had a whale of a time trying the drums and pretending to be Blur's Alex James on the bass. The only problem is the tutorials las ten minutes and at a busy time queues could easily form. When we went back to it at the end of our visit there was no chance having a second go, as it was very popular.
The Rest of the Edge Zones (nothing to do withU2's permahatted guitarist) contain the more informative parts of the attraction. There are seven of these starting of with a Pre Beatles one (1945-1962) and ending with another unfocused one from the start of Brit pop in 1993 to the present. As you enter each of these rooms music is played from that era and it was great to sing along with old favorites. I found the first one particularly interesting, as it really set the scene and explored the origins of British Popular music from Skiffle, early teen heartthrobs and the birth of music television.
In each of the rooms there were cases of music memorabilia such as trademark outfits, original artwork and lyrics. I was excited to see the glamorous outfits th 60s girls such as Cilla and D wore, a pair of John Lennon's glasses and even Boy Georges frock, hat and braids which really took me back to childhood. However I was bemused by the inclusion of such "Iconic items" such as Kate Nash and Adele's dresses in the final room. I actually could understand the Spice Girls' dresses being there. I may not like their music them but I recognis e Geri's Union Jack dress is as era defining, as much as Marc Bolan's feather boa.
Information about these items could be gleaned from either traditional labels or headphones. You selected the item by using a touch interface meant to look like a piano keyboard, which was a nice touch. I found the final; zone to be unsatisfactory all round (apart from the Britpop case), as it seemed to be a rushed after thought to the other eras skimmking over an era where music vastly changed.
The other thing I liked in the Edge zones was a mock Jukebox with examples of all the sub genres of rock from rockabilly to garage and soft metal. Sometimes I'm not sure what all the term mean so this explained it nicely with sound clips. Less successful for me was a touch screen coffee type table with films about different genres and events. These films had interviews with key players in each scene and at over five minutes were a tad too long when you were standing over the table. The back wall of each room was a time line covering important events , artists and song related to in each year. I found these to be information overload and you could spend hours and days exploring all the clips archived there.
The drawback of such a hi tech exhibition is things tdo break down or don't work properly. We could not get an interactive music mp of Britain to work. That could have been interesting navigating from Strawberry Fields to the Hacienda and Abbey Rroad. Also in the middle was a simpler display of music devices from gramophones to MP3 player' which took me back a bit.
The other main attraction was the Dance the Decades video booth where you could learn the dance moves to everything from the Locomotion to rave dancing and then record yourself making a fool of yourself pulling some funky shapes. It took me a while to get near it, as a family of young girls were hogging it. I can understand this , as this would be the main attraction for the younger visitor unaware of The Beadles, the Sex Pistols or Trex. I did have a real laugh trying out some ska dancing to Madness's "One Step Beyond".
The experience ends with a concert montage then you are lead out via the shop to buy all your musical memorabilia. which varied in price.
We spent over two hours in the attraction and could have spent a heck of a lot longer with we had viewed all the films and the information but by that time we were musiced out.
So was it worth it?? its n excellent rainy Sunday afternoon attraction being all in doors combined ith lunch at one of the myriad of chain restaurants in the o2, especilly if you have a 2 for 1 voucher. Boyfriend said he would have paid the full £15 as he got a lot from it being a bit of a muo. it'd recommend the attraction to those with a general interest in pop music, as there really is something for adults of all ages whether they were a mod , punk or a heavy mettaler. I'd also recommend it to those with older children , as the Gibson Studious and Dunce the Decades is a lot of fun. However I would not recommend it for those with younger children, as there really is not enough to keep their interest and it would be an exercise in pushing buttons for the sake if it. I'd also recommend coming early in the day (it opens 11am Monday to Sunday) , so you can actually get near the exhibits especially the interactive ones.
I did enjoy my visit and hope it has the potential to expand and add new features to make a repeat visit worthwhile.
The O2 Bubble
The O2, North Greenwich, London SE10 0DX
020 8463 2000
This is one of the attractions at the O2 centre in London (what was built as the Millennium Dome).
Open: Monday to Sun (so isn't that every day?) 11am to 7.30pm. Last entry 6.30pm.
Dates: closes around Christmas and New Year - check dates before travelling.
Tickets: Adults £15.00. Children £12. Under -fives free. There are also family and concession prices. It's part of the London 2-4-1 travel deal, meaning that if you go by train, you get two tickets for the price of one. You need to fill in a voucher and leaflets with vouchers are available at train stations, or can be downloaded. The woman at the counter didn't even ask to see our train tickets so it might be worth trying a blag, however you travel there. You can book in advance through ticketmaster. Tickets have timed entries.
This attraction is all about British music from 1945 to the present day. There are seven sections, each dealing with a different era, that contain original costumes and memorabilia, the chance to listen to lots of music, news of the era, recorded interviews with people in the music world and singers, and more. I found these quite interesting but children would get quickly bored.
The other main attractions, that appeal more to all ages, are the interactive area and dance the decades. In the interactive area, you can take virtual lessons on guitars, basses, pianos and drums. These are real instruments and you follow your lesson and listen to yourself through headphones. This was the busiest area and very popular.
Dance the Decades is a sort of large video booth where you are recorded doing different dances - you follow the instructions on screen. All you could hear was lots of laughing and people having fun.
There's also quite a bit there about the history of recorded music, if that's your thing, but I didn't personally use those areas.
On your way out you go into 'The Beat Goes on', which is supposed to recreate the experience of being at a concert/festival. You stand surrounded by screens and watch a few minutes of music performances while surrounded by a screaming audience. I found this part a bit lame.
This is the innovative part of this attraction. Your entry ticket has a chip inside and you use it to activate various parts of the attraction. You can also 'record' information on it - for example from a display of costumes, or a copy of an interview - to access from home later. You can even record your attempts at playing an instrument from the interactive area and your dancing from the dance the decades booth. Once you return home, you log in to their website with your ticket code, and you can access everything on the chip.
Warning: Parking at the O2 is extremely expensive so it's best to go by train if you can.