The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper gets a 50th birthday festival in Liverpool

(From left) John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison of The Beatles.
(From left) John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison of The Beatles.PHOTO: UNIVERSAL MUSIC

LIVERPOOL (NYTIMES) - Choreographer Mark Morris, visual artists Jeremy Deller and Judy Chicago, DJ Spooky and cabaret performer Meow Meow are among those participating in Sgt. Pepper at 50, a celebration here in May and June of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, announced by the city Wednesday.

The four band members - John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison - grew up in Liverpool, and the city recently published a report that concluded that Beatles-related tourism brings in around US$100 million (S$140.13 million) a year.

"We didn't just want to do a pop concert on the pier," said Claire McColgan, the director of Culture Liverpool, the cultural arm of the City Council, at a presentation to the media. The program, created by veteran festival directors Sean Doran and Liam Browne, is more ambitious. Thirteen cross-disciplinary commissions will represent the 13 tracks on the album, with projects corresponding to Side 1 taking place June 1 to 5, and projects corresponding to Side 2 from June 8 to 11. These will be preceded by the Overture (May 25 to 27) and followed by the Coda (June 16).

Morris will open the festival with an hourlong work, Pepperland, using the opening title track of the album alongside five other Beatles songs and original music by Ethan Iverson. In a filmed message, Morris described Sgt. Pepper as "the most incredible album ever made." He added, "I think there may have been drugs involved, but I'm not sure."

In an email, Morris wrote that the album set a radical new direction for popular music. "This amazing album was abundant with new musical ideas; a new kind of studio-born performance; a never-before-heard confluence of music world conventions; a witty, sad, surprising and moving musical trip."

Other creative pairings include Deller, a Turner Prize-winning artist, creating two public art commissions inspired by A Little Help From My Friends; a giant mural by Chicago on the themes of Fixing A Hole; DJ Spooky's installation and performance piece for Getting Better; 13 poets writing about When I'm Sixty-Four; a procession devised by Meow Meow, involving traffic wardens and a brass band, to Lovely Rita; and a daylong Ragafest featuring Indian classical musicians in a tribute to Harrison's interest in the genre in Within You Without You.

"We wanted the event to be multidisciplinary, but there were no rules," said Doran, who is also the director of the Enniskillen International Beckett Festival and the Lughnasa International Friel Festival. "The song was key, then finding an artist who felt like a fit." He added that he and Browne had tried to use the geography of Liverpool "as a turntable for the album."