School of Rock Comes of Age; Liverpool's Institute of Popular Music Marks 21 Years

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IT SEEMS only fitting that Liverpool would end up being one of the country's foremost places to study popular music. And the academic pursuit of the subject has - like its musicians itself - resonated around the world.

The Institute of Popular Music, part of the University of Liverpool's School of Music, is marking its 21st anniversary.

What began as a labour of love in a box room under a staircase has become one of the biggest research collections of its kind.

Radio stations and record collectors bequeathing a lifetime's work have helped to bolster the archives which are well on their way to containing 100,000 LPs.

More than 200 pieces have been lent to World Museum Liverpool as part of the extensive Beat Goes On exhibition.

Despite a comprehensive archive of local material - as could be expected in such an overtly musical city as Liverpool -regional music is just a small part of an internationally renowned archive at the Institute of Popular Music, which includes everything from post punk to jazz and world music.

It was opened in 1988, and was inspired by discussions between National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside and the University. The museums had staged a successful exhibition on Beatlesrelated art in 1984, and were interested in developing a popular music archive.

It was thought that a new centre, with an international focus in popular music teaching and research, would be particularly appropriate for a city rich in music talent and history.

Senior lecturer Dr Marion Leonard said: "Really, there are not that many places that actually collect popular music materials, and in the North West, this must be the largest collection of this sort."

Colleague Professor Sara Cohen, director of the institute, added: "It was originally set up to cover resources and information for teaching and research, a more conventional university department.

"We found from the very beginning that people were interested in what we did.

"We always had an international remit, but we have also been very keen to play a role in the city where we are based."

The centre has since developed undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes, which are delivered to more than 200 students.

It has also recently welcomed musician Elvis Costello to the university as an honorary music graduate.

"We define popular music incredibly broadly and try to develop an integrated approach to the teaching of it," said Professor Cohen, who has been at the Institute since the beginning, when she was a research fellow.

"Popular music is such an important part of people's every day lives and has such reach and variety.

"Popular music studies is so interdisciplinary. All staff are from different backgrounds."

Indeed, staff at the IPM individually specialise in everything from moving image to ethnography, to history of music and social anthropology.

The department offers combined honours and MA and PhD programmes. David Bowie remains one of the most popular research subjects.

Apart from tens of thousands of records, the collections also include archived copies of music magazines such as NME and Melody Maker (some donated by their own former journalists, including Karl Dallas). …