Carry that weight: Interview with Peter Hooton
As chair of the recently established Beatles Legacy Group, The Farm vocalist Peter Hooton has been entrusted with leading a new think tank to maximise the benefit of the Fab Four’s legacy to Liverpool.This legacy contributes £82 million to the city’s economy every year and supports more than 2,000 jobs…no pressure then, Peter.
We sat down with the former youth worker to find out how the city can build on its already substantial Beatles offering and learn more about his ongoing work highlighting important social issues through the power of music.
Interview by Lawrence Saunders
How important do you feel The Beatles are to Liverpool?
Looking back, I don’t think the city fathers have always appreciated the potential of The Beatles. For example, the original Cavern Club was filled in as part of the development of the Liverpool underground. Similarly, in the 1980s, Radio City was involved with setting up the “Beatle City” exhibition on Seel Street but it didn’t last very long due to lack of demand.
What has changed everything for me is the budget airlines, and in more recent years the return of the cruise liners. I think initially it was the airlines which brought football tourism and Beatles tourism and made it a lot more accessible for people in Europe to come to Liverpool. You can see with The Beatles that visitor numbers are growing and I don’t think it has yet reached its peak.
What are the aims of the Beatles Legacy Group? How does it plan to improve on Liverpool’s current Beatles offering?
We must bear in mind the younger generation; it’s important that we get school kids interested in what The Beatles meant culturally to the city and what they meant culturally to the world.
The industry is already thriving with the likes of the Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles Story, the Cavern Club etc – I think it’s just making sure that it maximises its potential really.
“We must bear in mind the younger generation; it’s important that we get school kids interested in what The Beatles meant culturally to the city and what they meant culturally to the world.”
Do you think the city makes enough of its connection to the band?
When people come to visit Liverpool, a lot of it’s down to The Beatles.
The number of people who have visited the new statues on the Pier Head has been enormous – it’s unbelievable the reaction it has had. I’ve been to cities such as Memphis and Nashville, and we don’t want to make our Beatles’ offering too commercial – I’m sure the people in the various attractions wouldn’t want that. We just want to make sure that when people come here they know they are getting a top quality service.
Places like Penny Lane and Strawberry Field are certainly in the remit of the group as they were mentioned in songs, but other places across the city region are being looked at too. With Penny Lane in particular, at the moment most of the shops [referenced in the song] are still there but there isn’t even parking facilities for tourists. With Strawberry Field there is a Salvation Army initiative in the pipeline.
Overall it’s just to improve that experience so when people go to Penny Lane or Strawberry Field they feel as though they can spend some time there and spend some money in the local shops, rather than just getting straight back on the bus.
The Beatles Legacy Group has held its first initial meetings; can you shed any light on how they have gone?
There has been talk about having special events on anniversaries of album releases and that sort of thing. Also, the marketing people are looking at setting up some sort of analysis of people’s experiences but things are still in a very embryonic stage.
There will be announcements over the summer in terms of things that the general public will be able to have an input into.
The Farm will be performing at a concert later this year to support Musicians Against Homelessness – a campaign which has been set up to increase awareness around the issue of homelessness and raise funds for the charity Crisis. Is the problem of homelessness something close to your heart?
Once a year, Keith Mullin [The Farm’s guitarist], gets involved with selling the Big Issue in Liverpool, so this year I stood with him for an hour. It started me thinking about the increase in homelessness and how people’s attitudes towards homelessness have been changing for the worse over the years.
Since 2010 homelessness has increased massively, I don’t know the significance of that date but you can draw your own conclusions. When you walk round the streets today you can see the increase in homelessness, it’s visible.
Alan McGee (renowned music executive who discovered Oasis) suggested he wanted to do something and musicians have been asked to get involved. It’s a way us as musicians can highlight society’s attitude towards the issue and highlight the demonisation of the homeless.
You have been influential in a number of projects which have sought to publicise the Hillsborough families’ 27-year fight for justice including the Don’t Buy The Sun concerts and the Justice Tonight tour. What was your reaction to the verdict of the inquests?
It’s a re-establishment of the truth. We all knew the truth, we were all there on that day. Justice Taylor’s Interim Report, which was published in August 1989, established the truth as well.
It didn’t have the full picture, because he didn’t have access to the files of the ambulance and fire services but his report condemned the police and said it was a failure of police control which caused the disaster.
The truth was there but it just got buried in the cover-up and the smears. What happened last month was a total vindication of a generation of fans and the families’ campaign.