Merseyside Music Industry Directory (The Black Book), 1997

Mathew Flynn 

Published June 2024














Not nostalgic

I am not nostalgic. I don’t collect anything. In general, I endeavour to reduce the amount of stuff I have not increase it, these days I think that’s called being minimalist. And I suspect I am viewed as somewhat of a heretic amongst many of my vinyl aficionado and audiophile Music Department colleagues, as I much prefer using Spotify and Sonos to listen to music than physical formats. My preference for digital ease, choice and portability meant I gave away the sizeable vinyl, CD and cassette collection I had accumulated since my teenage years, in 2003, when I got my first iPod. In my twenty-year association with the Institute of Popular Music (IPM), until 2024 I had never set foot in the archive. My music industries teaching and research is entirely focused on the now and the future, and I tend to only look back to understand trajectories and patterns that explain current practices and processes that frame and are predictive of future trends. Apart from tourist type visits to the likes of Prince’s Paisley Park while attending a conference in Minneapolis, or a cursory look around the British Music Experience in Liverpool when I’ve been there for meetings, I have little interest in engaging with music artefacts, memorabilia, or ephemera, or delving into the histories of artists, events, scenes, or trivia. Suffice to say, I seldom meet the expectations of team-mates in the music rounds of pub quizzes that I occasionally find myself participating in by default. For all these reasons, when the invite to participate in this IPM Greatest Hits exhibition was extended to me, my first instinct was to decline. Some gentle persuasion from colleagues convinced me to make my maiden April 2024 visit to the IPM Archive. Initially, despite thousands of items, I had little interest in most of the materials and struggled to identify anything to connect with. Then I came across The Black Book.


Vaux Rehearsal Studios

The IPM Archive artefact I have selected to display is page 8 of the 1997 Merseyside Music Industry Directory (The Black Book).



Although the side heading on the page states the businesses listed are Recording Services, the first three entries on the left-hand side are the final three entries of the alphabetically listed Rehearsal Rooms from the preceding pages. I know these are rehearsal rooms, because sandwiched between This Planet and Vulcan Rehearsals is the business I had begun working on opening two years earlier in 1995: Vaux Rehearsal Studios. After securing business finance and family support to acquire and renovate the property on 92 Vauxhall Road in Liverpool 3, my partner and I opened for business in September 1996 when we were aged 21. I taught myself to write an ill-conceived and overly optimistic business plan (typed up by my business partner’s then girlfriend on an electronic typewriter), which with 25 years of music business teaching hindsight I am staggered convinced the Business Manager in Barclays, then based in Water Street, to loan us money for the project. In renovating and sound proofing a property that was in a considerable state of disrepair, we taught ourselves about building and fire regulations, marketing, accounting, and taxation, and overcame a host of other operational and financial challenges on what was a very steep learning curve.


Fleeting moments in time forever

The facility hosted hundreds of mainly fledging artists and musicians from the across the city who rehearsed their first songs and performances in one of the four rooms. A good few went on to achieve critical acclaim and commercial success, but the vast majority, many of whom I occasionally see out and about -  often still playing - never fulfilled their ambitions or achieved what their talent deserved. These days all those bands would have tracks on streaming platforms in the hope of generating more than few thousand plays, but back then, apart from the occasional poorly recorded three track demo to get gigs and send to A&R scouts, most of the songs played just seeped into the toil and sweat of dedicated twice weekly rehearsal and will remain fleeting moments in time forever.


Looking back to look forward

The change in my adult lifetime from a point where most songs were diligently practiced and perfected, occasionally performed but seldom captured in a recording, to now, where an AI can conjure up a ‘new’ song and recording in seconds with minimal text prompts from someone without any musical ability or training, exemplifies the impact digitalisation has on the music industries and wider society. Like the iPod I embraced so enthusiastically 20 years ago as a consumer, for its convenience and the amount of control it afforded me over where I could listen to my entire music collection, now anyone without any degree of musical skill, need for practise, and a minimal amount of time expended can auto-generate a completely personalised music collection. What these feats of technological innovation and their concomitant human de-skilling mean for how we collectively value music and, more importantly, musicians remains to be seen. But this is where looking back to look forward offers insight. The history of technological advancement in music clearly shows us those who have crafted careers using the music making practices of the time will be challenged by these changes, whereas the emerging generation of music makers will capitalise upon the new opportunities offered. Inevitably, to borrow from the tech industry parlance, many current musicians and industry practitioners will have to pivot and modify how and even what they do to continue to earn a living.


Physical traces of fading memory

In 2002 I pivoted. For a confluence of reasons, I closed Vaux, as it had become known, turning the premises into a flat for myself. I eventually sold the property in 2019 to developers who promptly demolished it in 2020. I occasionally travel past what is now a piece of fenced off waste ground and, like the numerous songs that existed momentarily within its walls, in many respects Vaux Rehearsal Studios is just a poorly marked moment in time and an increasingly fading memory. Vaux was never commercially or culturally significant enough to justify a place on the Liverpool music scenes mural painted onto the walls of the recently opened Rough Trade record store [link to] . That celebration of Liverpool’s music heritage also acts as an account of the number of sites of musical significance, from Cream (Nation) and the Kazimier to Constellations and Parr Street Studios, to name but a recent few, that have all been lost to the ‘progress’ of property development and city centre gentrification. As our built environment evolves, and sites of musical and cultural significance are lost to ebb and flow of trends, progress, and profit, without far stronger UK and regional regulations to preserve properties of artistic and cultural significance, the importance of archives, museums and heritage, and the work of archivists, curators and historians is manifest. Despite it being a mere listing in an equally defunct and forgotten directory, the fact that Vaux appears testifies to its place in the history of Liverpool’s music industries and community. Apart from the individual and collective memories of those who used or were associated with Vaux, pretty much every other digital and physical trace of its seven-year existence has been eradicated. My minimalism saw me junk everything I had associated with business years ago. It was therefore very pleasing to find a book I’d completely forgotten about footnoting a very limited contribution to the development and history of our local music scene, but what for me personally represents an exciting and significant period of my life that I recall with increasing pride and fondness.


Digital Black Book

Although the life of my rehearsal rooms was short-lived, the gamble to open Vaux placed me on the pathway to the career I have now. In that career I am fortunate to be able to combine the academic research I do with my efforts to support and do work on behalf of the sector that has given me a career. My work with and for the Liverpool City Region Music Board has, through a convoluted series of active decisions and happenstance over the past decade, put me in a position where I am responsible for compiling the current version of the Black Book. Again, underlining the considerable changes in our geographical and political circumstances in previous three decades, I am tasked with developing a directory and map, not for Merseyside but for the Liverpool City Region (LCR).


Long-term retrospective lens

As with the above example of the shift from the lost songs of anonymous bands to the instantaneous creative capabilities of AIs, living through these changes often blinds us to the actuality of their enduring impact. Only when viewed through a long-term retrospective lens is the radicalism of the results of everyday incremental change evident, be that in technology, how we draw geographical boundaries, or across our political and actual economy. The Black Book counted 406 Merseyside Music Businesses in 1997. Our, incomplete, current LCR directory lists at least 1100. This doubling of data is attributable to several factors, from changes in how live music is defined, the availability of information, scope and methods of data collection and the geographic boundaries. Of course, the increase could also point to a growing sector. The Black Book listed 12 rehearsal rooms; our research has thus far identified 35. A sign perhaps that, despite the convenience of AI to generate immediate and personalised tracks, humans are still and will remain interested in making their own music. The Black Book provides a baseline from which to measure changes in the number, types and sizes of businesses in the almost 30-year period. It also shows the circularity of sector needs. Regardless of the era, to be able to support and advocate for a regional music industry, and before it is possible to measure economic and/or employment figures or the impact of policy change, you first need to be able to identify what a sector is made up of and where those businesses are. As the saying goes, the more things change the more they stay the same.


Not nostalgia

With our directory output intended to be accessible through a dynamic digital online platform, a note to self is to ensure that once launched it is maintained and updated, and not lost to the annals of time. Yet, it’s a good bet that in 2054, someone, still currently at primary school, will stumble across our outmoded Excel spreadsheet as they attempt to compile a directory of music businesses for the Greater Liverpool Quadrant. It certainly begs the question: will our forthcoming digital directory be as enduring as the Black Book? I will certainly discuss a way of committing our digital directory to the IPM Archive. What contributing to Greatest Hits has made to clear to me is, whether I perceive what I am doing as archival work or not, I am inadvertently historicising the present for future generations. This experience has shown me that even if it’s not important to me personally to keep and catalogue stuff, it’s essential others do. Otherwise, there would be little evidence of Vaux Rehearsal Studios and numerous other now defunct Merseyside music businesses listed in the 1997 Black Book having made a moderate contribution to our wonderful regional industry. More importantly, from a personal perspective it offers a permanent reference and starting point for my own memories and oral history of that place and period. But most importantly, and obviously very belatedly, I’ve realised the archives are about knowledge not nostalgia and are repositories of prompts to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. It’s already on my agenda to visit again.


Dr Mathew Flynn is Head of Music Undergraduate Studies and Lecturer in Music Industry at University of Liverpool. Prior to joining the Music Department, he taught music business at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA). Before moving into higher education, Mat was a self-employed practitioner in the music industries, owning rehearsal rooms and an independent record label. He has been a member of Liverpool City Region Music Board since its formation in January 2019.

Mat’s current research interests include decision-making in the music industries, the impact of the pandemic of Liverpool's music sector, the experiences of Black music makers and practitioners and how to better educate musicians about copyright and data use and management.

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