British Music Experience review - what's in BME for you, at the O2?
Noel Gallagher's iconic Union Jack, Les Paul Gibson guitar; Adam Ant's Kings of the Wild Frontier outfit; Amy Winehouse's dress - just some of the real-life pop artefacts highlighted when news of the British Music Experience, the new permanent celebration of pop at London's O2 Arena, was revealed late last year.
But now we've been inside the 02 Bubble, home of the new exhibition, which opened today, and we can tell you there's far more to the place than Hard Rock Cafe-style showcases of music memorabilia. This is a somewhere you can unleash your inner rock-star (without a games console in sight).
Take a trip through music history
Mods avert your eyes.. as you'll see from the shot of the entrance above, the British Musical Experience has appropriated the beloved target logo (look, it wasn't yours first, OK?) as its own.
The symbol pops up regularly inside as somewhere to press your Smarticket for extra information (of which more later).
First up inside is a Preview 'show' - a short filmed intro to the BME in which Lauren Laverne talks you through the highlights.
Then it's straight into 'The Core' - the BME's central hub, pictured below.
The seven ages of British Music
Off the core are a series of seven rooms dedicated to different eras of post-war British music history: 1945-1962 (Cliff!); 1962-1966 (Beatles and the Stones); 1966-1970 (Psychedelic , man); 1970-1976 (Glamtastic); 1976-1985 (odd mix of punk and New Romantic Pop); 1985-1993 (Live Aid to Madchester); 1993-2009 (Spice Girls to X-Factor).
Each room is packed with both static displays (costumes; guitars; album covers; props - all authentic) accompanied by a video screen of the items in action; plus a host of interactive points where you can choose to find out more; watch/listen to discussions and reminiscences of the decade, and it goes on.
Britain's Got Talent?
Sennheiser and Gibson are key sponsors of the British Music Experience, and their products are put to good use throughout - and not just as headphones for you to hear those interactive exhibits.
The Gibson Interactive Studio allows you hands-on access to a range of guitars, drumkits, keyboards and a mixing desk - allowing you to try your hand at musical stardom. There are video tutorials on offer, plus expert staff, and you can record your efforts for posterity via your Smarticket (yes, I am getting to that shortly).
At the heart of the studio is the Sennheiser vocal booth (above and below), where you can choose to record your own rendition of a range of tracks, including Leona Lewis' Bleeding Love and Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
The great thing about the vocal booth - and all the interactive elements - is that they can't be hogged: your Smarticket only allows you to use them once every 15 minutes, which gives more people a chance to star...
Are you human or are you dancer?
And there's more in The Core. The Dance the Decades feature allows you to record your efforts (after a video tutorial) of dancing along to a selection of classic moves, from Hand Jive to Macarena; Voguing to Twisting and more. Ideal for embarrassing your kids, that one...
Our hour in the bubble was almost up, and we still hadn't had much of a play with the Hey DJ mixing station, or the Where It's At interactive map of the UK, complete with key music locations and events.
However, we did have time to be slightly disappointed by the static display of radio and TV equipment (Transmission) and hi-fi (Playback). The latter could have done with a good dose of excellent British hi-fi gear to boost its meagre ranks.
The British Music Experience ends (well, until you get home - more below) with an odd holographic show of live music coverage. Not quite sure the experience of a sweaty Freddie Mercury or moaning Chris Martin looming out at you from the dry ice is the ideal ending, but there you have it.
Relive your experience back at home
The British Music Experience's curators are keen to make this an engaging, interactive place to visit ('that's why it's the British Music Experience, not the British Music Museum'), and they've achieved that interactivity in one particularly neat way.
Every visitor's ticket is a Smarticket, complete with an embedded chip and unique code that allows to activate its content via your own MyBME space on the British Music Experience website.
As you walk around the BME, you can swipe your Smarticket on any of the exhibits that take your fancy - I was particularly taken by a display case of dresses worn by Dusty Springfield, Sandie Shaw and Lulu, for example - and it'll note your favourites for more in-depth online perusal back at home.
The Smarticket also allows you to log your performances - vocal, instrumental and dances! - and see/hear them in all their glory online.
You can email the best/worst performance direct to friends/enemies/talent scouts direct from the website. (But I won't be sharing the video of me dancing The Twist in a hurry... )
Good pre-gig entertainment
The British Music Experience costs £15 for an adult ticket; £12 for a child/concessions; £40 for a family (two adults; two children).
That gets you a timed entrance slot of around an hour, plus all the Smarticket fun after the event.
So, it's not cheap, but there is a lot to amuse yourself with - if you've already shelled out for a gig or movie at the 02, it's worth the extra time and money if you're a big music fan.
I'm going back to slip a vintage, 1970s copy of What Hi-fi? (as then was) in the 1976-1985 room...