On Sunday you're the UK’s only Museum of Popular Music.
On Monday you type a press release saying you're "looking for a new home".
On Tuesday you announce your imminent closure via Twitter.
On Wednesday it's your final day and the last tickets are sold.
On Thursday you've shut, and it's time to clear out.
The BME first appeared down the far end of the Millennium Dome in 2009. It filled the top floor of the so-called O2 Bubble, above the large space that's been used for Titanic and Tutankhamen exhibitions. It was Harvey Goldsmith's idea, a heritage attraction to celebration British Rock and Pop, located round the bend from an arena when dozens of these big names might play. They gathered together a selection of musical artefacts (such as Humphrey Lyttelton's trumpet and Jarvis Cocker's glasses), and plugged in a selection of interactive digital experiences (such as a virtual dance instructor and room full of guitars). The entrance price was set at £15, in line with the premium end of London visitor attractions, and various smiling folk sat out front to welcome punters inside. It was all supposed to be a great success.
I was never tempted. That's strange because I love my music, so surely a museum celebrating Britain's best would be a must-see. But something about the place put me off, and not just the entrance price, so I never went. The selection of artists featured was very mainstream, of the kind that might grace a royal Jubilee concert rather than a sweaty dive, far more Radio 2 than Radio 1. The emphasis seemed to be on gloss rather than detail, on interacting rather than absorbing, and on social activity rather than solo introspection. Plus, well, music's readily available elsewhere, and surely better experienced through loudspeakers than through glass. Whatever, I can't really comment on the excitement or otherwise of the interior, merely direct you towards these online reference points for as long as their imprints remain.
The initial plans were to work up to 350,000 visitors annually. It didn't happen. The total number of visitors up the escalator over the last five years is half a million, and 40% of those were students on special group visits. Reports suggest that if you'd been lately you'd have had the place pretty much to yourself, which was good news if you wanted to play the Gibson simulator, but not ultimately sustainable. So the Dome's owners AEG withdrew their funding, suddenly leaving the BME charitable trust with nowhere to go. They're now "looking to the next stage" of their development, and hoping to find "a more sustainable home" "to improve and expand the collection." But that means going dark, even disappearing offline, so for anyone who's ever been round with a smart ticket, sorry, you'll no longer be able to access your "MyBME videos and audio clips".
There was no act in the main arena at the O2 last night, only Roberta Flack at Indigo, so the arc of restaurants around the perimeter was pretty quiet. Indeed the far end of Entertainment Avenue, past the Harvester, had the air of tumbleweed about it now that the BME has gone. High on the walls hung a poster of a Union Jack guitar, while a cut-out collective of pop and rock glitterati looked down in vain towards nobody passing by. Inside the Museum Shop a lady was busy unstacking the shelves, removing the stock of posters, t-shirts and trinkets for storage, liquidation or resale elsewhere. Meanwhile the escalator up to the second floor had stopped running, but was still accessible, with only a poster at the bottom to announce the attraction's demise. And yes, there was still a rack of leaflets outside, so I grabbed one for posterity (now down to £13 a visit, I see, or was).
But something major and musical was afoot, and it involved the latest invaders of the O2 Bubble's exhibition space. The fledgling tenants here are American dream-peddlars Brooklyn Bowl, who arrived in January to deliver tenpin bowling, fried food and hot stage action inside a timber-fronted cavernous hall. Their tariff is on the high side, and makes even the BME look good value. Hiring a lane for bowling costs around £30 an hour (weekends more, shoes extra). The food's expensive too, with a BLT at nine quid, a milk shake at five, and a 24-piece fried chicken platter hitting forty-seven. And as for entertainment, appearing on stage last night was a 'secret' gig sponsored by an online hosting service, which hundreds of young folk had turned up to queue for. But who was performing? I'll let the unhip marketeers at Vevo explain...
While live performance continues to reel in the punters (£123.50 to see Justin Timberlake, anybody?), it seems the British aren't particularly interested in a British music experience. Indeed Sheffield's millennium-funded National Centrefor Popular Music lasted only 16 months, wildly overestimating the number of visitors who'd make a special trip to see it. And now the BME has failed too, the plug pulled on its 'permanent exhibition' when commercial reality caught up with cultural hopes. So if you head to the O2 in search of entertainment today, be aware that the only off-stage attractions are an over-priced walk over the roof, a whopping great cinema and rather a lot of restaurants.