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By Phil Thornton
What a strange couple of days. On the surface, it appears that a lot is happening yet underneath there’s really fuck all going on. Like most of the Capital of Culture ‘celebrations’ it’s all smoke and mirrors, an illusion, a delusion, a confusion. On Tuesday we launched volume one of our poetry and fiction book, ‘Content’ (see stories in this month’s issue) at the Everyman, in the final week of the now monthly Writing On The Wall festival. Having organized events for WoW for the past seven years it’s apparent that the festival is increasingly focused not upon local writers but on attracting ‘star’ names from other cities, other countries and cultures and whilst this diversification is to be applauded in many ways, there’s no way someone so bourgeois and BBC like Steven Poliakoff would’ve been included in the programme a few years back.
Our book is entirely homegrown and features writers (apart from myself) from across the city, those who were born in the city or who live in the city, not students who ‘stayed on’ or tourist academics who claim to be ‘honorary scousers.’ Content features writing of various quality from people who have never been encouraged to write and whose voices have therefore remained silenced or unheard. The book is free and available at News From Nowhere on Bold Street and at various cultural venues around town (or I’ll send you one if you email Swine).
On Thursday, it was the grand opening of Liverpool One; the new shopping centre that has been under construction for several centuries. All that disruption, all that dough, all that crowing about economic and cultural re-birth and what do you end up with? A new Debenhams! That cunt, The Grand Archduke Grosvenor must be laughing his tiny cock off, fleecing this shower of incompetents, sycophants and halfwits who laughingly call themselves the ‘council.’ I’d avoided the place on its opening because Liverpool Sound City had organized a Liverpool v Manchester music debate at the Cavern and that sounded far more fun! Unfortunately with half of the panelists cancelling, it was left to Peter Hooton and former Happy Mondays manager, Phil Saxe to raise the debate above the level of clichéd insult swapping. Former State DJ, Steve Proctor tried to fly the flag for scouse clubbing and dance music and Manchester DJ, Johnny Jay did likewise for the Mancs but even with John Robb as agent provocateur, the musical analysis never really went beyond the Beatles v Freddy & The Dreamers or Oasis v The Las.
My own subjective analysis would’ve been to say that each city has had its peaks and troughs but Manchester has had far more peaks than Liverpool. Try to cobble together a ‘Best Of’ compilation for each city to represent the quality of each conurbation’s musical contribution. Beatles apart, it’d be hard to compile a Liverpool one that’d stand up to Manchester’s. From Spiral Scratch to the Cedar Room there was almost an unbroken twenty five year period where Mancunian music ruled the roost. Liverpool had a few brief blips – 61-65, 79-83 but that apart, what? The odd decent band, the odd little scene. No, Manchester wins that one but then again put Manchester against Detroit or New York and again, there’s a massive gulf. There were a few good lines and a few laughs mostly from Hooto’s exaggerated boasts but the quality of the panel - an NME writer who couldn’t string put a sentence together, a girl who’s only contribution was ‘Where’s Cilla?’ a DJ who claimed to be one of the best in the world at playing ‘everything from dance to rock’ (Wow! Who the fuck he was though nobody knew) and a poor Cockney who just mumbled something about his uncle being one of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and his granddad dying young (as John Robb asked him; ‘what was he doing up there then?’) – left a lot to be desired. Quite rightly Tony Wilson was praised for his cheerleading for Mancunian music even from the scousers, and this debate made you realise what was so great about Anthony H. He may have been many things, but he was never boring and if he’d have been organizing such a debate, I’m sure there would’ve been fisticuffs and philosophy in equal measure.
The only thing I’d been truly anticipating in the whole Capital Of Culture programme was the Klimt exhibition at the Tate that opened on 31st May. As a bit of an amateur art critic myself, I’ve loved Klimt’s erotically charged Jungen Wien decadence and even his earlier pre-Raphaelite and impressionist inspired works. His landscapes such as The Tall Poplars are every bit as challenging as the orgy of skeletal limbs that signify his more well-known works. However, as the Late Review highlighted the night before my visit, New York also had a Klimt exhibition running that had ‘the big hits’ on show whereas Liverpool had to make do with sloppy seconds. As the missus wanted to check out Liverpool One, I decided to pay aul Gastav a visit. There’s the dichotomy between commerce and culture in a nutshell.
So we parked up in the new John Lewis multistory and made our way through the new John Lewis department store that leads to the new Liverpool One complex which isn’t even finished yet. There are still cranes and diggers and Hi Vis n’ hardhat whoppers everywhere. Roads are still blocked off, makeshift pavements are still almost killing toddlers as busses fly past. Half the shops aren’t open, there are no directions, nobody knows the layout, people (me!) are getting confused by the new walkway system that leads to different exits, some of which are still blocked off. It hasn’t even got a roof.
Getting to The Tate takes me half an hour in this chaos and when I do finally reach my destination, there’s a roped off section for ‘pre-booked tickets.’ Naively I’d assumed that, as part of the already well funded Capital of Culture programme, the exhibition would be free. But no, the cheeky bastards were charging to get in. No wonder the expected hordes were nowhere to be seen. There wasn’t a queue in sight. On approaching the revolving doors, a Tate employee asked me for my ticket, as if the only way inside was to purchase one. When I asked her if the whole gallery was now fee only she tried to pass it off as a mistake ‘Oh no the other two floors are STILL free.’ Once inside more Kulture Nazis block the ground floor entrance to the Klimt exhibition. One looks me in the eye as if I’m about to bunk the turnstyles.
‘How much are you charging?’
Tate Nazi smirks
‘Eight pounds or six pounds concessions’ (my combo of shorts, polo shirt, checked socks and battered Spezials no doubt indicating to him that I was one of the ‘unwaged’ philistines).
‘That’s a fucking disgrace.’
He looks shocked as if The Tate had every right to charge for something that was the artistic highlight of an already heavily subsidized programme of events. If the Tate had co-funded it and needed to make their money back, then why wasn’t the exhibition put on at The Walker instead? I turn around and walk right across town to see my mate’s photographic exhibition at the Museum. Steve Higginson and Tony Wailey’s brilliant ‘Edgy Cities’ book and concept has been expanded upon with a series of photographs exploring the nature of Liverpool as a place of continual movement and change. Photographer John Lafferty’s mixture of landscapes, cityscapes, portraits and documentary snapshots show different aspects of the city’s spaces and faces. That it is housed in the so-called ‘Community Base’ of the 4th floor of the Museum (the dinosaur section – crack your own joke here!) tells you all you need to know about how much energy and resources have been directed towards local artists. The setting doesn’t do justice either to the broad theme of ‘Edgy Cities’ or the photographs themselves. The space is too small, the photographs too cramped and there’s a big fuck-off coathanger rack in the way. Outside the sun is shining and the museum is empty. No-one would know this exhibition was on and even the staff don’t appear to know where it’s located.
All in all, it’s a pretty dispiriting morning but never mind, cos she’s buying an outfit for our guest spot DJing at Cosmic Boogie at the beautiful Geisha bar tonight. As vinyl only Luddites, we find out late that Geisha, as a hi-tec kinda Bar/Restaurant venue with a pan-Asian theme, only has CD turntables. Oh fuck! We cobble together enough CDs to represent our blend of classic and contemporary ‘balearic’ in line with the stated musical policy of the venue. It’s the only place in the city infact that is totally in tune with our own tastes, yet for some reason, either by accident or design, the place just hasn’t taken off. The Korova group have obviously spent fortunes on the concept – the décor and the food are both fantastic but there’s no atmosphere, no soul to the place. It can’t make its mind up if it wants to be a bar or a restaurant, a music venue or a foodie hang out and therefore they seem to be playing safe.
Musically we’d watered our normal sets down to what we thought would be as unthreatening as possible; yet our patron for the night, the personable Asok is informed by the manager that he has to ‘disco it up abit’ – if you can’t handle Cher’s version of I Walk On Gilded Splinters’ there’s something wrong with ya. It’s not even as if there’s anyone in there to ‘disco it up’ for. Infact there’s only us four creating any kind of atmosphere and this leaves us puzzled by Geisha’s attitude. Why spend all that dough on somewhere that looks so fantastic yet not put any effort into the musical side of things? We all know that ‘cosmic’ is a specialist scene within a scene but given the right booking system and a degree of publicity, we’re sure that there’s an audience for this music in a city the size of Liverpool. The venue is smack bang in the centre of the city’s student heartland and yet the ‘beautiful people’ seem not to want what it offers. Maybe funky house at Alma De Cuba is where it’s at after all.
The next day, Sir Paul McCartney plays his ‘special homecoming’ gig at Anfield and the Japanese tourists I pass on Monday morning testify to Macca’s pulling power as a true Mersey Icon. Forget Ringo’s petulance and transatlantic drone, McCartney does transatlantic petulance like no other former Beatles living. But atleast he’s talented. Macca is about as Liverpool One as you can get. Let’s not forget that this is the man who put Liverpool on the pop map, a man who can justifiably claim to be one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. He’s also a conniving, greedy, arse-licking, vain, self-glorifying shitehawk but that’s neither here nor there. He was always the best Beatle; the most musical, the best voice, the best looking, the most ambitious. The only one who would’ve made it without the others. I wouldn’t pay to watch him though. Just as Klimt should’ve been free, so Macca should’ve played a free concert. Not at Anfield but in Sefton Park. Never mind all the cosy little cliques, the brown-nosers and bandits getting their blag corporate and old pals tickets, let’s have it By The People, For The People. Ah, such romanticized posturing’s OK for me, an outsider, a ‘wool’ to criticize but the fact that Liverpool seems far more interested in idealizing its past instead of nurturing its future only demonstrates just how much of a theme park the city has become. One girl interviewed on the radio claimed to be ‘emotional’ when Liverpool One was opened, as if the past 800 years had all been leading to this point. It’s just shops. It’s just a Beatle. Yeah yeah yeah!
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