How many awards does one city need? It’s a question we often ask at SevenStreets (usually when we’re bypassed at yet another envelope opening). We’re all for celebrating great stuff, and ticking off the lacklustre. But award ceremonies? What’s the real story here?

Today, the judging panel for the Liverpool Music Awards is announced. Which means that, soon, we’re gonna need an Award for the Best Liverpool Music Awards Award.

In their press release, the Awards make no mention of the GIT awards; the other Liverpool Music Awards that launched, successfully, earlier this year, with front page BBC Online coverage, and support from the NME. This isn’t about music, it’s a cover version. It’s the Mathew Street Festival of Music Awards.

“Think The Brits, think the MTV Awards and think Liverpool Music Awards” says organiser Ellie Phillips, launching her awards – with a panel of judges featuring the Echo’s Jade Wright, and BBC Radio Merseyside’s Dave Monks and Billy Butler (and son).

Er, no. We think opportunity to cash in, chairs with blankets wrapped around them, corporate sponsors, £80 tickets, a night out for Ian McNabb, and crap goodie bags. We don’t think music at all, really. So, despite being hounded with requests to support it, we’re out.

Want further proof of these awards’ musical credentials? Each award has a sponsor (Ker-ching) – including those musical heavyweights Andrew Collinge, Hotel Indigo and Rare Women’s Fashion (er, us neither).

It’s a further expression of an uncomfortable fact: this city seems hung up on self-congratulatory slaps on the back, reassuring purring from our peers, and an interview on Liverpool LIVE. Whatever happened to doing you thing, doing it to the best of your ability, and moving forward?

As a result, our awards’ currency has become devalued. Look at the hoardings: every new development is ‘award winning’. Every style bar has a gilt-framed certificate. Every hairdresser a glass-blown trophy with a swirly bit in the middle.

Is it about recognising excellence? Not really. You can do that with honest editorial features, with good old fashioned custom, word of mouth, and industry-recognised accolades and achievements. Stuff you work for, not tell your mates to vote for. Put it this way – whose opinion means more to you: the Juice FM Style Awards, or recommendations from people you trust, with no ulterior motive or PR cash behind them?

No, awards in this city are all about the awarder, not the awardee. It’s a business. A corporate extension. A social media exercise, the chance to upsell your events company/lifestyle magazine/networking body and a sweetener for advertisers. And it’s a chance for liggers and hangers on to forge a career out of other peoples’ talent – a CV leg up. No more. No less. The city has enough phantom industries, we don’t need any more.

We spoke to Downtown Liverpool’s awards co-ordinator earlier in the year, after we took a look at their shortlist. How, we wonder, do they arrive at the list. And how are winners chosen? We expected the business enterprise body to have assembled an impressive line-up of entrepreneurs and business angels: a weighty panel of peers.

“People vote for their favourites online,” he told us.

Ah, so it’s not really an award, it’s a popularity contest? Are there any checks in place to prevent block voting, or other dastardly deeds?

“No, we expect our website visitors to be honest and impartial.”

That may well be the case. But what does that tell us about Downtown Liverpool? That it’s all about the networking, sadly. Sexy or otherwise. When, ironically, it should be about finding and hot-housing the kitchen-table enterprise, the genuinely exciting new initiative or the communities who are trying to get back on their feet. But, then, how sexy is social enterprise?

Of course, get it right, and the award can really catapult you into the major league – look at perennial underdogs elbow, and Oxton village’s Fraiche: a Michelin starred snub to Liverpool and Manchester’s celebrity chef outposts. But to have any clout, we have to believe the awards are delivered on merit, not quantitative easing. And that, in as small a pool as Liver, it’s not just a big shuffle round of nominations (‘oh, Delifonseca won it last year, better leave them for a while.’).

Awards are, like Charles Ives famously said, ‘Merely badges of mediocrity’, a safe handshake, an ‘are we ok to count on your support next year, now we’ve given you a gong?, they’re based on what is known, what is liked, and what is now.

They’re not, and never can be, about what is truly new, truly oulying or truly original. They are, if you like, awards for stuff that was interesting five years ago. Awarding music for its originality when you’re immersed in a soundtrack that, obviously, is having a conversation with the stuff that surrounds us is a metaphysical constraint even Dr Dre’s Beats can’t overcome. We have two words: Ed Sheeran. Enough said.

Oh, but let’s not forget M People winning the Mercury prize, eh? The world is full of experts forcing us to toe the line. Turn on the TV – you’ll see a hoard of hectoring know-alls telling us that their taste (in restaurants, home improvements, diets, music, whatever) is better, more important, more knowledgable, than yours. Don’t believe it. Follow your heart, people. Not a panel of experts.

But it’s not just the sponsors who make the cash – and the awards – go round. A friend of ours is regularly badgered every year by another awards organisation’s events team. She works for a leading salon. They’re desperate for her to sponsor an award. Or, failing that, buy a corporate table for a grand. She’s been told, in not so unsubtle terms, that sponsors are highly rewarded down the line. She told them where to go – and has yet to be nominated.

Meanwhile, Liverpool Style Awards’ search for Liverpool’s Best Home Improvement Company continues – set up by Downtown Liverpool’s ‘Lifestyle’ Business Award winner (can you see a theme developing here?), Amanda Moss. More on her values here.

At last year’s Food and Drink awards bash the winners were voted for by punters clocking in to the website. We’re not arguing with the results – we’re delighted for each and every winner (especially Bold Street Coffee). But we also know that website democracy is a dodgy thing. And that those ventures with a PR and advertising budget can afford the extra exposure/vote filling resource. Smaller venues, more often than not, just don’t play that game, and the best ones? They don’t have to (so no gong for Fraiche, or Da Piero). And the reason why Cafe Porto will always come second to Viva Brazil – despite the real passion being, always, at the former.

Maybe these awards are harmless enough – a glittery night of airkisses and goodie bags. But my fear is this need for constant vindication, for public approval and diary-page photospreads, really doesn’t advance the argument, celebrate the innovative, or take the city forward. The events (bar a few notable exceptions – including the genuinely valuable Liverpool Art Prize, the inspirational Merseyside Women of the Year awards and Liverpool Unites) are little more than a feedback loop of backslappers – and, sadly, for that reason, we’re out. And always will be.

Liverpool Music Awards

46 Responses to “And The Winner Is…”

  1. I spoke to the Liverpool Food and Drink Festival about this via Twitter, and they said that you could only vote for the restaurants which had exhibited at the Sefton Park show which was held last Saturday and Sunday. So it’s not really representative at all, more a ‘Best in Show’ kind of affair. How can this be representative at all? It seems a shame that such excellent restaurants such as Fraiche and Salt House Tapas – two of the best restaurants in Liverpool – get left on the shelf because they refuse to participate in a back slapping contest.

  2. David and Christina

    I couldn’t agree more, and you both beat me to it, I’ve just posted on my blog about this.

    Interesting point made about Fraiche and De Piero, not sure if they should be included due to them being on the wirral. De Piero is very good, but I feel stunning is perhaps too strong a word to describe it.


  3. Brilliant article on a subject that has been getting my back up for years! We were approached to partake in the Food and Drink festival, but couldn’t justify the fees, or be given any kind of exclusivity for our investment. As a result, we were not even included in the voting selection for any of the awards. Strange considering we opened last October on Castle Street and have quickly achieved great reviews and sales dwarfing our (competition). There should be a council led regional award ceremony which is governed and open to all, not just those who subscribe to different networks etc. Some of us choose not to join in the ‘networking’, and prefer to just focus on our business and quality of product, which is exactly how we will continue.

  4. Well said Jaf – and interesting point, Christina: thanks for bringing it to our attention. Events like this do little to promote the small, committed and hard working enterprises: those who devote all of their time to concentrate on service and quality, not PR and photo opportunities. The best places don’t need this sort of promotion anyway.

  5. Liverpool’s pseudo-award culture is distastefully parasitic, particularly in the food sector. The forces behind it bring nothing new to the table, apart from maybe an invite to the next awards dinner, and most of them haven’t a clue nor do they care about good food. They feed perniciously on the skills of others, spitting out those who haven’t allocated a budget to corporate PR. Restaurants and foodie companies of Merseyside: many of you are good, some truly great (mostly non award-winners). Focus on your food. This is what is earning you and our region well-deserved recognition.

  6. What a way to put a downer on peoples success…as the saying goes you have to be in it to win it! The Liverpool Food and Drink FESTIVAL Awards is quite rightly for those involved in the festival – well done to all the winners!!!

  7. Robin this is what i can see on their website….
    Liverpool Food & Drink Awards 2011

    In association with Liverpool Daily Post
    The annual Liverpool Food and Drink Festival Awards are the highlight of the festival celebrations

    – so they missed out the word festival in the heading i suppose, but as a voter I understood that these are awards for the people who were involved in the event when i was voting.

    Again Well Done to all the winners…dont let the haters grind you down!

  8. Paula, you misunderstand. It’s not putting a downer on the success of the winners. Most of them are brilliant contributors to the regional dining scene, responsible for putting Liverpool on the international dining map: Delifonseca, Liverpool Cheese Company, Lunya. But someone needs to highlight to the masses reading the press features stating that the 11 award-winning establishments are “officially” the city’s best, that the reason why many outstanding Merseyside restaurants/foodie companies do not figure in the line up is because they didn’t pay a grand (or whatever it was) to be at the festival. If a festival is branded as a “Liverpool” event, and the awards described as being “official” then they should be truly representative. Otherwise what’s the point? It’s a mockery.

  9. Paula, I think you’ve miss understood the points being raised. I think it boils down (excuse the cooking pun) to this.

    To win an award, you have to pay for the chance.

    Does this situation allow fair judgment of all restaurants/cafes/delis/shops in Liverpool? I don’t think so.

  10. By Liverpool Food and Drink Awards, I assume it is meant Liverpool City Centre Food and Drink Awards by looking at a list of the winners. Coming from South Liverpool, I am amazed that Spire Restaurant did not feature, never mind win, given that they have just won North West Restaurant of the Year in the Good Food Guide. (The only Liverpool restaurant ever to do so).

    I agree with the article that it looks more like a popularity contest and whilst i recognise that the votes were cast online, on which sites could you vote?

    If you are going to have a LIVERPOOL Food and Drink Awards, make them fair, let every establishment enter and may the best one win voted for by a real cross section of the Liverpool public

  11. Mike Howden

    Is not any award either based on the subjective judgements of one or a few people (as in the Michelin guide, Good Food Guide, TMP Taste awards etc), or a public vote where presumably bigger restaurants will do better with a bigger customer base. I don’t see any easier answer to this, just take all awards with the pinch of salt they deserve, but congratulations to those which I think truly deserve it: Bold Street Cafe, Lunya and Almond and well done to those others whom I wouldn’t have given an award to! Our opinions are all different.

  12. I think the point the article was making was that it’s can be easier for restaurants with more cash to spend on PR to influence a public vote.

    The other point is, if half the restaurants in the city are automatically excluded from the awards it’s much less authoritative.

  13. Although I agree with a lot of the article’s points, and there are some rather fishy circumstances surrounding a couple of the wins and their associated sponsors, I think that most of the winners genuinely deserve the recognition – even if it’s just for a few plugs in the local press and another crap glass trophy.

    Pushka, Bold Street Coffee, Lunya and Liverpool Cheese Company are all superb additions to Liverpool’s food and drink scene and it would be a shame not to celebrate them.

  14. Also, as far as I am aware, neither Puschka (apologies for the previous error!), Bold Street Coffee or Liverpool Cheese Company enlist PR companies to back their efforts – the proof is in the pudding you order I suppose, whether a voter has read a few snazzy blurbs about the restaurant or not.

    PR will help to get the punters through the door, but it won’t keep them coming back if the restaurant doesn’t live up to the printed promise.

  15. Does anyone know if there is a Liverpool food blog award?? If so, how do I nominate my blog, I am a scouse chef who moved to France 3 years ago and I have recently started to keep a blog diary of my food adventures. If anyone knows where I can post my blog in amongst scouse foodie fellow enthusiasts then I would be very grateful. Introduced the French to proper scouse the other week and it went down a treat!

  16. I’ve come to this post as a result of your comments on Facebook this morning, though I am a regular Seven Streets reader (and have a lot of respect for your blog.) I’m sure it is very irritating to be in the position you are in, but it seems to me that you are missing one important ingredient in the whole conversation about awards and that’s the consumers, who are supposedly seduced by the words ‘award winning’. We’re not stupid. We can tell the difference between a Michelin star and a lick-of-the-backside (though frankly the Michelin team are sliding in my estimation at the moment too) I know where I would look for advice about which restaurant to try, or which venue is up and coming, and it wouldn’t be on any of the award pages you’ve mentioned. Quality rises to the top and makes itself known in other ways- your website being one of them. Be proud of not being involved in all that fake adoration. Or even better, start your own awards. Not voted for or bought. Don’t publish the nominations, just announce your winners. Announce three in each category if they’ve earned it. Or none if they haven’t. Maybe you could do an award a week. And perhaps don’t call it ‘award’, perhaps just… ‘review’, and write about all the things you’ve liked about the restaurant or service, so people could read it and understand your choice and make up their own minds… oh… 

  17.  @smont thanks for your kind words smont – sorry, we were being awfully tongue in cheek. If we’re honest we’re very proud not to be winners. Honestly. We’d rather have your love! And yes, the inclusion of stuff on this site – with a big ‘we like’ – is our way of saying they’re great.

  18. Nicholas Ryan

    Igloo winning Bar of the Year 2011 and 2012 at the Juice fm Style Awards says it all. I’ve only ever walked past the place, but their ghastly red plastic couches arranged around a fruit machine should be enough to put anyone off.

  19. cakeface

    And coming back to the Liverpool Lifestyle Awards again… the only people up for awards are the people who have advertised in the mag… so it is basically a little party for all the business who have helped fund her own “lifestyle”!!

  20. James

    Embarrassing indeed. Every UK city with an inferiority complex has these sorts of events (which is not how I would describe Liverpool).

    Look at the great, worthwhile ones you gave as example – what other cities can boast such respected, sometimes political, genuine awards, that are properly up there as some of the best lifetime awards you could hope to win.

    We really don’t need guff ones. In my view, it’s undignified, self-congratulatory and un-Liverpudlian.

  21. Thomas Gorton

    I agree with James. Liverpool is a city with a rich enough cultural history to eschew the notion of an awards system. It makes everything seem a bit sixth form and an incestuous one at that. Liverpool has exported people & bands that have had a global impact, it shouldn’t need recognising from within. Can we just go back to being cool?

  22. Wavertree Warrior

    Maybe some of the people who are moaning about the Liverpool Food and Drink Festival Awards being exclusive to those taking part in the festival should get off their backside and organise local awards for food and drink that are open to all.

    As far as the music side of things goes, I think it’s about time we started recognising what a fantastic music city we are. Peter Guy recognised this and got off his backside to do something about it. Like you said in the piece, it was a shame that the Liverpool Music Awards launch blurb didn’t mention the successful GIT Awards. It’s also a shame that there’s no place for those who are doing stirling work online with blogs and websites supporting Liverpool’s varied music scene – something to be added for next year? However, it is good to see that the awards aren’t just for the music makers but also for the people behind the scenes that make it all possible.

    It remains to be seen whether the awards will go to the same old faces loved by the trendy in-crowd or whether they’ll be truly reflective of the whole music scene. At this stage it’s too early to tell, but we’ll know soon enough once the judges have announced who they’ve chosen to face the public vote.

    Now I’m off to nominate Seven Streets for Local Music Champion!

  23. Thomas Gorton

    @Wavertree Warrior – do we not already recognise what a fantastic musical city Liverpool is? If not, I really have no idea why.

    Liverpool has an extensive tapestry of famous artists that have achieved success globally, the whole ‘let’s pull together and remind each other how brilliant the city is’ smacks of chip-on-shoulder backslapping.

    Liverpool is one of the most important cities in pop music’s history, and that is noted by biographers, bands and music fans worldwide.

    LIverpool is a small city with a big past and a big future. Everyone relax.

  24. Thomas Gorton

    Also, one glance at the Liverpool Music Awards’ website informs me that it’s something nobody should bother taking part in, it looks dreadful.

    Local Music Champion FTW.

  25. Diamond Joe Quimby.

    @Wavertree Warrior, have you seen it? I will give £100 to charity for any award that is given to any category that any person going to more than 10 music events not at the Echo arena would agree with.

    They aren’t a company based within any given Liverpool ‘music scene’, they put out a questionnaire asking how much people would pay for a VIP table at the event and the categories simply aren’t all that applicable to the city.

    All of these awards ceremonies are simply an exercise in PR, financial weight and nepotism. There’s nothing that’s ridiculed by the average gig-goer and musician than music awards, they will always be seen as self-serving, self publicising enterprises.

  26. Diamond Joe Quimby.

    The only way to dismiss all of the questions surrounding the subjectivity, fairness and exclusivity of all of these award ceremonies is to completely do away with all of them, nobody would miss them.

    Who actually benefits other than the awarding body themselves? None of these local awards hold any sway on any noticeable level, it’s really embarassing.

  27. Thomas Gorton

    @Wavertree Warrior – Its aesthetic symbolises the overwhelming irrelevance of The Liverpool Music Awards. It’s dated and colourless with semi-quavers in its logo in a desperate bid to connect any of this drivel to real music.

  28. Firstly, thank you to Seven Streets for rehashing a 10-month-old article in order to draw attention to the Liverpool Music Awards.

    Is the Liverpool Music Awards about recognising excellence? No. Not only is it about recognising excellence, it is also about promoting and encouraging future excellence in our local music industries.

    Recommendations from people you trust are undoubtedly the first point of call for anything. However, in a divided music scene where success often relies on “who is friends with who” or “who doesn’t feel threatened by you”, honest editorial features easily become acts of passive aggression: churlish sly digs.

    A short-list drawn up by experts from a wide spectrum of Liverpool’s music scene: in terms of age, background, gender, genre-preference and profession – not a clique, or “team so-and-so” would surely provide an excellent insight into some of the best which our city has to offer?

    As for industry-recognised accolades, they are not born industry-recognised, they become industry-recognised – something which doesn’t happen overnight. I believe that having the likes of Dr Mike Jones, Mark Featherstone-Witty and Simon Glinn on the judging panel, in addition to Jade Wright, Dave Monks and Craig G Pennington, will help the Liverpool Music Awards become industry-recognised. They are all active in Liverpool, hugely respected and from different spectrums of the music scene, but have two main uniting factors: their love of music, and their love of Liverpool.

    You speak of PR cash? What cash do I have behind me apart from my life-savings? What is my ulterior motive apart from raising money for Youth Music? There is no magazine or networking body that the Liverpool Music Awards is trying to upsell. Are old-fashioned ticket sales to an event, and sponsorship of an event, deemed shameful? Yes the Liverpool Music Awards is a business, just like music is a business, and there is no shame in that fact. In fact, in the state of our economy, I would go as far as to say that damning something purely on the basis that it is a business is what is truly shameful:

    Should the venue not be paid for hosting the ceremony? Should the production team not be paid for designing and producing the ceremony? Should the website designer/developer not be paid? Should the caterers not be paid? Should the event insurance not be paid? Should the photographers and film-crews not be paid? Should the security team not be paid? Should the correct PRS licence not be paid? These (and more) are all local businesses, which will all gain from the Liverpool Music Awards – should they feel shameful for being businesses?

    In no way can sponsorship influence the shortlisting process. Tables at the Liverpool Music Awards are not for sale, and every shortlisted nominee is given tickets to the Liverpool Music Awards. Furthermore, as Director of the Liverpool Music Awards, I am not on the panel, and so have no sway in who is or is not shortlisted.

    To be nominated for many Awards, you have to be a paid member of the organisation, have a stall at one of their events, or pay to advertise in their publication. The Liverpool Music Awards is free to enter and open to all. Downtown Liverpool Awards, and any other Awards for that matter, should be taken on their own merits. The process for the Liverpool Music Awards is completely transparent:

    – Individuals/groups/organisations must enter or be nominated. This is to ensure that no one goes under the radar. The “opt-in” process is also to ensure that entrants/nominees have actively acknowledged the value of the opinions of the judging panel.

    – A named panel of Judges who are all active in the Liverpool music scene will shortlist all 15 categories. If a Judge or any individual/organisation in which a Judge has a vested interest has been nominated in any category, the Judge in question will be unable to sit in on the panel during the shortlisting of that specific category.

    – The shortlist will go up for online public voting. Though a triangulated registration process, voters will get 1 vote per category, and no more. Voters can, however, return to the site at a later date (within the voting period) to vote in categories which at first they may not have voted in. This is to encourage voters to discover more about those shortlisted.

    I disagree when you state that awards are “not, and never can be, about what is truly new, truly oulying or truly original. They are, if you like, awards for stuff that was interesting five years ago”. The Liverpool Music Awards celebrate not only the innovative, but also the downright excellent – regardless of being ‘groundbreaking’ (in my opinion, something does not have to be innovative to be brilliant). The majority of the awards recognise individuals / groups / organisations who are currently active. The “One To Watch” Award is specifically for musicians aged between 16-21 who demonstrate amazing potential. Furthermore, the Liverpool Music Awards honours the musical heritage of our city, whilst simultaneously aiming to help promote the preservation and progression of our local music industries, encouraging growth. I would argue that the Liverpool Music Awards are, in fact, entirely about the awardee; the awardee and our local music industries.

    If you’re not arguing with the results, what exactly are you arguing with? Is your opinion better, more important, more knowledgeable than those on the Liverpool Music Awards panel? Are you an expert? Don’t believe it. Indeed, follow your heart people. Not acts of passive aggression.

    These Awards aren’t harmless – they’re fearless.

    So do your thing, doing it to the best of your ability, and move forward. The Liverpool Music Awards celebrate doing precisely that.

  29. Ellie, the article only really refers to the Liverpool Music Awards by way of saying ‘there’s a lot of awards ceremonies in Liverpool’ and ‘it’s a bit churlish that you didn’t mention the GIT awards’. Which it was, a bit.

    All the other stuff you reference is not directed at the Liverpool Music Awards. Really, the only reference to your awards are a jumping-off point for asking a lot of perfectly valid questions, such as:

    aren’t there a lot of awards in Liverpool?;

    who do they really benefit?;

    are some of these awards (DIL, Juice) rather silly?;


    just where the Hell is Igloo anyway?

    Given that you’re responding to a lot of questions and criticisms that are not actually angled your way, I’d be inclined to look at your passive aggression comment again and stroke my chin.

  30. Bored of awards

    This is an excellent article, you might want too add the seen magazine awards too yisrael list! With categories that include most beautiful male and female it’s a joke, the nominations vote themselves into the catagories then get there friends and family too vote, for them to win. that’s some huge phone bills with Seen laughing all the way bank and some already inflated untalented egos being further polished!

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