This year, to celebrate the centenary of the death of Ragged Trousered Philanthropists author, Robert Tressell, the city’s planning a series of events under the ‘City of Radicals’ banner (not literally: although there is indeed a banner, along Dale Street, pic above) – with debates, performances, exhibitions and festivals loosely based on the philosophy, and legacy of Tressell’s seminal work.
Radically, perhaps, we’re already at mid March and the official website has yet to feature any content. But highlights to look forward to include Radical City: A Happening on Hope Street on 23rd April at the Everyman Theatre, with musicians, writers, actors and visual artists coming together for a fiery night of creativity, Look 11: The Liverpool International Photography Festival, from 13 May at the new Open Eye gallery, and Art in Revolution: Liverpool 1911, an exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery recreating the 1911 exhibition when Picasso and Matisse showed alongside Liverpool artists at the Bluecoat, in June.
We’ll tell you more (even if the official website doesn’t) closer to the time.
Before that, how about a little context?
In a world where radicalism has been – at least in some quarters – contorted far from Tressell’s altruistic etymology, SevenStreets wonders what it means to be radical in 21st century Liverpool? Between the boutiques of Liverpool ONE and the steel and glass apartments of the waterfront, is there space left in the city for Tressell’s political, and personal worldview? And is Liverpool one of its few remaining torch bearers in a world of clone towns, capitalism and corporate greed?
And what of the ‘Anarchic, Bolshy, Scouse’ slogan the festival’s used as its call to arms? Is that even something that rings true any more – or is it, like the banner itself, a scaffolded-on skin, surrounding a historic core, now demolished?
We gathered a cross section of city folk who, we thought, were better placed than most to have an opinion…
Mandy Vere is a member of the women’s collective behind News From Nowhere bookshop, Alan O’Hare is lead singer with Liverpool band, The Trestles – named after the Ragged Trousered author himself, Ritchie Hunter runs Catalyst Media, an organisation promoting grassroots culture on Merseyside (notably through Nerve magazine) and Alun Parry runs the Working Class Music Festival – a celebration of songwriting with a campaigning edge.
SevenStreets: What does the term ‘radical’ mean to you?
Mandy: An attitude, action, person or movement which addresses and attempts to change the power imbalances between people and the institutions of society which construct, promote and maintain those power structures, through things such as class, race and gender. Plus of course a general bolshiness!
Alan: Putting your head above the parapet. Ideals only matter when they’re tested – it’s an ethereal principal until tested with a fist or a fountain pen…can you stand up and be counted?
Ritchie: There is a misconception that it must be something that is progressive. This isn’t the case. I heard the other day on TV that the cuts that the ConDems are introducing were ‘Radical’. So, we need to be careful when using this word. Using the word in the terms of ‘Liverpool, Radical City’ we would say that we mean resistance from below and how the oppressed have made a difference to life here.
Alun (pic): Radical is about change. It is about challenging the status quo. It’s about putting forward an alternative which isn’t simply tinkering but which is change that is fundamentally different to what exists now. It is also about being instinctively on the side of the oppressed and not the oppressor.
SS: How radical is Liverpool right now?
M: In its strong working-class consciousness, its repeated stands against authority, its creativity, its international make-up (through Irish immigration, slavery and sea-faring) and its general refusal to “do deference”, Liverpool has a strong radical tradition. But it also has a strong streak of “conservatism” (maybe as a result of the influence of religion?) and a disregard of the oppression of women and black people in particular. Collective, historical and largely unconscious guilt about Liverpool’s role in the slave trade unfortunately leads to a lack of inclusion for our black communities. However there are not many cities which have managed to sustain a radical bookshop into the 21st century, so that must say something!
AO: As radical as the next place. I don’t think you can define ‘radical’ by geography… the world is changed, inch by inch, by people. If more of these people come from Liverpool than, say, Macclesfield… well, fine. But that can never truly be measured, I don’t think.
R: Liverpool has a solid history of resistance. There are particular reasons why this is so, being a port city, with casual labour and so on. I don’t think we are unique in this, but we have a reputation of militancy to uphold which we take particular pride in.
AP: Liverpool has a proud heritage of radicalism and political struggle. I think we’ve been mainly sleeping as a city for the past 20 years, but we’re not alone in that. We suffered a major defeat after all when Thatcher was allowed to beat the miners. But I sense with current events that our old fight is coming back and we are rediscovering ourselves again.
SS: How can we best express a radical stance, right here, right now?
M: By a consciousness of inclusion. By drawing on our tradition of welcome and support for the underdog, particularly for newer immigrant groups. By refusing to be taken over and have our priorities set any more by big business in the name of “regeneration” and against the interests of local people and communities. By standing with the oppressed worldwide.
AO: Question everything and accept nothing at face value. Ignore the newspapers. Go deeper and find things out for yourself… the Internet has turned everyone into an editor, so use it wisely and set your own agenda. And let’s not do the millionaires’ dirty work for them… fight for what you deserve. Withdrawal in disgust is the same as apathy.
R: Let’s start with a fight against the ConDem cuts. Building links with communities and workers affected. It’s only by uniting and resisting, working through solutions together, that we will make the world a better place.
SS: How relevant is radicalism today?
M: It’s vital! The inhuman forces which disregard people and promote profit are strong and getting more desperate. But the people are always stronger if we stand together in good Liverpool tradition and use our creativity and passion for the common good. “The great only appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!” (son of Liverpool, Jim Larkin)
AO: As relevant as it’s ever been, And the mechanics of radicalism may be more accessible than ever… if a group of people can get organised now, the effect they can have is massive.The recent student demonstrations genuinely got the bastards worrying; just witness the response. George Orwell said: “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act…”.
R: We need to think of radical ideas to take us forward in the post-industrial society. This will not be built upon economic growth; it needs to use our talents in a sustainable way.
AP: The need for change and critical thought is as important as ever, especially while we continue to live in a world which is organised systematically for the benefit of the few and the poverty of the many. The equivalent of a ‘plane load of children die every four hours from something as preventable as diarrhea. If we designed a world together from scratch, we’d dismiss anyone proposing anything resulting in this as barmy and brutal. The fact that it’s like this already doesn’t make it any less barmy or any less brutal, or any less in need of dismissal.
SS: What have you got planned for City of Radicals?
M: Here at News from Nowhere it’s always the Year of Radicals! So we intend to continue doing what we do best, providing a welcoming, creative and inspiring space full of magical, passionate, informative literature to support Liverpool and its wonderful and varied communities in their search for a better world.
We are working closely with the City of Radicals to promote all the events this year and we hope all those putting on events will use us for bookstalls and help promote the bookshop. Shop with the real Amazons!
It’s our 37th birthday on Mayday, so we will be celebrating that weekend with a Ranters’ Corner on Friday 29th April (all anti-monarchists welcome!), and a Birthday Celebration with entertainment and special offers on Saturday 30th April.
AO: We’re hoping to have an event sorted for the Working Class Music and Life Festival…in the meantime, we’re happy to invite City Of Radicals to join us at The Casa on March 19th for the launch of our debut album!
R: We are calling it ‘Liverpool, Radical City’ to focus on the group and not the individual. We have already produced a calendar commemorating the events of 1911. We have an exhibition space in FACT from 31 March to 12 April, under the title ‘INSURRECTION – A Time for Revolt’ where we aim to use art, drama, film and discussion to explore this theme.
We’re also aiming to set up an Arts Centre, on the lines of the Nerve Centre of Summer 2010, in August this year.
AP: I’ll be running the Working Class Life & Music Festival. Over 40 events taking place across 9 days. It’s the largest celebration of working people on the planet. We have music, song, theatre, cinema, poetry, lectures, discussions, photography, oral history, and walking tours, plus more.
News from Nowhere Radical & Community Bookshop
96 Bold St, Liverpool
The Trestles debut album, What Do You See (available from News From Nowhere, amongst others ) is out on March 19
The Working Class Music Festival, various venues, 22-30 April
Nerve Issue 17 out now from Catalyst Media