The trouble with U2, said someone far smarter than me (curiously, it was Crowded House’s Neil Finn), is that they’re addicted to big.

He was making the point the day after they’d frottaged their way onto our iPhones with their charmingly nuanced latest, Songs of Innocence.

Well, when he’s got the Pope on redial, it’s only natural Bono would seek to spirit his way into our hard disc while we slept, like some filthy, fallen angel.

But there’s something of Liverpool in the leather trousered one. Something bombastic, unsubtle, desperate and unsexy.

For we, too, are a city with an obsessive predilection for more. For spectacle. For show at any cost.

It’s no surprise that we fell in love with the giants. And no surprise that, once we did, we’d be addicted to their street-filling, eye-watering, headline-grabbing rush.

But, if we’re honest, we’ll admit it: this year’s visit was a bit Look Who’s Talking Too.

It’s hard to knock events like the giants – but, when they went, I really felt like they’d taken that part of our story with them. And, while I thank them for the memories, I really, really hope they don’t come back. Yes, they’re big. Yes, they have big brown eyes that move about. But so far so that-bloke-off-Pointless. But do we really want him parading through the streets every summer? (Actually, I do. But that’s me).

It’s a law of diminishing returns and, for the daytrippers from Billinge and Wrexham, the city presents the same crowded streets, the litter, the leering loons on lampposts, the screaming kids and the crappily cobbled-together Echo souvenir issues. A city drunk on cakes and ale.

The giants moved on to Limerick, if I recall. That seems right. Limerick is where we were 15 years ago. We’ve grown since then. We can take it from here.

We’ve grown, so we don’t need tall stories. We don’t need to be mollified, told how every visitor spent the equivalent of the GDP of Belgium in St John’s Market. We’re told this because, obviously, we can’t call them out. What can we do with stats like this? It’s like when you’re told how hot the surface of the sun is, and you try to calibrate it with by remembering that time you singed your finger on a Bunsen burner. It just doesn’t compute.

It’s the same thinking that infuses everything the city seems to be saying these days – we’re bombarded with hyperbole and statbombs. Expected to swoon at the fact that twice the entire population of the Earth came to IFB (even though most Twitter pics we saw were of a yawning portacabin peopled by a few giddy bloggers and a cartridge ink salesman from Cork).

While U2 – once-ruthless world conquerors – are reduced to playing for tricks at a watch convention, Liverpool finds ever more hysterical reasons to say ‘look at us! Aren’t we the bee’s knees! We have an arena and Sony once made a good game here.’

Not content with the majesty and humanity of a marathon (nor, for that matter, the dignity) we have to wheel in X Factor rejects to massacre Adele covers at every mile post, to spur the athletes on (notwithstanding the fact most of them are running for causes even more motivating than the Hummingbirds). Have to chuck kids’ poster paints at the runners so that they cross the finishing line looking like one of those Rolf Harris canvases Rennies Arts and Crafts have stuffed in the wheelie bins round the back.
We have handsome and historic buildings – more than our share – that we hand over to people who think interior design is a QVC crafting kit and a fire sale’s worth of satin.

Headquarters of the White Star line not auspicious and atmospheric enough? Don’t worry, we’ll deck the elegantly proportioned halls and boardrooms in resin chandeliers and padded headboards until it sinks. You wanted a theme hotel, yeah?

There was a time when Liverpool needed to shout. When we needed to say, hey, we’ve changed. Come back, no, really.

Not any more. We’ve moved on. We need to change the narrative. Stop with the needy. Stop the carnival. Be comfortable, and confident in who we are. And watch ’em come.

Something’s changed. Now, when I look at Liverpool Waters, I don’t see bold ambition. I see the sort of mad, inappropriately scaled skyline a kid let loose on Minecraft would make. Less the building blocks of a grown up city, more the futile dreams of planners who’ve lost the plot.

We don’t need giants. We don’t need banners covering up empty buildings. Empty buildings are fine. Don’t worry. It’s like putting your mum’s foundation on your zits. Quickest way for people to call you zitface, right? Not every brownfield site has to have computer generated, Minority Report-style gleaming skyscrapers wished upon it. They could be, just, parkland. That’s ok too.

The next stage of our evolution needs to be the slow burn. The long game. The subtle. The clever. We need a long, leisurely, lingering embrace of an event. Not a drive by mugging by some big-boned granny. We need Liverpool Nights – a summer long seduction of a festival, with little surprises, parklets and oases of sheer joy. Go on, let us do it.

We need to be cool. Calm. Collected. We need to stop with the bragging way, way before London and Manchester start doing a Shania ‘OK, so you’re Brad Pitt…’

Next month, Liverpool heads to MIPIM – a sort of speed dating event where cities try to shag investors, and investors keep their cards (and their cash) close to their chest. We’ll be in the ring with Manchester, London, Barcelona and Stockholm. But, for those of us who choose to live, study and work here, we know we’re more than a match for any of them. That we don’t need tall tales (even those in paisley nightgowns) to sell what’s special about us.

What we hope for. What we really hope for, is that we kick back, swing on the back legs of our chair. Say, “yeah, we’re Liverpool. And we’re gonna make it”.

With or without you.

49 Responses to “Hey, Liverpool – Calm down, calm down…”

  1. The giants were a bit disappointing this year, I agree we need to show how creative we are, rather than just pay for a French theatre troupe again and again. The really cool stuff is way under the radar of the council as usual

  2. odelayday

    I think the point is that simply focusing on one ‘big event’ of a similar nature, every couple of years becomes repetitive and puts off people coming back. “The Giants…again…seen them…” Don’t become a one trick pony. Tourism is vital, of course it is, but Blackpool has its lights, every year. Not for me that.

  3. What a stupid article. How can a city progress if it doesn’t invest in events? If we sit back and relax like the author suggests the city will slowly fade. Things don’t come to those who sit back and wait, you have to go out and grab them. Reach for the stars! I’m incredibly proud of what our city does.

  4. bornagainst

    “Something’s changed. Now, when I look at Liverpool Waters, I don’t see
    bold ambition. I see the sort of mad, inapporpirately scaled skyline a
    kid let loose on Minecraft would make. Less the building blocks of a
    grown up city, more the futile dreams of planners who’ve lost the plot.”

    Absolutely spot on. (other than the spelling.. )

  5. Great piece. I loved the giants, but it wasn’t needed a second time round.

    I think what we do need is that inner confidence. I don’t think stuff like the giants pt 2 really suggests that.

  6. What a sad sorry pathetic article! Jeez! A slow burn? London got to where it is with a slow burn and a quiet reserved sunken head! No it didn’t! Nor NewYork. Nor Singapore! NOR FRIGGING DUBAI! This article sounds like it’s written by a mancunian festering in their own bile of jealousy. As a business man I am seeing the amount of investment potential coming into this city. And you don’t get investment without creating attention and you don’t get attention without putting yourself in stage. This city was a shithole only 15 years ago. Now look at it. I’m proud of what we’ve done and I’m proud of the global stage we created. So get back on your English Heritage out dated horse of hypocrisy and ride back to Manchester!!

  7. You’re a douchebag. Its one negative in a sea of positives. What about Singapore and New York? You are basically a Youtube commenter with a horribly written article.

  8. To dismiss the money figures and visitor stats that the giants brought in is naive. They generated a lot of interest in and business to Liverpool. I know it’s romantic to think that Liverpool can stand up on its own two feet and people will simply come to visit – and it’s true, people will. But to dismiss large-scale spectacles as bringing down the image or making us seem ‘uncool’ is inherently wrong. Liverpool is consistently down in the relegation zone in terms of the poorest areas and any extra money brought in (and a huge, fun spectacle show for free) is great for the city as a whole. Less of the cynicism, more of the fun!

  9. True – although the author is suggesting that we do away with the large ‘spectacles’ altogether. Which is wrong. I agree that what that is needs to change, but to compete with the big boys we need to host large-scale events such as the giants. The capital of culture was one of the best things that happened to Liverpool; more of the same please.

  10. The point of the article is that Liverpool shouldn’t be buying in this sort of event, when we have plenty of talent here. And I don’t think that’s a bad point to make. Yes, they were great the first time, but to bring them again and again shows a bancruptcy of ideas, same goes for buying in that god awful rock and roll marathon. We’re better than that, or we should aspire to be. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in saying that.

  11. Michael Lacey

    Why do people get so defensive about the giants? There’s obviously valid criticisms to be made of a “capital of culture” that spent all its culture money on a big shopping centre, buys in its culture from aboard and can’t tell the difference between art and tourism. But anyone voicing these concerns is a “cynic” and a “spoilsport” or something (in the real world, not just this comments thread). It’s a childish, debate-stifling stance. Glad you enjoyed the big puppet dog or whatever but come on, now.

  12. I was in the Cube Gallery the other day and there were loads of naked people rollerskating around to the sounds of minimalist Aphex Twin-esque bleeping. Maybe we could have that next time! It’d be ACE!

  13. Michael Lacey

    I don’t recall criticising the giants for being low-brow or not having enough in common with niche-interest contemporary performance art, but keep going if you’re enjoying yourself like

  14. Its an opinion the writer is entitled to and some valid points. I was a huge fan of 2008, the spider was amazing, the closing finale at pier head was goosebumpily great but could have been better. I love our annual events and go each year, brouhaha, brazilica carnival, sefton parks lantern parade. All brilliant but so small scale obviously compared to the larger cities events. These are also very poorly attended. Much due to lack of advertisement or coverage. Especially by the much biased manchester based media companies. Its hard to know what the answer is but we need to make these small events, much more regionally/nationally known. Yes we want bigger, yes we want more but personally its because it creates great memories of me and my kids, for me and my kids. I remember the tall ships/international garden festival/ faulklands war/silver jubilee. Not much else other than trips to chester and southport for a day out.

  15. It shouldn’t have to be an either/or choice between big events and smaller-scale stuff. My concern is not so much the size, but the fact that those who program events continually look outside our city when it comes to culture. They bring in french companies to do big events like the giants and La Machine, they bring in tribute bands from down south to play the big stages at Matthew Street (no tears from me that event has gone) and yet simultaneously seem to be doing everything possible to ruin grassroots culture in the city by closing libraries, handing out noise abatement notices to music venues in the city centre and putting places like MelloMello out of business by pulling their business rates relief.

    Big events have a part to play in the city and I do think they show a certain ambition and confidence, but without a thriving grassroots culture to underpin it, the city is nothing more than a blank canvas for other people to paint on – soulless, generic and easily replaced or replicated by other cities prepared to throw more money at it.

    We musn’t allow events like the Giants to replace or substitute our grassroots culture or before we know it, we’ll have lost one of the things that has always made Liverpool unique. Big events are fine, but if the choice is between those or proper support for arts and culture created by local people, for local people then I would always vote for the latter.

  16. Squirrelnuts Jones

    You really think that accusations of ‘culture money’, whatever that is, being spent on ‘a big shopping centre’ is a ‘valid criticism’? I don’t know where to begin with with that but for a start Liverpool One is a privately financed property development that had nothing to do with the CoC year or anything else to do with arts funding other than it came to fruition around that time.

  17. Liverpools lantern company run the sefton park lantern parade, and lots of local art/community groups help/partake in the carnivals. There is quite a lot of local support for the small scale events which in thier own right are quite big events, its the attendance for some of these that disappoints me. Its right on our doorstep and a lot of people have not heard of them when i mention it, or just dont go. Apart from the giants, liverpool international music festival (sefton park b/hol wkend) and africa oye, the turnout is quite poor. And i agree with barry, matthew street festival was tired and embarrassing after 7pm. I also hate it when people moan about traffic diversions. Hang on, why are you in your car and not watching this..people all over the world would love to have some of what we have.

  18. No, what really hacks me off about (The City of) Liverpool is that they make a big thing of oversize puppets in the street; of recorded disco stages to replace the old Matthew Street festival; you know the thing – big corporate events, and all the time the libraries, the arts centres, the playing fields, the sports centres, the public open spaces are being starved of the cash. We can all feel good for the fleeting half hour that Grannie goes past and her dog pisses on us, then for the rest of the day and the other 364 days that is lost, there is nothing, nada, a void. IF and it’s a big IF, the giants brought any additional funding into the city, they could do worse than improving the DAILY lives of our children. I grew up in the 50s and 60s and in those austere post war days there were thousands of places in Liverpool where kids with nothing could go and develop whatever talents they had.
    And on that subject of traffic diversions, during the recent cycling event I was taking my grandson to the museum (still free and fantastic incidentally) and I was allowed to get all the way to the bottom of Parliament street with no signage before a harassed policeman told me what he was having to tell all the other irate drivers that we would have to go back to Sefton Park and go round to miss the road closures. Liverpool City Council close these roads and assume that because scousers are fantastic that we are also telepathic.

  19. Lu Lowe

    Liverpool has so much to offer already, but nobody knows what we have because the the city itself is diminishing it’s OWN arts and cultural scene, does not support us, lacks any imagination to see what is literally on it’s doorstep, and is blinded by international performers coming in instead . As apart of this scene and watching some extraordinarily talented people go to waste, just one example being Mr Wolf Collective, who also does large scale puppetry but very rarely perform in Liverpool as they are instead brought to other cities and festivals were they are appreciated and wind up in national press for the work they did there, but not here, because the city of Liverpool, does not celebrate them as their own. I and many others have to travel to Manchester every day for most of our creative jobs, why? Because Liverpool does not pay its creatives, apart from a select few. Manchester pay for the jobs we do £18-32,000 – Liverpool Pay £0 and we should be happy to do it, of course. We are seen as being the riff-raff. A nuisance. Not worth investing anything into, and I mean anything. Closing down buildings full of studio spaces, MelloMello, a great social enterprise which supported the grassroots community. And if any of us want to do something awesome for Liverpool, for you, we have to out-source funding and produce it ourselves in our homes and back gardens and watch it be overshadowed by international superstars, that everyone laps up as amazing for the city, and ignore the greatness that already lies right outside your doors. Liverpool should reach for the stars, but within itself, and there is a plentiful amount of talented musicians, performers, filmmakers, photographers, artists, around. But sadly we all feel we are not wanted here and seek greener pastures. And that doesn’t seem wrong to you? ,

  20. D W Mault

    Loved the piece DL, but these negative comments are depressing. Anyone not proclaiming in a juvenile manner a base tribalism is shouted down and insulted. What happened to a debate about the issues in hand, rather then puerile references to someone possibly being from/talking like a Mancunian… 🙁

  21. Squirrelnuts Jones

    What are you talking about? The article is being criticised because, except for the earth shatteringly perceptive point that – duh!- we really don’t need to have the giants again, it is completely full of sh**, managing to be both sneering and patronising and typical for its writer lacking in understanding of the city and the wider issues around it. Manchester gets involved only becaue of David Lloyd’s frequent proclaimations of this love and loyalty to the place, usually in the context of his cockeyed editorials attacking some aspect of Liverpool by saying why can’t it be like … [somewhere good – I dunno, Lisbon, Hamburg, Boston? No…] Manchester. There is plenty to criticise Liverpool city council and its mayor about (although bear in mind always what little power local governments have in his country and how much Whitehall controls everything) but Lloydy doesn’t seem to be the man to do it, not in an illuminating fashion in any case.

  22. It’s all well and good saying Liverpool doesn’t need to shout for people to hear and come visit us, but what drives tourism to the city without these events? Each time we host one of these events it massively boosts our cities economy, so why all the negativity?

  23. global city

    There seems to be the perception amongst our ‘regen’ experts that Liverpool doesn’t ‘DO’ anything… inward investment for everything… creative talent, entrepreneurialism and wealth creation are no longer seem desirable cultural traits to encourage or utilise.

  24. Peter Connell

    These ridiculous vanity projects do more damage than good to the city. If you look at the rubbish the council pour out, you can see the figures don’t add up. the estimates of visitor numbers are stupid and the assumed average spend is nonsense.800000 visitors spending an average of £46 per head? Do they think we are completely stupid? The real powerhouse of Liverpool is not hen parties vomiting in the street, It is the scruffy bits full of potholes up the north docks where thousands of people work and which will be displaced if Peel holdings have their way.

  25. Many, many people in town are frustrated at how Liverpool isn’t doing things as well as Manchester/Lisbon/wherever the fuck. Liverpool moves at a glacial, occasionally backwards, pace compared to other cities in Europe, despite protestations from the council and whoever else. A few re-hashed giants doesn’t change this.

    Therefore it’s totally valid to bring up these points in any article. I love SevenStreets and I’m glad it’s pretty much the only outlet in the city who are arsed at speaking about Liverpool passionately like this.

  26. Welcome to Liverpool – a place that’s so passionate it occasionally results in blinkered, steam-coming-out-of-ears ranting if anyone dare disagree with something. Depressing.

  27. After the spider I think they just went “Oh, that worked! Let’s just keep doing that!” Rather than thinking “the people of Liverpool have an appetite for interesting, large scale art” they thought “the people of Liverpool really love giants”. Sigh

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