“The festival degenerated, there is no other way to put it,” the Cavern Club’s Bill Heckle looks mildly pissed off when, during this morning’s press call, a chap from another website (who’d arrived with a story already written in his head) claimed the move to change Mathew Street was flawed. That, somehow, the city was turning its back on the Beatles. “The Festival has many things to take pride in. It has become our stage to represent the world. But it’s time to move on.”
No matter that the International Festival of Music will feature a Beatles stage, that Vasily Petrenko will whip his in-form orchestra through a promenade concert of the Fab Four’s finest, and that 40 Beatles tribute acts from all corners of the globe will be descending on our city for the (extended) two week festival, his mind was made up: this is a bad move.
He’s wrong. And here’s why.
How can it be right for a festival to spend £900,000 to set up, with 80% of that cost going to policing and stewardship, sick-cleaning and staging, and only 20% going on the music? How can it be right for us to constantly be looking back fifty years, or wallowing in the parallel universe of tribute acts, when we’re a city that’s known for its creativity? That sets the tempo? When, at the Festival, the Beatles stages get less than a tenth of the crowds a Robbie Williams lookalike gets? No, the Beatles aren’t our future. Music is our future.
“This is an honest attempt to do things differently,” Joe Anderson tells SevenStreets, “We’re an incredible musical city, and this festival will marry the past with the future. We want it to be the ‘Edinburgh Festival’ of music.” Well, Edinburgh might have something to say about that, their festival being about, er, music. But we think he means the Edinburgh Fringe festival of music, and in that we can see obvious synergies. A city wide celebration, in venues large and small – a take-over that erupts in the most unlikely of spaces and sets the city abuzz.
“We’ve been aware since 2008 that things needed to change. I’m amazed it’s lasted this long,” Heckle continues. “When the festival’s crowds rose from 20,000 to 300,000 the costs became untenable.The nature of the festival has changed, and anyone who criticises us for wanting to address that is insane.”
“It’s been a thorn in our side,” Anderson continues, “Yes, it’s benefitted some businesses, but it’s had a detrimental effect on others. And the businesses who benefitted saw no reason to financially support it. Why would they? They were laughing all the way to the bank.”
Now, with two or three stages at the Pier Head, a ticketed (but free) crowd will be able to buy alcohol (but not bring their own) and enjoy a programme of big name acts while, across the city, tens of smaller events will see music from here and abroad light up stages, bars, cafes and cathedrals. An infectious new Mersey beat.
“LIPA, Parr Street, Sound City, everyone’s expressed an interest in getting involved, and they can all help promote what we’re doing, now, as a city,” Anderson adds, explaining how thew new event will be a not just a festival for the few, but a festival that reaches out to everyone.
“The Festival defined itself and went far away from our original vision,” Heckle adds. “We’re a musical city, and our links to the Beatles are indelible, but we’re not restricted by them alone.”
That’s why we think the new Festival is music to our ears.
Keep reading. We’ll have more announcements in the coming months.