Review: Mathew Street Festival

The population of Iceland descended on Liverpool this weekend for the 19th Mathew Street Festival. Not actually, you understand. Just in numbers: 320,000.

In just under two decades, the festival has grown to become Europe’s biggest City centre music festival – incorporating six stages and, for the fourth year in a row, the increasingly important Mathew Street Fringe: giving stage time to the best of Merseyside’s unsigned talent.

Local bylaws were relaxed for the weekend to allow for outdoor drinking in the stage areas, which is to say, pretty much anywhere. A perfectly civilised way to spend a sunny afternoon on a bank holiday, we happen to think. As, unfortunately, do those who get their kicks standing shoulder to shoulder with the police, downing Tesco-bought crates, in an effort to flaunt their new found civil liberties, much to the delight of their sassy friends.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the Derby Square stage was Dizzy Lizzy and their frontman’s unfeasible mane. This, teamed with his doll’s leather trousers and an almost unguarded sense of dynamism, led to a crowd swell that engulfed Lord Street and most of Castle Street.

The largest crowds were to be found around the Tunnel stage, as always, opposite St John’s garden. It’s a genuinely wonderful place to escape during the festival, to witness that heady cocktail of picnicking families, underage drinkers and sun dappled overweight husbands joining together in a sing-a-long of ‘Rebel Rebel,’ performed by Space Oddity: The Bowie Experience. The lead of which donned in a Union Jack Trench coat, really does have an uncanny semblance to the real David Bowie. Alarmingly so.

Two criticisms emerged from the people we spoke to. Too many Tribute acts, and too few Liverpool based bands, many seeming oblivious to the ‘Best of Liverpool’ stage placed in Williamson Square, replacing the old ‘Beatles’ stage from previous years. It was here that ‘Fly With Vampires’ stepped out and attained some well deserved exposure.

The organisers of the festival initially took some flak for removing the official Beatles stage from the event for the first time this year, but the Fab Four could still be heard from just about every other stage, bar, club, cafe, busker and random melodic crowd outburst. Including, as we wandered between stages, the bear of a guy that randomly hugged us, screaming ‘Take a sad song, and make it better….’ into our inner ears, before attempting to start a one-man conga line, falling over…and running away. He seemed fun.

Crowd levels remained pretty consistent throughout the day in Water Street with Motown, Black Eyed Peaz and The Beached Boys as crowd favorites. Highlight for us was the four year old boy near the Town Hall getting crunky to the Peaz. The kid could move. He drew a crowd of his own, before becoming embarrassed and running to his proud mother’s arms.

Much has been made of the underage drinking taking place at some of the stages over the weekend prompting Claire McColgan, Director of Culture for Liverpool to suggest she’ll be dropping a number of more recent tribute bands in an attempt to attract an older crowd for next year’s event. The whole festival was sold as a more family friendly show this year with only the Contemporary Stage playing modern day songs by the likes of SUGA MAMA (Beyonce Tribute) and BETH MCCANN (Lady Gaga Tribute).

To remove this one stage or alter the music is, we think, shortsighted. Teenagers drinking at a free music event? Sorry, Claire, don’t blame the music. Put on even more cheesy sixties nostalgia, and we think that would make even the soberest teen swot hit the bottle.

  • Jon Gard

    Horrific weekend, the worst of the city on display for the world, same as St. Patrick’s Day and ‘Ladies Day’.

    Kids leathered everywhere and the city centre one huge urinal.

  • John

    Thought the organisation of the event was a lot better than the past few years. The organisers seem to trying to tone down the boozy atmosphere with bag searches for glass (I witness bottles of vodka being removed) and taking booze from underage drinkers.