What was your favourite thing about Liverpool this year? You can’t say ‘everything’ – that’s boring.
Liverpool has wonderful perennials: the rock’n’roll panto, the Lantern parade, Music Week and Sound City, Above the Beaten Track, food festivals, beer festivals, celebrations of culture, race and lifestyle. We were also treated to another Abandon Normal Devices festival, with a parade of the unlikely and unusual. Yup, there’s a lot to choose from.
There were ongoing theatrical highlights from the Everyman and Playhouse, Unity, Phil, Capstone, Royal Court and Empire. There are many, many music nights across the city. We keep being told that clubbing is dead, but Chibuku, Circus and Abandon Silence are still going strong.
Venues all over the city – including the Guild of Students, O2 Academy, the CUC, Static, Nordic Church, Picket, Royal Standard, Kazimier, Zanzibar, Black-E, Bluecoat and St George’s Hall – staged a wide range of performances, whether musical, artistic, theatrical or comedic. Or, well, other.
We covered as much as we could; we attended what was possible. As often as we could we wrote about it, but Liverpool defeated us. There’s simply too much stuff to do justice to it all.
We felt strongly about Desperate Scousewives’ arrival because we felt that it did the city an injustice at a time the city could boast an embarrassment of riches; a time when it’s so much more than air kissing and airheads.
Even though we’ve lost a few cornerstones of the Liverpool scene of late, there are new ones coming. The closure of the CUC and Masque were a shock; the loss of the Everyman rather sad. But, as we all know, Liverpool’s blue-collar theatre will be back bigger and better. And there’s the Epstein to look forward to. And the brand new Museum of Liverpool to fully explore, not to mention a rejuvenated Open Eye.
But before all that, we’ve got 2011 to evaluate. We haven’t gone for one of those exhaustive New Year’s Eve broadsheet reviews and we’ve attempted to steer clear of the obvious ones. Instead we asked our contributors to give us their own off-the-beaten-track highlights; a reminder of some brilliant vignettes from the last twelve months.
We’d love to hear your own.
Venues like the Kazimier, Wolstenholme Creative Space and Don’t Drop The Dumbells – a DIY basement in the city centre which put on an array of impressive bands, clubnights and events – encapsulated everything that I love about Liverpool. DDTD sadly shut down in the first half of the year, and didn’t even register on a lot of people’s radars at the time, but that kind of punk spirit seemed to seep through to other areas of the city throughout the year.
From Mercy’s boundary pushing, anarchic arts events peppered throughout the year to gig promoters like Samizdat, Harvest Sun, Hive Collective and Wingwalker putting on eclectic, unrivalled live shows (many of which pulled in some serious crowds), it was an exciting, if challenging, year for DIY culture. Temporary pop-up shops, installations and exhibitions cropped up in the city’s disused spaces.
Places like Bold Street Coffee, the Brink (what’s braver than a venue without any booze?), and the Ropewalks’ transformation to an independent quarter all felt loosely tied into a headstrong spirit that we should all be continuing to support in 2012. Even larger-scale events like Threshold, Pride, Africa Oye, Hope Street Feast and the Lantern Parade all contributed to a sense of powerful city-wide community spirit this year in the face of cuts and economic misery.
It was also encouraging to see a handful of local musicians make waves within and outside of the city. Stealing Sheep signed a deal with indie-pop stable Heavenly, and they’re undoubtedly poised for cult success next year.
The Loud were staples on BBC 6Music while Delta Maid won over Radio 2. Loved Ones put out a stunning debut single, Mugstar completed a successful European tour, We Came Out Like Tigers and The Laze continue to be ferocious talents, Outfit worked a blog-friendly hype campaign to the full (but had decent tunes to back it up, crucially), Ex-Easter Island Head and a.P.A.t.T made inroads in the world of avant garde/modern classical and Forest Swords continues to cement his place as one of the region’s most exciting, unpredictable prospects.
My favourite record of the year was Bill Ryder-Jones’ recent ‘If’, where the former Coral guitarist demonstrated that he’s also an ambitious and skilled orchestral composer. A real triumph.
If you’re one of those Scousers in the know, then you’ll have already paid a visit to Bold Street Coffee to sample the delights of their single blend filter coffees, as well as what might very possibly be the best Flat White currently being served up in the North West of England.
You’ll have feasted on their excellent grilled cheese & chorizo sandwiches, congratulated the Baristas on their daring decision to play Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ at full blast at 7.30am and discreetly sniggered at all the hipsters tap-tapping away on their Macs. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll also have wished that more coffee shops in Liverpool could be like this.
Well, for the past few months, there has been another excellent coffee shop on the scene. 27 Duke Street is Bold Street Coffee’s grand experiment. Situated snugly at the crossroads of Duke Street and Hanover Street, it was an airy, stylish homage to one of those cafés that are ten a penny in places like New York.
It was also a coffee geek’s dream. The barista’s tools are set in a bar situated slap bang middle of the room, meaning you could watch them at work whilst you’re waiting for your flat white. Look up, and you’ll have seen a ceiling strewn with hundreds of paper espresso cups. The only coffee on offer were single origin brews – hand ground on the premises, served with the merest whisper of milk and (the horror!) no sugar.
It’s the no sugar part of the deal that most people appeared to have the problem with. It’s arguable that the British are so used to being served burnt, poorly prepared coffee that they can’t really wrap their heads around how a well prepared cup of the stuff should really taste. And 27 Duke Street’s reasoning behind not serving patrons sugar was sound – you’re encouraged to taste the coffee in its natural form, and the best way to do this is for it to be served unadulterated.
Yet, a surprising amount of patrons I witnessed disliked being denied their milk and two. During the various visits I paid to 27 Duke Street, I saw more than one person walk in with contraband sweeteners secreted in their pockets, sprinkling it into their daily Americano when the barista’s back was turned.
Yet in doing so, they were denying themselves a real pleasure. One of the best coffees I’ve drunk this year has been from 27 Duke Street – a single origin espresso from El Salvador, sweet and tangy with a rich caramel finish. It was the kind of thing to savour whilst watching the world go by, a true example of just how good the ‘real’ stuff can be.
In a city where new branches of Starbucks and Costa Coffee appear to be opening up on every
corner, 27 Duke Street was a breath of fresh air. It also showed that Liverpool (a city which has all too often been unfairly maligned for the quality of its restaurants) can also produce interesting pop-up cafés that make people re appreciate their daily cuppa.
Although it closed its doors on 23rd December, it won’t be forgotten. Here’s hoping the Bold Street Coffee team have more exciting plans on the horizon for 2012.
Tayo Aluko’s one man show about the life and songs of Paul Robeson was part of the City of Radicals programme (I think). It wasn’t so much the show that sticks in my mind (although it was wonderful), but the Q&A Aluko did afterwards.
In the spirit of the evening, someone asked for one last song, and he chose a popular song of Robeson’s called Trees.
The emotion of the number, with the stark realisation it was the last thing anyone would ever perform on that stage, meant there could hardly have been a dry eye in the house.
Perhaps my favourite thing in Liverpool in 2011 was The Walker’s Like You’ve Never Been Away, a wonderful exhibition of photos by Paul Trevor, showing the Liverpool of the 1970s to be an alien landscape; blasted by poverty and social engineering and animated by camaraderie and youthful spirit.
I also want to mention the Maritime Museum’s Endurance exhibition, the photographic record of Shackleton’s doomed exhibition to the South Pole. It’s an incredible story, but the images took my breath away. I like the curation too; simple, informative, objective.
There was plenty more besides: the discombobulating Zee at Fact; Magritte at the Tate; the two brilliant inaugural exhibitions at the new Open Eye; the lovely – if rather unfocussed Democratic Promenade – retrospective at the Bluecoat; and the wealth of static displays at the Walker, the Maritime and Slavery Museums, World Museum, Museum of Liverpool, Lady Lever gallery and Sudley House.
Let’s face it, Liverpool has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to museums and galleries; there’s enough to keep one coming back week after week and see something different.
That’s why I can’t pick one. Maybe five. Or six…
(However – honourable mentions to the following: A stream of excellent plays and one-offs at the Everyman, including John Hegley and John Shuttleworth and the big goodbye; great food at Da Piero, Viva Brazil, Salthouse Tapas and Etsu; great music most weeks at the Cali, Arthur Jeffes at the Capstone and Friend, a reunited Benny Profane at Static or Foe at the Nordic Church; the Solstice Cup at Sefton Park Cricket Club; Pier Head light show celebrations; Lantern parade; news about the Epstein Theatre and the promise of a new alt venue in the city; the extraordinary Spectres of Spectacle courtesy of Mercy, Forest Swords and Samizdat at Static; Liverpool’s brilliant public parks.)
Lots of hustle and not enough bustle. Who was it who said that ‘withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy’? I know Michael Stipe and REM sang it, but it sums up a lot of my feelings towards the local arts scene in 2011.
I’m talking in broad strokes, of course, as lots of things have floated my boat, but for the most part, things have felt exclusive rather than inclusive. Nobody wins, unless everybody wins?
Maybe. Or perhaps I’m just turning into the oul’ Socialist who will sit at the bar in The Casa and rally against everything… venues are closing, people want to pay less for entertainment and there is a Tesco on Bold Street. Go figure.
That midweek gig at The Zanzibar Club was a hidden light in the darkness though. And proved the old adage, build it and they will come…
The music industry has changed: record deals are things of the past. DIY is the way to go and it opens up fantastic avenues for those brave and creative enough to follow their muse with commercial concerns.
Steve Pilgrim has been around for a while. He was the drummer in The Stands, played with John Power and is now right hand man to Paul Weller.
Surely Weller could help him get a deal etc, right? Wrong. Things like that don’t happen any more… as Del Boy Trotter once pointed out in previous times of austerity: “My mate’s a doorman at Chelsea, but he can’t get me a bloody game can he?!” The gig was a revelation: packed, vital and great. Vibrant guitar music and not a skinny jean in sight. It got me thinking of the best of what this city has to offer: original thought and DIY attitude. Steve Pilgrim has it in abundance.
Let’s see more of it in 2012.
It’s a tense, raw story about two idealists who meet and fall in love in 1967 through to the present day. You watch them slipshod across the decades riotously drinking and smoking (first copious amounts of weed then fags), partying, debating, arguing, fighting then divorcing and having had two children whose own anxieties about life are anathema to theirs.
Bartlett’s observations are achingly astute, funny and sharp-witted. The highs and lows of love are carried forward with a heaving sadness as he charts the internal – and growing – wranglings between the main couple deftly played by Lisa Jackson and Ben Addis and the clashes between parents and children and also between their children’s very different characters, brilliantly performed by Rosie Wyatt and James Barrett.
I was entranced from the word go. For me, this was theatre at its best. It had something to say for itself – a message, a statement about the state of cross-generational differences and experiences – delivered by a tight, well-paced script and in this case, with a dialogue that stepped seamlessly between dark, cruel humour and realistic human observation. There was a journey; a clear start and an end but no airy-fairy, happy ending and like a delicious meal, I didn’t want it to stop.
Couple this with simple but effective backdrops and exceptional acting – with special reference to Lisa Jackson, ‘Sandra’ – and I was in heaven. It was a Saturday matinée that I’d been treated to by a great friend who loved it as much as I did and we both left wanting to talk all about it and feeling that it had been one of the best ways to spend a weekend afternoon.
Ultimately, even the Everyman’s much lauded Macbeth couldn’t top it so Love, Love, Love has staged a reservation in my mind for best play of 2011.
If our city’s culture and creativity isn’t getting the opinion, support and exposure it deserves from the official press, you can be sure we’ll fill the void with a few higgs bosons of our own making.
That’s why, for me, it’s been so encouraging to see the likes of Bido Lito, Spiel, ArtinLiverpool, Waxxx, Nerve, Well Red, Getintothis – now with added award – Open Culture, Sentric and Merseyside Sceptic’s excellent podcasts, the Double Negative and many, many excellent blogs (some authored by SevenStreets contributors) creating such a strong network of debate, reviews, interviews and hat tips to those who deserve to be heard. And why, increasingly, established media such as the Guardian and BBC, are turning to the likes of us when they want to take a genuine snapshot of what’s happening around here.
We think, together, we’re the best set of Sunday supplements any city could ever need.
And, interestingly, did everyone notice what was the biggest selling locally produced book on Merseyside this Christmas? A compendium of 20 year old best bits from legendary The End fanzine.
We love being part of this primordial soup, too. Even when we get the abuse, unfollows, solicitors’ letters and angry emails from Trinity Mirror (actually, especially them).
So let’s say we do it all again in 2012, eh? The Cultural Olympiad – my arse. It’s all here.
(PS: Event of the year – Kazimier’s Atalonia tour into the hollow earth. No question. Gigs – Yuck and Chad Valley for Sound City, Jezz Kerr, Tea Street Band, Dass unser at Static, Ghostpoet at Liverpool Music week closing party, Metronomy, Best Coast and Vetiver. Talk – Adam Buxton at FACT. Art – Zee at FACT. Food – Da Piero, Irby. Shop – Bluecoat Display Centre. Festival – Threshold at CUC).
Cartoons by Klaus Joynson