Liverpool: English Electric

Posted by in Culture, Music

It’s been some journey to be in Liverpool.

PART ONE: IN LIVERPOOL

The first thing you hear is the yapping seagulls, welcome to well, kind of the coast. Liverpool lies on the Mersey River which is more like an estuary and its main train station Lime Street is not quite as imagined. A series of tunnels lead to it and it’s hard to imagine why the hell the station was built where it is. It must have taken some serious dynamite to blast through all that rock!

On top of that I take the wrong exit out meaning the city is slow to materialise before me. It’s one of those times my internal satnav misfires, however I do come across the Walker Gallery, and the astonishing Central Library first. It’s a more hilly city than I was expecting too with a modest gradient down towards the waterfront. So I was officially ‘in Liverpool’ (cue Suzanne Vega song).

Oh yes it’s electric alright.

The Liverpool Empire where Andy McCluskey witnessed the future in Kraftwerk’s 1975 performance still stands! My earliest memory of Liverpool is as old and comes from the small screen and that can only mean The Liver Birds starring our own Nerys Hughes (she is from the Wales she is). 

Eventually I end up near Albert Dock in a gloomy grey hotel on a gloomy day near the Liverpool Museum and the Tate (more on later) which I can see from my room. Thankfully my place of temp abode is less dour on the inside, quite nice actually and good staff too. BUT…

in terms of architectural style it’s one from the modern and there lies a bone of contention with UNESCO – the United Nations cultural sector who also dish out awards and *spoiler can equally take them away. More on that later too (if you’re a Scouser you may want to forfeit the epilogue).

There may be trouble ahead…

Across from me is further evidence of what might be called fancy architecture and that’s in no small part due to the black building on the dock being the headquarters to RIBA North (closed at the time of writing) and a small photography gallery that remains dormant for now (even when it’s supposed to be open).

Most of the museums that do open, do so at 10am and at this point in time require bookings online, unnatural to me as I prefer to turn up but these here are still crazy times to quote my friends (Boom Crash Opera) from the Antipodes.

The second day goes a bit more smoothly, easy when you know how, Liverpool is one of those cities. The weather however is no better and just before 10am the drizzle sets in meaning a change in the wardrobe department.

I am the uninvited guest.

On Matthew Street and around lie copious amounts of references to the Beatles but absolutely nothing on OMD or any of the post-punk new wave innovators that to my mind are equally important in shaping Liverpool’s sound and musical heritage.

The closest is Eric’s whose plaque tells me that between 1976 and 1980 The Police, Talking Heads and Echo and the Bunnymen played there. The drizzle starts up again just as I’m heading out for an evening walk where I snap Parr Street studios and the Chinatown arch in the rain.

The summer winds tumble down
Along the roads of Chinatown
Rattling doors in empty homes
Singing through the quiet zones

Crowds gather ’round
The taxi stands of Chinatown
Moonlight shines across the tiles
The midnight train runs for miles

– lyrics from Summer Winds by It’s Immaterial

The former is where Marillion recorded part of their 1994 album Brave but it has also played host to 808 State, Bjork, China Crisis, Howard Jones, New Order, OMD and even Tim Bowness who had this to say…

All of my early recordings were made in the North West. Samuel Smiles did a session at Amazon/Parr Street studios in Liverpool (in 1991) with Ken Nelson – who went on to produce Coldplay – engineering. ‘no-man’ also had some mixing done (by Andrea Wright) at Parr Street in 1992/1993.

The studio also has its own hotel ‘Podzzz’ but at £39 a night was slightly above my station – yes I’m extreme budget at the time of writing. Speaking of which, quick plug here, these blogs are self funded and hence I’m looking for a sponsor. If readers know of anyone suitable that may be interested please get in touch.

Time for Tate

Meanwhile at the TATE (this is the first one I’ve visited outside London) on Albert Dock begins with COVID track and trace. They tell me that only the ground and 1st floor exhibitions are open. 

The ground floor does nothing for me and the first is in danger of doing the same until I come across Alfredo Camisa’s Urban Alphabet photos and Eduardo Paolozzi’s cut up TIME montage. Simon Patterson’s reconfigured tube map The Great Bear is also present and so these few images salvage the galleries grace if you like.

The Chinese lion and the overhead railway.

Across the way over a footbridge The Liverpool Museum showcases the city’s Chinese connection – it’s twinned with Shanghai – and also the former Overground railway. This would have resembled New York or Chicago’s L (elevated railway) but, standard story, no longer exists because of damage and maintenance costs.

Nowadays the city is served by an underground rail loop, a little like that of Melbourne (Australia). I alight at James St which is a deep station (escalators and a lift) as you’re pretty much straight under the Mersey if heading across to Birkenhead or New Brighton which apparently has some great urban art but I never get there. It’s also the closest to my ‘grey’ hotel where I head for a shower and a snooze.

Taking the horse shoe bend approach to seeing the world (err what happened to Europe?)

PART TWO: AND THEY PROMISED US THE WORLD

On Monday while the museums are closed I get to work on finding out about the Isle of Man which is opening up with a sailing on July 1 but from what I can gather the cracks are already appearing. You must have family there and a hotel booked plus there are tests and other expenses. 

In other words it’s open but not worth jumping through all the hoops to get there so that scuppers my plan to be there for its national day on July 5th. So plan B replaces the much anticipated country 53.

Tuesday is all set for the World Museum; kind of Liverpool’s answer to the London’s Natural History Museum (think Dinosaurs), the planetarium is on the 5th floor but as far as I’m concerned and most relevant to the blog is World Cultures on the third floor.

Here you can see many artefacts from China, Japan, New Zealand, America and Africa outlined on a horse shoe magnet way finding system (pictured above).

From the summer winds of Chinatown to a bright morn at the Walker Gall.

A couple of doors up is the Walker Gallery (more track and trace) and there I see before me the painting which graces the front cover of It’s Immaterial mentioned on the Bomberg at the National blog. Although it isn’t his most amazing work, it’s still better than constantly seeing The Mud Bath.

But that’s not all! Some of the other paintings which catch my eye are local painter James Hamilton Hay’s The Falling Star (regrettably I couldn’t get a shot as it was behind glass and the reflections wouldn’t have done it justice). 

Nightfall, Luxor by Scottish artist David Young Cameron is from 1910 but still very evocative. And in an adjoining room, a couple of works by French artist Henri Le Sidaner, beautiful stuff indeed. Even more incredible on my exit the sky above Liverpool is blue for the first (and only) time in my entire visit.

What if you want to leave luggage somewhere? The cheapest in the city at just £1.50 per hour or £5 all day at the aptly named Store and Explore (located on Gradwell Street near Liverpool One shopping mall and the bus station). There’s no need to book, just turn up and pay when you pick up your bag/s! In the end I never needed it so I can’t tell you if they are a hit or miss but they looked ok.

And that pretty much summed up my visit, it would have been nice to see Birkenhead – the oldest city park in the world, the British Music Experience housed in the Cunard shipping building near the museum but at £16 it was a non starter. And the urban art of New Brighton but Chester and the green green grass of home beckoned.

It was fun while it lasted.

EPILOGUE: WHAT PRICE PARADISE?

On July 21 the cultural arm of the United Nations UNESCO stripped Liverpool of its World Heritage Site status based largely on the famous Liver building from which part of the TV show took its name and appears on the Lightning Seeds Like You Do album. 

This was not too surprising when you consider like Cardiff it’s being sold out by twinkly eyed cowboys eyeing the next development deal with no thought for overall continuity or feel. 

As much as I love modern architecture situating it so close to what gave Liverpool its status is utter madness, and those responsible were asking for trouble in my humble opinion. So there you have it, a shiny stadium for Everton but as the China Crisis guys once asked what price paradise? 

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

Thanks for reading here, should you be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, check out the MEDIA page, and/or the UNIVERSITY page for my teaching ethos. 

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PLAYLIST
Ocean Song – No-Man
In Liverpool – Suzanne Vega
Pretending to See the Future – OMD
Summer Winds – It’s Immaterial
Change – Lightning Seeds
Hooverville (and they promised us the world) – The Christians
Proud to Fall – Ian McCulloch
Who’s That Girl? – A Flock of Seagulls
Tiny Children – Teardrop Explodes
Heart as Big as Liverpool – Pete Wylie
First Picture of You – Lotus Eaters
It’s Everything – China Crisis