A new Liverpool music festival has been announced
I have a well documented hate/hate relationship with the Mathew Street Festival, so it’s with no small amount of relief that Liverpool City Council has announced today that the celebration of drunken unpleasantness is no more.
It’s to be replaced by the shiny new Liverpool International Music Festival. The Council says that it wants to build on the success of the Mathew Street Festival, which doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. I hope that means it plans to ditch the alcohol fuelled awfulness, and channel instead some good music in a more pleasant environment.
The brilliant Music on the Waterfront celebrations of last year show that you can put on top class live music in the kind of atmosphere that encourages families without having to shield your kids from the worst excesses you regularly used to see during the Mathew Street Festival. I’d really like to see that kind of vibe at the new music festival.
The Council did well during last year’s Mathew Street Festival by introducing a booze-free kids are in St John’s Garden, but the people I saw there were there more by accident than design. The place was a little oasis of loveliness in the middle of a sea of awfulness. Let’s hope we’ll see something similar as part of the new festival.
The plans for the Liverpool International Music Festival include the Liverpool Philharmonic in Sefton Park, Beatles influenced outdoor stages at the Waterfront and return of the rather brilliant Fringe festival celebrating original acts. The event will take place in August, and the Council promises a range of activities catering for a diverse range of tastes.
Part of the new festival will take place during the August bank holiday with events that weekend kicking off in classical style on the Friday as the internationally acclaimed Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and chief conductor Vasily Petrenko take to a brand new stage in Sefton Park for an evening of live music in the stunning surroundings of one of the city’s most popular green spaces. The concerts in the park will continue across the four days (Friday to Monday).
On the Saturday and Sunday, there will also be two outdoor stages located at the Pier Head which will include a tribute to the Beatles and their musical legacy. Programmed by Mathew Street Music Festival Directors Bill Heckle and Dave Jones, it will be a mixture of cover acts and original artists.
The hugely successful Fringe Festival will return for 2013 adding a cutting edge element as the city celebrates its original grassroots musicians in venues which support live music all year round.
The new festival will cost around 40% less than the staggering £900,000 to the city of the Mathew Street Music Festival and will be part funded by Arts Council England.
The change comes following consultation with those in Liverpool’s music sector who supported a new format for the festival.
Vasily Petrenko, Chief Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, said: “We are delighted to be part of this exciting new approach to staging a festival that celebrates every kind of music in one of the world’s great music cities, set in two of its most beautiful locations, the Pier Head and Sefton Park.”
I for one am looking forward to the change and can’t wait to get down there. If only the Council could kindly arrange for some jolly nice sunshine to enjoy it in!
When a Top 10 just isn’t enough
It’s that time of year when we look back on the last twelve months and look forward to the year ahead. As we scrape away the last of the turkey, think about what we’re doing for New Year’s eve and contemplate going back to work, I thought it would be good to look back at this year’s highlights.
And, man, have there been some! I’m aware that I’ve become a bit of a broken record when I say that this year and being made a Cultural Champion has changed my life, but you don’t have to be an official champion to change yours. You just need to put yourself out there. I promise you it will pay bigger dividends than you ever imagined.
So, in the spirit of end of year lists, which I love to an unnecessary degree, here are my Top 12 highlights of 2012. I can’t wait to see what the coming year will hold. What about you?
In no particular order…
1. Acetate Steps: In memory of the mix tape @ Arena Studios & Gallery
My very first venture into the arts in Liverpool could not have been more of a revelation. Nervous as hell and overwhelmed with information, I thought I’d start off with something small and intimate. This gallery and its artists have become one of my absolute favourites over the year. Set in the Baltic triangle, it’s well worth a visit. Great exhibits, a fantastic bar below and lovely, lovely people.
2. Five Days Out For A Fiver
When I filled out my application to apply for the role of Cultural Champion, in the section called “What would you like to get out of the role?” I answered something along the lines of “To get out of the house, please.”
One of the best things I’ve done is to have some time with my children without spending a bomb. We packed sandwiches, braved the lovely British weather and Liverpool’s public transport network and, boy, did we have a great time. It takes some planning and we still never had a picnic in a sun drenched meadow, but we had some great times together, giggled like mad and my kids loved it.
3. Light Night
John, Ray and I along with Ray’s wife, Pauline, and my favourite plus one, Vickie, headed out into the very, very rainy streets of Liverpool for Light Night in May. We saw the city lit up in all its architectural glory, we made our own art, encountered a zombie street takeover, met Andy Warhol (!) and saw a rain-drenched group of salsa dancers bringing some Brazilian style magic to the street. An absolute gem of a night.
4. Henry V @ The Playhouse
The standard of productions at The Playhouse in 2012 has been consistently superb. A close second here was A Streetcar Named Desire, featuring the most heartbreaking performance I’ve ever witnessed by Amanda Drew. There was also the innovative and excellent Swallows and Amazons as well as Jack & The Beanstalk, possibly the most bonkers panto I ever laid eyes on. It was so mad, that by the time Captain Spock and Wonder Woman flew on stage, I’d given up trying to make sense of it and just enjoyed the ride.But it was Henry V, which wins my prize for being the best play I’ve seen all year. It completely changed my 20-odd-year-old mindset that traditional versions of Shakespeare plays are generally tedious and fol-de-rol. It was lively, moving and beautifully acted. I urged everyone I knew to go and see it and every single person who went loved it. A great introduction to the bard and a perfect demonstration of why his work is still relevant today.
5. Sea Odyssey
On a bright and beautiful Friday morning in April I sat among a sea of volunteers in Stanley Park waiting to accompany the giants through our city. We watched in awe as the Little Girl Giant and her dog, Xolo, woke up and got ready to walk into Liverpool city centre to meet her long lost Uncle.
As we escorted the Giants through the streets of Anfield I witnessed actual magic happen before my eyes. No-one who saw the giants was not caught up by the magic. Whole groups of people, some of whom may never have set foot in a theatre or art gallery, thronged the streets to become part of this wondrous event.
I escorted the Giant Uncle back to Stanley Park in the afternoon with my fellow Benevols, a particularly marvellous group of people. We watched in awe as a group of exotic, athletic, sweaty French men and women operated (or should I say “served”?) the giants. I went home with one of the worst migraines I ever had, having walked next to an enormous bank of speakers for hours on end, but it was worth every bit of pain.
The Sea Odyssey will never be forgotten by anyone who saw it. Brilliant.
6. The Kazimier Garden
I’ve discovered some great little venues in the city over the last year. But the Kazimier Garden wins first prize hands down for the best night I’ve had all year. Featuring a barbecue, two outdoor bars, a man sporting a bird of prey playing the role of MC, a tiny mechanical boat and the ropiest toilets I’ve encountered in a long time, by the time the house krunk band came on and blasted the place with the sound of drums and trumpets, I was in love.
Like taking a trip through the looking glass, it’s a shock when you leave and find yourself still in urban Liverpool. A total delight of a place.
7. The Mathew Street Festival
“What?” I hear you exclaim. Considering just how much I’ve banged on about how much I hate the Mathew Street Festival and its awful culture of drunken unpleasantness, you might well wonder why it’s here in my list of highlights of the year. Well, I’ll tell you.
I gave it a go. I tried something. And I found, to my genuine surprise, that hidden among a whole bunch of awfulness, you can find something pretty special. We discovered a little oasis of family friendliness in St John’s Garden and we rocked up on a boat that was part of the Mathew Street Fringe that was reminiscent of early 90s raves. Just goes to show it’s well worth putting yourself out there, because you never know what could happen.
8. The One Show
It started off with a t-shirt. I’d had some made for John, Ray and I as we were taking part in the Guinness World Record attempt at the most people singing a song in the round at the new cruise liner terminal in October. I was dropping John’s t-shirt off at the time he was filming for The One Show with the gorgeous and luminescent Carrie Grant. John was launching “The Fifth Beatle” – his dream of getting people who hadn’t played an instrument for years to play again.
John, Carrie and a rather dishy BBC director harangued me into being a backing singer. Now let me tell you, I am by no stretch of the imagination a singer. No way. Not a chance. But egged on by an extremely excitable Johny, I took the rest of the day off work and ended up performing John and Carrie’s beatuful arrangement of ELO’s Livin’ Thing live on the BBC with a bunch of genuinely talented people in Eric’s.
I was as nervous as I’ve ever been, but I wanted to show my kids that even if you’re seriously afraid of something, you can still do it. And now I can say I’ve performed on the same stage as U2, The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, Joy Division and a whole host of my musical heroes. One to tell the grandkids.
9. Music on the Waterfront
At a time when Liverpool City Council is fighting economic misery, this was a great example of getting it just right. This series of free concerts at the Pier Head showed that if you invest in the arts, it will bring people and money into the city.
With an eclectic, but high class, mix of performers, my personal highlight was seeing the magnificent Jocelyn Brown. I may have embarrassed myself my bopping about in a manner unseemly for a woman in her 40s, but it was a glorious night. And a great place to go with the whole family.
This needs to be an annual event.
10. The Phil
I can’t single out a particular event I’ve seen at the Phil, the whole range of performances over the year have been fantastic. From the glorious old school movies, to contemporary comedians and 80s pop stars, the Phil has a knack of putting on great shows in a beautiful environment.
Particularly brilliant have been the family concerts, arranged by the exuberant Alastair Molloy, and the so good you’ve got to see ’em to believe it Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. The variety of shows is so mind boggling, there’s something there for anyone, no matter what your taste.
11. Richard Herring: Talking Cock @ The Epstein Theatre
After being accused by my eldest child of hating all comedians, I belly laughed my way through this amazing show. Based on the results of a survey of over 10,000 men and women on the subject of, ahem, the male appendage, this had my sides and jaw aching with laughter.
Richard Herring even stayed behind afterwards and gamely chatted to me about a question I had about the logistics of one of the answers to a question in the show. He did the actions and everything, bless him. Made me be prepared to give comedians another chance.
I’m not the easiest person when it comes to making friends and meeting new people. But I’ve made a deliberate effort this year to be more open as I’ve gone about being a Cultural Champion. I’ve got in touch with people I know vaguely to invite them to events. I’ve stopped and chatted to strangers at events about what they think. I’ve emailed total strangers to ask them about what’s happening around the city. And it’s been a revelation!
Everyone I’ve come across has been brilliant. The people I’ve encountered who are involved in the arts in Liverpool are across the board a warm and welcoming bunch. Sure, I’ve had a couple of loudly ignored emails, but in general everyone I’ve met or come across has been great.
Getting out and about and experiencing culture in Liverpool has changed all of my relationships and I’ve met some new and fantastic people who I won’t be letting go of. It’s definitely the people I’ve been involved with who’ve made this year so, so special. I’m not going to get all teary Oscar winner, here, but you know who you are.
So that was 2012. Can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store.
Last week I wrote a rather snarly blog post where I talked about my hatred of the Mathew Street Festival. My friends at Open Culture and Liverpool City Council assured me that the new Strawberry Fields set up in St John’s Gardens would be a welcome and family friendly change from the usual drunkenness and the tired old tribute bands. So I said I’d give it a go.
I packed up my vaguely willing children and carted them off to Liverpool City Centre on the first day of the Festival. The sun was shining as we headed towards the Victoria Monument stage to hear a Blur/Oasis/Coldplay tribute band that actually wasn’t too bad. The atmosphere was pleasant, although it was a bit disconcerting seeing crowds of men swanning about clutching cans of Heineken at two in the afternoon.
After negotiating with the manager of the First National on James Street to allow my kids in for a short while, we spent a lovely hour listening to guitar/singer duo This Is Us. For the short time we were there it was a little oasis of mellow and loveliness. The staff came round and draped us all (kids included) in shiny beads while This Is Us did a fantastic set that included old and new classics ranging from Fleetwood Mac, Supertramp and Alanis Morrisette to Adele and Snow Patrol.
As we’d worn out our child-friendly welcome at the First National, we headed off to the Strawberry Fields event in St John’s Gardens. Getting to this alcohol-free, family-friendly zone involved weaving our way through a crowd that included pissed-up teenagers and groups of drinkers so organised they had what I can only describe as mobile bars with them. They’d set themselves up for the day and one guy stridently warned me to “mind the ale!” as I clambered over his mini-bar in the middle of Victoria Street.
When we finally got to Strawberry Fields it actually wasn’t too bad. The organisers had put on some actors playing Alice in Wonderland characters and the kids there were delighted getting their photos taken with Alice and her chums.
I got talking to Damien Kelly, the community engagement worker from The Brink, which had set up an alcohol-free bar in the gardens. Damien’s enthusiasm for the Strawberry Fields project was infectious. He’d been talking to the public all day and was hoarse as he told me what a difference it had made after the trouble with under-age drinking at last year’s festival.
“Everyone seems to think it’s a safe haven,” he told me. “It’s got a nice vibe and a good mood. It’s been such a success, they should do this every year.” I’d have to agree, even though Damien did think it could have been better publicised. It seemed that most people had ended up there more by accident than design. There were a number of teenagers who were not drinking, but clearly having a good time and enjoying the music, which included Amy Housewine. There was the usual St John’s Gardens on a sunny day vibe with people laid out on the grass from middle-class picnickers to young couples who can’t let go of each other. All jolly nice.
If I was a teacher (I’m not) and Strawberry Fields was my pupil (it isn’t), I’d mark its report card “Good start, look forward to seeing some improvements next time.”
We made our way down to The Planet Boat at the Albert Dock for Shout About Music‘s contribution to the Fringe Festival. With live bands playing on the top deck of the boat and a generally mad crowd on board, this was for my kids the highlight of the day. A bit crackers and with the worst loos this side of Glastonbury, it was nonetheless a great alternative to the slightly snarly atmosphere of the main festival. It was time for us to say our goodbyes when the people using the tiny spiral staircase to get to the top deck were so drunk, they became more entertaining than the acts on the stage.
As we were on the bus heading home at 7:40pm there were girls falling in the gutter in Hanover Street and a mountain of litter everywhere. We’d left at just the right time.
So, back to the big question. Is it possible to like the Mathew Street Festival when you’ve got kids? I’m sure some people would say a resounding, “Hell yeah!” Especially the couple I saw who had a baby in a pram that was adorned with a nappy bag bearing the legend Yummy Mummy that was stuffed with bottles of ale.
I did say in my last post that I hate the Matthew Street festival. Can’t stand it. Having given it another go, I can’t say I love it. I’m not even sure if I’d say I like it. But I am more kindly disposed towards it. Which is something.
Maybe it was the lovely sunshine. Maybe it was that the music was actually not bad or, in some case, actually quite good. Maybe it was the good company I was in. Will I go again with my kids next year? Don’t hold your breath.