Where was I?
The Billy Fury fans were walking towards the Liver Buildings, yes. Talking of which, do you remember I also told you that the other (male) statue was looking over the city, watching on the women – the ‘other’ liver ‘birds’.
Many people will have already associated this whole week’s focus with a Carla Lane comedy series about a seemingly ever-changing couple of female housemates that was popular in the 60s and 70s and made a sort of comeback in the 90s. The only ones I know were the one who went on to be T-Bag, and then Nerys Hughes, the younger version of whom I had a minor crush on a few years ago, therefore I was thrilled when she sent me a message for my week on ‘A Wondrous Place’ (see above).
Few will know, however, of the all-girl band The Liverbirds, who hailed from the city and were unusually rock’n’roll and most popular in Germany in the mid Sixties. Their ‘best of’ album released a couple of years ago is a good alternative snapshot of the music of the time, well worth a listen.
Many people, though, will mostly have an idea of Liverpool girls in general, the clichéd, peculiar fashions and the care that some take in their appearance.
“I AM A LIVER BIRD!” once exclaimed Kim Cattrall, and famous other examples we see in the media don’t always cover themselves in glory, but there is a uniqueness that is maybe down to something in the water or the dominant male watching over them from above. Other films and TV programmes down the years have undoubtedly challenged or cemented people’s perceptions of Liverpool women. It was thirty years ago last week that ‘Boys From the Blackstuff’ was launched, and I would argue it celebrated its long-suffering women, instead questioning the role of the men of the city. Meanwhile, others such as ‘Bread’ (with matriarchal Ma Boswell) and movies ‘Letter to Brezhnev’ and ‘Shirley Valentine’, even ‘Blind Date’ and ‘Desperate Scousewives’ championed or even lampooned the role of the Liver ‘birds’ more recently.
However, perhaps the most famous ‘other’ bird is this statue by Tommy Steele of ‘Little White Bull’ fame (yes, really), old Eleanor Rigby:
Either way, whatever your view, on a personal level, a real life Liver bird enchanted me a few years ago, and this year we got married.
Lisa accompanied me on the visit to the town that I am documenting, and continues to support me through many a project, thankfully. At our wedding, our first dance was to Richard Hawley’s ‘Coles Corner’. The link with all of this is that said corner is apparently Sheffield’s meeting place for old and new lovers, and all of these thoughts I was having about the Liver buildings and its surroundings were suggesting to me that without ever realising it, I might just have unearthed the most romantic spot in our city.
I return to the notion that the birds are not allowed to look at each other – what a romantic idea, the two star-crossed lovers that couldn’t be together (‘Brief Encounter’, anyone?) in the grand tradition of film and literature – and how frustrating it must be for the birds, up there in the air, amidst such intimacy, knowing that each other is there but also resigning themselves to the fact that they know they can not be together.
I was thinking about the birds being the new romantic symbols of the city as we neared the buildings.
Before arriving, we popped in to the recently opened Museum of Liverpool, and immediately recognised the link with the romanticised versions of the past that lie within it. More than once described as a self-pity city, ravaged by the war and various negative events since, Liverpool and the birds have seen a lot, and their presence is there throughout the history of the city in this collection – indeed, there are several versions of them inside too, carvings, sculptures and statues, and a life size two dimensional cast. Standing next to it, in view of the real things, made them feel more real than ever.
It was time to cross Mann Island and get in their shadow.
Here was the time for their wings to flap, or more catastrophically, for them to fly away, should an honest man and virtuous woman pass by.
First, two teenage couples walked by, arm in arm.
I looked up.
An older couple passed by, and took photos.
A family crossed the road, and dropped something.
I was dejected.
We had a drink in the quietly tucked away Oyster Bar. In there, a drunken girl prodded uninterested men telling them she was single and looking for action, a leery middle aged oddball named Trevor licked his lips. Perhaps there was an air of romance around here, after all?
We escaped. Couples in the early stages of their love affairs picnicked in the gardens of St. Nicholas’s church, burial place of many a sailor. I was feeling more optimistic. Then, by the building where eyes get lasered, I found a family photo, strangely discarded:
…and a post-it note, asking simply:
Keeping hold of the moment, I immediately thought of two more of my favourite films, vignette-filled love letters to the cities of ‘Paris (Je t’aime)’ and ‘New York (… I Love You)’ and imagined all these intertwined narratives playing out around the buildings and the birds.
Stories that are played out every weekend, to the sounds of Billy and the Liverbirds and the Mersey, that will never be retold but might just be played out in the memory of the birds for the rest of time, whilst they themselves live in hope that they too might one day come to life and experience true love with each other.
Some people would probably be aghast at my description of Liverpool as an epicentre of romance: Courtney Love, for example, who said of the city in 1982 that ‘if it was a person I wouldn’t sleep with it’ and ok, so my experiment failed, and the liver birds didn’t respond to what passed by below them, and the city still exists.
There wasn’t so much of a shiver, let alone a flapping of those vast copper wings, on that day at least.
Who is to say though, that it didn’t happen when I’d gone? Or that it doesn’t happen every day, just when none of us are looking?
It is, after all, such a wondrous place.
An avid collector of stories, objects & ideas, I am fascinated by those secret narratives unwinding within our cities, noticed only by those involved and observant onlookers. Working across a variety of media, from pencil drawings to scrapbooks, film & installation, even lasering my eyes to become a superhero for my MA. All this can be found on my blog www.jonathangreenbank.com