NORTHERN SPIRIT

You are browsing the archive for Jonathan Greenbank.

5. All My Loving (This Bird has Flown)

October 19, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

The day came to an end. I’m a little disappointed that my tale didn’t end in the birds screaming to life, like those creatures in ‘Ghostbusters’, and wreaking havoc on the city below.

Or rather, quite relieved.

It was fun, and it made me re-evaluate one part of the city I now call home.

It certainly underlined the wonder of the birds and the city, due to the couples who live here and meet and hopefully fall in love, and I genuinely believe the intrinsic romance within essentially a perilous situation, should the birds ever be awakened, is part of what makes not just Liverpool but the north of England such a special place, due to the architecture, the folk tales that surround it, and most of all, the people.

Thanks Chris and everyone involved in this project, and to the internet, for introducing him to my streams of consciousness.

Thanks to all the other artists and writers who have made this such a success so far, may they continue to do so.

Last week’s excellent contributor Hayley Flynn, asked me:

Liverpool is a city born of the success of its port. What does the water mean to you?

Well.

Jung once described Liverpool as ‘the pool of life’ whilst George Harrison in 1980 apparently said, “Good place to wash your hair, Liverpool. Nice soft water.”

After nearly drowning in a lake aged three after a spaniel pushed me in, I never really liked water. However, Liverpool’s history as a port is indeed important and fascinating, and its legacy is felt not just in the buildings, statues and street names of the city centre but the towns and villages all the way up the coast and across the water.

It’s a strange feeling that has resonated with me in my other favourite places of the world, there are huge similarities with Naples, Barcelona and New York that must have something to do with the port’s goings on and the transience of the water coming and going. Even Lancaster, where I grew up, is on a river and has a maritime museum.

Through my story, I have touched on how the water is important to at least one of the Liver birds. The Mersey must have a certain quality, to have brought with it the special qualities the city and its people now share. Their talents, their spirit, their sense of humour – their romances.

To be described as the pool of life, water is clearly important to the city. Its importance to me and this project comes mainly from the wonderful view you get of the waterfront from across the Mersey, a trip I would encourage anyone visiting here to take, ferry or otherwise, but also my new home, and the statues of a naked artist seemingly about to drown himself that accompany it.

Thanks, Hayley.

Meanwhile, like the river we move on, and my question for next week’s guest curator Pete Collins is:

Using the other cities’ Liver Buildings, Coles Corner and the Tyne Bridge as reference points, where are the most romantic places in Manchester?

And, talking of romance, thanks again at this point to my wonderful wife for her inspiration, support and understanding.

Thanks too to The Beatles and Billy Fury for providing the soundtrack to my late nights writing up this submission, and their help with the chapter titles. And, to the plethora of influences I mentioned in my introduction: Morrissey, Shelagh Delaney, Stu Sutcliffe, Kes, Newcastle Brown Ale, rundown seaside towns, Willy Russell, local foods, Wallace & Gromit, questionable comedians, David Hockney, as well as others I couldn’t fit in but who are just as important: Richard Hawley, mercy, the Midland Hotel, my Uncle John, the Pendle Witches, Ian Curtis, Morecambe Bay Shrimps, Badly Drawn Boy, Everton Football Club, cotton mills, Lancashire Tea, Rufford Old Hall, Whitby Fish, Tom Finney, Eddie Stobart trucks, strange accents, Elbow, George Formby, birds of prey, The Courteeners, Mark & Lard, Kendal Mint Cake… the list goes on.

Basically, that’s an appreciation of the whole of the north of England, especially those people and places that mean something to me and my past and my family. Thanks to my family then, and my ancestors, for those all important roots and the basis of my appreciation.

Plus, of course, thanks to the buildings, landscape, museums, myths, and people of Liverpool, my adopted home, every last one of you, whose uniqueness continues to evoke awe and wonder… especially all those encountered or referenced in this tale.

And finally, thank you to our people and our prosperity: The Liver Birds.

 

Avatar of Jonathan Greenbank

Jonathan Greenbank

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

4. Girl / You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away

October 18, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Resize Nerys

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.

Nothing happened.

An older couple passed by, and took photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A family crossed the road, and dropped something.

Still nothing.

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:

TREVOR?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Avatar of Jonathan Greenbank

Jonathan Greenbank

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

3. Help! / She Loves You

October 17, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Resize Billy

So, I first did some reading around the birds and discovered some interesting facts about them.

I asked around some colleagues and family members about them first, to gauge what they knew, or had grown up believing, naively imagining that some Liverpudlian youngsters ‘believe’ in the liver birds just as others will in Father Christmas or the Easter Bunny.

It turns out that not many did. Some hadn’t even heard the story!

To widen the net even further, I e-mailed the local paper, the Liverpool ECHO (whose logo is a liver bird with a rolled-up paper in its mouth) to ask if any of the readers of their ‘Flashback’ nostalgia section every Saturday knew anything about this myth and where it came from.

You see, I have always been fascinated by the process of lonely hearts, or more specifically, those ‘once seen’ or ‘rush hour crush’ messages that people host in the hope of finding that person their path once or often crossed with, just in case it was meant to be. I really like how the Echo offers a lo-fi Friends & Families Reunited service too, called ‘Old Pals’, and thought this might help me trace someone who could shed more light on the story I was following.

Part of my message stated:
“…I really enjoy the ‘Flashback’ feature every week, particularly the ‘Old Pals’ section, and wondered if you had ever done a feature on this topic or wanted to? Or, at the very least, could I through the newspaper attempt to trace any couples who might have fallen in love by the Liver Building or the other two birds in the city, and discover their stories? Thanks so much for reading my e-mail and in advance of your reply. Look forward to hearing from you.”

I didn’t hear from her.

I then put the feelers out via social networking sites too, as everybody does whenever they need / want anything nowadays, also, to no avail.

There was nothing I could do except go back and visit myself.

It’s a strange thing when you live in a city like this and get used to what are essentially world famous buildings (still a UNESCO heritage site, regardless of recent and potential architectural erections nearby), almost taking it for granted. I am sure that many of the people who work nearby, and pass the birds every day, or even in the Liver building itself, have grown oblivious to their charms and mystique too.

However it was quite exciting embarking on a trip to just observe them and the people that passed by one Saturday afternoon in September.

Remember how I told you that the female bird was looking out to sea, keeping an eye on the men?

Those men include a statue of Billy Fury.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those uninitiated amongst you, Billy (real name Ronald Wycherley) was a huge star in the late 50’s, a sort of Scouse Elvis, for whom The Beetles (later to be renamed) once unsuccessfully auditioned as a backing band.

Mine and Billy’s paths had crossed a few years back, when I embarked upon a series of covert trips to fortune tellers in Blackpool to record their messages and track what then happened to me. My research taught me that Billy apparently regularly visited a relative of one of ‘my’ psychics who told him he would die aged 42, which he did.

He was also a keen birdwatcher, and featured on the cover of the last single released by The Smiths.

Arguably Billy’s most famous song ‘Halfway to Paradise’ (he did of course also sing ‘Wondrous Place’…) became the theme of my MA show, and to this day, it remains my song of choice when we frequent a karaoke bar. It’s funny to see the older generation’s response to my poor attempts at replicating his fantastic voice and performances: generally it goes down well, and they share their stories about him.

Anyway there is a bronze statue there, overlooked by the female bird, of Billy in his famous stance. He is pointing back at her.

The day we visited the statue, someone who loved him had placed a peony in his hand and a bouquet at his feet (see image above), featuring a simple message:

BILLY
FORGET HIM NEVER
L.O.L.
SHIRL
XX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My marveling at this sight was interrupted by a couple, still very much in love, of whom the wife was wearing a handmade t-shirt which simply said ‘BILLY FURY: A THOUSAND STARS’.

We got talking about ‘beautiful Bill’ – this could well have been the mysterious Shirl, or the peony donor, but I was too intrigued to ask.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As they left, she wanted her photo taken with ‘him’ before they wandered off towards the Liver buildings, hand in hand…

Avatar of Jonathan Greenbank

Jonathan Greenbank

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

2. We Can Work It Out

October 16, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Resize Birds from the Museum

The liver birds are five and a half metres (eighteen feet) tall.

They are over a hundred years old.

They are made of copper and they were designed by Carl Bernard Bartels.

This much we know – however, we aren’t quite sure what they actually are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The birds are either a cormorant, an eagle, or something else – a dove or a spoonbill perhaps, for the twitchers amongst us – maybe even a phoenix.

‘We have something no zoo has ever seen, no museums have ever secured, nor the world’s wealth can buy – the Liver Bird’ (Eric Hardy, 1934).

We can be sure that they have a sprig of broom in their mouths, or maybe it is laver (seaweed) and although no formal names have been suggested, they are unofficially called ‘our people’ and ‘our prosperity’ because ‘the liver is a mythical bird that once haunted the shoreline. The female is looking out to sea watching for seamen, while the male is making sure the women are behaving themselves and pubs are open…’

These myths, the wonder surrounding them, is what I wanted to focus on.

Despite their omnipresence and status across the city, the liver birds are not just the sole property of a certain football club. Indeed, they featured on medals and souvenirs produced by the city’s first team from 1878, also universities and the council.

Many I have spoke to have questioned their very nature and importance by seemingly not knowing their history, nor the tales that have been built up around them over the past century or so.

Peter Sissons once described them as ‘the most distinctive and recognisable civil emblems in the UK’ and Don McLean apparently said that ‘… those two Liver birds can sing, we just can’t hear them… but they are singing!’

However, the story that got me, the one which intrigued me the most, is the one that involves the remote possibility that they might fly away should they see each other / mate / fall in love. I had never heard this before, but it goes some way to explain why they are facing away from each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be writing about this romantic notion later in the week.

Another, more sinister suggestion, is that they are like protective parents (‘they will be there, no matter what is happening’) and if they should ever fly away, the city would fall in to the sea.

Perhaps this inspired ex FA chief Brian Barwick to decide that ‘Liverpool without the Liver birds is unthinkable, unimaginable…’ That is to say that, should they fly away, or if an honest man and a virgin woman pass / fall in love (delete where appropriate) before the two birds, then the city would cease to exist i.e. fall to the ground.

Just think about that for a second.

A whole city, rich in heritage and character and fully functioning, to be wiped out in an instant, think of Pompeii, of Hiroshima, of those desolate, post-apocalyptic cities we marvel at in disaster or zombie movies.

Think of Planet of the Apes, and the buried statue of liberty.

Now, replace it with the two empty domes that the birds currently perch on.

It will never happen, of course… The disconcertingly vague versions of the rumour here is probably part of the reason why nobody believes it, and the fact that nothing yet has suggested this be the case.

However, a watered down version of this tale is just that if either the man or woman mentioned walks by the Liver birds, they flap their wings, I am not sure why, presumably in excitement.

But some people do believe, they talk about it at least, especially those who sing a little known chorus from an extended version of a famous local anthem – ‘In my Liverpool Home’ – in local hostelries:

Our Liverpool ladies will hug and kiss men
But a virtuous lady you’ll find now and then
Our eighteen foot lyver birds perched up on high
They flap their great wings every time she goes by
In my Liverpool home…

Now, I am pretty honest.

Also, I have walked down the Strand quite a few times.

However, I don’t believe I have ever witnessed a flapping of wings up to now.

A huge part of me still wants to believe the story though, because it does create a sense of mystery, of wonder, about the place.

Therefore, I decided to investigate further whether or not any of this could be proved, and if there was evidence of the birds having magic and potentially disastrous powers…

 

Avatar of Jonathan Greenbank

Jonathan Greenbank

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

1. From Me to You

October 15, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Resize Exhibition

I’m only a paper boy from the North West
But I can scrub up well in my Sunday best.
How could I ever do for you?
Because I’m true and I’m real, and this is how I feel…

It might seem strange to introduce my first post from Liverpool with a verse from a song by a band from Manchester (The Courteeners, if you didn’t know) however I think it sums me up nicely.

And not just because I was once a paper boy.

My work, and in particular my writing, has often been described as ‘confessional’, so this week I will try to tell you how I feel about a certain aspect of my adopted city.

The short version of my biog that I initially submitted for this space was ‘… 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’ but in hindsight, I probably need to do myself more justice so here is a more elaborate version of a bit of my life story.

I grew up in Lancaster, most famous recently for the unfortunate girl with the stomach problems after drinking liquid nitrogen. Thankfully that never happened to me there. I spent a year in Blackpool doing an art foundation course, before coming to uni in Liverpool, mainly due to my love of one of its football teams.

And I have never left.

After uni I was declined by the Royal College and St. Martin’s, wrongly believing it was because of where I was from. You see, being northern has sometimes formed a chip on the shoulder, and at other times made me feel like a chip in the sugar. Whilst being proud of my roots, it also served as a barrier, especially in the creative circles I have occasionally frequented.

Over the years though, that has changed somewhat. Indeed, as I have become more aware of reasons to be cheerful about being from the north, and exposed to some classic cultural references through music, literature, art and the like: Morrissey, Shelagh Delaney, Stu Sutcliffe, Kes, Newcastle Brown Ale, rundown seaside towns, Willy Russell, local foods, Wallace & Gromit, questionable comedians, Billy Fury, David Hockney… all of these and others have directly or discreetly inspired and influenced not just my work but the way I live my life, as well as presumably many others.

Meanwhile, over this time there has felt a national warming towards ‘us’. Specific events, buildings, festivals, museums, songs, people, restaurants, media organisations, have all helped shift focus, and change attitudes, allowing us to celebrate not just the north / south divide but also exactly that which makes us unique.

Part of that was Liverpool’s year as Capital of Culture, which was announced around the time my mates and I started our own less good version of Shoreditch T**t, which gained recognition from Antony Wilson (RIP) amongst others, and developed into a successful design agency that recently celebrated its tenth birthday.

I, on the other hand, went in a different direction and became a teacher.

Still making art work on the side for a famous band as well as the odd exhibition when I have had the time, I eventually made it on to a MA course, which resulted in a variety of projects involving fortune tellers, found passport photographs, and laser eye surgery, all of which was documented on my blog, which in turn led to a couple of other websites and writing projects. Recently I sent fake love letters to a stranger in Australia, painted a set of unfortunate animals for an alternative Noah’s Ark, and drew all 500 pages of ‘The Art Book’. ‘The Art Book’ was an exhibition at The Rag Factory in London in summer 2012. The image at the top of this post is taken from it and you can find out much more about it here.

The eye surgery was the scariest thing I had ever done (probably since overtaken by getting married, more of which later in the week) and I am still paying it off but also it was one of the best. It has helped me see things more clearly, especially as in the past couple of years I have moved out of the city centre where I had been ever since my arrival, twenty minutes up the coast by a lovely beach and a much more relaxed way of life.

The company that did my eyes are based in town, and the first thing I saw after leaving my initial check-up (when I could actually see, a few hours later the procedure) was the Liver Buildings.
It’s an image that will stay with me forever…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Chris got in touch about my blog and invited me to take part in this exciting project, I immediately decided that my focus would be on that building, and specifically its topping: the emblem of our city, the Liver Birds.

 

Avatar of Jonathan Greenbank

Jonathan Greenbank

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