NORTHERN SPIRIT

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Anarchy Row

November 29, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Anarchy Row

Daybreak on Anarchy Row

Hard sun

brings out the best

Long

bent

streets

Buildings

grand and shit

Scarred

by thousands of bombs

Real and

those imagined

by people who

mistakenly thought

they had the answer

 

The young

form into groups

for protection

and dominance

Shuffling

in bus stops

Long spliffs

burning through the day

Eyes

smiling with power

Kings of their own world

and

always ready

to come into yours

 

Help them

Condemn them

Say those with powerful places

to place words

Wringing their hands

in broadsheets

over lost communities

they never knew

nor understood

Communities that

have better things to do

than read them

 

Beats blare out

from bohemian neighbours

who keep doors locked

firmly shut

from the ones

who’ve been

running around

these streets

since childhood

Short on innocence

and peace

 

Down the road, the economy grows

Shiny flats and restaurants boom

Clean, honest, our bright future

Expensive lattes and

colourful
breakout

workstations

A world away

from

running down

shooting

 

Big people

Big ideas

Big machines

Coming for you

Do-gooders

and money-grabbers

try to intervene

To save

or

exploit

But everyone

just carries on

 

Anarchy Row

however much they try

will not conform

Respectability

is not required

Supplying as it does

drugs

women

all the

good times

All the needs

of those respectable folks

with respectable jobs

respectable houses

respectable families

All of it

lies

 

If you have mean eyes

second-hand guns

You can earn big money

If you do as you’re told

A tinted BMW

and a skinny blonde

If you do as you’re told

And

never

ever

GRASS

 

Stupid

or strong?

Organised

Refusing to

absorb the lies

You can’t shift cocaine from

Mexico

to Islington

by being a fool

 

As the light dims on Anarchy Row

people hit their stride

Taking the profits

down town

Glass and steel bars

where money

is all that matters

Italian suit

two bottles of Crystal

Not long before

the ladies

swarm around

 

Back on the darkening roads

and decay

Old men

from the times of

marches and strikes

still loud

but bitter

sit ranting

in the

few pubs left

But no one is listening

anymore

 

Older ones

from a different world

cower behind

still-clean

net curtains

while the kids

stalk around

 

‘Watch lad, we’ve got guns round here’

They do

but they also have bullshit

in tonnes

To justify the attacks on

those not locally born

and

shitting on their own

if they fail to conform

 

Fear is not permitted

Failing to question

until it’s too late

Blood on hands

A fate sealed

Just another bad example

that no one takes heed

 

Back out soon

kudos increased

moves up the food chain

till someone bigger

has their next meal

 

This is the law

that’s governed people

since the start

I’m the fucking hardest

so I’m in charge

The rest of you come and try

As a system

it’s not pretty

but it works

 

Not everyone

though

falls into line

Every second building

a community centre

of some kind

 

Forces fight

for souls

Both sometimes winning

But for every one

who gets out

two more

fall down

 

This is Anarchy Row

Infinitely richer

and poorer

than you can possibly imagine

 

Avatar of Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor is a Liverpool based arts project manager and writer with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban enviroment. For much more information about Kenn's fiction writing, journalism and numerous community arts projects visit http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com. A separate site - http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com - is dedicated to Kenn's work around culture, cities and regeneration.

245 Aigburth Drive

November 28, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

245 Aigburth Drive

The room was long and high, but dark and thick with silence. A lack of sound so heavy as to stupefy anyone caught inside it.

She lived at the top of the house, the bit where the mid-sized Victorian mansion spiralled off into intricacies of points and towers and chimneys.

Flats since the 1960s, these attic rooms had once housed the servants. Country boys and country girls packed off to attend the merchants of the city. Now it was home to just her, alone.

On the windowledge, a once bright flower, now a mass of fraying brown matter, slowly decayed in a thick, glazed pot that retained a brightness even through its dust coating. Behind it, she sat at her desk staring out of the long sash window that let through the filtered cold light of the day.

She had held her pen poised over the pad for so long that her hand ached. As she struggled to write down her story once more, it all seemed gone, lost in the depths of her memory.

Her spirit, though bright, had not escaped the passage of time, her body even more so. She had lived a high life of intense emotions, passions, dreams and excitement. In her time, she had seen and done all; partied for days, travelled far and alone, attended protests, attacked the system. She had been there at the beginning of things, seen great arts at their inception and history in the making.

In the end though, it was all too much. New young idealists began to fill the space. Idealists as yet unlined by the stress of it all, as yet un-jaded by the pain caused by all of these beautiful people. She chose to pull away from all the excitement. Retreat. Retreat.

Decadence burns you up faster, till there seems to be nothing left but a longing for peace. Now that she had peace though, she lived in replays of past glories: sights, faces, feelings, places.

Since then, she had tried many times to recapture her experiences, but there was no way of recording it all. Too much had occurred. To be there was to be there and not to have been there meant that it didn’t matter. For the joy was all in the moment itself, now long past.

Some of the best times though, still remained in her head. Small spots of brightness that cut through the thick fug of greyness and confusion that now filled so much of her mind. Things that had once seared through her were now just a vague tingle, a snatch of a memory drying her throat and dilating her pupils a little on recollection.

Yet, even though so much was gone, she felt some satisfaction that this state had been brought upon her by seeing, doing too much. Even if it was all lost, there was still the contentment of that, a cooling sensation in her body that collapsed the tension and gave her comfort.

She remained poised, fading into those dreams, her desire to recapture them for others, fading also, always flawed because they would never see through her eyes. All that mattered now was the memory and that was all that remained as the trinkets and the people and the places faded away, such as beautiful things always do.

As she retreated further, she lowered the pen slowly down onto the desk and carried on looking out of the dusty sash window, long after the view had turned to absolute black.

Avatar of Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor is a Liverpool based arts project manager and writer with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban enviroment. For much more information about Kenn's fiction writing, journalism and numerous community arts projects visit http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com. A separate site - http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com - is dedicated to Kenn's work around culture, cities and regeneration.

Culture

November 27, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Culture

Blood flowed freely from both his nose and mouth. He was forced to sniff and swallow constantly to keep it from streaming down his face. The wet metal taste sickened him and he felt pain deep in his limbs with every movement.

He forced a cough when the blood in his mouth started to drip down his throat, a cough that scattered a field of red specs across the pavement. He accepted that this was just what happened, and tonight he had been unlucky, but a raw anger still seared through his stomach, his throat, his eyes. A pure anger the likes of which he’d never felt before. He coughed another mouthful on the pavement.

The rage he felt wasn’t so much for his attackers. No, rather his employers who had demanded once more that he stay behind to help them catch up with work that hadn’t been done. So he had ended up going home in the dark, and they had ended up getting him. And he wondered again if there was any point in trying.

As muscles and bones across his body complained, he gritted his teeth hard and felt enamel jarring on enamel. He would be dammed if he was going to let them get inside his head. They could beat him up, but he would come back stronger, as always.

The four of them had gripped him down by the Baltic Fleet as he walked home from the function in the arena the agency had sent him down to steward. He had stayed behind reluctantly, knowing that if he’d argued, he would have been blacklisted by the agency again. Now though, he knew however late he had worked today, if he turned in tomorrow, black eye and all, they’d accuse him of having been fighting and send him home, “Can’t have your sort upsetting the guests now can we?”

They’d been waiting down a side road off Jamaica Street that he’d had the misfortune to take a shortcut down. There were four of them in big Honda. It was past eight o’clock, but it wasn’t even that dark. He’d seen them eyeing him up as he walked past. Lips pursed, watching everything and giving nothing away.

He’d picked up the pace right away, hoping they had bigger fish to fry. But they decided he was something for them to do while they waited for whatever business that had brought them to that part of town to materialise.

His mistake was to put up a fight. They probably would’ve just taken his money and left if he’d stayed down. But he wasn’t going to go down without a having a go at least. Never. Even though he knew it was stupid, he had always stood up to what he saw as badness even after being knocked down so many times. So he took the beating, lay for a while to recover and consider his situation, and then moved on as best he could. Like he always did

He pushed on up past Cains and the new arts centre where he’d been working on a function the other day, passed the wrecked looking maisonettes that still contained a few families and the big, faded posters proclaiming brand new developments. “What a mad fucking world,” he said aloud through the blood and bile that filled his throat.

His faith in the rightness of things that had once been so strong was now decaying, but with every blow his faith in himself grew stronger. And he knew that it was only by being stronger and fighting harder that he would be able to push past all that had been loaded upon him. His only fear was that this desire to escape would corrupt him, but he took solace in all those others who had made it.

He pulled at his uniform; a nylon polo top now speckled with sweat and blood, and coughed another mouthful onto the pavement. A passer-by glanced briefly at his shambling but determined figure, before quickly averting their eyes and crossing the street.

Sucking the blood back into his nose once more, he hammered intently down the long expanse of Upper Parliament Street. Cars streamed past him, but as this point he had neither care nor thought to if they saw his split lip, swollen eye, bloodied top, and he raised his head and walked faster.

As he readied himself to cross over towards his street, he noticed something odd in the corner of his eye. Something incongruous had appeared in the familiar landscape of his regular walk home. He slowed his steps and the stopped to examine the new addition. All pain was forgotten briefly as he stood and stared at the object.

It stood on a battered and pock-marked field of grass where rows of terraces had once stood. It was a collection of white, flat metal strips. The strips weaved in and out of each other to form a slightly flattened square with criss-crosses at all angles. All-together, it resembled a kids’ climbing frame that had been assembled incorrectly.

He stood stock-still, save for blinking, and carried on staring intensely at the object. Behind him, cars still continued to scream past towards the Women’s’ Hospital and Renshaws.

As he stood, he raised his hand again to wipe more of the blood from his nose and to check on its congealing process. He looked absent-mindedly at the long, black and red smear on his hand and felt again the pain in his kicked shoulder as he lowered his arm.

He stepped over the small ledge of rubble that divided the field from the pavement, the only remaining marker from the houses that had once lined the street, and, with a confident stride and a slight limp, he headed across the grass towards the object.

He walked right up to the frame and lent in close, staring hard at its poles. He moved to one side, then another. Ran his hand along the smooth, coated-steel surface and look at the ridged bits on the edge where it had been folded by machine. He squatted down, lent on the frame and felt its coldness next to his cheek, then stood up again quickly, the blood rushing to his head giving him a touch of dizziness and clear white spots in front of his eyes.

As he regained full balance he looked at the object again. It still revealed nothing of its purpose, why it was here and what it was meant to be. What it had to do with anything in fact. This item, object, thing had arrived suddenly, without consent, and had been planted without asking. Not grown, bled, eeked out, but dropped from on high.

At the other end of the object he spotted a small, tilted plaque on a pole in the ground. He went over and read it: “Playground in a New Media Universe. Coated steel structure, 2008. Otto Lucas b. New York 1974. Commissioned for Liverpool’s Community Culture Programme.”

He read it again, then looked at the object, then read it again, then looked at the object. As he went to read the panel again, a drop of blood landed on it; a bright, bright red spot that expanded outwards a dozen tiny lines.

This made him smile, and he sucked the blood back up through his nostril once more, turned away and walked off purposefully towards a dead tree at the edge of the field.

Beneath it was a pile of rubbish left from the demolition of the terraces; broken brick, crisp wrappers and other assorted crap. A stubby, grey steel scaffolding pole that was amongst the detritus caught his eye. He lent forward slowly and gripped it with intent. The crusting stalagmites of blood in his nose heated and his heart pounded harder with every footstep as he headed back towards the object.

Once he reached the object again, he stopped and looked hard at it once more, willing it to reveal something, to give it a chance to redeem itself.

As he heard the cars streaming past behind him once again on Upper Parly, he smiled wide and manically, raised the scaffolding pole high above his head and brought it crashing down on ‘Playground in a New Media Universe’.

Avatar of Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor is a Liverpool based arts project manager and writer with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban enviroment. For much more information about Kenn's fiction writing, journalism and numerous community arts projects visit http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com. A separate site - http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com - is dedicated to Kenn's work around culture, cities and regeneration.

The South End

November 26, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Toxteth Library

Liverpool is a city of extremes and contrasts. One of these is the division that runs through the city from North to South. It may be often overplayed or misunderstood, but nevertheless, it exists in the consciousness of the city.

The traditional view goes that North Liverpool is the authentic ‘Scouse’ part of the city. Based on the area that fans out from the (in)famous Scotland Road and a population descended in the main from Irish immigrants, it is known as a place of docks, pubs, ‘angels with dirty faces’ children, and all those other pre-war clichés that form part of the identity of the city.

South Liverpool meanwhile is known for generally being the more ethnically diverse party of the city, especially Toxteth and wider ‘Liverpool 8’. It is also known as the place of students. Liverpool University has had halls in the area since the 1930s while Liverpool Hope University, once a teacher training college, and the original Liverpool School of Art on Hope Street, now the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, are all in the vicinity. The South End’s relative proximity to the Everyman and Unity Theatres and Philharmonic Orchestra Hall also contributes to it being seen as the land of the ‘arty types’.

However, as with anything the reality is much broader. The southern part of the city stretches from the suburbs of Allerton, the river views of Cressington, the village atmosphere of Woolton and the docklands of Dingle and Garston to the housing estates of Halewood and Speke and their nearby modern industry, including car factories, pharmaceutical plants and the city’s airport, to the ‘Boho’ strip of Lark Lane and Toxteth, most notorious for its 1981 riot, but an area with a much longer and richer history. Toxteth was for hundreds of years a Royal hunting park, and its large amount of green space still attests to this. When the area was developed it became home to the city’s ‘Merchant Princes’, resident in its many grand Georgian and Victorian houses, and later became arguably one of the first multi-cultural areas of the UK due to the city’s sea connections, long before the mass immigration in Post War Britain.

For my week of curating ‘A Wondrous Place’, I’ve chosen take South Liverpool as my focus. I’ve lived in the South Central area for several years now in a few different places and hope the following posts will cast a little look at the vicinity. Its locations, contrasts and contradictions have inspired a fair bit of my writing over the years, both fiction and journalism. The following posts will all be fiction and just an attempt to capture something of the reality of the area, but something of its unreality as well. They are of course just a few perspectives inspired from a few years of walking around these areas, there are many more besides.

Having planned to do a fiction-led week of curation it was pleasing serendipity that last week’s curator, Sarah-Clare Conlon, asked me:

“Which Liverpool literary figure and library would you point us towards?”

Which also fits in very nicely with my plans to look at the South End.

The library I will point you towards is Toxteth Library, my local branch. A fine building, it sits just beneath the looming sandstone bulk of Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the UK and 6th largest in the world. The Cathedral is absolutely huge and well worth the few pounds it costs to go up in the lift and see the view from the tower. The library is also just up the hill from another local landmark, the Cains Brewery. One of the few Victorian breweries still in operation in the UK, its steam often gives a romantic hue to Liverpool’s rich Irish Sea skies and periodically makes the whole area smell of Weetabix.

Toxteth Library

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The library itself was recently refurbished after a National Lottery grant. The Grade II listed building originally opened in 1902. It was a Carnegie library, one of several in Liverpool and hundreds around the world.  These were paid for by Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish American steel magnate who also paid for New York’s Carnegie Hall. He funded libraries all over the UK on the proviso that local authorities would run them. He must be turning in his grave with the recent cutbacks.

A mural hidden from view for more than 50 years was revealed during the refurbishment. The artwork, known as the Lunette, a neo-classical depiction of knowledge being handed down by the Gods of Culture, had darkened with age and become obscured. The 28ft long, 8ft high mural by W Alison Martin and Clinton Balmer was originally unveiled in 1903 after being exhibited in the city’s Walker Art Gallery.

During the restoration, other features of the library such as the original sash windows and radiators were revamped. New study areas, meeting rooms, a refreshment area and a new basement space for community activities and performances were also opened along with Wi-Fi Internet access being provided throughout.

Toxteth Library also features one of the largest collections of Chinese literature in the city, reflecting the library’s close proximity to Liverpool’s Chinatown, which is Europe’s oldest. The library is worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity and, with a thousand people using it every week, represents how local libraries can still be relevant to local communities even in a multimedia age.

Sadly, Liverpool 8’s other library, Edge Hill Library on Lodge Lane at the other end of Upper Parliament Street, was closed last year as part of UK government cuts. It was the last segment of a complex that once also included a swimming pool and a public ‘wash house’ that represented the best of civic facilities that was once provided for communities across the UK. Hopefully it will find a new community use and there are tentative plans for the Liverpool Carnival Company to take over the building.

This brings me to the local author I will write about. Liverpool in literary terms is perhaps best known for its playwrights and screenwriters (Bleasdale, Russell, McGovern, Cottrell-Boyce) and poets (McGough, Henri, Patten). However it also has a rich vein of novelists, ranging from horror masters such as Clive Barker and Ramsay Campbell to children’s author Bryan Jacques and Booker-prize nominee Beryl Bainbridge.

Another contemporary addition, Niall Griffiths, was born in 1966 on Wendell Street, a stones throw from Lodge Lane, Liverpool 8. Griffiths was born to a family part of Liverpool’s historic Welsh community. Later they moved to the Netherley Estate further out of the city before emigrating to Australia.

They returned after a few years to live in nearby Wirral. Griffiths then spent many years moving between Liverpool and Aberystwyth in Wales, between periods of study, work and partying at the height of rave culture. After abandoning his MA at Aberystwyth University, he wrote his first novel, Grits, which looked the lives of a group of young people in the Welsh town. Subsequently he wrote several more critically acclaimed and award-winning novels set in either Liverpool or Wales and often journeying between both. Intense, dark, unflinching and often at the same time funny, his books look at people on the margins of contemporary society whilst also going deeper to question often the very nature of existence.

One of his novels, Kelly + Victor, has just been made into a film and is due to be released some time in the next year. I highly recommend you check both his books and the film out.

 

 

Avatar of Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor

Kenn Taylor is a Liverpool based arts project manager and writer with a particular interest in community, culture and the urban enviroment. For much more information about Kenn's fiction writing, journalism and numerous community arts projects visit http://kenntaylor.wordpress.com. A separate site - http://urbantransitionuk.wordpress.com - is dedicated to Kenn's work around culture, cities and regeneration.

Words & Fixtures #5: Rags to Bitches

November 23, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Gallery of Costume

A couple of posts ago, I touched on Manchester’s current paper art, and as we head south out of town towards Fallowfield, let’s peek inside the gorgeous Whitworth Art Gallery, where there’s an outstanding archive of wallpaper. There is also a number of Wardle Pattern Books containing more than 1,700 pages of patterns for fabric by the designer associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris and Liberty.

A little further along Europe’s busiest bus route is the vast Platt Fields Park, overlooked by the Modernist beauty that is the Toast Rack (complete with Fried Egg) and the 1930s Art Deco delight that is Appleby Lodge, designed by the same architect as the soon-to-be-defunct Cornerhouse and once home to Sir John Barbirolli, conductor of the Halle Orchestra (and honoured with a blue plaque – gosh, perhaps I am a plaque collector, after all!).

Platt Fields is also home to the Gallery of Costume, reopened in 2010 after a complete overhaul, and already mentioned on A Wondrous Place by Pete Collins. On top of a well-curated permanent collection of outfits and accessories through the eras, there is a button exhibition (no good for the koumpounophobists among you, I’m afraid), a timeline contextualising the Gallery by reminding us of Manchester’s importance in textile manufacture, and changing shows; right now, dresses made of paper.

“A good specimen is one which is not only in sound condition and of nice quality, but which embodies the features of its period in an entirely representative way” – fashion writer Doris Langley Moore on collecting.

There are get-ups that belonged to the likes of Jerry Hall and Audrey Hepburn – in the latter’s case, a 1967 fuchsia button-through belted frock designed for the film star and fashion icon by Givenchy.

Audrey Hepburn’s Dress from the Gallery of Costume

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are a few writer connections, too. There’s a trademark Roberto Cavalli leopard-print number worn by Julia Roitfeld, daughter of Carine, editor of Paris Vogue until last year. There’s a wool suit owned by art and fashion historian and writer – and Lord Byron scholar – Doris Langley Moore, who had so many clothes, she kept them in her large house while she herself had to move to a small flat. There’s an evening dress created in the mid-1930s by Edward Molyneux, who mingled in the same circles as Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward, no less. (By the way, the title of this post references a former vintage shop in the Northern Quarter; it’s not a reflection on the people mentioned!)

Mode Magazine – one of the Gallery of Costume’s extensive collection of fashion journals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The building, which itself is most pleasant – a Grade 2 listed Georgian manor – also houses a comprehensive fashion journal library containing glossy magazines and periodicals dating back more than 100 years. Some are displayed alongside the actual garments shown in the spreads, while the complete collection is available to view by appointment. As a former fashion magazine journo, I’m making that appointment. But for now, I’m not far from home, so I’m off to kick back and have a well-deserved pre-dinner sherry.

……….

Thank you for reading! I hope this guide to Manchester’s literature and libraries has been as interesting for you to digest as it has been for me to put together, and I hope it might inspire you to pop a poetry night in your diary or pick up a book by a Manchester-based author. Obviously it’s not comprehensive, and there are plenty of people and places I’ve not had chance to mention (how about alternative depositories such as the virtual Rainy City Stories, for example, or the Salford Zine Library, where fellow contributor Natalie Bradbury’s The Shrieking Violet is one of the tomes?), but perhaps it can be a starting point. Thank you, too, to the people who have answered my questions and provided photographs (particularly Gareth Hacking for his original images of the Portico Library, more of which can be seen on Creative Tourist). Finally, a big thank you to Chris Meads for giving me the opportunity to explore my city further – it really is a wondrous place!

I hand the baton on to Kenn Taylor, and my question for him is: “Which Liverpool literary figure and library would you point us towards?”

Bye!

 

Avatar of Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon is a freelance writer, editor, press officer and digital marketeer for Manchester Literature Festival and The Literateur literary magazine. Her award-winning blog, 'Words & Fixtures' (http://wordsandfixtures.blogspot.co.uk) is about language, literature, arts and culture.

Words & Fixtures #4: Magic Buzzes

November 22, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Chethams marxengelsselectedworks

There seems to be no getting away from Anthony Burgess in Manchester and, en route to our next port of call, we’ll just drop down to Cross Street and stop for a quick jar or two in Mister Thomas’s Chop House, just shy of the splendid Royal Exchange Theatre. Mister Thomas’s was a favourite watering hole of Burgess, who, in his memoirs, talks of ‘hard-headed magnates and cotton brokers gorging red meat in chophouses’. Social commentator Friedrich Engels was also a regular, as he was at the library at Chetham’s School of Music. Here, legend has it, he met Karl Marx and the pair went on to write The Communist Manifesto together.

“If you want to blame any one place for the creation of communism, blame Manchester” – journalist Ed Glinert

Much of this information I picked up on the recent Boho Literary Tour, a regular fixture on the programme of the annual Manchester Literature Festival. The tour was led by Manchester Walks organiser Ed Glinert, who founded City Life, an “alternative” news, arts and listings magazine published between December 1983 and December 2005 which spawned such talents as yours truly. Ed isn’t the only tour guide in Manchester – there are loads, covering subjects as wide-ranging as music and sewers, and there are also lots of leftfield organisations encouraging the fine art of flaneurism (try the Loiterers’ Resistance Movement, Manchester Modernist Society, Northern Quarter Stories, Ancoats Peeps and Skyliner – whose Hayley Flynn has already curated A Wondrous Place). But I digress…

Like John Rylands, Chets is a fine example of the juxtaposition of old and new architecture, with sandstone Medieval buildings linked to brand-new structures by almost futuristic glass walkways that reflect the weird and wonderful Urbis whose shadow the school lives in. It’s a working school, but members of the public can go to free lunchtime concerts (I’d also recommend the RNCM ones at the delightful St Ann’s Church) and visit the library, as well a kept secret as the Portico. I’d had the delight of sitting in the properly atmospheric Baronial Hall for last year’s Manchester Fiction Prize Gala, but I’d never been to the library until I came to research this piece – and it really is worth a trip. After ringing a bell, a heavily studded door creaks open and you’re directed up a flight of stairs to an L-shaped, vaulted-ceilinged, lead-glassed, book-lined gallery, with individual ‘gated’ booths and a separate room at one end dominated by an enormous fireplace. There’s a 17th-century printing press and a display about the Brothers Grimm, and the comments book says it all: references to Hogwarts crop up umpteen times. Well, it is pretty magical!

Avatar of Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon is a freelance writer, editor, press officer and digital marketeer for Manchester Literature Festival and The Literateur literary magazine. Her award-winning blog, 'Words & Fixtures' (http://wordsandfixtures.blogspot.co.uk) is about language, literature, arts and culture.

Words & Fixtures #3: Secret Society

November 21, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Image Credit: Gareth Hacking www.garethhacking.co.uk

While seeking out Anthony Burgess’s blue plaque on campus, I stumbled across another – appropriately on the building that houses Manchester University Press. As I snapped it as an aide-memoire (I’m getting on a bit), the security guard asked if I collect plaques, which curiously means that living amongst us are plaque collectors. This particular one is for Peter Mark Roget, he of the thesaurus, pleasing me no end, dictionary aficionado that I am. Turns out Roget was one of the secretaries of our next library, the hidden gem that is the Portico, described when it first made its mark on the local landscape as “the most refined little building in Manchester”.

For your delight and delectation, here’s a poem by another famous librarian, and a famous Northerner to boot, Philip Larkin.

Library Ode

New eyes each year
Find old books here,
And new books,too,
Old eyes renew;
So youth and age
Like ink and page
In this house join,
Minting new coin.

 

Portico Library Window – Gareth Hacking www.garethhacking.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contrary to popular belief, the Portico Library is open to everyone, every day except Sunday, and you can browse the regular craft shows and art exhibitions (currently Clare Allan’s ‘Burnt Wood and Paper’, echoing a theme being explored at Manchester Art Gallery just down the way) and even take tea and cake beneath its lovely dome, which is rather civilised. Well, I suppose you’d expect nothing less of a space which includes a section with the moniker ‘Polite Literature’ and boasts links to regular ‘Coketown’ visitor Charles Dickens and local literary lady Elizabeth Gaskell. These days, it counts among its members the likes of Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, whose partner Emma Jane Unsworth has made it onto the shortlist for the Portico Prize for Literature which is awarded tomorrow. The wide-ranging shortlist this year includes fresh talent, such as Manchester resident Joe Stretch, and famous names, such as Jeanette Winterson, who’s just taken up post as professor of creative writing at the University’s Centre for New Writing. To bring us full circle, in 1989 the gong went to one Anthony Burgess…

Both Portico Library images: Gareth Hacking www.garethhacking.co.uk

Avatar of Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon is a freelance writer, editor, press officer and digital marketeer for Manchester Literature Festival and The Literateur literary magazine. Her award-winning blog, 'Words & Fixtures' (http://wordsandfixtures.blogspot.co.uk) is about language, literature, arts and culture.

Words & Fixtures #2: Proud Mancunians

November 20, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Image Credit: International Anthony Burgess Foundation - http://www.anthonyburgess.org/

Cross the road from City Library, pass the white block capitals of The Avenue (which, at certain angles, spells out HEAVEN) and stand in awe of the cathedral-like splendour of John Rylands Library, a sandstone edifice complete with gargoyles, rose windows and some brilliant Crappers (literally) in the basement. These days, you enter through a bright white extension, all glass and steel, that weaves into the old structure and appears to have given the place a new lease of life, if the buzzing little café and bookshop are anything to go by. The original building was dreamed up by Enriqueta Rylands, who wanted to remember her industrialist (and philanthropist) husband John, Manchester’s first-ever multi-millionaire, and to try and regenerate the slum-filled area. It took 10 years to build and opened on 1 January 1900. Take the lift to the third floor, and you’ll find the beautiful wood-panelled and book-adorned Historic Reading Room, where you can work away at your latest masterpiece (or read a comic; we don’t judge) or take in one of the changing exhibitions.

On show until 27 January is a display, curated by the International Anthony Burgess Foundation (itself worth ferretting out on Cambridge Street for its collection of rare manuscripts and typewriters), celebrating 50 years since the publication of local literary hero Anthony Burgess’s most famous work, ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Burgess was born and bred in Manchester, living in Harpurhey and Moss Side, and studying at Xaverian College in Victoria Park then the University of Manchester. Here a blue plaque has just been inaugurated, on the Faculty of Arts’ Samuel Alexander. The Rylands exhibition is an interesting insight into both the man about Manchester, and the reasons for writing a novel so brimming with ‘ultraviolence’. It includes correspondence with Stanley Kubrick, who directed and ultimately imposed a ban on the movie version, photographs from the film and newspaper clippings outlining the appalling criminal activity that was bubbling through the cracks of 1960s Britain.

“I am proud to be a Mancunian” – Anthony Burgess in his autobiography, Little Wilson And Big God (1987)

Image Credit: International Anthony Burgess Foundation – http://www.anthonyburgess.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which leads me on to the question I was posed by previous curator Missy Tassles: “What in, or about, Manchester inspires you, or has surprised you or has restored your faith in humanity?” The riots during August 2011 shocked the city, and the public outcry at the anti-social behaviour of a handful of individuals was heard loud and clear. Everyone pulled together to get the place cleared up and back on its feet, in a not dissimilar way (though obviously to a lesser extent) to after the IRA bomb in 1996, when I lived five miles from the centre and we could still hear the bang and see the smoke. There’s something wonderfully warm in the Mancunian spirit that helps us get through times of tragedy and toil and that makes living here so enjoyable on a day-to-day basis.

 

Avatar of Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon is a freelance writer, editor, press officer and digital marketeer for Manchester Literature Festival and The Literateur literary magazine. Her award-winning blog, 'Words & Fixtures' (http://wordsandfixtures.blogspot.co.uk) is about language, literature, arts and culture.

Words & Fixtures #1: Central and the City

November 19, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Elisabeth House foyer with Central Library

The mists of time shroud the exact date of my arrival in Manchester to study, and after stopping  a while, I departed for a sojourn in the big smoke before being drawn back to the rainy city coming up for a decade ago. Manchester has an appeal to me for many reasons, not least because it’s big enough to support a feeling of cosmopolitanism; small enough to offer a sense of community. Since returning, I’ve become involved in various groups and activities, helping organise green festivals in Chorlton (where else?), joining the monthly bike ride Critical Mass, tagging along on psychogeography derives, taking part in a 24-hour performance art project and doing all sorts of other cool things in various cool places with loads of different cool people.

My main thing, however, is getting immersed in the burgeoning literary scene, which has really taken off this last 12 months or so. You can’t swing a cat for the amount of spoken word nights, author readings and creative writing workshops there are these days; often two or more brilliant events clash and I have to play rock paper scissors in order to decide which one to grace with my inimitable presence. I like to listen and learn from other poets and proseurs, and I also like to write and perform my own micro stories, or flash fiction. I work for Manchester Literature Festival and The Literateur online literary magazine, and I’ve been churning out an arts blog, Words & Fixtures, since 2008. I’ve decided therefore to take this opportunity as guest curator of A Wondrous Place to look at the city’s words and fixtures: literature and libraries.

“The health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries”  - scientist and writer Carl Sagan

Libraries are on topic right now and there’s been a lot in the media about our public libraries being under threat while the Culture, Media & Sport select committee has just published a report on the subject. Meanwhile Manchester’s main reference and reading establishment, the amazingly imposing Central Library (pictured here in an artist’s impression of the under-construction One St Peter’s Square), is currently closed to undergo a complete overhaul, due to reopen in 2014. The temporary City lending library is crammed into Elliot House on Deansgate (lovely stained glass and awesome wallpaper, though, so definitely worth a looksee if you’re passing), the collection is squirrelled away somewhere in a Cheshire salt mine and the future of Library Walks is uncertain, but STOP! Let’s not get disheartened, dear reader – I’m going to take you on a tour of some of the alternative book depositories the residents of Cottonopolis are lucky enough to have access to and explore some of the colourful wordy types this place has produced. There will be mystery! There will be history! There may even be drinks if you promise to keep quiet and don’t run in the corridors…

 

Avatar of Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon is a freelance writer, editor, press officer and digital marketeer for Manchester Literature Festival and The Literateur literary magazine. Her award-winning blog, 'Words & Fixtures' (http://wordsandfixtures.blogspot.co.uk) is about language, literature, arts and culture.

Sheffield Sounds Cartoons Part Four – Music In The Air

November 16, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

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Sheffield has a rich musical history; alongside its industrial heritage, rhythm seems to be everywhere sometimes. A simple walk into Sheffield city centre can be a musical adventure in itself.

Click here for a much larger version of the above cartoon.

……

Last week’s guest curator of ‘A Wondrous Place’ Lesley Taker asked me the following question:

‘Which bit of Sheffield could you not be without? Be it a place, a happening, a particular area…’

Definitely different bits for different times in my life: it’s evolved for me as a place as I’ve changed over the years.  As a child, Castle Markets with my Nan; as a teenager, all the cinemas (at least 2 or 3 of which no longer exist, e.g. Gaumont where I first saw ‘Back to the Future’, ABC where I saw ‘Ghostbusters’); as a young adult, certain pubs/clubs (The Washington, Offbeat).  Now I love the area in which I live – Crookes. It’s quite hilly, but flattens out at the top for the little ‘High Street’; a smattering of charity shops, a deli, bakers, newsagent, a couple of local supermarkets amongst other things, yet retains a small charming villagey feel.  In one direction I can walk for 20 minutes and be in the countryside (Rivelin Valley), walk in the other direction for 20 minutes I can be in the city centre!

Next week’s guest curator on ‘A Wondrous Place’ is Sarah-Clare Conlon from Manchester. Here’s my question for Clare: ‘What in, or about, your city inspires you, has surprised you or has restored your faith in humanity?’

Thanks so much to Chris at Northern Spirit for all his help and inviting me to have another turn at curating ‘A Wondrous Place’ – it’s a great project with a warm heart, and it’s an honour to have some of my doodles included.  Thanks also to the cast of characters who have featured throughout my life and my cartoons so far – it’s all of you and our own stories that build our picture of the world around us that I find inspiring.  I have many creatively inspirational friends, some who have been especially inspiring, encouraging and supportive of projects I’ve worked on over the years and I’d like to add special mention to a select few (in no particular order) – Rob Richardson, Jim Connolly, Anjan Sarkar, Elodie G, Jack Straker, Paul Dorrington, Lizzie Biscuits, Andy Jupp and Julie Cooper at Charity Shop DJ, Adrian Flanagan, Mark Wainwright  – here’s to future adventures! And, of course, Mr Tassles, Little Tassles and my parents for putting up with my ongoing shenanigans.

Bye!

 

Avatar of Missy Tassles

Missy Tassles

Based in Sheffield, I love film, comics, everything kitsch, weird, 1950s-60s, horror, sci-fi, and creative projects: playing music, sewing, painting, occasional DJ-ing. Creative focus at present is on my indie art-rock band Flying Wing and I doodle cartoon diary blog posts inbetween other stuff.www.missytassles.wordpress.com www.flying-wing.co.uk www.thegirlnextdoortou.wordpress.com

Sheffield Sounds Cartoons Part Three – Flying Wing Performance Testing

November 15, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

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Flying Wing

My fellow Flying Wing research engineers have been considerably patient with me and have taught me pretty much everything I know so far about being in a band (particularly the guitar) for which I’ll be eternally grateful, as this has come mean a lot to me. I finally feel like I’ve found the thing I’m meant to be doing, but I’ve still got a lot of catching up to do!

Click here for a much larger version of the above cartoon. Click the cartoon below to enlarge it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avatar of Missy Tassles

Missy Tassles

Based in Sheffield, I love film, comics, everything kitsch, weird, 1950s-60s, horror, sci-fi, and creative projects: playing music, sewing, painting, occasional DJ-ing. Creative focus at present is on my indie art-rock band Flying Wing and I doodle cartoon diary blog posts inbetween other stuff.www.missytassles.wordpress.com www.flying-wing.co.uk www.thegirlnextdoortou.wordpress.com

Sheffield Sounds Cartoons Part Two – The Dream Machine

November 14, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

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Sheffield often has cool unique mini happenings – musical events and festivals tucked away all over the city. Many smaller venues have closed down in recent years, but new and inventive ones are springing up all over the place. Huge events such as the Tramlines festival (a city-wide free festival, utilising every venue of every size for a whole weekend in July) are bringing people to the city and encourage every venue and band to get involved. I wish I was more ‘in the loop’ still to hear about more of these smaller events, but here’s an example of one I did manage to get to, in a nice pub venue called The Shakespeare (since expanded and renamed ‘Shakespeares’!) - Dream Machine.

(For a much larger version of the cartoon above, click here. Just click on each cartoon below to enlarge it.)

‘Dream Machine’ Day One

‘Dream Machine’ Day Two

‘Dream Machine’ Day Three

Avatar of Missy Tassles

Missy Tassles

Based in Sheffield, I love film, comics, everything kitsch, weird, 1950s-60s, horror, sci-fi, and creative projects: playing music, sewing, painting, occasional DJ-ing. Creative focus at present is on my indie art-rock band Flying Wing and I doodle cartoon diary blog posts inbetween other stuff.www.missytassles.wordpress.com www.flying-wing.co.uk www.thegirlnextdoortou.wordpress.com

Sheffield Sounds Cartoons Part One – A Short History of Sheffield Bands

November 13, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, SHEFFIELD, Wondrous Cities

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Anyone interested in music has a large part of their life coloured in by it. The bands we’re around and listen to with friends at impressionable ages in life often have a huge impact that stays with us forever. There are references in these cartoons to Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation, a record label I helped set up and run for a number of years (with Darren Chuck, Rob Chuck and Mark Velodrome). With Mark I went on to do ‘Thee SPC Live!’ radio show (on Sheffield Live!) for a time, who I’ve also had fun working with on musical projects since. Velodrome 2000 are currently playing successful comeback tour shows (I kid ye not)! There’s also a reference within the cartoons to one of my favourite bands Beachbuggy:

I’ve been lucky enough to go on to work with Jack Straker and Paul Dorrington from Beachbuggy (amongst many other bands) in my current band Flying Wing (there’s a Flying Wing post coming up later this week).

 

Sheffield Bands Cartoons Part One: Pulp (for a much larger version of the cartoon above – click here).

 

Sheffield Bands Cartoons Part Two: Velodrome 2000

Click on the image to enlarge it.

 

And here’s a link to Velodrome 2000′s Facebook page.

 

Sheffield Bands Cartoons Part Three: Chuck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click on the images to enlarge them.

And here’s a link to Chuck on MySpace.

 

 

Avatar of Missy Tassles

Missy Tassles

Based in Sheffield, I love film, comics, everything kitsch, weird, 1950s-60s, horror, sci-fi, and creative projects: playing music, sewing, painting, occasional DJ-ing. Creative focus at present is on my indie art-rock band Flying Wing and I doodle cartoon diary blog posts inbetween other stuff.www.missytassles.wordpress.com www.flying-wing.co.uk www.thegirlnextdoortou.wordpress.com

DAY 5: Down the River…

November 9, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

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MelloMello

Not to end on a sour note, given yesterday’s anti-establishment conclusion, I wanted to briefly mention in my conclusion a whole host of places I have missed out this week. Music was my first real love in Liverpool, it is how I have met all my friends, how I got into the art world and how I have found most of the places I have visited here. So I thought I should mention the tremendous number of gig venues in Liverpool, and more specifically the amazing ones. Top of the list, unsurprisingly to anyone who goes to gigs in Liverpool, is The Kazimier on Wolstenholme Square.The Kazimier came back full force a few years back, reinvigorated by a group of performers, producers, musicians and artists. The club nights and gigs put on here are all-encompassing, and range from Masked Balls, Black-tie NYE parties, and themed covers nights to Battles, Hot Snakes, and members of the Wu-Tang Clan’s solo-projects. I have had some of the best nights out in Liverpool here, dancing and singing even when the band has stopped, until we are politely asked to stop making everyone sing Gangsta’s Paradise acapella. The Kaz are neighbours to the previously mentioned WCS, which lies across the square and hosts some intimate, raucous music events. The exhibition and live music programmes have blended recently with a sound installation created and played live by locals Sun Drums, which has now been integrated into the Biennial exhibition. A little off the square, lies MelloMello, another example of the art/music crossover, this narrow, wood-floored space acts as a small gig venue for jazz nights througout the week and varied, externally-promoted, nights at least once a week: expect anything from female barbershop to hardcore noise and thrash. Mello has recently spruced itself up a bit, fitted a kitchen and a proper bar and now does some seriously good food.

Gig poster by Sean Wars (wwrrssddrrwwss.co.uk) for Hawk & A Hacksaw at The Kazimier, Wolstenholme Square

Jazzhands play Wolstenholme Creative Space during Sound City 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up Slater Street and past Dumbells gallery, you will eventually find yourself on Bold Street, long considered the bohemian and alternative street in Liverpool. This may not strictly be the case these days, but the further up you go, the more interesting things get. Forget Starbucks, Nero and Costa which fight amongst themselves outside Waterstones, walk towards the Bombed-Out Church on Berry Street and you will find somewhere a bit cheaper, a lot more interesting, and you might even get some life drawing, or live music with your Latte. Leaf Tea Shop does food throughout the day and into the evening, when the music begins. The gigs here are organised by some of the city’s big-hitting promoters, such as Harvest Sun and Evol, so expect names like Nat Baldwin, Two Gallants and Francois & the Atlas Mountains upstairs, and a free-to-attend open mic night happening once a week downstairs. Leaf’s neighbour, Bold Street Coffee sells and makes award-winning coffee, have ever-changing exhibitions from local producers (which have included screen-printed gig posters, to limited edition prints available to purchase) and host some of the best small gigs in the city, a recent one worth mentioning being the packed out visit from Americans Pine Hill Haints.

Leaf Tea Shop & Bar, Bold Street

Bold Street Coffee, Copyright Adam Edwards for Bido Lito

One of the many exhibitions at Bold Street Coffee.

These are the places where I spend my time, in which I meet friends, colleagues and go to before, after, or to see gigs. These spaces, business and ventures are constantly changing, growing and trying their hand at everything. And that is because they are run by some of the most committed and inventive people I have ever met, even in this city. They are always packed with friendly faces, whether or not you know any of the clientele (which you probably will if you’ve been in Liverpool more than a month…) and always have something interesting happening.

And that little bit of Tourist Information pretty much wraps my week up. Other than to wax lyrical a bit about the spirit of my city, not necessarily culture-bound, and how Liverpool has affected me. Last week’s curator Michael Duckett, asked me: “How has your hometown affected how you see the world? What part of yourself can you put down to the influence of that place?” Well, I think that one of the important things about Liverpool is its size, because it is tiny. TINY. Everyone knows everybody else and you can’t move without seeing someone you recognise. Many see this as restrictive and would rather escape in the (relative) sprawl of Manchester or disappear completely into London, but I have only ever seen this as a good thing. Artists, writers, musicians and performers all know one another and this makes for some very interesting and unlikely collaborations, it also makes for a very supportive and nurturing environment in which to produce whatever it is you want to create. It is an incredibly friendly city because of this, and because of the natural Scouse demeanour, which is basically: Talk to Everyone. You stand still anywhere in Liverpool for long enough, someone will start talking to you, headphones withstanding. Visitors often find this odd and intimidating, thinking they’re about to be mugged, but you soon get used to it and realise it is just an anachronistic politeness and display of general concern for humanity which sadly seems to be maligned and marginalised more and more in modernity. So, if I could pick one brief answer to each question from Michael, I would say that Liverpool has made me see the world as a place which can be negotiated with care and pleasantness rather than stony-faced stoicism. And secondly, I put my sense of humour, and concern for others down to this place, and more specifically, down to my very Scouse family and friends. They are the most helpful, caring, and generous people who exist and there is a small part of me which truly believes they wouldn’t quite be the way they are if they hadn’t been dragged up with the River Mersey at their backs…

Continuing this regional interrogation, my question for Missy Tassles from Sheffield who is returning to the space next week, is this: Which bit of Sheffield could you not be without? Be it a place, a happening, or a particular area?

Many thanks to Chris Meads for asking me to participate in this project, to Michael for his question and to Missy in advance for her answer to mine. Also thanks to my bro4lyf, the terrifyingly prolific Sean Wars for letting me nick his gig posters and illustrations: he has been making noise both nightmarish and joyous, and drawing for years and only ever gets better. Go see, and buy(!), loads of stuff at his website! And lastly, the biggest thanks to everyone I have discussed in these pieces, either directly or implicitly. You will all know who you are, organisations or individuals, and I just wanted to say ‘Thanks’ because my city wouldn’t be the same without you, and if you weren’t here to make it what it is, then, well, I’d probably have to move to Canada….

Primary Image: Gig Poster by Sean Wars for Silent Front at MelloMello

Avatar of Lesley Taker

Lesley Taker

Academically pre-disposed word-monger and noise fancier. Most of my words are made up, or are about books, pictures & music. Although, oddly enough, all of my published academic work is about some form of pornography. Since graduating from my MA in Contemporary Literature (& Modern Art) at Liverpool Uni two years ago, I have worked as a Gallery Assistant at the Bluecoat, FACT, and now am the Curatorial Assistant in the latter. In my spare time I write about local art and music, and occasionally about the books I love to read, mostly for local Culture website The Double Negative, and my own blog Perfect Unlikeness (http://unghosted.blogspot.co.uk). I am currently writing a book of my own about the YBA painter Jenny Saville, as well as working towards curating a rather unsettling (hopefully, funded!) show with some amazing Liverpool based artists. I have a penchant for massive, impractical rings that get me refused from clubs, Earl Grey, Simon Schama, Rothko and Bill Murray. I truly love literature, writing, and the Liverpool Arts scene, and am always eager to find chances to blend them together!

DAY 4: The DIYs

November 8, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

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The Royal Standard, Vauxhall Rd, L3

Drop the Dumbells (Dumbells Gallery), Slater Street, L1

Wolstenholme Creative Space, Wolstenholme Square, L1

I’m not going to make anything up for this one, or write it in a narrative sort of way. Because I really don’t have to. The following gallery spaces, venues and studios hold enough real creative force and self-initiated power. So, I will simply tell you a little bit about three of the places I have seen build themselves up from nothing, or very little, to what I feel is what makes Liverpool special. Not to go all American after school special, but the people who are behind the creation and perpetuation of these spaces are hard-working to well over the point of obsession and are committed to making it work, even in the worst economic climate. In fact, because of that. All of the directors, artists, curators, installers, technicians, volunteers and mates with a brush/projector/PA who constantly pitch in to make these places work mean they are the most dynamic, inspirational and representative of the cultural heart of Liverpool.

 ….

Emily Speed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Royal Standard is an artist-led studio space and gallery a little bit out of the city centre. Home to various internationally-exhibiting, well-regarded and well-loved artists, this space is the example of how to do DIY. The exhibitions events that Royal Standard host and hold across the city are renowned for their creativity, community, and their interesting choice of booze (and receptacles). The Drawing Paper is produced from these studios (where both of the Liverpool Art Prize nominated creators Jon Barraclough and Mike Carney, are based) and next week the second Drawing Session will be held in the studios. These sessions see studio-holders, artists from across Liverpool, musicians and people just interested in what’s going on, walking around the space watching people create art all over the walls, the floor, the doors: anywhere they can rest a piece of paper or card. Meanwhile, local musicians and DJs soundtrack the day’s activities. In next week’s session, the two will combine through creative technologies so that the drawing can be soundtracked by drawing itself. For me, the Drawing Paper (now on its 6th issue) and the accompanying events illustrate (pun fully intended) the commitment of TRS to community, artist-led exhibitions and anybody artistically-minded getting involved in everything.

Dumbells Gallery, Slater Street

Inside the Dumbells Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drop the Dumbells started as a gig venue in an abandoned basement gym on the grounds of the old Flying Picket on Hardman Street, when it was called Don’t Drop the Dumbells (named for a sign mounted on the wall in the gym). These two small, damp rooms played host to some of the best local gigs I have ever been to, and saw the first show by promoters Behind the Wall of Sleep, a show which brought ATP favourite Alexander Tucker, the mighty Carlton Melton (USA) and local psych-heroes Mugstar together for an incredible, packed-out, projection filled show. During the year this space was controlled by local musicians, promoters and artists, we had lock-ins, art on the walls and ceiling, gigs starting at midnight and going on until people started to fall asleep on the beat up couch, birthday parties where everyone not too drunk to do so had a turn of DJ-ing, a fancy dress Halloween extravaganza, and basically an amazing time. So we were sad to see it go when the license went up. But now, for the time being, Dumbells has returned, in a slightly more sophisticated guise (i.e. there’s a door, a sign, and some paint on the walls) showing monthly solo exhibitions by local artists alongside one-off gigs and music-based events taking place in the exhibition itself.

 

Wolstenholme Creative Space, Wolstenholme Square

 

 

 

 

 

Julieann O’ Malley in “Spectrum” at WCS, Copywright Lesley Taker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wolstenholme Creative Space (WCS) is probably my favourite space in Liverpool. I used to only come here for gigs or to meet friends painting or screen-printing upstairs on self-built beds in small studios. They were some of the most intimate, surprising and varying gigs I have ever been to, but that’s not the reason I am in love with WCS. It is for the gallery space, and for the amazing programme which is a result of the incredibly hard-working, keen-eyed Priya Shama, who runs the space and runs herself into the ground doing so. Priya along with a group of mates, artists and gallery technicians from across the city pull together each show to make the next one better than the last. They are an inspiration to anyone starting out as a practitioner, curator or creator, or anyone in the arts who can’t find a job. They couldn’t find the jobs they wanted, so they committed to Wolsty whilst doing the jobs they could get, if they could, and now they occasionally get paid enough to pay rent, and asked to exhibit in other galleries, such as with the ACE supported show Spectrum which ran this summer.

 

Mello Mello, Slater Street

As a caveat, during the course of this project, and as recently as last week, the City Council have basically tried to oust two of the best self-initiated, artist led communities in Liverpool. One being the not-for-profit bar MelloMello on Slater Street, which plays host to gigs, exhibitions, parties, DJ nights and some incredible veggie & vegan food, the other being the artist-led studio space and gallery The Royal Standard, whose directors are dedicated volunteers and houses some of Liverpool’s best, most prolific and encouraging, internationally-exhibited artists such as Emily Speed, Kevin Hunt and Jon Barraclough. This sort of careless, unfounded bureaucratic behaviour may destroy the very places which were organically formed and have thrived as a result of, and in spite of, massive government cuts in funding to the arts, and the lack of paid opportunities available to artists, curators, and creators. Liverpool’s creative community have filled the gap which was left after 2008, when large, performative displays and grand exhibitions drew the tourists, but invested nothing real and tangible into the future of the city’s cultural landscape. Places like MelloMello and The Royal Standard have brought themselves up from nothing, found their own funding, found their own willing and loyal volunteers and made something out of nothing. Now they are going to be penalised for making it work. I have ultimate faith that both organisations will fight, adapt and come back even stronger given the tremendous support shown by the Liverpool people. But I just wish it didn’t have to be a constant, unending battle.

Primary image: Royal Standard based artists Mike Carney & Jon Barraclough: Drawing Paper creators.

Avatar of Lesley Taker

Lesley Taker

Academically pre-disposed word-monger and noise fancier. Most of my words are made up, or are about books, pictures & music. Although, oddly enough, all of my published academic work is about some form of pornography. Since graduating from my MA in Contemporary Literature (& Modern Art) at Liverpool Uni two years ago, I have worked as a Gallery Assistant at the Bluecoat, FACT, and now am the Curatorial Assistant in the latter. In my spare time I write about local art and music, and occasionally about the books I love to read, mostly for local Culture website The Double Negative, and my own blog Perfect Unlikeness (http://unghosted.blogspot.co.uk). I am currently writing a book of my own about the YBA painter Jenny Saville, as well as working towards curating a rather unsettling (hopefully, funded!) show with some amazing Liverpool based artists. I have a penchant for massive, impractical rings that get me refused from clubs, Earl Grey, Simon Schama, Rothko and Bill Murray. I truly love literature, writing, and the Liverpool Arts scene, and am always eager to find chances to blend them together!

DAY 3: The Audience

November 7, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

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FACT (Foundation of Art & Creative Technology), 88 Wood Street, L1 4DQ

About

FACT will be ten years old next year, and for those ten years it has been a hub for Liverpool’s creatives, film-lovers, techies and artists. Housing three businesses, this building is a cinema, cafe and art gallery: the latter of which occasionally overlooked by some Scousers who are blinded by the comfortable seating and the fact you can take a beer into the cinema screens. Totally unique in its offer and approach to the arts, FACT fills a gap in the city which no other organization touches on. Offering workshops, displays and training in creative technologies and some of the most innovative and cutting-edge, technically advanced exhibitions, FACT is a building, organization and community, which the city would be a much less interesting place without. Immersion and inclusivity seem to be FACT’s main objectives in selecting the artists they choose to work with, and this is why I have labeled this entry as ‘The Audience’. From impressively long-standing community collaborations to exhibition pieces which look to engage visitors in a physical and imaginative relocation within the gallery space, FACT constantly pushes the artistic fascination in, and of, audience engagement. The pieces I am writing about here are Pipilotti Rist’s solo show in 2008, and Kurt Hentschlager’s ‘Zee’ which was part of the AND festival in 2011. Rist’s piece was nationally popular in its playful exploration of the embodiment of art and what it means to be female and a creator. ‘Zee’ captivated FACT’s visitors in a way I had never before experienced in my time as a gallery invigilator. Both pieces, although existing in different spaces in FACT’s timeline, had a profound effect on everyone who visited, and everyone who worked on them; day in, day out.

Pipilotti Rist’s “Gravity be my Friend” 2008 at FACT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking from Lime Street station after a journey I never wish to relive (on an impossibly cold, overly-lit train which stopped everywhere) I decide to get a coffee so make my way to Bold Street.

Stood outside, gripping the brown cardboard cup and leaning away from the wind, I light a pocket-squashed roll-up and look around me. Suddenly, across the square, the ten-foot tall, painfully contorted face of a woman who is made-up with cosmetics apparently created by Crayola is staring at me through her one visible eye. Her surreal visage is pressed onto the outside world like a child’s face up against a window; it has been dragged along, distorted, and warped. I walk over, looking up as I finish my cigarette and extinguish it in the muddy remnants in my cup.

I wander into the foyer of FACT, trying to recall the last time I came in and find myself staring into a darkened room with projections playing on the ceiling. I step inside and notice the islands of carpet which seem to have erupted from the floor, on which several people are lying, staring straight up. They are apparently consumed and lulled by the highly vivid, saturated film of a girl and her brother languishing in nature, playing in water. The invigilator walks over to me and talks to me about this aquatic, Freudian Eden; tells me about the artist and encourages me to lie down. I waver on the edges, not wanting to intrude upon the experience of those already in position. But I vow to come back when I have the wherewithal to lie still and be absorbed into this psychedelic outpouring. She directs me to the next room, suggesting I might enjoy a very different sort of immersive experience.

I enter the next gallery space, where a group of people has converged. After some basic information and signing of forms, we are briefed by an excitable guide – maybe a bit older than me with a cheeky grin and ridiculous hair – who instructs us to breathe slowly, and to hold onto a guide rope so we don’t fall. This is not what I expected, walking into a gallery. There is a smell. Smoke? I can taste the thin mist rather than smell it, can feel it reaching down into my lungs and stinging my throat. We stand facing a white door and our guide smiles as he pulls it open, encouraging us to step into the space, into the billowing clouds of fog which begin to unfurl from the, now unguarded, portal. My hand immediately clutches the rope and I can’t help but wish I had not wandered in alone. I begin to think about the circumstances that found me by myself, wandering around the icy streets of this city. Seeing the lights of this building and the excited group in the foyer and taking a look. And suddenly I become immediately and simultaneously aware of my surroundings and overwhelmed with what is happening: I freeze.

The other 8 or so people who entered the room alongside me have completely vanished, absorbed into the acerbic fog which, in turns, embraces and suffocates me. And then my eyes… The light has shifted. Everything has turned and my retinas are subjected to continually changing, moving, kaleidoscopic lights, which continue to dance across the inside of my eyelids when I shut my eyes against the burning smoke. I am so dizzy and disorientated that I am sure I am going to have to run out, or sit down, but then begin to panic about how exactly to do that. In my confusion, I have let go of the rope and have no idea where in the room I am, or what to do. I begin to panic. What if I collapse? Fall over? Am left in here? And then, suddenly, everything falls away.

I haven’t passed out. I am still standing. But the panic, the wave of nausea has completely ceased to grip me. Everything has changed from nightmare to an incredible, ecstatic delusion. Bernini pops into my head, the Pieta, countless club nights: dancing, covered in sweat in a plume of smoke, surrounded by flashing lights. I am overwhelmed by joy and think I can feel my synapses firing, my blood flowing and my spirit soaring. And then, it stops. I make my way round the room to the door and enter into a passageway, and stand completely dazed, trying to prepare myself for the outside world. When I do eventually step out, everything is saturated, bright, and loud and I am overawed. I walk out of FACT past the mesmerized, prone forms in the foyer who are completely enraptured by Rist’s flashing face and make my way down the side of the building. I notice the fog spilling out of a vent, into the cold air, where it hangs, suspended in the chill. As I pass through it, my own breath mixes with the fabricated fog and for a second I am engulfed in a varying mist. I pause, catch my breath and smile. Moving on, pulling my scarf over my face and pushing my hands into my pockets I watch people hurry up and down Bold Street and begin to make my way home, again, up the hill. After so much time away.

Zee at FACT, Copyright Kurt Hentschlager

 

 

 

 

 

Avatar of Lesley Taker

Lesley Taker

Academically pre-disposed word-monger and noise fancier. Most of my words are made up, or are about books, pictures & music. Although, oddly enough, all of my published academic work is about some form of pornography. Since graduating from my MA in Contemporary Literature (& Modern Art) at Liverpool Uni two years ago, I have worked as a Gallery Assistant at the Bluecoat, FACT, and now am the Curatorial Assistant in the latter. In my spare time I write about local art and music, and occasionally about the books I love to read, mostly for local Culture website The Double Negative, and my own blog Perfect Unlikeness (http://unghosted.blogspot.co.uk). I am currently writing a book of my own about the YBA painter Jenny Saville, as well as working towards curating a rather unsettling (hopefully, funded!) show with some amazing Liverpool based artists. I have a penchant for massive, impractical rings that get me refused from clubs, Earl Grey, Simon Schama, Rothko and Bill Murray. I truly love literature, writing, and the Liverpool Arts scene, and am always eager to find chances to blend them together!

DAY 2: The Building

November 5, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

BLUECOAT1 BUILDING PHOTO

The Bluecoat, School Lane, L1 3BX

About

Completed in 1717, The Bluecoat was originally a charity school. Since then, the school outgrew the building and has moved to a more suburban location in Allerton and the building left behind has been a great many things, including (on more than one occasion) nearly destroyed. The building was totally renovated and reopened in 2008, Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year, which saw the city’s creative output booming on an international scale. The Bluecoat has always been associated with performance, the artistic and the avant-garde: from performative installations by Captain Beefheart and Yoko Ono to literature festivals and some of the bravest and varied exhibitions I have ever come across. I worked here for over two years, and very recently said goodbye to move home to FACT, which I’ll look at tomorrow. I will miss the Bluecoat deeply: the vibrancy, the constant changes and excitement. The amazing Queen Anne architecture and the fact that this is the oldest building in Liverpool is not what is staggering about this structure. It is the community which inhabits it and holds it close, who hold it as an emblem of Liverpool’s long-standing artistic heart. This building is very much of the people, it feels like a place where activism, dissonance and artistic democracy is truly possibly and this feeds into the exhibitions, the outreach programme and the truly amazing people who visit, work and create in this beautiful building.

 …

The building as a body. This old, once crumbling, body. Filled with sensual experiences, history, memory and, in the basement, the faint smell of damp. People rushing in and around, filling, emptying: feeling. Bodies are essentially about feeling. About touch, smell, sight, sound; and the emotions that accompany each intertwining sensation. About the way an entity reacts and interacts with the external world, and the ways in which that exchange builds foundations of opinion, thought and action. This building is a body whose senses are constantly reeling, and who opens up these sensory experiences to all of those who step inside.

The Bluecoat, which is a maze of studios and spaces filled with the history of so much, contains many rooms which I love. But there is one which I have loved more than any other. More than the Printing Studios, which are vibrant, vital and ran by one of the most exceptionally talented people I have ever met. If you asked anyone, they would probably say that was my favourite space: where art is made and groups of people come together to create. But it isn’t. There is a small space, at the top of a tall flight of concrete stairs which sits, perched in the apex of the building, and this is the room which has been a constant joy to me. Gallery 4, for me, has had some of the best pieces of work ever exhibited at the Bluecoat. This may seem odd, as it is a bit out of the way, and it has to be said some people go to exhibitions at the Bluecoat and probably never go up into this space, but casting my mind back, there seems to be something about this room and pieces which illuminate the senses and allow visitors to directly engage with the work, and in doing so, the building itself.

It becomes a sort of Alice In Wonderland space, where anything is possible and you never know what you might find. From wooden structures which you lie upon to feel the vibrations of swimming hammerhead sharks, sonically portrayed, to mazes of ribbon filled with fetishistic, erotically menacing figures. I have often thought it is either a very clever move by the curators to place such pieces up here, or in fact the artists who create that sort of work know when they’re onto a good thing and clamour for the space other people would disregard.

Nicholas Hlobo, The Bluecoat’s 2010 Biennial show, Copyright Graham Morgan.

Walking through Nicholas Hlobo’s ribbon room in the 2010 Biennial, in the pitch black, the day after an opening I had missed, searching for the switch to ignite the spotlights, is one of my lasting impressions of working as a Gallery Assistant in the Bluecoat. Silken tendrils rustling around me as I moved from one side of the rainbow-filled room to the other, flowing over my skin and entangling me until I sensed a clearing ahead of me. And the noise I emitted when I was confronted with a leather-clad, hand sewn figure clutching a smaller version of itself looming in the darkness. After the initial shock, and when I had the lights on, I wandered around the (still very dark) forest of haberdashery. Without ducking or attempting to move around the ribbons hanging from the ceiling to the floor, I walked across the room again, ribbon falling across my face, and distinctly recall the feeling of childlike, nostalgic, sensory glee which coursed through my body forcing me to break into a massive grin. And every time I encountered a visitor in this room during its’ three-month stay, I saw the exact same elation and was immediately asked to tell them about the work, and the artist. They wanted to know everything about the man who had created this silent, poignant explosion of colour and sensation. Again and again, I talked about Hlobo and his political motivations, his background in South Africa, his sexuality and the work he does to access the complex emotions and primitive forces of being human. And again and again, I realised how vital work like this is: work which directly engages with the visitor’s senses, in doing so, accessing memory or promoting fascination and allowing them the space to wonder and investigate. This engagement and space is essential to people walking into an art gallery and coming out wanting to find out everything possible about the creators, and how it is possible they have been so affected.

Copyright Alan Williams (www.alan-williams.co.uk)

The Bluecoat is built on engagement, on community and Gallery 4 – for me – encompasses what I see as being so special about the building. It is a space in which people can completely lose themselves in the work, and spend as much time as they like doing so. The pieces most memorable for me in this space are those which have had political and academic resonance, which have been delivered through a direct appeal to visitors’ sensory experience and allowed them to have an experience: be it contemplative, soothing, nostalgic, or challenging. This space is a distilled version of the building itself: a space which is made for visitors. This may seem a redundant thing to say of a public arts building, but I feel that the Bluecoat really is for, and of, the people. Liverpool is filled with these sorts of spaces, and more than anywhere else I have visited, lived or stayed in the UK, I feel the democratisation of art and cultural experience is incredibly strong here. FACT and the Bluecoat are two of the larger organisations which encompass this ethos, and at the end of the week I will talk about out some of the smaller, more DIY and artist-led spaces which take this ethos to a whole new level.

Avatar of Lesley Taker

Lesley Taker

Academically pre-disposed word-monger and noise fancier. Most of my words are made up, or are about books, pictures & music. Although, oddly enough, all of my published academic work is about some form of pornography. Since graduating from my MA in Contemporary Literature (& Modern Art) at Liverpool Uni two years ago, I have worked as a Gallery Assistant at the Bluecoat, FACT, and now am the Curatorial Assistant in the latter. In my spare time I write about local art and music, and occasionally about the books I love to read, mostly for local Culture website The Double Negative, and my own blog Perfect Unlikeness (http://unghosted.blogspot.co.uk). I am currently writing a book of my own about the YBA painter Jenny Saville, as well as working towards curating a rather unsettling (hopefully, funded!) show with some amazing Liverpool based artists. I have a penchant for massive, impractical rings that get me refused from clubs, Earl Grey, Simon Schama, Rothko and Bill Murray. I truly love literature, writing, and the Liverpool Arts scene, and am always eager to find chances to blend them together!

DAY 1: Cultural Fiction; Curatorial Fact

November 5, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Resize Liverpool Spirit

I was born in Liverpool and, apart from about a year, have lived here ever since; be it in the centre of town or on the outskirts. I have studied and worked in the city centre for the past five years, mainly between two large arts organisations, and have recently found myself writing for various Liverpool-based cultural websites and zines. I am a proper Scouser (although with a very weak accent, unless I’m drunk) and, like all proper Scousers, I am obsessed with Liverpool and see it as one of the most unique places in the country. This individuality colours not only the art which is produced and shown here, but also the venues, events and gallery spaces which continually pop up across the city and into our lives.

What will follow may not be completely factual, nor will it be fiction, by any means. It is a mixture of the two, existing in the fantastical, contradictory landscape of my memory (and exhumed with the heavy hand of artistic license). Hopefully these half-truths and real experiences clouded in fiction and narrative will begin to illustrate the way I feel about the city I have grown up in, and which I have only-comparatively-recently begun to see, feel and form responses to, properly. Liverpool is a place which I love, hate, in which I am scared, elated, comfortable and filled with doubt. It is a city that engages with its populous in a manner which is constantly at odds with itself, which promotes juxtaposition and the paradoxical, but which never leaves them indifferent, uncaring or apathetic. I think this is why I am wont to switch from factual journalism to fiction at the drop of a hat. It’s the scouser in me: the tall-tale teller, the pub philosopher. Anyone who has ever been to The Roscoe Head or Peter Kavanagh’s knows what I mean.

The way I have attempted to negotiate my city for this project is by narratively revisiting those places which I feel closest to, those cultural hubs and holes in which I spend not only my working days, but also all of my free time. These are the places, the exhibitions, the events and most importantly, the people, which have left impressions in my memory, my writing and, as sentimental and schmaltzy as it my sound, ultimately my heart. I will either begin or end each day’s entry with a brief, very real, introduction to the place which that day is dedicated to, and in doing so, try and explain why I feel that the things I will write into each space reflect the true heart of not only that organization, or venue, but also the cultural landscape of Liverpool as I see it.

I am perpetually interested in the various forms of embodiment, and as such, my writing is continually aimed at pulling you into a room, a place, a moment; and explaining a non-verbal emotion, reaction or instinct as thoroughly as possible using the invariably constrictive medium of language. Most of what I write will be real, but I deal, as always, in the construction of a feeling and that’s what is most important to me during this week: to try and make you see, and experience, these aspects of Liverpool as I do. So whether that is best done by just telling you about them, or by telling tales remains to be seen…

Image: Copywright Sean Wars for TVS Magazine

Avatar of Lesley Taker

Lesley Taker

Academically pre-disposed word-monger and noise fancier. Most of my words are made up, or are about books, pictures & music. Although, oddly enough, all of my published academic work is about some form of pornography. Since graduating from my MA in Contemporary Literature (& Modern Art) at Liverpool Uni two years ago, I have worked as a Gallery Assistant at the Bluecoat, FACT, and now am the Curatorial Assistant in the latter. In my spare time I write about local art and music, and occasionally about the books I love to read, mostly for local Culture website The Double Negative, and my own blog Perfect Unlikeness (http://unghosted.blogspot.co.uk). I am currently writing a book of my own about the YBA painter Jenny Saville, as well as working towards curating a rather unsettling (hopefully, funded!) show with some amazing Liverpool based artists. I have a penchant for massive, impractical rings that get me refused from clubs, Earl Grey, Simon Schama, Rothko and Bill Murray. I truly love literature, writing, and the Liverpool Arts scene, and am always eager to find chances to blend them together!

A Recommendation to the City

November 2, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Resize Monsters

It makes my day when I get a letter or a postcard through the door. And it thrills me and shocks me when it is from someone I have not met yet. But most weeks, this happens because I am always – like now – putting it out there that “I love post” ; that you can write to me ; that you can submit a band review for my fanzine ‘Opinionated Geordie Monsters Review the Local Band Scene’; that I will write back or swap zines with you; and that I find one of the friendliest sides of human nature in the things we write to each other, one to one.

I think other people share that same sense. Of how the communication we do on paper is thoughtful, and committed, not halfhearted and not distracted by text messages or checking facebook or showing off in public. And how a letter is a message to YOU, that it has been especially created and dedicated and sent and carried to you. To and through your door. That, to me, is far more of a fillip than the other conventional ways of recognising each other – birthdays, for example, I simply do not celebrate. I don’t get them. But I will write to you.

For Turps see here.

For ‘Even Clean Hands Cause Damage’ see here.

For the other bands and venues mentioned, you are quite capable of google-searching yourself!

The Crack, Narc and Novel have online presences, but it’s good too to turn the pages and feel the paper as you go across town on the number 12 bus. Don’t miss out on that experience by staying home, alright?

The Paper Jam Comics Collective are here, and much more active in the real world than their internet echoes might suggest. Some of them, for instance, have gone and organised the Canny Comic Con in December, which will be a marvellous event.

The Writers Cafe talk on Facebook (just do a search), and they meet here, a great little cafe that keeps winning awards despite operating on a shoestring. The philosophy groups operate outta here.

The Star and Shadow’s website lists its always-changing, always-different events here. One thing we did there in October is here. There’s no reason to think we’ll ever do that again.

And to finish my posts on this blog, I have a question to put to the next stranger. To the next unknown individual with so much going on in their head and through their eyes and in through the ears and out through the body movement and choices and words and ideas that they move through. I would like to ask next week’s guest curator Lesley Taker from Liverpool:

“How has your hometown affected how you see the world? What part of yourself can you put down to the influence of that place?”

Bye!

Avatar of Mike Duckett

Mike Duckett

I live in my favourite city, I make lots of zines about my thoughts and my travels, and I try to get involved in every piece of underground beauty I can find. I think you should do these things too. And while I hate a lot of things about the way the world operates, I can testify that this is vastly outweighed by the love - real love - to be discovered amongst the music, ideas, creative endeavours and shared experiences we give each other. If you see me drawing somewhere, come sit down and draw with me.http://zine-it-yourself.blogspot.co.uk

Questions on Paper

November 1, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Resize Q0

I was asked a question by last week’s guest curator Pete Collins about the the smells and sounds and sights and touch and tastes of Newcastle. I have to say that this question makes me feel most of all the limitation of my awareness. Right now, Newcastle smells of Autumn leaves and feels like the nip of first snow. But that is just here, just now. So many other smells and touches are happening, of red brickwork roughing up fingertips trailing along; of a fart in a lift; of the muggy breath-smell on the bus; the comforting tug of a winter jumper coming into use again. And I smell the smoke machine that set off the fire alarm at last night’s gig, and the feel of paint in my toes from the game we were playing (wrestling in paint, don’t ask). And the way that my neighbour’s cat has never let me stroke it so I DO NOT KNOW HOW ITS GINGER & WHITE FUR FEELS and how that’s a strangely agonising soft sense in the back of my consciousness.

It is so hard to sum up a general answer. The sights are of faces, the creases of lines on my fellow-volunteers’ faces as they smile in tiredness in the act of mopping up, or pulling pints, and the constant reassurance of seeing my own familiar hands trail a pen across paper to try and make sense of this glut of sensation. A simple, contained black line on a little piece of white paper: now that I can understand, that I can sum up, that will be my filter for this week on the blog. It is my place of clarity. The cypher that simplifies this sheer profusion of reality that I otherwise find so hard to keep up with, or to know how properly to respond.

The sounds…the sounds of soundsystems, Hallowe’en partybabble and shouting to make ourselves heard. The bus pulling away from the bus stop. The melodic Bangladeshi unheard story going on behind me, and the taste of vegetable samosas. Greggs cheese pasties and the constant dosing with coffee that I rely upon to propel me round my rushing, unsettled days. One day I say I’ll cook me a proper healthy meal, but my mouth this morning tastes, frankly, rancid. Some of my senses, I guess, are suffering some neglect.

I think visually, and I don’t like thinking alone. So I often pester people to join me in drawing, in writing letters, in making comics together and so on. Last night, I sat down with an old friend and asked her to draw me a question. In return, I drew her a question. I do the same thing with postcards sometimes, and have even conducted an interview – entirely with postcards – with a cat who lives in Manchester, as a way to get to know him. He’s called Elvis and is apparently a bit of a legend on his street. I suspect his owner helped him with the writing.

So here are some more questions, in a not-very-linear order. Unplanned, open, like most of the creative encounters I’ll be talking about this week.

I explored this nostalgic theme a few days before, as part of a 24 Hour Comics Challenge at the Globe Gallery in Newcastle. The comic I made that day is here. My friend, with whom I have had a bittersweet relationship, has often talked about leaving, or no longer feeling at home in Newcastle, and this too influenced my first question of her:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We drew these on the first night that snow fell. We had snow in April AND October this year. A curry from the Brighton Tandoori was the perfect antidote to my wet feet, and collecting it took me past all the international students taking photos of the snowfall. Three separate snowball fights were taking place on the street – very gentle, very polite snowball fights. They were either between friends or, what I actually suspect, between neighbours who don’t know each other that well but kinda like each other.

 

Avatar of Mike Duckett

Mike Duckett

I live in my favourite city, I make lots of zines about my thoughts and my travels, and I try to get involved in every piece of underground beauty I can find. I think you should do these things too. And while I hate a lot of things about the way the world operates, I can testify that this is vastly outweighed by the love - real love - to be discovered amongst the music, ideas, creative endeavours and shared experiences we give each other. If you see me drawing somewhere, come sit down and draw with me.http://zine-it-yourself.blogspot.co.uk

Letters by Train

October 31, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Resize Thomas Spence

Newcastle is on the train route. Every day, old friends pass through. Many of them get a thrill of nostalgia when they cross the Tyne gorge, over the bridges that link Gateshead and Newcastle. Some of them think of me, as a part of their city. And for a few of them, I am thinking about them when they go past. The following fragment of a letter was written when one such person was about to pass.

For more about the freethinking quayside radical Thomas Spence, look here. For more about ‘Wor Diary’, look here. Apologies for spelling ‘millionaire’ wrong, but it was in a letter, so it’s okay. And to finish the story, I did go to the station. I did meet the train, and I did hand over the letter. The first snow of the year started falling as the train pulled up, and my eyes were welling up when I left the station.

Avatar of Mike Duckett

Mike Duckett

I live in my favourite city, I make lots of zines about my thoughts and my travels, and I try to get involved in every piece of underground beauty I can find. I think you should do these things too. And while I hate a lot of things about the way the world operates, I can testify that this is vastly outweighed by the love - real love - to be discovered amongst the music, ideas, creative endeavours and shared experiences we give each other. If you see me drawing somewhere, come sit down and draw with me.http://zine-it-yourself.blogspot.co.uk

The Senses of Manchester – TOUCH

October 26, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Resize wall

So, we reach the last day, the last post. A post about the sense of touch and feel.

Manchester feels like edges.

Some of the edges that are warm and nice to feel. Run your fingers over them, push your face into them. Snuggle up.

Some of the edges are a bit sharp. A bit rough. But you get used to them. It really wouldn’t be the same here without them, so don’t go wishing they weren’t here.

Manchester feels like the edge of a wall. The edge of a wall in Piccadilly Gardens.  Or, to put it a slightly different way, Manchester feels like the edge of the bony shoulders of an upset old man whilst you look at the wall in Piccadilly gardens. Let me explain.

In 2002, a brand new Piccadilly Gardens was unveiled, featuring a controversial concrete wall designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. A few days after the wall was unveiled I stood there admiring it. I liked it a lot. l I touched it. Let my fingers drift over the cold stone. I walked around it. I smiled.

An old man in threadbare trousers and a black blazer stumbled over to me, and fixed me with a steel gaze. “This is horrible,” he said.
“I like it” I replied. “I think it’s good.”  Those words were also what my wife and I jokingly said to each other about the disease SARS. Although I think we actually ripped it off from someone else, but there you go.

“No. It’s awful,” he said, vehemently. He began to shake a little. “How long,” he continued, his mouth foaming slightly, like a rabid vole, “How long will it be until this wall is all around Manchester?”

He beat his puny fists against my chest for a moment and let out a low sob “How long will it be until they use the wall to keep us all trapped in here?”

I’m a bit socially awkward. I didn’t really know how to answer him. I felt a bit like giving him a hug, but I only put one arm around him, like I was helping him across a road or into a taxi because he was a bit drunk.

We stood there for a few seconds before looking at each other awkwardly and then walking off in opposite directions.

Even if he was talking metaphorically though, he was wrong. I’ve never felt that Manchester is a city that has barriers up to people coming or going. Everyone is welcome.

(Guess what?) Manchester feels like my City. (Join in now…) Because it is.

——————-

Today is my final post. It’s been a blast. Thank you to everybody who has looked at my ramblings. I really hope you’ve got something out of it, and I very much appreciate you taking the time to read. Thank you very much to Chris Meads for asking me to be involved. He is a man amongst men.  Thank you also to all the previous Guest Curators. I’ve enjoyed each and every post and I’m sure I will from those to come in subsequent weeks too.

Last week’s curator Jonathan Greenbank asked me: “Using the other cities’ Liver Buildings, Coles Corner and the Tyne Bridge as reference points, where are the most romantic places in Manchester?”

And my answer would be:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not a cop out answer. It’s not.

My question for next week’s contributor Michael Duckett, writer of the marvellous Zine-it-Yourself blog, is this: “If you could bottle up the senses of taste, smell, touch, sight and sound of Tyne & Wear and sell it as a fine wine (or beer!”) what would you call it and why?”

Bye!

 

Avatar of Pete Collins

Pete Collins

"I'm a socially awkward Mancunian, drawer of what could loosely be described as a music blog: 'Having A Party Without Me', bass player for Flange Circus and Belgiophile."We think 'Having A Party Without Me' is brilliant. We think you will too - find it at http://partywithoutme.posterous.com

The Senses of Manchester – SMELL

October 25, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Deer

Smell. Regularly voted the sense that people would feel the least worried about losing.*

*(in a poll just conducted in my head).

Right, let’s get something out of the way before we get started. Yes, I know that the bit of Tib Street nearest to Market Street smells of wee. This is not what this post is about. I expect there are lots of cities and towns and villages that have areas that smell of wee. Don’t tell me what area that is in your city or town or village. I don’t want to know. I don’t keep that kind of information in a big book of wee.  Although you all now think that I do.

Other things I am not going to say Manchester smells of: Buses. Beards. Rain. Pigeons. Muno from “Yo Gabba Gabba”. That table over there.

With that out of the way, here’s something that might surprise you:

Manchester smells of parks. That might seem a bit strange, especially to those of you who believe that Manchester should have more green spaces (and I don’t disagree with you there). Certainly there’s no massive area to compare with anything like London’s Hyde Park, for example. But where does in the a major UK City? An immense part of my childhood was spent in Platt Fields. My uncle Charles told me that the mannequins in Platt Hall come to life and chase you (to clarify, he told me this while I was a child, not just last week or anything). The thought of that still makes me shiver. Brrrr. And it was only a shortish journey to Cheshire’s Lyme Park or Dunham Massey. Which one had the deer? I forget.

Yeah, we were always off in parks when I was a kid.

Manchester smells of biscuits being baked. It is always a pleasure to drive down Stockport Road past the McVities factory with the car windows open and take it all in. Similarly it smells like breakfast cereal, with the Kelloggs factory out near Trafford Park. Similarly again, it used to smell of jam with the Robertson’s factory in Droylsden, but this sadly closed down a few years ago.

Manchester smells of Freedom. The freedom to try. The freedom to create something that will make like minded people take notice.

Manchester also smells of coffee. So much coffee. Everywhere. Rivers of the stuff. I can’t take any more coffee. Stop with all the coffee now.

There has even been a ‘Manchester Smellwalk’ tour, conducted by Manchester University’s Dr Victoria Henshaw. I hope you don’t think I’m too lazy by linking to her Great Smells of Manchester graphic

I suppose I should probably say that Manchester smells like my City. Because it is.

 

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Pete Collins

"I'm a socially awkward Mancunian, drawer of what could loosely be described as a music blog: 'Having A Party Without Me', bass player for Flange Circus and Belgiophile."We think 'Having A Party Without Me' is brilliant. We think you will too - find it at http://partywithoutme.posterous.com

The Senses of Manchester – SIGHT

October 24, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Resize Sirens

No prizes for guessing that Day Three is about the sense of Sight. Because it says it in the title just above this. That would be a very undemanding competition.

What does Manchester look like..?

…well, that’s not really an easy question. To borrow some gubbins from a wedding custom, some of it looks old, some of it looks new, some of it looks borrowed. Some of it is certainly blue. Which, let’s face it, is better than red (bye bye half my readership…)

…and some of it looks like Godzilla sat down on it for a while. Maybe had a little disco nap before going off to fight a giant mutant cockroach from Warrington.

It happens.

William Gibson started his debut novel ‘Neuromancer’ by writing that ‘The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.’ Substitute the word ‘port’ for Manchester and you’re mostly there. It might be grey, but it’s our grey and I’m very fond of it.

I used to always prefer the look of Manchester when it rained and was getting slightly dark, being able to watch reflected neon in puddles before they’re splashed by a bus. It was beautiful. But I was wrong. Manchester is best in the sunshine, when you can sit down in Piccadilly Gardens or St Anne’s Square and just watch the world go by. I love to people watch. Love to see the amazing characters pass. I enjoy making stories up about those people, where they are going, what they are doing, what ridiculous items they’re carrying in their bags. What their favourite swear word is. All that sort of thing.

Manchester looks like my puzzled face reflected back from the dazzling windows of new buildings. There’s a place for new buildings, though some are much better than others. The shine, the sparkle, the bright lights. I suppose that if I ever lose my sense of direction then the Beetham Tower will draw me home, calling like a Siren on the rocks (see image above).

Don’t get me wrong, I do like some new buildings. I love the future, I love innovation and shininess. I like chairs that look space age. But…

Manchester looks like old buildings, and abandoned buildings and empty streets. These are my absolute favourites. There’s an immense allure in an old mill that you can catch in it’s empty, vacant state before it’s picked up and turned into yet more (near) city centre flats, or a potholed road with a big rusty gate at one end and not a person in sight.

A lot of my favourite album covers feature empty buildings and empty streets, and if they happen to be in Manchester then even better. I’m just an empty street and building kind of person, and I won’t apologise for that. One old, semi-abandoned building in particular, the old Fire Station on London Road, is the biggest object of my fascination in this city. I don’t want to see it turned into a hotel or to just rot away without marveling at the interior, and I don’t know anyone else who does. I need to get in, need to experience standing in the yard, seeing the gas meter testing station inside. Need to see the rooms, which I believe are beginning to resemble the inside of rooms in the abandoned city of Pripyat near Chernobyl. This is certainly relevant to my interests.

This building, more than any other in Manchester, is my Wondrous Place (see what I did there?). Or at least it would be if I could get inside.

Maybe.

One.

Day.

You can probably guess what I’m going to write next:
Manchester looks like my City. Because it is.

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Pete Collins

"I'm a socially awkward Mancunian, drawer of what could loosely be described as a music blog: 'Having A Party Without Me', bass player for Flange Circus and Belgiophile."We think 'Having A Party Without Me' is brilliant. We think you will too - find it at http://partywithoutme.posterous.com

The Senses of Manchester: TASTE

October 23, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Vimto Statue resize

Day Two, and we’re onto the Sense of Taste.

If you haven’t already (and you haven’t really got an excuse if you haven’t), you should first go and read Natalie Bradbury’s curation week about the Taste of the North.

I’ll wait patiently.

Make sure you come back though….

…Hello again!

Manchester tastes of rain. Yes, the rain had to make an appearance at some point in my posts. It might as well be now, we can’t ignore it. Open your mouth and drink it. It’s not that bad really. You’ll enjoy it. Go on. Open wide. Wider.

Do not drink from puddles though. That is just odd.

Consequently, Manchester tastes of Umbrellas. Umbrellas accidentally shoved into your mouth while you’re trying to taste the rain.  That is not quite as pleasant as tasting the rain itself, but a necessary evil when you’re waiting for precipitation to fall into your face hole.

Manchester tastes of Vimto. The fruit drink that kicks any other fruit drink square in the cubes. And I love the wooden sculpture of a bottle of it on Granby Row next to UMIST, near the site where Vimto was first produced (see image above).

Come to think of it, Vimto rain would really be quite something, even for just a few hours. I should write to the Council. Start a Twitter campaign. Hang a flag out of my car window. We can make this happen.

Hot Vimto, though, is an aberration. I don’t want that as a drink OR as rain thank you very much.

I must advise you that, just like drinking from puddles, it is not a good idea to try and drink from a giant wooden sculpture of a Vimto bottle either. Although I think I know why the nearby statue of Archimedes is really straining to get out of the bath..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manchester (well, Salford really) tastes like honey (thank you Shelagh…)

Manchester tastes of feathers. And if you don’t know why, pick up a copy of Jeff Noon’s ‘Vurt’.

Manchester tastes like my City. Because it is.

 

Avatar of Pete Collins

Pete Collins

"I'm a socially awkward Mancunian, drawer of what could loosely be described as a music blog: 'Having A Party Without Me', bass player for Flange Circus and Belgiophile."We think 'Having A Party Without Me' is brilliant. We think you will too - find it at http://partywithoutme.posterous.com

The Senses of Manchester: SOUND

October 22, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Resize Tannoy

Is this on? Is it my turn now?

Yes. Yes it is.  Hello from Manchester!

Unlike a few of my fellow Wondrous Placers from previous weeks, I have not moved to my city from elsewhere.  I did not choose it. I was born here, and despite some attempts I have never fully escaped for any great length of time. And it really is a Wondrous Place, despite my escape attempts. It’s a place I have immense love and hate for.  It’s a place that stimulates all of your senses. Which is very lucky, as my posts are all linked by the five senses. Phew!

I always liked the Sensory homunculus. It looked a bit like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I added a Mancunian twist. You can choose a different famous Mancunian face if you like. I’m not precious like that.

Somewhat surprisingly for someone who writes and draws what might be loosely described as a music blog, when I talk about the Sound of Manchester it’s not the bands or the tunes that I think define the sounds of city. There’ll be no eulogising about the same old bands, or name dropping new ones in this post.

I hear the sighs of relief. Yay!
(And those of exasperation too. Sorry!).

Manchester is the sound of differing accents.

I’m not just talking about the amazing diversity of cultures and races within Manchester. No, what I mean here is the accents of locals from North Manchester, East Manchester, South Manchester. All different (Don’t bring West Manchester into it though. That’s Salford, home of the Salfordian Clan, fiercely proud of their own city, and they don’t like to be confused with us Mancs).

And it brings about the debate about what to call Chip Sandwich from a Chippy (In case you’re wondering, the proper answer is “Chip Barm”).

Really. Don’t shake your head.

I grew up in South Manchester. Despite spending the last 8 years living in East Manchester (about as far as you can go east and for it still to be Manchester, before you drop the edge of the earth – because no one really believes Tameside actually exists, do they? It’s a story made up to scare young children), I still get accused of being a “Posh Manc”. In fact, as a girl from London whom I met recently put it:  “Are you sure you’re from Manchester? I can understand what you’re saying.” That surely ranks as one of the most absurdly back handed compliments ever.

What else? Well…

Manchester sounds like someone putting their hands over the ears and shouting “la la la la la la la la la I can’t hear you la la la la la” any time anyone says that there is a better city anywhere else, ever. It is an annoying trait, but I’ll admit to it doing it sometimes if the City is criticised by non-Mancs (even if I agree with them).

Manchester sounds like planes taking off. My parents used to take my brother and I to Manchester Airport when were were young, just to watch. Maybe have a cake. I liked the old dangling chandeliers in Terminal one. They looked like a giant had had a massive cold and that was what had fallen out of his nose.

My Grandad was one of the people who installed them, you know. And he made the lovely old wooden bar at the Briton’s Protection pub too.

Manchester sounds like hundreds of tannoys following you down the street, poking you in the back and then screaming in your face “Metrolink apologies that there is a delay of at least 12 minutes”. (See the image at the top of this post) It’s a strangely reassuring noise, and something that will always remind me of home.

Manchester sounds like the broken 3 stringed guitar of the Market Street busker who changed his name by deed poll to Marc Bolan. I miss him.

Manchester sounds like my City. Because it is.

 

Avatar of Pete Collins

Pete Collins

"I'm a socially awkward Mancunian, drawer of what could loosely be described as a music blog: 'Having A Party Without Me', bass player for Flange Circus and Belgiophile."We think 'Having A Party Without Me' is brilliant. We think you will too - find it at http://partywithoutme.posterous.com

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…

 

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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