When a Top 10 just isn’t enough
It’s that time of year when we look back on the last twelve months and look forward to the year ahead. As we scrape away the last of the turkey, think about what we’re doing for New Year’s eve and contemplate going back to work, I thought it would be good to look back at this year’s highlights.
And, man, have there been some! I’m aware that I’ve become a bit of a broken record when I say that this year and being made a Cultural Champion has changed my life, but you don’t have to be an official champion to change yours. You just need to put yourself out there. I promise you it will pay bigger dividends than you ever imagined.
So, in the spirit of end of year lists, which I love to an unnecessary degree, here are my Top 12 highlights of 2012. I can’t wait to see what the coming year will hold. What about you?
In no particular order…
1. Acetate Steps: In memory of the mix tape @ Arena Studios & Gallery
My very first venture into the arts in Liverpool could not have been more of a revelation. Nervous as hell and overwhelmed with information, I thought I’d start off with something small and intimate. This gallery and its artists have become one of my absolute favourites over the year. Set in the Baltic triangle, it’s well worth a visit. Great exhibits, a fantastic bar below and lovely, lovely people.
2. Five Days Out For A Fiver
When I filled out my application to apply for the role of Cultural Champion, in the section called “What would you like to get out of the role?” I answered something along the lines of “To get out of the house, please.”
One of the best things I’ve done is to have some time with my children without spending a bomb. We packed sandwiches, braved the lovely British weather and Liverpool’s public transport network and, boy, did we have a great time. It takes some planning and we still never had a picnic in a sun drenched meadow, but we had some great times together, giggled like mad and my kids loved it.
3. Light Night
John, Ray and I along with Ray’s wife, Pauline, and my favourite plus one, Vickie, headed out into the very, very rainy streets of Liverpool for Light Night in May. We saw the city lit up in all its architectural glory, we made our own art, encountered a zombie street takeover, met Andy Warhol (!) and saw a rain-drenched group of salsa dancers bringing some Brazilian style magic to the street. An absolute gem of a night.
4. Henry V @ The Playhouse
The standard of productions at The Playhouse in 2012 has been consistently superb. A close second here was A Streetcar Named Desire, featuring the most heartbreaking performance I’ve ever witnessed by Amanda Drew. There was also the innovative and excellent Swallows and Amazons as well as Jack & The Beanstalk, possibly the most bonkers panto I ever laid eyes on. It was so mad, that by the time Captain Spock and Wonder Woman flew on stage, I’d given up trying to make sense of it and just enjoyed the ride.But it was Henry V, which wins my prize for being the best play I’ve seen all year. It completely changed my 20-odd-year-old mindset that traditional versions of Shakespeare plays are generally tedious and fol-de-rol. It was lively, moving and beautifully acted. I urged everyone I knew to go and see it and every single person who went loved it. A great introduction to the bard and a perfect demonstration of why his work is still relevant today.
5. Sea Odyssey
On a bright and beautiful Friday morning in April I sat among a sea of volunteers in Stanley Park waiting to accompany the giants through our city. We watched in awe as the Little Girl Giant and her dog, Xolo, woke up and got ready to walk into Liverpool city centre to meet her long lost Uncle.
As we escorted the Giants through the streets of Anfield I witnessed actual magic happen before my eyes. No-one who saw the giants was not caught up by the magic. Whole groups of people, some of whom may never have set foot in a theatre or art gallery, thronged the streets to become part of this wondrous event.
I escorted the Giant Uncle back to Stanley Park in the afternoon with my fellow Benevols, a particularly marvellous group of people. We watched in awe as a group of exotic, athletic, sweaty French men and women operated (or should I say “served”?) the giants. I went home with one of the worst migraines I ever had, having walked next to an enormous bank of speakers for hours on end, but it was worth every bit of pain.
The Sea Odyssey will never be forgotten by anyone who saw it. Brilliant.
6. The Kazimier Garden
I’ve discovered some great little venues in the city over the last year. But the Kazimier Garden wins first prize hands down for the best night I’ve had all year. Featuring a barbecue, two outdoor bars, a man sporting a bird of prey playing the role of MC, a tiny mechanical boat and the ropiest toilets I’ve encountered in a long time, by the time the house krunk band came on and blasted the place with the sound of drums and trumpets, I was in love.
Like taking a trip through the looking glass, it’s a shock when you leave and find yourself still in urban Liverpool. A total delight of a place.
7. The Mathew Street Festival
“What?” I hear you exclaim. Considering just how much I’ve banged on about how much I hate the Mathew Street Festival and its awful culture of drunken unpleasantness, you might well wonder why it’s here in my list of highlights of the year. Well, I’ll tell you.
I gave it a go. I tried something. And I found, to my genuine surprise, that hidden among a whole bunch of awfulness, you can find something pretty special. We discovered a little oasis of family friendliness in St John’s Garden and we rocked up on a boat that was part of the Mathew Street Fringe that was reminiscent of early 90s raves. Just goes to show it’s well worth putting yourself out there, because you never know what could happen.
8. The One Show
It started off with a t-shirt. I’d had some made for John, Ray and I as we were taking part in the Guinness World Record attempt at the most people singing a song in the round at the new cruise liner terminal in October. I was dropping John’s t-shirt off at the time he was filming for The One Show with the gorgeous and luminescent Carrie Grant. John was launching “The Fifth Beatle” – his dream of getting people who hadn’t played an instrument for years to play again.
John, Carrie and a rather dishy BBC director harangued me into being a backing singer. Now let me tell you, I am by no stretch of the imagination a singer. No way. Not a chance. But egged on by an extremely excitable Johny, I took the rest of the day off work and ended up performing John and Carrie’s beatuful arrangement of ELO’s Livin’ Thing live on the BBC with a bunch of genuinely talented people in Eric’s.
I was as nervous as I’ve ever been, but I wanted to show my kids that even if you’re seriously afraid of something, you can still do it. And now I can say I’ve performed on the same stage as U2, The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, Joy Division and a whole host of my musical heroes. One to tell the grandkids.
9. Music on the Waterfront
At a time when Liverpool City Council is fighting economic misery, this was a great example of getting it just right. This series of free concerts at the Pier Head showed that if you invest in the arts, it will bring people and money into the city.
With an eclectic, but high class, mix of performers, my personal highlight was seeing the magnificent Jocelyn Brown. I may have embarrassed myself my bopping about in a manner unseemly for a woman in her 40s, but it was a glorious night. And a great place to go with the whole family.
This needs to be an annual event.
10. The Phil
I can’t single out a particular event I’ve seen at the Phil, the whole range of performances over the year have been fantastic. From the glorious old school movies, to contemporary comedians and 80s pop stars, the Phil has a knack of putting on great shows in a beautiful environment.
Particularly brilliant have been the family concerts, arranged by the exuberant Alastair Molloy, and the so good you’ve got to see ’em to believe it Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain. The variety of shows is so mind boggling, there’s something there for anyone, no matter what your taste.
11. Richard Herring: Talking Cock @ The Epstein Theatre
After being accused by my eldest child of hating all comedians, I belly laughed my way through this amazing show. Based on the results of a survey of over 10,000 men and women on the subject of, ahem, the male appendage, this had my sides and jaw aching with laughter.
Richard Herring even stayed behind afterwards and gamely chatted to me about a question I had about the logistics of one of the answers to a question in the show. He did the actions and everything, bless him. Made me be prepared to give comedians another chance.
I’m not the easiest person when it comes to making friends and meeting new people. But I’ve made a deliberate effort this year to be more open as I’ve gone about being a Cultural Champion. I’ve got in touch with people I know vaguely to invite them to events. I’ve stopped and chatted to strangers at events about what they think. I’ve emailed total strangers to ask them about what’s happening around the city. And it’s been a revelation!
Everyone I’ve come across has been brilliant. The people I’ve encountered who are involved in the arts in Liverpool are across the board a warm and welcoming bunch. Sure, I’ve had a couple of loudly ignored emails, but in general everyone I’ve met or come across has been great.
Getting out and about and experiencing culture in Liverpool has changed all of my relationships and I’ve met some new and fantastic people who I won’t be letting go of. It’s definitely the people I’ve been involved with who’ve made this year so, so special. I’m not going to get all teary Oscar winner, here, but you know who you are.
So that was 2012. Can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store.
If at the beginning of my role as one of Liverpool’s Cultural Champions I would have become pregnant then right about now I’d more than likely be crying ” Get it out! Get it out! Why hasn’t the epidural worked? and other such favoured and deserved lines of the expectant mother. In an obviously far less traumatic way this has kind of occurred. No banana flavour pizza cravings or swollen feet (well maybe the odd blister) but a healthy gestation period of three trimesters each one enabling the next to build and thrive eventually giving birth to a wailing newborn. This newborn would be ME
After reading a very recent blog from my fellow Champion Andrea I felt inspired nay compulsed to endorse her statement about changing your relationship with the City. For what us Cultural Champions would hope to achieve I don’t think it could have been put better and it’s in changing my relationship with this City that I have become the aforementioned newborn. I’m not about to advertise events that are upcoming or places to go or things to see (although I do promise handy links to appear at the end). Rather I would advertise a change of habit. Over these nine months my habits changed dramatically from a bloke who sought comfort usually from laying horizontally on his couch in an effort to decompress and slumber away the weekly toil to someone on the lookout for an inexpensive and fulfilling new event and in truth it was instantaneous.
Apart from giving you the old platitude of ‘ keep an open mind’ If I had to give any practical advice it would simply be to ditch the T.V. guide for a Whats on Guide and take your pick. Dare yourself to go. I guarantee they’ll be expecting you. We don’t have a Biennial in Liverpool just so the Art Students have something every two years to muse over. It was for YOU. Yes YOU. An Open Mic night at that Cool Bistro isn’t just for the Musos to check out the competition. It’s for YOU. The free Origami workshop at the local Library is there for YOU. Honestly I swear.
Even as a Cultural Champion I held certain reservations about my entitlement to appear at a new event on the grounds that I had no background in whatever was launched. I quickly got on to the fact that there is nothing expected of me but to be there . This applies to all. Armed with this reassurance I didn’t just dip my toes but plunged Tom Daley style into what the Pool provided ( Hows about that for a play on words eh!). Each event seemed to be a stepping stone to another event I’d have never known of had I not turned up to the former and so on and so forth. New friendships forged, new talent witnessed, unexpected surprises and a busy diary were all a consequence of this change of habit. This new relationship with Liverpool. This New birth. This Year of the Butterfly effect.
For those about to dip their toes we salute you: culture.org.uk/
Now that the huge excitement of being on The One Show is over, the BBC have returned to Salford, and the keyboard and guitars have been packed away, it’s time for the serious business of getting people making music.
It started with a Cultural Champions steering group a few months ago. “It’s time to create something” we were told.
After staring slack-jawed and trying really, really hard to be super-creative, we decided to re-group in a café and try to bash out some ideas. Organised to within an inch of our lives by über-efficient Champion of yore, the indomitable Barbara McGrouther (she even brought flipchart paper and felt tips) we set about throwing ideas in the hat.
If you’ve ever watched The Apprentice, you’ll be familiar with the ridiculousness of ‘the brainstorm’. Ours even, at one point, included the words ‘Muzik 4 Da Kidz.’ Oh, how we laughed. And despaired a little.
But out of the general nonsense flying about, a few key ideas came out that were actually not bad. John wanted to get people who’d put their instruments quietly away under the bed, in a cupboard or in the attic to dust them off and start to make music again. We called this the ‘When I’m 64 Group’. I talked about Eric’s and the music I associated with the place. While the ideas may have been vague, the passion to see something come of it was tangible.
Then a couple of weeks ago, we got an email telling us that the BBC’s One Show was looking for community based ideas that may have needed some help. My fellow Culture Champ, John, told them about his idea and within days, Carrie Grant and a film crew were in town ready to kick-start the project.
Scouring the streets of Liverpool looking for musicians, Carrie managed to put together her ‘super group’ of John, former Culture Champ, Paul, on the flute and four guitarists. They also dragged me in as an unbelievably nervous backing singer when I called round to drop a t-shirt off for John. The things Cultural Champion-dom does to you!
We rehearsed for 4 hours and then were thrown into a live performance of ELO’s Livin’ Thing on stage at Eric’s while Jeff Lynn and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber watched from the One Show studio. No pressure there, then.
By the time we got to perform, the nerves were gone and we just went for it, performing the lovely acoustic arrangement of the song that John and Carrie had put together. Once it was done, we went for a much needed snifter, hugged each other furiously and went our separate ways.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Oh, no. It’s just a beginning. John will be running weekly jam sessions for anyone who wants to dust of their instruments at Knotty Ash Youth & Community Centre every Friday from 19 October 2012.
You can contact John about his weekly sessions at Knotty Ash Community Centre by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org