Oh bliss! Scorching Bank Holiday sun, a fair field full of folk, and great music. Our doorstep has been a little crowded this weekend as the Liverpool International Music Festival was blessed with a weekend of perfect weather for its inaugural outing, replacing the Mathew Street Festival which had deteriorated into an expensive, drunken mess.
The new festival has offered a varied programme of music – the Liverpool Philharmonic conducted by Vasily Petrenko kicked things off with popular classics and fireworks on an overcast but dry Friday evening; there were the usual Beatles tribute bands on Saturday, and musicians from all corners of the world on Sunday. The Monday afternoon highlight for me was The Christians, Liverpool’s own socially-conscious soul band.
It was grim up north in the eighties: Thatcher, recession, factory closures, rising unemployment, the miner’s strike, and here in Liverpool the Militant-led city council’s ill-fated rate-capping rebellion and illegal deficit budget (the only time I’ve been made redundant). Shining light in the darkness, though, were The Christians. Their debut album The Christians in 1987 was packed with great songs, and there were more on the follow-up, Colour.
The only remaining member of the original 1980s line-up is lead vocalist Garry Christian. The other members of the original band were Russell and Roger Christian (the latter died in 1998) and songwriter andkeyboards player Henry Priestman. The line-up in Sefton Park consisted of Garry Christian (lead vocals), Neil Griffiths (rhythm guitar/vocals), Joey Ankrah (lead guitar/vocals), Lionel Duke (drums), Cliff Watson (bass guitar/vocals) and Mike Triggs (keyboards/vocals).
Though they may be a shadow of the former band in terms of personnel, the new line-up gave us 45 minutes of note-perfect renditions of Christians greatest hits, plus some great cover versions. They kicked off with ‘Forgotten Town’, those lyrics instantly taking me back to those troubled times in this city thirty years ago.
No life we’re living when there’s no time for giving
No sign of loving in this age of push and shoving.
Another boy with a broken heart
Can’t you see the pressure tearing me apart?
Oh there’s so much for me to overcome
Should I stay and fight?
Well where else is there I can run?
They followed that with ‘Born Again’, another great Priestman lyric that perfectly captured the sense of alienation, boredom and lives wasting away in a dying city:
I used to wake In the afternoon
When the sunshine finally cut through the haze.
I really don’t remember that much I just know I wasted a thousand days.
We need protection from this infection
Something to ease this cruel disease
A ray of hope in a new direction.
It was strange hearing these songs in the glorious setting of Sefton Park on a sunny summer afternoon. The words are relevant to now: their time has come around again. But something felt different. This city, for all its losses and trials, is a different place now. The old problems are back, but the mood has changed.
Next up was ‘Greenbank Drive’. It’s good to hear a song inspired by a place you pass by every day:
At last I see an open road
And I think I’ve found a meaning and an answer
Lightened of such a heavy load,
Suddenly I’m dancing on air.
And I feel so alive,
Walking Greenbank Drive
Garry introduced the next song as perfect for the day, and written by one of his favourite Liverpool musicians: ‘Here Comes The Sun’. This was followed by another cover – of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘The Bottle’. Then it was the soaring lyricism of ‘Ideal World’:
In the ideal world
We’d be free to choose
But in my real world
You can bet we’re going to lose
Your money fills their pockets
Fear fills their tiny minds
At last the world is talking now
This ain’t no way to treat mankind
Here’s a memory-jerking video of them performing it on Top of the Pops in 1987:
They were only supposed to play for 30 minutes, but were allowed to continue for ten more minutes. A chance to hear another of their great 1980s singles, ‘Hooverville’:
And they promised us the world,
Said the streets were paved with silver and gold,
And they promised us a roof above our heads,
And like fools we believed every last word they said
We believed every word they said… They finished with their cover of the Isley Brothers ‘Harvest For The World’.
The Christians have a new single out on 23rd September – ‘Inner City Blues (2013)’. It’s a variant on Marvin Gaye’s song, and you can watch a video of it on their official website. Or here!
Afterwards I strolled around the park, getting a sense of the extent of planning and organisation that had gone into this event. Efforts had been made to make it family orientated, with plenty for kids to do – a packed story-telling tent run by the Black-E, a kids’ climbing wall, food, drink, a funfair, a train making the rounds of the park. There was more music on another stage, and a rock’n’roll band playing at the bandstand.
I’ve never seen the field so packed – it was solid with people camped out on the grass from edge to edge. Fellow Liverpool blogger Ronnie Hughes has done a great job of documenting the four days of the Festival at a sense of place, but here is a gallery of photos I took on Monday afternoon.