King Lear at the Everyman

King Lear at the Everyman

Four of us went to see Peter Postlethwaite’s Lear at the Everyman tonight.  It’s resolved itself (after some early difficulties, apparently) into an impressive production with a moving central performance by Postlethwaite.

This is from the Daily Post review:

King Lear, at the Everyman, is one of the most eagerly anticipated Culture Year events, and expectations were high. Award-winning director Rupert Goold, who has already made a huge impact as one of theatre’s hottest talents, is widely attracting as many superlatives as his Liverpudlian Lear.

And last night they showed it was with good reason… Postlethwaite’s king is played with a gentle, ever-present humour and vulnerability. Lear is no enraged, roaring yet doddering fool, but prey to a sympathetic confusion. His insanity, tinged as it is with a sort of whimsy, is a contrast to the grisly, sometimes stomach-churning, and deadly deeds going on round him.

His daughters, Regan (Charlotte Randal) and Goneril (Caroline Faber), and the banished yet pure-hearted Cordelia (Amanda Hale) are excellent, in command of their dialogue and bursting with their own drives and passions.

JonJo O’Neill uses Irish charm to humanise the misdoings of psychotic bastard son Edmund, channelling his soliloquies with vigour and without the indulgent overacting they can be prone to.

Goold is clearly unafraid to grab Shakespeare’s text firmly and give it a vibrant shake. Contemporary touches and mischievous additions are executed with confidence and imagination. It is easy to get swept into the all-encompassing storm  and almost feel part of the action, as in the opening scene the characters clap and sing For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow to Lear as he emerges from the audience. This Lear sinks into the skin of the viewer to provide a truly memorable piece of theatre.

From the Chester Chronicle:

This portrayal of the deeply flawed monarch expertly emphasises the character’s many faults and supreme arrogance to the extent that you almost look forward to seeing his downfall after he stupidly banishes both Cordelia and Kent for not telling him how wonderful he is.

As compelling as these opening scenes may be, you wonder if Postlethwaite may have gone a little too far in stripping Lear of virtually any sympathy – a risky strategy when one’s involvement with later scenes relies so heavily on empathising with his spectacular downfall.  But we are in the hands of a masterly actor here and, almost without realising it, we begin to side with him as his predatory daughters Goneril and Regan plot against their father (and then inevitably against each other).

The suffering they inflict upon him is so devastating that eventually we do end up agreeing with Lear that he is “more sinned against than sinning”. Lest you think this is a one man show, praise should be heaped on just about everyone else in the cast who more than adequately raise their game to match the star.

Caroline Faber and Charlotte Randle keep Goneril and Regan the right side of pantomime villainy; Jonjo O’Neill brilliantly mines the black humour that is so vital to the success of the diabolical Edmund; Nigel Cooke makes for a versatile and commanding Kent; while TV and stage veteran John Shrapnel is heartbreaking as the brutally tortured Gloucester. All this and more is marshalled magnificently by director Rupert Gould who ensures this is a Lear for the 21st century with touches of reality TV early on giving way to vivid depictions of modern warfare.

Perhaps, though, his most daring presumption was to take one of the greatest oversights in the Shakespeare Canon – the inexplicable disappearance of the Fool (splendid Forbes Masson) two thirds of the way through – and inventively provide the character with a full story arc.

This is a lusty, bloody and hugely relevant Lear for our times and it deserves to be regarded as both a landmark production of the play and the theatrical highlight of Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year.

Pete Postlethwaite – born in Warrington – joined the incomparable Alan Dosser company at the Everyman in the 1970s that included Julie Walters, Matthew Kelly, Bill Nighy, Anthony Sher, Trevor Eve, Jonathan Pryce, George Costigan and Alison Steadman.

‘It was an exceptional time in anybody’s theatrical history, I think,’ Pete says in a BBC interview.

If you looked at that list of names now you’d say they would never be in the same room, building, county or country together, let alone in one small tatty little derelict theatre called the Everyman on Hope Street, it was an absolute pantheon of stars. Now when you think of Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, Julie Walters, George Costigan, Mathew Kelly, the list goes on and on. It was a phenomenal time, a creative inspirational, exciting, dangerous, provoking, illogical, magical mystery tour, really just brilliant. It taught me why I want to be an actor, so I’m ever grateful for that.

There’s something uniquely Everyman about the Everyman. Ask me to define that and I’d be lost but it didn’t matter what the shape of the stage was, there was an ethos, a feeling, something in the air in the Everyman. I used to live in Canning Street and I remember standing the opposite side of the Philharmonic just thinking ‘This is it, this is what I want to do’ there’s no going back or forward.

Pool of Light

Dramatic lighting displays have been illuminating some locations in Liverpool for the past few weeks in a display given the overall title of  The Pool of Light. Tonight I went out with the camera to take a look and grab a few shots.

The Pool of Light exhibition was organised by Liverpool Vision and the International Professional Lighting Designers’ Association (PLDA) and apparently it’s the most ambitious project of its type undertaken by the specialist lighting organisation.

Among the transformations was the illumination of St James’s Gardens, normally an area without any artificial light.

The cemetery at St. James’ Gardens is entered through a tunnel. The tunnel sits above the garden and it seems to pass to another world walking through it. The task for the project was to make the passing to the “underworld” more enjoyable. The details, such as the gravestones leaned to the walls, have been accented.
– Michael Schmidt, designer

The former cemetery St. James’ Gardens, surrounded by heavy walls, is now a beautiful garden with delightful details. The team has to accent the amenities of the area with respect and empathy and illuminate them respectfully. The status quo of the area is that it is a world without any man made light. Just a little sodium-vapour-light of the near streets pressures into the garden.
– Lisa Hammond, designer

The residents of a housing estate close to the cathedral also helped to design an illuminated display, as did those living in the small residential area of Great George Square.

The Contemporary Urban Centre, on Greenland Street, which has recently been transformed as part of a £16m refurbishment, was bathed in dramatic lighting.

This former warehouse is a Grade II listed building located on Parliament Street in the Baltic District. Its classic brick stone facade makes this building a landmark on the southern fringe of the City Centre. Recently transformed as part of a £16m refurbishment, the building will be enhanced by lighting installation.
– Brian Mossbacher, designer

The installations were created from scratch in just one week by eight lighting designers from around the world.

Biennial: Keep Crossing Fingers

I spotted this when I got off the bus at the bottom of Leece Street today.  It turns out to be a Biennial piece – by Otto Karvonen. It says this on the Biennial website:

Working principally outside the gallery, Otto Karvonen makes simple, often humorous interventions into everyday life, designed to prompt us to question the nature of reality and our own beliefs.

Otto Karvonen’s latest work explores precisely this slippage between the universal and the individual in our experience of the city. In a series of signs distributed along the Made Up route, Karvonen crossbreeds personal observation with the formal language of street signage to reveal the cityscape as a series of overlapping and modulated realities.

He’s keenly aware that the experience of a city depends on personal history and identity as much as the bricks and mortar which define the physical limits of a place: “When I’m staying abroad in an unfamiliar place I start to automatically look for resemblances and draw parallels between places, apparently in order to locate my own identity in relation to the new surroundings. We carry our places of importance with us in memory and longing, and always project something of them onto the new places we visit and inhabit.”

This is another, over by the Anglican Cathedral:

E Chambre Hardman: Life Through the Lens

I’ve been to see the exhibition of Edward Chambré Hardman’s photographs – Life Through the Lens – at the University Victoria Gallery and Museum. I’ve been looking forward to this, ever since we visited Hardman’s former studio and home at 59 Rodney Street (maintained now by the National Trust) in the summer. It is the first major showing of his work in more than 10 years,and includes 56 of Chambré Hardman’s original black and white photographs, depicting the industrial and commercial changes in Liverpool during the mid 20th century.

Chambré Hardman – born in Dublin in 1898 – spent his youth experimenting with his father’s camera and developing negatives in his parents’ wine cellar. It was during his time in the army in India that he met Captain Kenneth Burrell who shared his passion for photography and later became his business partner in a portrait gallery in Bold Street, Liverpool. Working in the photographic tradition of pictorialism, he used devices such as soft focus, manipulation and retouching to create photographic impressions or moods to give a depth and atmospheric intensity to his images.

The exhibition illustrates the busy industrial and commercial life of Liverpool from the 1920s to the 1960s. The photographs also chart the city’s architectural development and transport system, as well as its flourishing shipbuilding industry. Moira Lindsey, art curator at the University’s VG&M, said: ‘It is fitting to end Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture with an exhibition that illustrates so beautifully how the city has grown into the place it is today’.

This is a review of an earlier exhibition of Hardman’s photographs at the Walker Art Gallery, from the Independent in 1994:

‘E Chambre Hardman had three great loves: his wife, the countryside and his photography, and when he died in 1988, he left a legacy of prints, negatives, cameras, lights, darkroom equipment, letters and studio records that prove the strength of these passions. Indeed, Hardman’s Rodney Street studio provides a rare insight into the life and working practices of a mid 20th-century photographer…

Born in 1899 in Foxrock, south of Dublin, Hardman later admitted that the beautiful landscape that surrounded him in Ireland inspired him from childhood. ‘Most of my childish dreams were of landscapes, usually of some remote and spectacularly sited lake, which I could never find again.’ After public school, he went to Sandhurst and was commissioned to the Brigade of Gurkhas, spending four years in India where he began to experiment with photography – and in particular, with the soft-focus, pictorialist landscapes that were to become his trademark. With fellow officer Kenneth Burrell putting up the capital, Hardman finally set up a photographic studio in Liverpool, later moved out on his own and eventually settled for good in Rodney Street.

Hardman became the leading portrait photographer in Liverpool from the 1920s to the 1960s: he photographed John Moores (founder of the Littlewoods empire), Robert Donat, Michael Redgrave, Ivor Novello, Margot Fonteyn, Beryl Bainbridge and the beautiful socialite Deryn Arkle. But it is the landscapes and cityscapes culled from his imaginative powers that remain his most memorable work.

He travelled extensively, taking photographs wherever he went in India, Spain, the south of France and throughout Britain. Views of Wales and Scotland display his fascination with wild, mountainous terrains and cloud formations, and contrast with his timeless visions of traditional English countryside: rolling fields, farms, cornfields and cottages. Then there is A Memory of Avignon, a wonderfully hazy study of three friends relaxing at a cafe in the dappled sunlight under the trees, which exudes an air of painterly French Impressionism.

But his most famous image is The Birth of the Ark Royal, taken around 1950. Showing the great ship shining like a ghost over the terraced houses of Birkenhead, it demonstrates the photographer’s ability to see beautiful pictures where others might not. He used a telephoto lens to bring foreground and background closer together, and waited for the ship to be painted white in preparation for its launch by Queen Elizabeth.

Hardman wasn’t worried about a little retouching either. As with all good pictorialists, it was simply a case of ‘improving’ reality. So in The Birth of the Ark Royal he had no qualms about painting out an unwanted lamp-post and retouching one of the schoolboy’s socks to bring it up to the same height as the other.’


Stu Sutcliffe at the Victoria Gallery

Stu Sutcliffe at the Victoria Gallery

Stuart, John & George, Hamburg 1960-61, by Astrid Kirchherr

Stuart, John & George, Hamburg 1960-61, by Astrid Kirchherr

I returned to the University’s rather wonderful Victoria Gallery & Museum today for the Stu Sutcliffe exhibition,  the first retrospective of Sutcliffe’s work in Liverpool for more than 40 years.  It follows his artistic career from his school days until his death in the 1960s.

Stuart Sutcliffe’s art career began at Liverpool School of Art where he met John Lennon in 1957. He was persuaded by Lennon to buy a bass guitar after the sale of one of his paintings (below) to John Moores – the patron of the Bi-Annual Exhibitions held at the Walker Art Gallery.

Lennon and Sutcliffe formed a band, initially named Johnny and the Moon Dogs and later The Silver Beatles, until they both decided to rename the group The Beatles. Sutcliffe later left the band to continue his studies at the Hamburg State School of Art.  Sutcliffe died in 1962 of a brain haemorrhage, aged 21.

The exhibition includes 40 paintings which chart the development of his style from his time at Prescot Grammar School, Liverpool Regional College of Art and the Hamburg State School of Art. Sutcliffe’s work explores a form of Abstract Expressionism.


Stuart Sutcliffe, Untitled (1961-2)

This review by Michael Bracewell,  from Freize magazine, judges the merits of the exhibition and Sutcliffe’s work purely in art-historical terms:

Frozen into myth by an early death in 1962, the artist and musician Stuart Sutcliffe is best known for his brief membership, between January and December 1960, of an early line-up of The Beatles. Sutcliffe was persuaded by John Lennon to buy a bass guitar with the money he received from the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, for the gallery’s purchase of his The Summer Painting (1959) in the John Moores Painting Exhibition that year. He then played with The Beatles (as the group were changing their name to successive variations of ‘Silver Beatles’) on their tour of Scotland, and during their first residency in Hamburg. In 1961, having met and fallen in love with the photographer Astrid Kirchherr, he enrolled at Hamburg State School of Art, as a master’s student in the class of visiting professor Eduardo Paolozzi. Showing exceptional promise as a painter, Sutcliffe died the following year of a brain haemorrhage, aged 21.

Since his death, and encouraged by the superior but romantically stylized biographical feature film Backbeat (1994), the assessment of Sutcliffe’s work as a visual artist has perhaps inevitably been contextualized almost solely by its position within the early career of the Beatles. The importance of this latest retrospective of his work, entitled ‘Stuart Sutcliffe: Retrospective’, curated by Colin Fallows and Matthew H. Clough, and of the substantial accompanying publication, lies in their scholarly review of his art on a strictly art-historical basis. A concise and revealingly chosen selection of work, from charmingly vivacious juvenilia made when Sutcliffe was still a pupil at Prescot Grammar School, through to the last big ‘black’ paintings that he was working on at the time of his death, makes a potent and persuasive case for a major reassessment of the artist’s legacy.

As detailed by Bryan Biggs in his catalogue essay ‘A Link in Something Larger’ (2008), the influences on the development of Sutcliffe’s art comprise a largely northern European nexus of ideas and examples – notably those of Nicholas de Staël and Pierre Soulages – as filtered first through the teaching culture at Liverpool Regional College of Art where Sutcliffe was enrolled. His interest, progressive for an art student of that period, lay in exploring the divide between abstraction and figuration. Biggs quotes artist and poet Adrian Henri’s summary of Sutcliffe’s painting style, from a review written in 1964: ‘a synthesis of Parisian abstraction [and] the dynamic colour field freedom of the New York School’.

The first room of this retrospective is devoted to establishing the artist’s earliest work, and his initial experience, from 1956, of art education at Liverpool Regional College of Art. These pieces include some lively early successes: a gothic graveyard scene made in a grammar-school exercise book; an ink and watercolour illustration to the children’s rhyme ‘Georgie Porgie’, in which a superbly indignant little girl scowls furiously at Georgie’s insolent embrace. Also included are irresistibly evocative ephemera of student life – such as membership cards to city jazz clubs – from the collection of Sutcliffe and Lennon’s flatmate, Rod Murray.

As recounted by the work exhibited in the second gallery, the shift in creative temperament from charming pastiche to emotional urgency is immediately apparent in Sutcliffe’s swiftly maturing and enquiring painting style. He moves rapidly through painting in the British ‘kitchen sink’ realist style of the mid-1950s, to engage instead with a temperament that Biggs astutely identifies as drawn towards the freedoms associated with artists connected to Art Informel – Wols, Henri Michaux and Jean Fautrier. Sutcliffe’s later paintings in oil on canvas are intently worked and thick with paint, in deft and fluid smears and dabs. There is a gathering intensity in the work that instantly declares itself – a searching through styles for a personal style, in which the process of investigation ultimately defines the emotional core of the work. One can also see the faint imprint of a more specifically British sensibility – of the work of Alan Davie, for example, William Turnbull or Patrick Heron. There is a complete absence, however, of Pop art influence; the temper of the work is entirely painterly, reaching for inner response as opposed to outer ‘cool’. Working with increasing assurance, finding his own style within intense, intuitive mark making, Sutcliffe’s media ranged from paintings in oil on canvas and monotype on collage, through to lithography and oil and collage on paper.

Untitled #2, Hamburg Period, Oil on canvas

Stuart Sutcliffe, Untitled #2, Hamburg Period

Three ‘black’ paintings, hung side by side, all Untitled and made during 1961 and 1962, create what feels like the aesthetic centrepiece and biographical destination of this retrospective. All oils on canvas, the surfaces of these paintings possess a near mineralogical density, as though charred matter in roughly tessellating patterns had become encrusted over the red underpainting, traces of which appear to burn through the compositions like glowing embers. In their presence, one felt that had Sutcliffe lived, his future as an artist of note –or perhaps of considerable importance – was already assured.

This is the first major exhibition to open at the Victoria Gallery and Museum (VG&M), following its launch in June after an £8.6 million restoration of the Victoria Building. The gallery is now home to art and scientific collections acquired by the University in the last 100 years.


Liverpool One and the new Chavasse Park

Last month saw the grand opening of the final phase of the Liverpool One development and today, on a bright and crisp autumn afternoon I took a stroll with the camera through the new Chavasse Park and surrounding streets.

Although the main concourse of shops is, architecturally, pretty humdrum, I suppose that is the price we have to pay for having such a huge area of the city (once littered with apalling eyesores like the Paradise Street car park, Steers House and many stretches of derelict land) improved so dramatically. What redeems it somewhat is that, unlike a typical shopping mall development, a variety of materials and textures have been used in the architecture of the various units that make up the whole.

But the new Chavasse Park is brilliant; it’s a lovely space with lawns and fountains that is already a place where people congregate and sit. And it’s been finished to a high standard with quality stone work and shrub and tree planting. Above all, it has opened up the waterfront and the Albert Dock, previously isolated behind a busy dual carriageway and wasteland.

Phase One of Liverpool One was opened to the public in May. The new phase includes a 14 screen Odeon cinema and a restaurant-lined terrace. The restaurants overlook Chavasse park, which is at the heart of the development.

The project, previously known as The Paradise Project, involved the redevelopment of 42 acres of land in Liverpool city centre. The project was anchored by John Lewis and Debenhams, with additional leisure, residential, office, public open space and transport developments.

In 1998, a study commissioned by the City Council revealed that Liverpool’s reputation as a regional shopping centre was under serious threat, and recommended a radical redevelopment of over 42 acres, the largest city centre development in Europe since the post-war reconstruction. In April 1999, Liverpool City Council passed a resolution for comprehensive redevelopment of the Paradise Street Area, which contained Chavasse Park, the Paradise Street Bus Station and NCP Car Park, Quiggins, the Moat House Hotel, Canning Place Fire Station and BBC Radio Merseyside. There were also large areas of wasteland, some used as car parks.In March 2000, the Council selected the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor Group as developer.

Work began in Spring 2004 with the excavation of Chavasse Park, and incorporated archaeological investigations, since Chavasse Park covered the ruins of buildings destroyed in World War II bombing, and the Canning Place car park was on the site of the Old Dock, the world’s first wet dock.

To illustrate the scale of the construction, here are photos taken in spring 2006.

The first parts of the development to be completed were the multi-storey car park on Liver Street,and the bus station on Canning Place. Both opened in November 2005, allowing the old bus station and car park on Paradise Street to be demolished in January 2006. This cleared the way for construction of the new buildings on the west side of Paradise Street, as the Moat House Hotel had already been demolished in May 2005.

In July 2006, Herbert’s Hairdressers became the first business to move into new premises in the development, in the uniquely-styled ‘Bling Bling’ building on Hanover Street. At the same time, BBC Radio Merseyside moved into new premises also on Hanover Street, allowing the demolition of the remaining buildings on Paradise Street.

The brand name Liverpool One was chosen after months of marketing research to find a short and snappy brand label for what is Europe’s biggest retail project. The project director told the Daily Post: ‘We have put a lot of work into coming up with a brand name and believe we have chosen something that will become very popular and noticeable. Liverpool One is the most important development in Liverpool’s city centre for more than 40 years. It will deliver a shopping, residential and leisure environment that few other cities can match’.

There has been criticism of the development. The Open Spaces Society has criticised the removal of public rights of way in the development area and fears that universal access to Liverpool’s central streets may be denied to citizens in future. It has also been criticised for isolating businesses in the former retail heart of the city (such as Lewis’s , Rapid Hardware and stores on Bold Street), and for shifting Liverpool’s retail district (resulting in a lot of empty units around Church Street, Lime Street, Ranelagh Street and Bold Street). And there has been criticism of the architecture.


Footnote, August 2009:

‘Since its opening by the Duke of Westminster in a blaze of publicity last December, the critics of One Park West have had a field day, crowned by its recent nomination for a “Carbuncle Cup” in a competition to find the country’s worst new building…When the Duke of Westminster opened One Park West last year, he called it the “jewel in the crown” of the Liverpool One development. The central tower is the highest in Liverpool One. The raking corner feature is designed to define the edge of the park. The Carbuncle Cup, organised by architects’ website Building Design and based on public nominations, will be awarded at the same time as the prestigious Stirling Prize, for which Liverpool One is shortlisted’. (Daily Post)

n the summer of 1998, Healey & Baker’s Development Team, which is now owned by Cushman & Wakefield,[6] were appointed by Liverpool City Council to conduct a retail study of the Liverpool City Centre for the replacement Unitary Development Plan.[7] The purpose of the study was to enable the Council to identify ways of protecting and improving the City Centre and also to find out why the City Centre was perceived as unattractive to new high quality retailers. Cushman & Wakefield‘s study revealed that Liverpool’s reputation as a regional shopping centre was under serious threat, however the study underlined that a feasible scheme and redevelopment site existed within the heart of the city.Cushman & Wakefield recommended a radical City Centre re-development of over 42 acres (170,000 m2), which would represent the largest city centre development in Europe since the post-war reconstruction.[8]In April 1999, Liverpool City Council passed a resolution for comprehensive redevelopment of the Paradise Street Area,[9] which consisted of the area bound by Strand Street, the Combined Courts Centre, Lord Street, Church Street, Hanover Street and Liver Street. The area contained Chavasse Park, the Paradise Street Bus Station and NCP Car Park, Quiggins, the Moat House Hotel, Canning Place Fire Station and BBC Radio Merseyside. There were also large areas of wasteland, some used as car parks.In March 2000, after a series of technical workshops, Liverpool City Council selected the Duke of Westminster‘s Grosvenor Group as developer.[9] The Development Agreement between the council and Grosvenor was signed in January 2003.[10]As a result of the technical workshops, it became apparent to Cushman & Wakefield that whilst the boundary of the PSDA was appropriate, the boundary needed to be extended and more clearly defined. Cushman & Wakefield proposed that two Mixed Use Extension Areas be identified to the West and East of the PSDA, including the sites of Chavasse Park/ Canning Place, together with an area across Hanover Street extending into Rope Walks.

When We Dead Awaken

We’ve been to the Unity to see Ibsen’s When we Dead Awaken,  his final and seldom performed work. It’s a major international collaboration between the Unity  theatre and two Swedish companies, Riksteatern and Vasterbottensteatern.

This review from the Daily Post:

The main theme of When We Dead Awaken is art and the artist, and the cost to human life and relationships when the urge to create a masterwork is greater than all. An intense and melodramatic 80- minute effort with no interval, the play explores the fates of four people – sculptor Rubek and his flighty and neglected younger wife, Maja; the rugged hunter who attracts her attention; and Irene, Rubek’s long-lost muse.

When Rubek and Irene reunite after years apart, she having been driven mad by the circumstances of their parting, two lifetimes of regret and misunderstandings come to a harrowing climax. The sculptor, trapped in his calling as an artist and how it has crippled his own human feelings and emotions, is played earnestly by Robert Pickavance, whose haunted eyes tell a sorry tale all their own.

The confusion of Maja is well conveyed by Swedish actress Tove Olsson, with a real tension between her and Matthew Zajac. Susanne Gunnersen, also from Sweden, copes well with the at times almost unbearably tortured Irene.

The simple set of four large canvases are moved by the players, all dressed in white, to change the sense of location, and a sparely used cello soundtrack sets the sombre tone.

A play striking in its effectiveness but so desperately serious in its Nordic bleakness as to almost be ripe for parody at times, it demands a lot from its audience, yet it is possibly its stark simplicity that makes this production a memorable one.


The Beat Goes On

Visited the World Museum yesterday to see the exhibition on Liverpool music, The Beat Goes On. The exhibition does a good job of demonstrating the variety and vibrancy of the Liverpool music scene over the past 60 years. It’s a big exhibition exploring six themes: Sounds of the city; Sites and scenes; Musicianship; Sound and technology; Image and design; Hearing new sounds. These themes are explored in depth in the exhibition online resources.

One highlight was a display of  Beatles memorabilia, including the first ever public display of the Woolton church stage where John and Paul first met in 1957;  the jacket worn by John Lennon during the band’s 1964 tour and the All You Need is Love bedcover from John and Yoko’s Bed-in-for-Peace demonstration in Montreal in 1969. There are also displays featuring other bands that flourished in Liverpool during the swinging-sixties.

Another section is devoted to Liverpool’s influential club Eric’s, which opened in 1976, with displays looking at the plethora of bands and artists which came to prominence at the time such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Ian Brodie, OMD, Pete Burns and The Teardrop Explodes.

Objects on display from Liverpool artists include Billy Fury’s guitar and a dress made for Lita Roza, the first British female artist to ever have a UK number one hit in 1953 with How Much is that Doggie in the Window? (this was also the first Liverpool artist’s UK number one).

Joe Riley wrote a perceptive review for the Echo:

Once upon a time, it would have been shipping. Today, it is the world music culture which came with those ships, be it calypsos from the Caribbean, songs from Africa and the Far East, or voices on vinyl, courtesy of the Cunard Yanks. It all went into the mix which created the seismic uplift of the Mersey Sound. There wasn’t much of a beat to Lita Roza singing How Much Is That Doggy In The Window? More a willingness to stand up and sing.

Then came the fizzle of Michael Holliday and Frankie Vaughan, before first full ignition with Billy Fury. And there were some surprising retro shocks to counter the full luminescence from a cellar on Mathew Street: like Ken Dodd singing Tears (For Souvenirs) or Arthur Askey’s album of ‘Silly songs’.

The best thing about this informed, if crowded, exhibition are reminders of the forgotten or the under-sung: the Vernons Girls or the Merseysippi Jazz Band; the Bootle Concertina Band; the Mandolin Club; the skiffle outfits inspired by incomer Lonnie Donegan; the folk, jazz, country and blues influences.

And not just people: places like The Iron Door and The Sink , which fashioned the looks as well as the sounds of a generation. Or the shops which fed the markets – from NEMS through to Probe. It was one big, glorious and continuous gig.

Far from diminishing post 60s, the Liverpool music scene gave birth to Eric’s (about to be the subject of stage musical), while others danced on into the world of Cream, or pushed gender boundaries at Garlands. In 60 years, Liverpool music had come a long way from the propriety of the Locarno Ballroom.

The man who would have loved telling this story most is pictured in the midst of it: Cavern DJ Bob Wooler, hero of the passing decades. In the great B to Z (Beatles to Zutons) of it all, the Beatles get their name-checks – six of them – but only in context. That’s because this is an ensemble show. One for all, not all for one.

The exhibition highlights the fact that local artists have had so many Number One hits that in 2001 the Guinness Book of Records named Liverpool the world ‘City of Pop’. A 2008 Arts Council survey also named Liverpool ‘the UK’s Most Musical City’. In fact there have been 56 Liverpool number ones:

  • Lita Roza 1953 How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?
  • Frankie Vaughan 1957 The Garden Of Eden
  • Michael Holliday 1960 Story Of My Life
  • Michael Holliday 1960 Starry Eyed
  • Frankie Vaughan 1961 Tower Of Strength
  • Gerry and the Pacemakers 1963 How Do You Do It?
  • The Beatles 1963 From Me To You
  • Gerry and the Pacemakers 1963 I Like It
  • The Searchers 1963 Sweets For My Sweet
  • Billy J Kramer 1963 Bad To Me
  • The Beatles 1963 She Loves You
  • Gerry and the Pacemakers 1963 You’ll Never Walk Alone
  • The Beatles 1963 I Want To Hold Your Hand
  • The Searchers 1964 Needles And Pins
  • Cilla Black 1964 Anyone Who Had A Heart
  • Billy J Kramer 1964 Little Children
  • The Beatles 1964 Can’t Buy Me Love
  • The Searchers 1964 Don’t Throw Your Love Away
  • Cilla Black 1964 You’re My World
  • The Beatles 1964 Hard Day’s Night
  • The Beatles 1964 I Feel Fine
  • The Beatles 1965 Ticket To Ride
  • The Beatles 1965 Help
  • Ken Dodd 1965 Tears
  • The Beatles 1965 Day Tripper
  • The Beatles 1966 Paperback Writer
  • The Beatles 1966 Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby
  • The Beatles 1967 All You Need Is Love
  • The Beatles 1967 Hello Goodbye
  • The Beatles 1968 Lady Madonna
  • The Beatles 1968 Hey Jude
  • The Scaffold 1968 Lilly The Pink
  • The Beatles 1969 Get Back
  • The Beatles 1969 The Ballad Of John And Yoko
  • George Harrison 1971 My Sweet Lord
  • The Real Thing 1976 You To Me Are Everything
  • Wings 1977 Mull Of Kintyre
  • John Lennon 1980 Just Like Starting Over
  • John Lennon 1980 Imagine
  • John Lennon 1980 Woman
  • Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder 1982 Ebony And Ivory
  • Paul McCartney 1984 Pipes Of Peace
  • Frankie Goes To Hollywood 1984 Relax
  • Frankie Goes To Hollywood 1984 Two Tribes
  • Frankie Goes To Hollywood 1984 The Power Of Love
  • Dead Or Alive 1985 You Spin Me Right Round
  • The Christians, Holly Johnson, Paul McCartney, Gerry Marsden 1989 Ferry Across The Mersey (Hillsborough)
  • Sonia 1989 You’ll Never Stop Me From Loving You
  • The Lightning Seeds 1996 Three Lions
  • The Lightning Seeds, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner 1998 Three Lions Euro ’98
  • Melanie C 2000 Things Will Never Be The Same Again
  • Melanie C 2000 I Turn To You
  • Atomic Kitten 2001 Whole Again
  • Atomic Kitten 2001 Eternal Flame
  • George Harrison 2002 My Sweet Lord
  • Atomic Kitten 2002 The Tide Is High

Many of the items in the exhibition will go on display in the new Museum of Liverpool, opening in 2011. The new museum will feature the Creative City gallery, dedicated to celebrating the creative personality of Liverpool.


Liverpool is world famous for popular music. Local artists have had so many Number One hits that in 2001 the Guinness Book of Records named Liverpool the world ‘City of Pop’. A 2008 Arts Council survey also named Liverpool ‘the UK’s Most Musical City’ so there’s definitely a lot to be proud of.

The Beat Goes On exhibition highlights the remarkable achievements of Merseyside artists from across the years; people who have influenced generations of musicians. Hear about the different cultural and musical traditions within the region and its vibrant music and club scenes.

Listen to jukeboxes, mix your own tracks, strut your stuff on our dance floor and tune into the vibe that is Liverpool music.

Explore how local musicians have started out. See how their images have been represented in photographs, record sleeves and videos. Discover the creative use of new technologies and the processes of music production. Learn how the city has inspired local musicians and how local music has travelled the world.

Brad Mehldau Trio at St Georges Hall

Last night we saw the Brad Mehldau Trio – Larry Grenadier on bass, Jeff Ballard on drums, and Mehldau piano – perform in the Concert Room of St Georges Hall.  An excellent performance, though the venue’s acoustics are not ideally suited for jazz.

From the programme notes:

Virtuosic pianist Brad Mehldau is a major force in contemporary jazz, injecting fresh intensity into the music through a combination of spontaneous improvisation and formal structure. His artistry stands out as a powerful contemporary influence in a line that stretches back through Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner. Mehldau’s approach embraces a reflective and musically profound command of melodic improvisation with bursts of full-on rhythmic intensity.

Brad Mehldau has recorded and performed extensively since the early 1990s. His most consistent output over the years has taken place in the trio format. Starting in 1996, his group released a series of five records on Warner Bros entitled The Art of the Trio. Mehldau also has a solo piano recording entitled Elegiac Cycle, and a record called Places that includes both solo piano and trio songs. Elegiac Cycle and Places might be called “concept” albums. They are made up exclusively of original material and have central themes that hover over the compositions. Other Mehldau recordings include Largo, a collaborative effort with the innovative musician and producer Jon Brion, and Anything Goes – a trio outing with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jorge Rossy.

From the programme notes:

Mehldau’s musical personality forms a dichotomy. He is first and foremost an improviser, and greatly cherishes the surprise and wonder that can occur from a spontaneous musical idea that is expressed directly, in real time. But he also has a deep fascination for the formal architecture of music, and it informs everything he plays. In his most inspired playing, the actual structure of his musical thought serves as an expressive device. As he plays, he listens to how ideas unwind, and the order in which they reveal themselves. Each tune has a strongly felt narrative arch, whether it expresses itself in a beginning, an end, or something left intentionally open-ended. The two sides of Mehldau’s personality – the improviser and the formalist – play off each other, and the effect is often something like controlled chaos.

Brad Mehldau Trio: Jazzwoche Burghausen Germany, March 2008

Biennial: Hope Street Project

Hope Street Project: image by Mark McNulty

If you’re anywhere around Hope Street in the evening at the moment, you get to see an extraordianry green beam of light that links the two cathedrals. This is the Hope Street Project, part of the Biennial Light event.

Beams of light link the towers of the two cathedrals along Hope Street. These will be visible on misty or rainy evenings, but they are also the conduits for voices to be passed between the two buildings. What is being sent is a growing collection of hopeful phrases and utterances that are drawn directly from the people of Liverpool distributed through a contemplative soundspace that links the two Cathedrals.

To achieve the above aspiration means that the project team have had to overcome significant technical challenges to use green laser to transmit audio between the Liverpool Cathedral and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Green laser is being used as a medium because it has superior visibility to red laser. Therefore, we will then be able to achieve the kind of iconic image which the project team wants when the installation is in situ later this year.

The Hope Street Project represents the third phase of a series of collaborative installations between artist and musician Peter Appleton and composer Simon Thorne. They are now working with the artist and writer Colin Dilnot on this project.


Powerplant: image by Mark McNulty

Spent a magical evening in the darkness of Calderstones park experiencing Powerplant,a collection of light installations presented by the Liverpool Culture Company as part of the Capital of Culture programme. There were 20 different installations featuring work by artists including Mark Anderson, Anne Bean, Jony Easterby and Kirsten Reynolds.

Powerplant: Image by Mark McNulty

Deep in the park, as dusk falls, old gramophones spin glittering sounds whilst clicking insects cast vast moving shadows. Haunting whistles rise and fall and luminous balloons breathe gentle sighs. A Victorian glasshouse shudders, and sparkling flowerbeds dance to their own tune….

This is the Sunday Times review:

Sold out as it was on all of its five nights in Calderstones Park, Power Plant’s ingeniously playful array of electronic stunts, kinetic sculptures and musical sound effects sprang a series of delightful surprises. The first, for me, was Calderstones Park itself — once part of an aristocratic estate, it is well endowed with walled gardens, hot houses and exotic features that stood up beautifully to Power Plant’s eccentric son-et-lumière approaches.

Of these, the show stopper was Mark Anderson’s Pyrophones, an elaborate arrangement of metal pipes, topped with propane burners, that sporadically shot balls of flame into the night sky, to the accompaniment of what sounded like a lugubrious fugue for beaten-up foghorns. In a similarly populist vein, Jony Easterby’s Worm Cam projected kaleidoscopic images of live snails, slugs and worms onto a screen, rendering them as unrecognisably beautiful diagrams of shifting line and colour. While the kids flocked to this, their grandparents were enjoying Siren Song, a sound piece artfully constructed out of second world war air-raid sirens on and around a monument to a local dog that helped to rescue victims of the Nazis’ 1940 blitz on the city.

Powerplant: image by Mark McNulty

Much of the show was more enigmatic, infiltrating the park’s trees with lights and filling the air with ghostly noises. We entered to the sound of Wolves Whistle, featuring another of Anderson’s pipe ensembles, this one powered by old vacuum-cleaner motors, in which the partially illuminated nearby trees blared mournfully at each other. That theme was echoed by Kirsten Reynolds’s From Memory, where a row of lamp shades controlled, sort of, by dimmers fitfully engaged in squeaky electronic chatter (another of her pieces, Reflection, is pictured below). Anne Bean’s Breathing Space offered another haunting animation of things inanimate: a pile of palely lit, giant weather balloons, gently deflating into squidgy emblems of inevitable decay.

Power Plant is an enhanced version of an installation first put on in Oxford’s Botanical Gardens in 2005. Its interest in pyrotechnics and repurposing obsolete technology was upgraded for this event with contemporary widgets such as windscreen-wiper motors, gas-cooker igniters and sound-sensitive light wire. The point of it all, for me, was to promote a sense of amused mystery at a world we partly inhabit, partly create and, for better or worse, endlessly mess about with.

The families who made up most of the show’s 1,500-strong audience on the night I visited loved it. Long before I perused the visitor-comments book on the way out — unanimously positive, especially from children such as Laura, 9, whose spidery inscription pronounced it “mind-melting” — Power Plant trashed the general view that abstract art and weird music are elitist pursuits designed to baffle the uninitiated.


Biennial: more highlights

The main event of the biennial is called ‘Made Up’ and shows commissioned work of more than 40 international artists across thirteen sites in the city,  exploring the theme of fantasy and imagination.

In Gleaming Lights of the Souls by Yayoi Kusama (exhibited in an empty factory unit off Jamaica Street) visitors are invited to enter a tardis-like chamber, whose small interior unfolds into a magical encounter with infinity. The small room is mirrored on all four sides, with a shallow pool of water on the floor. A changing constellation of small LED lights hung from the ceiling produce an infinite chain of endless reflections, transforming the small white cube into a distinctly otherworldly place.

At the same venue you could see Air-Port-City by Tomas Saraceno.  The programme notes explain:

Trained as an architect, since 2002 Tomas Saraceno has been developing his ideas for cities built in the air. His ongoing project Air-Port-City imagines a network of biospheres (or habitable cells) in the sky, like clouds, constantly moving, changing shape, and merging with one another.

This flying architecture builds on the tradition of utopian architects such as Buckminster Fuller and Archigram to propose a new mode of living that transcends national, geographic and political boundaries. Since 2002 Saraceno has continued, in sculptures, installations and experimental flights, to make a series of incremental steps towards his ultimate goal of cities built in the air.

His ‘biospheres’ are ethereal structures, in which clusters of transparent pillows are gathered together in arched nets to form larger spheres. Visually they invoke the structures of nature viewed through the lens of science, reminiscent of scientific models of atoms, or a collection of transparent eggs enlarged under the microscope. In his drawings, the interior of Air-Port-City appears like the palaces of the Moors (early pioneers in mathematics and astronomy), a progression of light airy halls framed by geometric forms endlessly receding into the distance.

One of the biggest events in Capital of Culture year has been the re-opening of the Bluecoat Arts Centre, which has come into its own for the biennial. Sarah Sze’s untitled installation takes over the stairwell in a teetering but intricately put together, heap of debris, stretching up three floors. The only motion comes from a single brick attached to a fan three floors up that swings precariously, threatening destruction of the whole work should it fall.

Also at the Bluecoat is an installation by Khalil Rabah – the Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind. After 12 Years is a legal case brought before the Swiss legal system by the Botanical Department of the Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind on behalf of a family of five olive trees that arrived from Ramallah, Palestine to Aniana Pank at the United Nations Office, Geneva, in 1995. The case argues the Trees’ legal right to be granted Swiss citizenships, since they have fulfilled the Swiss naturalisation requirements for the past 12 years.

The Biennial Guide explains further:

Using narratives that hover between fiction and reality, Khalil Rabah’s installations, objects, videos, actions and interventions articulate the very real situation of occupation experienced by Palestinians. His ongoing Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind, which has had manifestations in Athens, Istanbul, Amsterdam and elsewhere, playfully interrogates history as an accumulation of fact and artifice.

Yet the ‘evidence’ he presents cannot be taken at face value, playing around as he does with ideas of objective truth and authenticity. His fictionalised museum also questions and subverts the notion of archiving, documentation and the idea of the museum itself as a repository of objects and the construction of collective knowledge.

In 1995 Khalil Rabah planted olive trees outside the United Nations Office in Geneva. Uprooted from their original home in Palestine, the trees were replanted as symbols of peace in Switzerland. Metaphorically they referenced the continuing effects of war on Palestinian agriculture, economy and identity. In recent years, Rabah has learnt that only one tree remains and the others have been removed, although it Is not clear where they have been relocated to, or why.

In Liverpool, the Botanical Department of the Palestinian Museum of Natural History and Humankind has initiated a legal investigation of the status of the trees. Presented in glass cases, the ‘evidence’ sits alongside a diorama of the absent trees, text panels, national flags and other accoutrements of the museum experience. Like his construction of an office for the United States of Palestine Airlines in London in 2007, this new work continues Rabah’s examination of fact and fiction, in which ownership of the past and reclamation of a future denied are played out.

At FACT, U-Ram Choe’s Opertus Lunula Umbra is on display. The Biennial Guide explains:

Modernity, based on a symbiotic relationship between man and machine, is fraught with contradictions: we strive to embed human intelligence into machines to make them ever more capable and powerful, but we fear and feel repelled by our increasing dependence upon artifice, yearning for a simpler life.

U-Ram Choe’s work embraces the man-made and the natural. He makes up a world of mechanical creatures that shift between streamlined metallic objects and amorphous biological forms of delicacy and weightlessness.

His recent large-scale automated sculptures move with an effortlessness that suggests gliding through water or being ruffled by a gentle breeze. They appear to be a life form that reflects both our desire to create an intelligently designed universe, and the relationship between nature and beauty.

They also suggest an archaeology of undiscovered futuristic organisms, resonant of primitive life forms, imagining a future past excavated from the ground or from the bottom of the sea. Each object has its own notes and biological profile to locate it in an imagined history and place; each is based in the evolutionary logic of a parallel universe, with detailed descriptions fon each species, information concerning feeding habits, reproduction cycles and behavioural characteristics.

The commission for MADE UP is his most ambitious to date: approximately 5m in length, Opertus Lunula Umbra (Hidden Shadow of the Moon) is inspired by moonlight energy, and folds and unfolds its mechanical wings with the breath-like undulation. Its story explores medieval fantasy, the seductive appearance of reflected sunlight on the moon, mystenious energy sources and a lunatic’s gaze into waters at night.

‘IS.R.A.M., oka United Research of Anima Machine, discovered this life-form made of mechanical structures from sunken boats of the past, and modern nautical devices. This new species was defined as Anima machine and a simulated setting was created to observe its behaviour. One of the outcomes from these efforts was the mega-sized model of ‘Opertus Lunula Umbra’ displayed in FACT, Liverpool. This model was based on the exact creature found in Albert Dock, so far known as the largest and the most evolved example of the species.’

Up at St Luke’s, Yoko Ono’s Liverpool Skyladders is on display:

Liverpool Skyladders takes the form of a simple invitation to donate a stepladder. Over the course of the Biennial, a forest of steps will grow inside the ruined church of St. Luke’s, entirely open to the skies since it was bombed in 1941.

The work revisits an unrealised performance, Sky Event for John Lennon (1968). In her instructions, Ono asked participants to ‘gather with their Sunday outfit, wearing their best hats’, and to ‘prepare binoculars and telescopes for people to occasionally check the sky. Ladders of great height should also be prepared for people who wish to climb up high to check.’ Later that year, the more conceptual Sky Event II instructed people to ‘do the sky event in your mind. THEN go out into the street and photos to document the event.’

If the original Sky Event was intended to have a celebratory festive quality, Liverpool Skyladders is a quieter more contemplative affair. The Sunday hats, binoculars and telescopes have been set aside for a simple installation which transforms a ubiquitous and utilitarian object into a vehicle of wonder. Ladders frequently appear in Ono’s work as a means to reach a higher level, physically and metaphorically. One of her earliest uses of the ladder was the performance Fly (1964), where a stepladder provided the launchpad from which invited guests took flight. In other works, the ladder becomes almost a mechanism of sight, as in Ceiling Piece, where visitors climbed a ladder to discover the word ‘Yes’ on a piece of paper suspended from the ceiling. In Liverpool Skyladders, the ladders are both a means to reach the sky, and a means by which to see the sky. Slowly growing from a few small saplings into a fully fledged forest, Liverpool Skyladders shares with Sky Event II the conviction that through collective participation, an act of imagination can become a reality. Through a simple affirmative act of will, a ladder can become a skyladder.