Monday, December 31, 2007

Jumping The Gun

Seems I was mistaken in suspecting the identity of the local band which got preferential treatment for the 2006 Matthew Street Festival. Ah well, still nice to know who it really was.

As a necessary corrective to the mayhem & madness which will engulf the streets & bars over the next few hours, I'd recommend the Random Acts Of Reality blog by Tom Reynolds, a London paramedic who will be working this evening (http://randomreality.blogware.com/ ). Tom has promised to update the blog as the night/morning wears on. Good luck, Tom.

The thought that 2008 is just a few hours away is rather sobering in itself. For better or worse, the Capital of Culture madness will swing into action as the clock strikes midnight.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Festival Favours


Tony Parish (http://www.liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com/ ) relates that the latest inquiry into the Matthew Street fiasco has been kicked into the long grass after allegations that Jason Harborrow, soon to trouser a £250,000 pay-off from the city council, pulled a few strings to ensure a local act got a prime slot at the 2006 festival:
"It is alleged that Jase abused his position and authority as chief executive of the Culture Company to unfairly ensure that the band were given the gig.
"A second senior city council official was also being investigated after he was implicated in bringing pressure to bear on staff to make sure that the band appeared.
"It is alleged that both Jason Harborrow and the senior official intervened to make sure the band appeared."
Tony notes that local acts at the 2006 festival had to go through a vetting procedure, widely viewed as exacting, by an independent panel. However, the band at the centre of the allegations were seemingly not put through this.
A quick Google search for "Matthew Street Festival 2006" produces this webpage from the BBC Liverpool site:
Tony hasn't yet named the band, but the link seems to do just that.
[The Lightning Seeds' frontman, Ian Broudie, started out in the Liverpool punk band, Big In Japan. One of his bandmates was a certain Jayne Casey, now one of the bigwigs involved in the Culture Company. Among the Lightning Seeds' hit singles in the 90s was the aptly named "Lucky You".]

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Blogless?

Is There Anybody Out There?

It's always a little disheartening, though not exactly astonishing, when the so-called serious press is guilty of sloppy journalism over Merseyside. One such instance was to be found in last week's Guardian in an article on the growth of blogs in UK towns & cities:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/dec/20/blogging.internet .

According to the piece's author, Guy Clapperton, the blogging scene in Liverpool is slight:

"Not surprisingly," he sneers, "the city is characterised by a plethora of footie blogs pretending to be city blogs."

Clapperton's piece does go on to mention the Liverpool Subculture blog (http://www.liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com/ ), but no others in a dismissively short paragraph. No mention of Liverpool Blogs (http://liverpoolblogs.blogspot.com/ ) nor the blogs featured on the Art In Liverpool website (http://www.artinliverpool.co.uk/ ).

There are many things in an unready state for 2008, but the city's burgeoning blogging scene isn't one of them.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Una Probabilita Per Vendetta? *

Callaghan makes it 2-0

With this week's Champions League draw pairing Liverpool & Inter Milan for the first time since their meeting in 1965, it's worth recalling that tie & the way in which Inter bribed the Spanis referee, Snr. Ortiz de Mendebil for the second leg at the San Siro:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3tyivliverpool-v-inter-milan-1965-europesport .

Also: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=y_t3z_5R90M .

(With thanks to http://www.shankly.com/ for reproduction of the image .)

* A Chance For Revenge?


Before The Farce Begins

Hands up if you've f***ed things up!

Ahead of the institutional cock-up that will be 2008 (thank you, Tony Parrish, you've made the council, the Culture Company & the Echo look like complete clowns, keep it up: http://www.liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com/ ), there is some cheering information about the arts scene locally in today's Observer (http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2231521,00.html ).

The emerging young artists, musicians & others involved in the city's arts scene have a take on 2008 which refreshingly steers clear of the old cliches & Scouse stereotypes. Indeed, some of them have settled in Liverpool, enabling them to have a fresh perspective on the forthcoming year as well as their general perceptions of the city. One or two have a timely dig at the farce concocted by the council & their partners in crime at the Culture Company.

With Jason Harborrow retiring (yet again) to his Spanish hacienda before his final pay off at the council tax payers expense & Messrs. Storey & Bradley finally facing the music for their culpability, it's heartening to know that the city's arts scene is getting on with its own projects & not allowing the civic chaos to affect their own work.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Acting On Impulse

Purely by chance, I walked into one of the departments at work on Monday afternoon where a radio was tuned into a local station. The presenter spoke about a Springsteen gig at Old Trafford, Manchester, next May. My ears pricked up in an almost feral way. Texts pinged back & forth, my mobile phone ringing regularly also, the Liverpool FC ringtone causing more than a little irritation to the Evertonians in the place. It's now booked. It wasn't cheap, of course (there's no other act for whom I'd part with £60, thanks for the booking fee, Ticketmaster). Still, after all the manufactured hype about the McCartney concert at Anfield, it is nice to know that I'll be attending a gig rather than a tiresome exercise in Beatle nostalgia & parochial excess.
If the comedians running the Liverpool Culture Company had been doing their job properly, they might, just might, have secured this gig for the city. Instead, the 60s are re-heated & served up yet again for local consumption.

The Emperor's New Clothes


Crashing in from work on Monday evening, I switched on Channel 4 News. Among the lead stories was a live piece from Liverpool's Albert Dock. The programme's highly cerebral & urbane arts correspondent, Nicholas Glass, looking uncomfortable in a to-camera piece, explained that this year's Turner Prize was being held at the venue to mark 2008. My heart sank. It sank even further when Warren Bradley, leader of the city council appeared to give his views on the contenders. Will Bradley be appearing as a pundit at the McCartney concert next summer, I wonder?
Anyway, it soon transpired that, save for a couple of ego-fuelled local politicos & arty types who had fetched up from Lark Lane, the audience was bussed up from London; the poor lambs, having to endure a December evening in the provinces!
As for the winner, Mark Wallinger, well, I suppose it all made sense to him as he videoed himself in a bear costume at a Berlin gallery. Furthermore, if it had a connection to the anti-war movement, as he claimed, well, good on the guy.
However, much as I like to retain an open mind on cultural persuits, I have to say that the Turner Prize has become a byword for inane, irrelevant, juvenile bullshit over the years (remember the electric light being switched on & off, a few years' ago?).
I have a suggestion for Mark. Why not take his costume to Khartoum, parade around the Sudanese capital & tell everyone that his name's Mohammed?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lifting The Lid?

Liverpool has always produced comedians. Here's two more.

Returning, as we must, to the ongoing farce that will be 2008, Tony Parish, has unearthed another gem (http://liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com/ ) which the Echo will probably report as an exclusive sometime next month.
After the pathetically transparent attempt by Warren Bradley, Jason Harborrow, et al, to use Lee Forde as the scapegoat for the Matthew Street fiasco, the covering of arses is on a scale last seen at your average public school. However, the Subculture blog notes that Bradley, Harborrow & others knew in February of this year that there were real difficulties over the festival. In a series of emails between the relevant parties dating back to this point, it was acknowledged that the festival would be starved of resources & that the "Big Dig" in the city would make the staging of the event a near impossibility. This contradicts Bradley's oft-repeated claim that the first he knew of the situation was in July.

A week or so back, it seemed that the BBC was going to investigate the 2008 fiasco:
http://www.how-do.co.uk/rumours-and-conjecture/north-west-media-rumours/panorama-to-investigate-'botched%92-preparations-for-liverpool-08?200711141345/ .
However, hopes were dashed this week, according to the same source:
http://www.how-do.co.uk/north-west-media-news/north-west-broadcasting/panorama-admits-researching-liverpool-08%2c-but-denies-programme-in-production-200711211389/ .
How-Do reported, "It is thought that the content of the programme was set to focus on the numerous well-documented 'hiccups' that have occurred on the road to Liverpool's highly prized Capital of Culture status. One insider noted that city officials were 'justifiably nervous' about the apparent plans."
According to the piece, Paul Rasmussen, a spokesman for the programme, was initially wary of saying much about the claim. However, he did venture, "We did do some initial research on a programme about regeneration, which would have been linked to Liverpool 08."
Panorama is a mere shadow of the programme it was in previous decades. However, it would have been nice to see the spotlight turned on the machinations, chicanery, spin & mind-blowing incompetence which has characterized the Liverpool Culture Company (http://liverpool08.com/ ).
The sigh of relief emanating from Liverpool 08's corporate sponsors will be audible at Jason Harborrow's Spanish hacienda.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Jaded Jingoism & Flaccid Facism

Aside from picking up my winnings on a £5 bet on Croatia to beat England last night (generous odds of 9/2, thank you very much), I've taken little interest in the fall-out; I've said before that I'm too conscious of my Liverpool Irish background to wave the Union flag, bellow a monotonous drone of an anthem in praise of an institution I oppose & display utter disrespect for "foreigners". On a purely footballing level, there's a long, earnest & measured debate to be held on why England failed. On a non-footballing level, I'll simply say that it's always nice to see the Johnny Bullshitters get their racist prejudices rubbed in the brown matter. Next summer's European Championships will be worth watching; the best of a continent's football & a complete absence of lagered-up louts who laughably see & style themselves as an army. Mercifully, club football returns this weekend, its cosmopolitan character a welcome antidote to the sterile postures of the last few days.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

King Of America?



Alas, poor Declan, alack; once upon a time you seemed to be the only big name UK artist to survive the late 70s New Wave period with serious credibility (the Clash had their moments, but failed to sustain their momentum).

Costello's truly cringeworthy rendition of "Happy Birthday" to Hillary Clinton in New York last month followed closely on his appearance in a TV ad in the US for Lexus cars ( I have both to hand, but won't dignify them with the relevant YouTube links ).

Anyway, it seems that Costello has assumed the airs & graces of his namesake (Elvis, not Bud) with his ridiculously regal stance: http://www.nme.com/news/elvis-costello/32392 .

In the original Mojo interview, Costello cites his reception at the Glastonbury Festival in 2005. However, the previous February, I saw Costello at Liverpool's Royal Court Theatre, playing to a rapt & packed audience (he even jokingly dedicated "[I Don't Wanna Go To Go] Chelsea" to Steven Gerrard).

Perhaps he sees himself as the second Lennon, comfortably based in Manhattan. On this side of the Atlantic, however, his remarks evoke memories of Rod Stewart hopping across to New York with Britt Ekland.

I hope you're happy now, Elvis.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Nothing But The Same Old Story?

The Liverpool most residents know
The Liverpool most tourists know
Before the Liverpool Culture Company, aided & abetted by their allies, Trinity Mirror, try to persuade us that Merseyside will be transformed into Disneyland on the Mersey by 2008, it's necessary to innoculate oneself against such bullshit.
Perhaps one vaccine has arrived today in the form of a report on the BBC's own website:
It relates, "The think tank Policy Exchange said Liverpool and another 18 cities and towns, including Warrington, are not catching up with the rest of England.
"The Labour Government had been 'well-intentioned' but 'successful towns are becoming more successful, poorer towns are becoming less so', the report said."
The article goes on to say: "Local Government Minister John Healey rejected the claims, saying the economic performance of six of England's eight largest cities had improved since 1997."
Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? After all, it's his job to bang the drum for "the provinces", as they were once patronisingly called. So, Healey's brief, it's valid to say, involves a good deal of PR.
Healey said he found it "alarming" that the think tank report had come to its finding. Does he mean "alarming" as in inaccurate, or as in "shit, we've been dropped in it by some intellectual's candour!"?
To try & get a little more context on this story, I visited the Policy Exchange website (http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/ ).
It should be noted that Policy Exchange describes itself as "the UK's leading centre-right thinktank".
Aha, the picture's getting a little clearer. The Right (let's not bother with the media savvy "centre-right" tag) has long had an approach to areas like Merseyside which could be seen as, at best, benign neglect, or, at worst, outright hostlity. The first approach was voiced by then Tory Chancellor Geoffrey Howe in 1981, when he recommended that the Thatcher Government's policy on Merseyside in the wake of the Toxteth riots should be one of "managed decline". The second approach manifested itself in the Tories' use of unelected law lords to bar the 47 Liverpool Labour councillors from office in 1987.
The report's author, Dr. Oliver Marc Hartwich, is, perhaps predictably, vague on detail:
"While we should not give up on urban policy, much of the £30bn spent in the last decade appears to have had no effect. Britain needs to consider policies that will make it easier for people to work in places that have high productivity and therefore offer high wages. Urban policies should provide towns and cities with incentives to grow, prevent ghost towns from appearing, and give towns and cities much more freedom to decide how to use regeneration money."
Couple of morsels to feast on here: So, areas known for high productivity also offer high wages, do they? That'll be news in the Asian sweatshops. Ghost towns should be prevented, eh? It is in the nature of global capitalism to leave ghost towns in its wake; look at the area around Detroit in the US, where the decline of the car industry has had that social & economic result. Towns & cities should be able to decide how regeneration money is spent in their areas. Fine. Just as long as the decisions aren't taken by locally elected representatives who start to question the "logic" of market forces.
Back to your ivory tower, Dr. Hartwich.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Smiling All The Way To The Bank

Gillett: "They do say it's only a game, Bill."
Hicks: "Suckers!"

Walk On, Walk On, With Cash In The Bank

Talking of things you're unlikely to read in Trinity Mirror's titles, today's Guardian carried a piece by Andy Hunter, ironically once a Daily Post football correspondent, about the real cost of the George Gillett/Bill Hicks reign at Liverpool FC:
http://football.guardian.co.uk/championsleague200708/story/0,,2206007,00.html .
It turns out that Gillett & Hicks are seeking a £500m loan to finance the new stadiun at Stanley Park (the cost having spiralled to £400m), as well as refinancing the £298m loan they secured from the Royal Bank of Scotland with which to purchase the club. One paragraph, in particular, from Hunter's piece is both damning & daunting to the city's taxpayers, not just the club's fans:
"The Americans intended to borrow from Goldman Sachs in a deal arranged by Liverpool's financial advisor, Robert Tillis, until the financiers responded to the global credit crunch by asking the sports tycoons to invest more of their own money into the refinancing package. With his employers reluctant to do so, Tillis has held talks with other financial institutions, including Wachovia and Morgan Stanley. The deal is yet to be finalised but, given current interest rates, the Americans are likely to be refinancing under worse terms than they received from RBS."
As well as shining a light on murky & opaque dealings, the article makes mention of the credit crunch, a phenomenon which has brought the global banking system to a juddering halt, & which has shaken the traders on Wall St. out of their triumphalist mindset about global capitalism.

Money For Nothing

I've refrained from commenting on the decision to stage next year's MTV Europe Awards in Liverpool (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7070936.stm ) mainly because it's little more than a further vanity exercise for the Culture Company (whether Jason Harborrow returns to the city from his Spanish hacienda for the occasion remains to be seen).
The much vaunted aim of the chancers, charlatans & third-rate spivs in charge of 2008 for the year to feature the best that the city's cultural talents has to offer sits uncomfortably with this rather unneccessary addition to the calendar. If the Awards could be adapted to showcase local unsigned acts before a global TV audience, I'd be all for it.
However, we all know that it won't be anything of the sort. Most likely, it will offer the most cursory of nods to You Know Who's musical legacy before grinding on with homogenized, formulaic pap. It will also amount to little more than yet another stopping-off point for the usual suspects (bling-obsessed rappers, crooning soul boys, emoting divas, screeching banshees, etc.).
The event will take place in the city's newly-built Arena, a venue which will bear the name of the Liverpool Echo Arena, although as the Liverpool Subculture blog has been pointing out (http://liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com/ ), the terms of this apparent sponsorship deal are shrouded in an Autumn mist rolling in off the Mersey.
As Tony Parrish has noted (great work, BTW, Tony, keep it going!), expect Trinity Mirror, the publisher of the Echo & Daily Post, to be fawning & sychophantic in its coverage of the Culture Company.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Welcome Return

Some good news for a change. The Liverpool Freethinking Festival is back after the success of last year's event (http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/freethinking/2007/ ) .
As with last year, there seems enough to get your teeth into.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Less Than Zero

As I remarked earlier this month, Elvis Costello was lined up to appear at Hillary Clinton's 60th birthday party at New York's Beacon Theater. Costello rounded off the evening with a toe-curlingly, unctuous rendition of "Happy Birthday":
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/26/uspolitics/26hillary.html?ref=politics .
Back in 1987, when a UK General Election was called by Thatcher, Billy Bragg phoned Costello to ask for his involvement in the Red Wedge campaign. Costello declined to assist, saying that it was a bad idea, presumably on the grounds that acts shouldn't align themselves with party political organisations. He's certainly changed his tune.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Under The Influence

Well, it seems Alex has accepted that my criticism wasn't personal. Issue resolved? Probably.

Today's Guardian carries a piece by Stuart Jeffries about the weekend just gone, which he spent in Liverpool city centre: http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2197067,00.html .
Jeffries visited the city in the wake of findings that emergency admissions to hospitals in the city due to alcohol-related factors outnumber those of any other English council.
Perhaps I should tread warily here, given the amount of booze imbibed by the company I was in on Saturday both during & after the Merseyside derby, but I digress...
To be fair, Jeffries doesn't use his weekend up here as an excuse to trot out the usual jaded journalistic cliches. He does, however, pick the weekend just gone (20th & 21st October) when things were even busier than normal, thanks to the aforementioned Football match, the pub promotions related to this, & the Rugby World Cup final later that Saturday evening, with further pub & club promotions to cash in on that event.
In this context, it doesn't really count as a "normal" Saturday night, & Jeffries himself makes no attempt to imply otherwise.
There is some grim humour to be found in Jeffries' observation, "On Prescot Road, there is an off-licence called Not Drunk Enough, which until recently gave out fliers to taxi drivers, promising: 'Bring a fare here and get £2.50 per fare.' "
That stretch of Prescot Road is a fairly short walk from the prosperous city centre, yet its decay, delinquency & deprivation are so entrenched as to make 2008 raise a hollow laugh from local residents.
Interestingly, Jeffries does report that "there has been a recent decrease in alcohol-related hospital admissions in Liverpool. In the same week as the figures for 2005-2006 alcohol-related admissions made Liverpool England's binge capital, more up-to-date statistics from three city hospitals showed that alcohol-related A&E admissions nearly halved in the past year."
However, Jeffries can't help concluding his piece by describing his hungover state as he departs Lime Street Station "leaving adorable Liverpool to its endless life-affirming, life-destroying bacchanal."
There's a cliche in there somewhere.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Right Of Reply

A quick post before I repair to a local hostelry for the Merseyside Derby. Alex Hilton has responded to last night's post. I'm quite happy to be corrected if I was wrong about the authorship of the post on the Recess Monkey blog. As well as that, I should have mentioned that Wikipedia isn't always to be taken as gospel, so Alex, alas, is not related to Paris Hilton.
What puzzles me, however, is that if Alex was willing to stand for the West Derby seat, indicating a seeming desire to champion & defend the constituency, he did not make it clear that the post on the blog expressed a view which he disagreed with.
Oh, by the way, Alex, my criticism was not "personal". It was a robust criticism of what I saw , perhaps mistakenly, as double standards & churlishness; I don't do personal attacks, they're self-defeating. Over to you.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sour Grapes When Scorned


It's always instructive to see the reactions of those who are thwarted in their ambitions. If they say little & get on with life, it's to their credit. If, however, they later make snide or juvenile comments about the object of their failed ambitions, well, you know the rest.
The Recess Monkey political blog is run by one Alex Hilton (above). Normally, I don't pay much attention to it, seeing as it mainly concerns itself with Westminster minutiae; file under "political anoraks".
However, in a post on Tuesday, Hilton commented on the government finding that Liverpool accounts for half the total number of fly-tipping incidents in the UK. Needless to say, it's not a statistic to take civic pride in. However Hilton couldn't help adding, "Capital of culture? Not a culture I'd want to be associated with myself." (http://www.recessmonkey.com/2007/10/16/what-a-load-of-rubbish/ ).
I decided to contribute a few thoughts of my own in the comments section of the post:
"I realise you have to pad out your, ahem, blog from time to time, but this lazy jibe is just a little too obvious, wouldn't you say? I appreciate that living in the Westminster bubble leads to an unwarranted sense of self-importance as well as a relation to reality which could be best described as tenuous. However, the anti-Liverpool stuff is so 20th century. If you're really stuck for something to post, look at yourself and your Westminster cohorts. There's plenty of easy humour there. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to comb my perm and don my shellsuit before going down to the pub where I'll drink myself senseless."
I then decided to see what a fairly superficial web search on Hilton would produce. I was pleasantly surprised to find so much which anyone can sink their teeth into.
Recess Monkey's finest hour was back on March 5th this year when it mistakenly claimed that Thatcher had died; if only, if only! (http://www.recessmonkey.com/2007/03/05/stop-press-maggie-dead/ ).
Wikipedia has some useful information on Hilton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Hilton ):
Hilton is "a distant cousin of heiress Paris Hilton through his American grandfather", which accounts for the guy's gargantuan intellect. There's also his stellar track record as a Labour Party Parliamentary candidate & his role as Web Strategy Manager for Hillary Benn during his unsuccessful attempt to secure Labour's deputy leadership this summer.
I've saved the real meat till the end. Hilton unsuccessfully sought the nomination for the Liverpool West Derby seat recently when Bob Wareing was deselected. He even penned a post on the Guardian's Comment Is Free blog during the summer (http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/alex_hilton/2007/07/the_merseyside_breadline.html ), in which he shamelessly used the region's economic woes as a springboard for his own personal ambitions.
I can't help quoting a passage from the post, seeing as it strikes me as a deluded, distorted version of Terry Fields' example 20 years back in Broadgreen: "You know, an MP's salary of £60,000 is beyond the reach of the average resident in West Derby. Even someone on half that salary would be among the top 10% earners in the constituency. And so this is what I would pledge as the MP for West Derby; to forego half the salary of an MP until real movement has been achieved in average incomes in the constituency-it's no more than a gesture, but this way I could make that challenge personal."
Ah, now isn't that noble & principled?
Sadly for Hilton, he wasn't able to put into practice this pledge, as Stephen Twigg, the guy who famously saw off Portillo in 97, got the gig.
There's a word for the likes of Hilton & I think we all know what it is.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Clown Returns!


Kelvin MacKenzie attempts to demonstrate the amount of bullshit he's been responsible for
Kelvinwatch returns to this blog. It seems that the bloated buffoon was on the BBC TV "Question Time" panel last Thursday (why are the beeb so desperate for slapstick comedy on what's supposed to be a serious discussion programme?). Not content with insulting the memory of the 96 Hillsborough victims & repeatedly libelling Liverpool supporters, MacKenzie has now turned his saloon bar ignorances to an entire nation: http://mediaguardian.co.uk/broadcast/story/0,,2190014.00.html .
The bloated bigot opined, "[Gordon] Brown is a Scot. He is a socialist Scot who wants to spend every single penny you earn, never forget that...Scotland believes not in entrepreneurialism like London and the south east...The reality is that the Scots enjoy spending it, they don't enjoy creating it, which is the opposite to down in the south."
Isn't the final remark typically ungrammatical for an ex-Sun editor?
Now I'm not a Scot, or Scottish to be correct, nor do I have strong views either way on the question of Scottish independence (I'll leave that to a piece penned by the Observer's Scottish editor, Ruaridh Nicoll today: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/observer/comment/story/0,,2190882.00.html ).
However, I do recognise racism for what it is; substitute "Scots" for any other ethnic group or nationals of another country & the DPP would surely be brought in. It also flys in the face of Scottish history & business in 21st century Scotland.
It's interesting to note that MacKenzie's, ahem, column is not published in the Scottish edition of the Sun (http://news.independent.co.uk/media/article/3058842.ece ).
Hopefully, that won't be enough to head off a boycott of the rag in Scotland.
Oh, one more thing, does MacKenzie really think that Gordon Brown is a "socialist"? Jeez, the guy really is thick.

A Rosy-Viewed Reverie

Thursday's debate on the Liverpool-Manchester question reminds me of a piece Phil Redmond penned for the Guardian Arts blog shortly after assuming the reins of the Culture Company late last month (http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/theatre/2007/09/whatscouseculturemeans.html ).
Redmond succeeded in talking sense & bollocks in equal measure:
"A city [Liverpool] where the status quo has never been an option naturally breeds suspicion, cynicism and a healthy disrespect for authority and cultural elites. At the same time, a culture of shared grief and pain generates a need for mutual and community support.
"Sentimentality comes easy on the backs of nostalgia while Celtic romanticism is never far away and everything is, well, 'worth a try'. Extremes become the norm. Whether Hillsborough or Istanbul, whether the tragedies of teenage death or the triumphs of teenage celebrity, whether employment law or local politics, everything is heightened by the reflective glow of the Mersey."
If it weren't for a couple of truisms thrown in there, Redmond's panegyric would merit a place in Pseuds' Corner.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Tale Of Two Cities

Last night I attended a debate at St George's Hall, billed as, "North west solidarity or regional rivalry? Liverpool believes that it's time for Liverpool and Manchester to join forces".
Unfortunately, the debate generated more heat than light. I'm all too aware of the Liverpool-Manchester rivalry, seen at its most tribal & visceral when Liverpool & Manchester football teams meet. However, as one contributor pointed out in exasperation after a series of petty, parochial points, it's the height of stupidity to give such divisions house room in an age of globalisation.
What made it doubly depressing was that the two speakers against the motion were Rogan Taylor, director of football studies at the city's university & co-founder of the Football Supprters' Association, & Jayne Casey, former member of Deaf School & organiser of the annual Creamfields festival.
The reality is that though the two cities will always have their own identities, they cannot operate in a state of supreme indifference to each other, something which was finally realised by the 70 strong audience which voted 51% to 49% in favour of the motion. Sanity prevailed.

Is His Aim Still True?

Despite revelling in punk & two-tone during my teenage years, I always steered clear of "guidance" from artists at the time. Joe Strummer effectively cautioned against searching for political solutions from those whose records you simply happened to like & agree with.
However, my admiration for Elvis Costello has, if anything, increased over the years. Quite often, he has, as the Americans say, walked the walk. A month after the Hillsborough disaster he played two nights at Liverpool's Royal Court Theatre. Costello announced on both evenings that all the proceeds would be going to the Hillsborough Fund.
This week, however, it was revealed that Costello will play at Hillary Clinton's 60th birthday party in New York later this month. Tickets start at a cool $250 (£125) & access to a post-gig party will set you back $25,000.
(http://www.nme.com/news/elvis-costello/31678 ).
It reminds me of a song Costello wrote for Roger McGuinn, "You Bowed Down":-
"You value the burnt amber of falling leaves,
And long to delay,
When you feel their breath, they whisper,
'It won't hurt you now to betray',
And now every time that we meet on the edge of hysteria,
You're helping them sell off some new party line,
I remember a time when you would have seemed so superior,
Now you say, 'Will you please meet this good friend of mine?"
Now you're in demand, as long as you kiss their hand,
And all the applause is for their name, not yours".
Some might rush to Costello's defence (not that he'd need any assistance), saying that he is supporting a Democrat for the White House & registering his opposition to Dubya & his Republican party. That overlooks the fact that Clinton is far & away the most right wing of the Democrat contenders. In 2003 she voted enthusiastically for the Iraq war. Now she's trying to play down that decision, lest it draw attention to her suspect judgement.
And Elvis? Well, the guy won't be swayed by the bloggers, the music jurnos, etc., but he knows that he has prostituted his name, & once you become a corporate whore, the label sticks. Enjoy your fee, Declan.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Subculture On The Case

Just a brief word about the recent revelations on the Liverpool Subculture blog (http://www.liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com/ ). Its posts have trumped the so-called Exclusive stories in the Liverpool Echo, & its tale of Joe Riley's impending dismissal at the Echo after falling asleep at Jimmy McGovern's play, "King Cotton", at the Empire, much to the chagrin of the author himself, naturally, shine a most welcome light on the squalid, seamy demi-monde seemingly inhabited by Harborrow, et al.

Local History Lessons




As Liverpool prepares to celebrate its Capital of Culture status next year, it's worth remembering those aspects of its history which are both disturbing & striking in their parallels.

Liverpool's Everyman Theatre is currently staging "Intemperance", by Lizzie Nunnery. I saw the play last Monday & I heartily recommend it.

Set in Liverpool in 1854, it centres on the lives of a mainly Irish, or Liverpool Irish family. As St George's Hall is being built, the family just about get by in one of the teeming slum courts that used to be found off Dale Street, as well as other parts of the city.

What could be a cliched, melodramatic excursion into the city's Irish heritage is written & acted with elan & humanity by writer & cast. There is a striking indifference to the local Catholic priests, as cholera tightens its grip in the slum dwellings. Each night they hear through the paper-thin walls the cries of grief as another death occurs.

There is humour, though much of it is dark & bitter. As the title implies, it also shines a harsh light on the role of alcohol as an emotional crutch in the family, The Grapes pub, still doing business today, being a popular watering hole.

In one outburst, one of the characters declares, "This city belongs to the Irish!", a claim which while historically inaccurate, still retains an enormous emotional resonance here.

What also impressed me was the attention to historical detail; children of Irish emigrants in the city spoke with Irish accents, the Liverpool, or Scouse accent not evolving for another two or three decades.

Complaints about the money being spent on St George's Hall as much of the city is mired in poverty have a contemporary resonance, too. The money which will be lavished on the city centre for 2008 will not filter its way through to the Norris Greens, Croxteths, Netherleys & Evertons.

Nunnery's play does a civic service by highlighting an aspect of the city's past which has either been overlooked or distorted by many. It continues until Saturday.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

He Bangs The Drum

I don't know if web reaction in the US has been favourable to the new single by Ian Brown, "Illegal Attacks", & its accompanying video, but it ought to be, at least among those who are Democrats & also those who now realise they were duped by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al over Iraq (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqfBH1IJkWo ).

Inter Alia

Spotted: Shuffling towards the Liverpool Playhouse in Williamson Square yesterday afternoon, the frail, bent figure of Rex Makin. I suspect I was the only person in the vicinity to recognise him. He didn't look to be in the best of health.
Makin has long been a controversial figure on Merseyside, both inside & outside the region's legal circle. His lugubrious nature & his penchant for verbosity has not endeared him to the average Scouser, for whom words of more than three syllables are viewed as signs of pretentiousness.
Unlike a lot of people, I have no strong feelings either way about Makin. He is one of those eccentric characters that provincial civic , cultural & legal life tend to throw up every so often. He still has his weekly column in the Liverpool Echo, "Makin his point", a largely Rumpolesque rumination on local matters.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Transfer Too Far?

Chris Bascombe, dedicated correspondent on all things pertaining to Liverpool Football Club for the Liverpool Echo, has caused a stir recently, as highlighted this week by Roy Greenslade on his Media Guardian blog:
http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/greenslade/2007/09/liverpool_fans_wrong_to_attack.html .
Bascombe's decision to leave his job at the Echo & join the News of the World has provoked a lot of criticism, some of it disturbingly threatening. Bascombe's "crime", in the eyes of some, is that by joining the MOTW, Bascombe is pallying up to its sister rag, the Sun, whose obscenity after Hillsborough is known to many on Merseyside.
Greenslade rightly condemns the threats made against Bascombe. However, he mistakenly suggests at the end of his piece:
"But I wonder if this is the appropriate moment to ask whether they are also wrong to continue to ostracise The Sun? Is that boycott justified any longer? It is almost 18 years since the lies, headlined as 'The Truth', were published. None of the journalists directly involved in putting together the disgusting front page --accusing fans of being responsible for the tragedy and for hampering rescue operations-- now work on The Sun's staff."
Greenslade, however, does contradict his own point when he concedes that Kelvin MacKenzie, then Sun editor, is now employed as a columnist on the paper.
For this reason, though there are a few others, in my book, it is only right that the boycott continues.
I also recall the badges worn by many on Merseyside in the aftermath of the disaster, calling for a boycott of ALL News International titles.
I realise that Bascombe, an ostensibly unassuming, personable hack, is entitled to work for whoever he wishes. However, his air of wounded innocence at even the milder posts of criticism on the messageboards & blogs suggests that he is pretty naive not to expect at least some flak for his decision to work for a Murdoch paper.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Taking Over The Reins

In the wake of the Matthew Street fiasco, it was inevitable that some changes, however cosmetic, would take place at the Culture Company.
Yet the brief handed to Phil Redmond (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2167770,00.html ) seems to be a case of Harborrow et al throwing in the towel last week. The Guardian related that Redmond "hoped to give the programme more of a 'Liverpool-Scouse edge' by examining the city's Irish heritage and providing a 'cultural clearing project', where arts groups who made submissions for 2008 and felt they were ignored can resubmit their ideas. He also spoke of the open culture initiative, which will encourage people to engage in activities: 'I want people to know they don't have to have culture done to them--they can take part.'"
Redmond's words are welcome, but they come at the eleventh hour. Whatever takes shape in less than three months, the damage will have been done. The top-down approach of the Culture Company, though understandable in some respects [assigning as much importance to the RLPO as pop acts], was never going to enthuse those for whom 2008 could have formed part of a cultural & artistic learning curve.
[It's the sort of notion which usually draws snorts of derision, but there shouldn't be any barriers to a kid in Norris Green persuing an interest and/or career in classical music.]
In addition to Redmond's appointment, the board of the Liverpool Culture Company has been reduced in number from 25 to 6, a move which confirms the widespread suspicion that those nominally in charge under the Harborrow regime had the life of Riley.
Some of Redmond's suggestions are a little fanciful at this late stage (a "Liverpool song" to rival "Maggie May", "In My Liverpool Home", etc. in the city's affections & act as a contemporary anthem).
In a damning critique of the old regime, Redmond added, "The existing board system was bureaucratic, unwieldy and slow and it is time to move forward with a new slimmer board. It will mean I can pick up a telephone and we can make instant decisions rather than waiting for board meetings. We have gone from debating to delivering the programme.'"
That final sentence should make Harborrow, Bradley et al cringe in embarrassment.
There was also a nod to the city's outskirts, hitherto excluded from the 2008 events; Redmond made a point of mentioning Croxteth & Norris Green in this context, its significance in the wake of Rhys Jones' murder clear to all.
Drummond Bone, effectively ousted as Chairman of the Culture Company, put out a suitably sugared piece of PR bullshit, expressing support for Redmond & even agreeing with the reduction in the board's size. He said that "an appropriate structure" is needed for next year. Bit late with that one, mate!
Most of the programme already unveiled for 2008 does the job for the city, a mix of popular & "high" culture striking a fair balance.
Sticking out like a Sun reader on the Kop, however, is the WAG's fashion show in June,2008. Culture? My arse!
It may seem that I think Redmond is the ideal man for the job. I don't endorse the guy. Nor, however, do I dismiss him. After the farce of the last two months, a change was badly needed. Moreover, Redmond's track record in TV drama demonstrates his creative as well as administrative abilities; "Brookside" was never my sort of thing, but it was successfully produced, & it was popular.

Lee Forde's Departure

First things first, a look back at Lee Forde's departure from the Liverpool Culture Company.
According to Liverpool Confidential, in an interview with Forde at the end of last month (http://www.liverpoolconfidential.com/index.asp?sessions=IpqiNwB6IwTjNwB6IaqiNwA ), Forde is persuing a claim of constructive dismissal against the Culture Company. It continues, "Mr Forde, who handed in his notice three months before [LC's italics] the Matthew Street Festival fiasco, says months of frustration, caused by a lack of resources and decision making from bosses at the beleaguered Liverpool Culture Company, left him with no option but to quit."
Forde also claims that there was no increase in budget or personnel for 2007 and 2008 despite an increase in workload.
If those aren't grounds for a constructive dismissal case to be heard in court, I don't know what are.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Time To Turn The Tables

Normal cyberspace access appears to have returned (thanks, Branson, now about your shameless decision to release "Tubular Bells"...).
Meanwhile, deeep down in the subterranean swamp which is the abode of "family" campaigners (stoutly praised by moralistic MPs over the years who have been so keen on families themselves that they've had two or three), a loathesome stirring is afoot.
As Hugh Muir relates in today's Guardian diary (http://www.guardian.co.uk/diary/story/0,,2168854,00.html ), "Yesterday activists from the Life League stepped up their anti-abortion campaigning by publishing on their website and circulating by email the addresses and private telephone numbers of the directors of Amnesty International. The charity's crime has been to change its neutral stance, in favour to supporting access to abortion for women in cases of rape, incest or violence, or where the pregnancy jeopardises a mother's life or health. Campaigners are urged to 'contact' the directors to 'politely tell them what you think regarding the recent decision'."
As Muir goes on to point out, the views of the Life League (love the alliteration, must have been after a weekend's brainstorming) warrant a little more attention. Keen to show that theirs is post-Millennial thinking (think 1000 AD, though, not the Y2K razzamatazz of seven years back), contraception degrades western society, homosexuality is deviant, sex education is a no-no & state schools encourage children to be sexually aggressive libertines, indulging in competitive copulation, the like of which is sure to keep Durex in business for years to come (I paraphrase).
Muir takes his cue from the Life League's apparent enthusiasm for open & honest communication:
"You may agree or disagree with any of these positions, and in keeping with the spirit of the times resolve to 'politely' share your views with the Life League. 'Contact' them at Trafalgar House, 11 Waterloo Place, Piccadilly, London, SW1Y 4AU. The published telephone number is 0870 240 3158. The mobile is 07977 195577."
Declared interest time: I'm a member of Amnesty, as well as an atheist who rejected Catholic strictures at the age of 17. Since when I've lived a life of left-wing, atheistic, sexually deviant (still single, no kids) debauchery, & I don't take kindly to a rag-bag of sexually repressed, tunnel-visioned, cripplingly bigoted Christian Taliban cretins trying to harass & intimidate the leaders of an organisation which I support.
Go on, do the decent thing: drop 'em a line, "politely", of course, to let them know what you think of their organisation. I'll certainly be giving them a polite call.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

An Enforced Break From Cyberspace

There's a lot to deal with, including the welcome return of the Liverpool Subculture blog & the recent civic shennanigans as 2008 starts to go down as the most wasted opportunity on Merseyside since the post-war redevelopment of the region. All those & more will be highlighted soon.
But first, a bollocking for my ISP, Virgin Media, for delivering a substandard internet service over the last fortnight. Not just that, they kept me waiting on a premium rate line (25p per minute, plus a 10p connection charge) on at least eight occasions over that period. Initially, I assumed it was a slow connection issue affecting the network. Then I realised that a local area cable had been unplugged. Getting Virgin Media to acknowledge this & reimburse me for the cost of the phone calls has been both exasperating & enraging. Great work, Branson, another fuck-up by your motley set-up & I'll be decamping to BT. OK?

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Boss Is Back

On an altogether lighter note, here's a sneak preview of Springsteen's new album with the E Street Band (the guy reminds me of everything that is noble & inspiring about America):
http://download.guardian.co.uk/sys-audio/Music/Audio/2007/08/28/RadioNowhere.mp3 .

An Emotional Return

As well as the reception accorded to the Jones family on Tuesday, I was intrigued to see how much had changed about the match-going experience. Travelling there hadn't. Getting off the train at Bankhall, I walked the rest of the way with many others. Even as I approached Walton Breck Road, the old pubs were heaving, despite the smoking ban. There was still the dubious aroma of the hot dog stands, the hearty laughter of rotund individuals in replica shirts outside the Salisbury pub & the wide-eyed wonder of small children as they looked around.
Inside the ground, little had changed The sausage rolls were as greasy (& overpriced) as ever. It was only when I looked at the Kop that it hit me. Last time I'd been there, the old terrace still stood. Now, an expanse of seats occupied that space. It seemed surreal, I had to gaze at it for a few moments to take it in. Of course, I'd seen it countless times on TV. However, seeing it for myself made me recall childhood memories; my late father took me on to the Kop when I was 18 months' old.
I don't think it's going to be a trend, but I'll be back there tomorow for the league game against Derby County.

The Fall Out Continues

It was grimly ironic that the first game at Anfield I attended after a 14 year gap should be remembered for the support that was shown for the family of Rhys Jones. I recall the playing of "You'll Never Walk Alone" at a Goodison derby not long after Hillsborough. The playing of the Z-Cars theme ("Johnny Todd") at Anfield on Tuesday was met with respectful silence (credit, here, to the travelling Tolouse supporters who were briefly informed of the circumstances by an interpreter over the PA system).
The tune was immediately followed by "You'll Never Walk Alone". On this occasion, however, the crowd's rendition was aimed at the Jones family. Sung more as a secular hymn than as a football song, it carried a raw emotion & poingnancy not felt since Hillsborough.

Meanwhile, more arrests have been made (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/6970107.stm ), although most of those arrested over the last week have been released on bail. There is news this morning of another four arrests made last night.

This week's New Statesman dropped through my letterbox this morning. Casually leafing through the pages, I was suddenly struck by a piece written by its political editor, Martin Bright (http://newstatesman.com/200708300009 ).
It puts the Croxteth murder in a wider historical context, laying the blame for the increase in gun crime on Merseyside on a hitherto unlikely source: Michael Howard. Yes, the man who told a gleeful hang 'em & flog 'em Tory conference, "Prison works!" was Home Secretary in 1996 when he agreed to award a royal pardon to two well known Liverpool gangsters, John Haase & Peter Bennett.
The kernel of Bright's piece is worth quoting at length;
"In three months at the beginning of 1994, over a hundred weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition were discovered after tip-offs from informants. According th 'Powder Wars', a chilling account of the Liverpool underworld in the 1990s by the Sunday Mirror's Graham Johnson, these were not just the handguns and sawn-off shotgus that had always been available to British small-time gangsters, but an armoury more suited to a Balkan warlord. They included Uzi sub-machine guns, AK-47 assault rifles and even an elephant gun. At the time, the police didn't question the fact that no one was ever found at the scene of the caches: usually abandoned cars or empty houses. The seizures ere hailed as a triumph in the war against violent crime.
"In fact, police now believe that the arms caches were an elaborate scam carried out by Haase and Bennett to secure thir early release from prison. If that is the case, far from marking a victory for the forces of law and order, the seizures reinforced Liverpool's gun culture by allowing those involved in the scam to operate with virtual impunity in the years that followed.......Following information passed to him by Customs and Excise, the trial judge wrote to the Conservative home secretary, Michael Howard, asking for a royal pardon. When this was granted in July 1996, Howard justified his decision by saying the information provided by Haase and Bennett 'had proved to offer quite enormous and unique assistance to the law-enforcement agencies'."
Bright notes grimly that Haase & Bennett's testimonies "had led to no major arrests."
I suspect that Howard will be "unavailable" for media interviews over the next few days.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Just Like Old Times

After a gap of 14 years I'll be going to Anfield tonight for the Liverpool v Tolouse European tie. It'll feel strange, particularly as I'll be seated just ten yards from my old seat.
Incidentally, the link for Tony Barrett's blog is: http://www.tonybarrett.merseyblogs.co.uk/ .

Happy Birthday?

Given the murder of Rhys Jones in Croxteth last week, it seems almost obscene to hear of the 800th anniversary festivities in the city centre. The city council's moral compass seems seriously skewed.
Saturday's Guardian drew attention to the fued beween gangs from Croxteth & Norris Green:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/gun/Story/0,,2155993,00.html .
The funeral of Liam "Smigger" Smith, a particularly odious individual who won't be missed, seems to have been a Soprano-style spectacle:
"His funeral last September saw scores of shops and businesses on the estate close for the day amid fears that they would be attacked if they failed to show sufficient 'respect'. Even at St Theresa's, the infants' school next door to the church where the funeral was held, children were prevented from playing outside, according to the local newspaper."
Elsewhere in the Guardian that day was an account of gang warfare, and the subculture which accompanies it, from a low-life piece of scum from the Norris Green gang (http://www.guardian.co.uk/gun/Story/0,,2156010.html ):
"I just stay in bed till about 2pm. Then I sit arond and smoke weed. Sometimes we do beak [cocaine] or garys [ecstasy or MDMA] but I don't do that on the street because your jaw swings like fuck and you would need a good kip half the time. I do it every weekend though and it's fucking great. I'm being good tonight. I'll have a Bud and a smoke."
Euan Ferguson penned a sympathetic, yet brutally honest appraisal of the nighbouring areas in the Observer (http://observer.guardian.co.uk/focus/story/0,,2156448,00.html ).
With the city in a jittery mood, the atmosphere wasn't helped by a shooting in Tuebrook on Saturday evening, although it was said to be unrelated to the Croxteth case (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/6964597.stm ).
One piece of cheering information emerged this morning. After the reception & applause for Rhys' family at Goodison Park on Saturday, Liverpool FC announced that the Z-Cars theme, or "Johnny Todd", a tune always played to herald the Everton team taking the pitch at home games, will precede the normal airing of "You'll Never Walk Alone". Rhys' parents will also be at Anfield tonight. I'm sure every Red present, myself included, will show their support for them at this time. It was originally suggested by Tony Barrett in his LFC blog on the Liverpool Echo website the other day. Apart from a few grumbles by blinkered idiots, there was strong support for it in the comments posted. Cheers, Tony, the blue half of Merseyside will remember this, I'm sure.

An unrelated item of good news: the Liverpool SubCulture blog is up & running again. I'll return to this presently.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Croxteth Shootings

I was going to return to the farce surrounding the Matthew Street festival, with the latest war of words between Jason Harborrow & Warren Bradley. However, local thoughts are dominated by the murder of 11 year old Rhys Jones in Croxteth a little over 24 hours ago.
There is much to note about the area where it happened, the issue of gun crime, parental responsiblity (or lack of it) & other related topics. The police investigation has so far resulted in the arrest of two teenagers (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/6959761.stm ) .
As I heard the chilling details of the case on BBC Radio Merseyside this morning, two things struck me. Firstly, the parallels with the James Bulger case, not in the context & detail of the murder, of course, but the horrendous phenomenon of a child being killed by slightly older children. Secondly, I was reminded of a story on the Liverpool Times website last June (http://www.liverpooltimes.net/2007/06/11/gun-crime-in-knowsley/#more-647 ), which could now be seen as disturbingly prophetic.
Croxteth has long had problems with teenage gangs. In recent months the rivalry between gangs from Croxteth & Gillmoss has resulted in shootings, one of which claimed a fatality. The unspoken view from the police & local media was that as long as one gang of thugs was killing another gang of thugs, who cared? Now, however, it's different. An innocent 11 year old has been caught in the crossfire. The national & international media are all leading with the case. Warren Bradley, already under microscopic scrutiny after Matthew Street, now finds journalists from London comparing Liverpool's gun crimes to Manchester's, just three months before the city hits 2008. Hence his call today for a summit of civic leaders from all parts of the UK with the Home Secretary to address the issues of gun crime, teenage gangs, juvenile offending & anti-social behaviour.
As well as the continued media coverage of the case, I'm expecting someone, somewhere, to pen a Kelvin MacKenzie/Spectator libel on the city before the weekend.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Scouse Shakespeare

After that last post it's necessary to remind myself of the best that Merseyside's cultural life has to offer. The Liverpool Shakespeare Festival begins on 16th August & runs until 8th September. It opens with Macbeth in the city's suitably Gothic Anglican Cathedral. It looks lke being a main cultural highlight of the year. Check out the promising trailer on the website, Liverpool has rarely looked so spectral (http://www.theliverpoolshakespearefestival.co.uk/ ).

All The Lonely People

There's a bizarre & tragic tale in today's Guardian of a woman named Olivia Trevelyan- Thomson, a London woman, regarded as "an articulate, eccentric Beatles fan whose move to the city of her heroes turned into a nightmare." (http://society.guardian.co.uk/societyguardian/story/0,,2143320,00.html ).
She moved to the Kensington area, one of the most socially blighted part of Liverpool, despite its close proximity to the city centre. It is a world away from its namesake in central London. Olivia had had mental health problems while living in London. However, she was given a Housing Association flat in the area, effectively dumped in a place she didn't know & at the mercy of the locals, most of whom soon spotted her eccentric ways.
[To go around a deprived area of Liverpool, sprinkling platitudes & truisms based on Beatle lyrics is a recipe for attention, much of it negative & hostile.]
The article essays the administrative errors & general inattention of housing & social services bodies in London & Liverpool; information was not passed on to relevant agencies & bureaucratic inertia was tolerated.
However, what also emerges from the piece is a less than flattering portrayal of Liverpool & the residents of Kensington.
Olivia Trevelyan-Thomson was found dead in her Kensington flat in December 2006. She had died of hypothermia. She was 54.
Anyone still upset about Matthew Street?

Bursting The Ballon Of Delusion

What with the debacle surrounding Matthew Street this month, it was left to the normally cheerleading local media to put the boot in when the body was prone. The Liverpool Daily Post kicked off the new business week by, well, kicking civic vanity just a little bit more: http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/business/business-local/2007/08/06/investment-fails-to-lift-merseyside-s-prosperity-64375-19576096/ .
Peter Kilfoyle, Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, is an erstwhile political foe of mine. He would have loved to have expelled me from the Labour Party in the early 90s, but I denied him that honour by leaving the sinking ship of my own accord.
However, his comments in the article ironically echo my own observations about the changing face of the region, & how some areas are changing more than others:
"Capital of Culture, as it stands, is not going to have any real impact on the problems that have dogged Merseyside for decades.
"The area needs a sustained period of investment, not just for one year, and the few years running up to it......
"But what is also worrying is the inequality within Merseyside itself. For example, the north-south divide in Liverpool. South Liverpool's prosperity is way beyond that of North Liverpool in terms of growth, employment and health. This needs addressing urgently."
Ah, yes, Peter, but you know as well as I do that there's as much chance of it being addressed "urgently" as there is of your beloved Everton FC winning the Premiership.
There's always been a qualitative difference between the north & south parts of Liverpool. However, the last decade or so has seen the south pulling away from the north; house prices are at least twice as much in the south. School league tables show that a child has a statistically better chance of educational attainment & progress on to university in the south. There is no shortage of amenities in areas like Aigburth, Mossley Hill & Woolton. Sefton Park & the adjacent Lark Lane offer recreational facilities & restaurants the like of which are completely unknown in Kirkdale, Croxteth & Bootle.
There are other factors not all of them economic. South Liverpool is far more racially diverse than North Liverpool (the Toxteth riots were not "race riots", Anthony Walker was murdered in a predominantly white part of Merseyside) .
Yet the reality is that while parts of South Liverpool are on the tourist trail (all four Beatles grew up in the south part, Penny Lane & Strawberry Fields nursing home are nearby, Speke Hall, John Lennon airport, etc.), North Liverpool's only points of interest to tourists are Anfied & Goodison Park. Socially & economically, the north side of the city still bears visible scars of the last three decades. As far as I can see, that isn't going to be rectified in the forseeable future.

Cyberspace Solidarity?

Although the influence & persistence of bloggers is now recognised on both sides of the Atlantic (next years US election may well be decided by the bloggers' input rather than Wall Street Journal or NYT op-eds), I'm pretty dismissive of a bloggers' union (http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/08/05/is-blogging-ready-for-a-unionized-workforce/ ).
No picket line? No brazier? Where's the sad-looking kid clutching unsold copies of "Socialist Worker"? Forget it, brothers & sisters!

Incorrect Link

The link for Sholto Byrnes' piece is: http://www.newstatesman.com/200707260039 .

Yea, A Daniel Come To Judgement!

Before being consumed with all things Matthw Street last week, my senses were pulsating with a brlliantly elucidating article in the New Statesman the previous week by Sholto Byrnes (http://wwwnewstatesman.com/200707260039 ).
We live in an age when advertisers, programme controllers & marketing agencies see the working class as an amorphous sump of chavdom, wedded to reality TV, hostile to reading & chronically addicted to heedless hedonism. Against this depressing backdrop, Byrnes points out that the term elitism has right wing connotations, not least among liberals & socialists.
To which Byrnes responds: "Well, I am an elitist. And so, I suspect, are you. It is elitism that allows us to set yardsticks by which to measure merit, be it in art, music, education or any other field of endeavour. Elitism allows us to proclaim with confidence that Geoffrey Chaucer was a greater writer than Jeffrey Archer, that Shostakovich was a superior musician to Shakira, and that Ronaldo's most pyrotechnial diplays are still of a lower cultural order than any page of any novel by Philip Roth."
Bynes is cogent &, yes, accessible in his case for rehabilitating elitism after its intellectual abduction by the Right. It's a pity, therefore, that last week's New Statesman didn't pick up on the case Byrnes made. Indeed, none of the letters published in its print edition mention it.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Civic Chaos In Toytown

Ringo: "Er, what are we doing here?
Paul: "We're occupying the main stage for this year's Matthew Street Festival."

The normal pace of political life on Merseyside would shame a sloth. However, the last 48 hours have seen well fed, well paid bureaucrats sweating in their designer attire as they do their headless chicken routine. The dash to cover their own backs has been matched only by the amount of exercise their arms have had as the finger-pointing assumes Olympian status. Normally, the arm exercises are confined to the bars around Dale Street & Castle Street.
This morning's Liverpool Daily Post is in bullish mood as a city's already shop-soiled reputation is paraded for wider ridicule (BBC Radio 4's Today programme even ran a piece, asking, not unreasonably, if this is the outcome of events for Liverpool's 800th anniversary, what awaits the city next year). The Post quotes leading figures/suspects (delete as appropriate) as saying that the show will go on: http://www.liverpooldailypost.co.uk/liverpool-news/regional-news/2007/08/04/beatles-festival-will-go-ahead-vows-council-64375-19568775/ .
It's interesting to read into the piece, however, & find that the festival will not go ahead in the same format as previous years:
"Moves to salvage the festival event around the Cavern Quarter were still taking place last night, and will continue throughout the weekend."
The Post article backtracked a little further when it conceded:
"The rescue package will see a modified festival seized from the grip of the Liverpool Culture Company and handled instead by a hand-picked team under the control of the city council."
Health and Safety issues, the ostensible cause of the cancellation, are to be "overcome", yet the piece is vague on this. It also reports that the children's fun fair, previously situated around the South John Street area, will "be relocated to a nearby park to ensure their safety."
There is no "nearby park" in the city centre. The last remaining piece of greenery in the middle of town, Chavasse Park, has long gone, thanks to the Big Dig.
According to the Post, Jason Harborrow, chief executive of the Liverpool Culture Company, & who "earns" £150,000 per annum, "told councillors that he was devastated by the decision, and spoke of how Culture Company staff had worked tirelessly to make sure the event would be a success."
If this counts as success, I'm glad he isn't managing Liverpool FC.
I recall attending a public meeting at St George's Hall late last year at which Harborrow played the role of Little Sir Echo to Professor Drummond Bone, the then chairman of the Culture Company, his bumptious demeanour annoying the audience.
Where the Liverpool Daily Post dared to venture, its sister organ, the Liverpool Echo, boldly strides on in the PR/bullshit morass. This afternoon's edition claims that Warren Bradley, the city council leader, last night proposed a deal which "could see some of the outdoor stages rescued." (http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpool-news/local-news/2007/08/04/plan-to-save-outdoor-stages-100252-19568709/ ).
The key word here being "could". In other words, it's all still a reaction to Wednesday evening news rather than a clear plan to respond to it.
Again,there is ambiguous wording in the Echo piece, which is typical of local papers when they fly a kite for local projects which never take off:
"Police were this weekend looking at proposed sites including St. George's Plateau, William Brown Street, Dale Street and Castle Street."
Catherine Jones' Echo report goes on to offer a hint that the "plan" is, at best, a long shot, & that the careers of certain politicians in Liverpool are on the line:
"Cllr. Bradley said: 'The police have gone away over the weekend to have a look at the sites we've proposed. Logistically, I can't see why we couldn't use all the sites we've suggested.
'But we will have to go through the traffic movement and emergency planning. It's critical to do a risk assessment.'
Merseyside police last night declined to comment on the festival.
Cllr. Bradley added: 'I'm willing to talk to anybody to deliver the Matthew Street Festival. It's synonymous with outdoor stages.'"
That final comment betrays the sudden heat Cllr. Bradley is facing, the level of which is higher than that in the Canary Isles where he is currently on holiday.
It's worth noting, en passant, that Bradley was already facing questions about his leadership after the decision of Everton Football Club to move to Kirkby. Bradley had claimed that the city council had offered the club three possible sites for a new stadium within the cty boundaries. Responding to Everton's preference for Kirkby, Bradley, an avid Evertonian, was quoted as saying that it was a move to "a cowshed in a small town".
How to win friends & influence people, indeed.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

City Of Culture? We're Having A Laugh!

I wasn't entirely surprised by today's announcement by the Liverpool Culture Company (www.liverpool08.com/ ) that this year's Matthew Street Festival has been cancelled, less than a month before it was due to take place (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/6927448.stm ).
The city centre is currently in the throes of the "Big Dig" & the waterfront area (Pier Head) faces major building work as the Leeds to Lverpool canal is extended to the area as one of the developments for 2008. Last year's festival took place against the backdrop of the construction upheaval in its infancy. Road closures, building sites & diversions meant that it wasn't the smoothest Matthew Street Festival. Today's statement cited health & safety as the major concern.
However, the timing of the decision couldn't be worse. With the festival a little under three weeks away, it leaves no time for a Plan B (Sefton Park has been mooted as an overspill site, but it's surely too late to arrange that).
Amazingly, there was still no word of the cancellation on the Culture Company website this evening (these people are supposed to be among the best in the marketing business, but communication is an alien term to them).
The leader of the city council, Warren Bradley, was quick to distance himself from the decision (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/6928466.stm ), saying he was "adamant" that the festival could still take place. Optimism or covering your back, what do you think?
Liverpool Confidential's take on the story has an interesting twist:
"The council, in a statement, says: 'Staff worked right to the 11th hour to try and produce a workable plan which could accomodate the festival in the city centre.'
"Eleventh hour indeed. Just yesterday a tender document went out for PA and lighting companies to pitch for the festival, taking place in under four weeks time, with a deadline of today."
(http://www.liverpoolconfidential.com/index.asp?Sessionx=IpqiNwEiNw7jJaqiNwF6IHqi&realname= Matthew Street cancelled ).
Given that the city council & the Culture Company were supposed to be working in tandem, such chaos & disarray beggars belief.
Where's the Liverpool Subculture blog at a time like this? Well, "Tony Parrish" turns up on the comments section of the Liverpool Confidential webpage. His thoughts merit quoting at length:
"This almost makes me want to start the blog up again, so that I could tear these incompetent bastards apart. Heads SHOULD roll....The point is that this has been cancelled because of the money they have wasted on fools and fakes from outside. They have hired the outside consultants in at the lat minute to give the impression of independence, but they have stitched this decision up because they haven't got the dosh to run Matthew St. The Big Dig is not something new, nor is the Pier Head work=so they must therefore be monumentally incompetent for not realising months ago what the problems were."
He conludes by calling for action in stirring prose:
"They [The Culture Company] have thrown away the opportunity to make 2008 a defining moment in Liverpool's history and a genuine life-changing experience for Liverpool people. Tossers, they deserve all the aggro they will now undoubtedly get....Start a blog. Create a campaign. Organise and agitate. The city really deserves better than these shysters. HEADS MUST ROLL...."
Well said, Tony, but this is the time to resurrect your own blog.
My own reservations about the Matthew Street Festival (too many "tribute" bands, not enough contemporary Liverpool acts & the need to make it a modern music festival which takes the Beatles' legacy as a starting point in highlighting today's scene) have been made more than once to various figures in today's Liverpool's music scene. However, this news makes me realise just how strong a brand (& for once I don't blanche from using a marketing term) the Matthew Street Festival actually is. I've mentioned it in emails to acquaintances across the Atlantic. I owe it to them to highlight the farce which has culminated in today's news.
I read the news today, oh boy indeed.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

To Blog Or Not To Blog

I've been mulling over the thoughts of Andrew Keen (http://technology.guardian.co.uk/online/story/0,,2130793,00.html ) & still can't get a handle on where he's coming from. Keen has recently written a book, "The Cult of the Amateur", in which he argues that bloggers & the Web generally have dumbed down debate & has effectively coarsened discourse via messageboards, blogs, etc.
The phrase that comes to mind when digesting Keen's tract (ironically, Keen is himself a blogger with his own podcast, AfterTV.com ) is trowing the baby out with the bathwater. I'm not going to defend everything on the web, that would be ludicrous. However, a central concern of Keen is that the blogosphere has replaced the mainstream media. If that's the case -& it applies more to the US than Europe-, it has more to do with the MSM's weaknesses. The main news networks in the US have been guilty of distorting or even ignoring major stories.
According to the Guardian article, Keen disputes the suspicion that his stance is deliberately provocative so as to attract attention. He does so, however, with comments which have, predictably, kept said bloggers busy since he made them a week and a half ago:
"I don't know if it necessarily sells books..because I don't think bloggers read."
This guy sure likes an argument.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Corrected Link

The link I gave for the story about Liverpool's economic & business prospects was incomplete. Here it is:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/6281876.stm .

Playing Catch Up


Away from all the hype & bullshit surrounding 2008, the cold, dispassionate view of the city & the region remains distinctly unimpressed.
The week began with a report by the Centre for Cities thinktank, noting that Liverpool remained in the slipstream of other UK cities (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/englad/merseyside/6281876.stm ).
Nothing surprising in the list of leaders, the usual spots in the south of England (Reading leading the way, with Bristol, Southampton & Cambridge also up there). York, however, seems to get in the leading pack, largely, I suspect due to its tourist appeal; Liverpool can draw in the Americans & Japanese through the Beatles, but York's Viking heritage gives it the edge in this regard.
The director of the think tank, Dermot Finch, is quoted in the report as commenting that "lagging cities like Sunderland & Liverpool are struggling to catch up & will need to focus on expanding their business & employment base".
Yet the reality is that this base is being overlooked by civic & commerce figures, as 2008 is increasingly revealed to be little more than a glorified orgy of parochialism, & that the scale & organisation of the events will correspond to that limited outlook.
A long overlooked aspect of the city's development as a port is its cosmopolitan character; Liverpool had an internationalist outlook & mindset primarily through the maritime trade which the Mersey afforded. Of course, a large part of this was due to the slave trade (which effectively made the port), but there were also many who willingly sailed into Liverpool for their own reasons.
Predictably, the response from the city fathers, to give them a wholly unwarranted appellation, was to pour scorn on the report. Quoting selective figures about unemployment & economic growth, as well as making bullish noises about general prospects, city council leader Warren Brdley trumpeted, "Today Liverpool's outlook has never been brighter"
Hmm...
A relatively quick online search documents the city's decline in population:
1900: 685,000. 1937: 867,000. 1961: 745,000. 1971: 610,000. 1981: 510,000. 1991:476,000. 2001: 439,000.
Allowing for the impact of the Second World War on the city's population & the post-war growth of so-called New Towns (Kirkby, Skelmersdale, etc.), as well as the posible unreliability of the earlier census figures, the statistics still present a stark picture. If extrapolated on to a graph, it would resemble a steepling, perhaps even vertiginous, descent worthy of a Tour de France course.
Yes, there has been a major increase in the number of people living in the city centre over the last decade. However, that may not be sufficient to halt a further decline for the city as a whole when the 2011 census is taken.
Today's Guardian contains news of Tony Blair's culture shock at normal life (http://politics.guardian.co.uk/tonyblair/story/0,,2125661,00.html ) .
Two separate paragraphs from the article are pure gold. Firstly, we are informed:
"Stopping at red traffic lights, it seems, is taking some getting used to. So is using a mobile phone, which Mr Blair confessed he had no idea how to use until leaving office last month."
Secondly, the article relates:
"Mr Blair said he was still confused every time his driver [his driver?!] stopped at a red traffic light-because as PM he had been used to going straight through them."
No doubt he employed the same approach with his own cabinet, particularly with regard to following the US into Iraq. It does, however, raise a thought. If Blair is a hapless returnee to the real world after so many years, how will Bush cope?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Cursing Over Cornflakes

I don't normally listen to BBC Radio Merseyside. Much of its output warrants the euphemism, cheap and cheerful, or downmarket, if I'm being truly candid. Its daytime presenters, Roger Phillips notwithstanding, depressingly live down to Scouse stereotypes.
However, last week's outburst by Simon O'Brien, broadcast during the station's breakfast show ("Fuck the government, fuck the planners!") provided some entertainment.
The affair is highlighted on the Liverpool Confidential website:
http://www.liverpoolconfidential.com/index.asp?sessionx=IpqiNwEiI0qjNwB6IA&realname=Not Strictly Confidential That Simon OBrien tape and more .
A recording of the comments by O'Brien is available at http://www.how-do.co.uk/.
It raises an interesting point, however, regarding the regeneration, if you can call it that, of the city's Edge Lane area (the topic being discussed by O'Brien and Phillips in their exchange), as the residents in the area are being offered £66,000 each for the demolition of their properties. With house prices in the city rising exponentially because of 2008, etc., such a sum of money probably won't be sufficient for other properties in the same area, let alone any other part of Liverpool.
It is in this context that O'Brien's colourful observation is, perhaps, understandable.

On the same webpage there is sad news of the demise of the Liverpool Subculture blog. I had been denied access to the blog (by Blogger, thanks, guys ) over the last couple of weeks, so the news didn't come as a complete shock.
According to Liverpool Confidential, "Tony Parrish", the blog author, "tells Confidential, by alias email, that the experience of running the often scurrilous and controversial blogs, authored anonymously, 'made me care even more about the city because I have seen the best from people. It has also been pretty amazing to have witnessed such a fantastic spirit from complete strangers in the blogosphere'."

Today's news is, of course, dominated by the attempted attacks in London on Friday & yesterday's attack at Glasgow Airport. There have also been police raids in the south end of Liverpool, one in Toxteth, as yet unspecified, & one in the Penny Lane area. I know the latter quite well. Its population has a preponderence of students, making it a transitory sort of place, ideal, come to think of it, for anyone with something to hide to do whatever without attracting too much neighbourly suspicion.