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.