Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Adios Amigo!

Tony Parish (http://www.liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com/ ) has the latest on the £250,000 pay off which Jason Harborow will pocket as he departs the badly holed vessel that is the Liverpool Culture Company. No doubt he can count his ill-gotten gains at his Spanish hacienda.

Dream On

"I just want to stay out of the blogs"---Tom Hicks on Sportsweek, BBC Radio 5Live, 29/01/08.
Fat chance, "buddy"!

He Doth Protest Too Much

Crashing onto the Guardian's Comment is Free webpage is Warren Bradley, leader of Liverpool City Council. Bradley issues what amounts to little more than a glorified PR handout, the sort of thing which the Liverpool Echo is wont to report as fact:
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/warrenbradley/2008/01/mersey_sound_finances.html .
Bradley responds to the finding by the Audit Commission that Liverpool is the worst financially managed local authority in England by penning a puff piece which makes no mention of last year's cancelled Matthew Street festival (surprise, surprise!). He even begins his piece with an invocation of an old, cliched ruse: "When the Liberal Democrats took over from a bankrupt Labour administration in 1998, the city was still reeling from the disasters of Derek Hatton and Militant, when Liverpool's great assets were put in hock to the moneylenders of Zurich."
Ah, yes, the old Militant bogey. Used to work every time criticism was levelled at those guilty of civic misrule. Not any more. Bradley's already in a hole & articles such as this only deepen it.
According to the Guardian's report on the Audit Commission's findings, Paul Clein, a senior Lib Dem councillor in the city, admits that the commissions criticisms are valid:
"[Clein] blamed part of the problem on the cost of Liverpool 'being the European City of Culture this year, which we are funding 60% and has led to people taking their eye off the ball'."
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,,2248440.00.html )
I wonder who he could have in mind regarding that final remark?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Gissa Job! Go On, I Can Do Two Y'know!

Spare a thought for the former British Prime Minister. So straightened, it seems, are his current financial circumstances that he has been forced to take on a second job just to make ends meet:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7213355.stm .
There's no word on Blair's financial reward for joining Zurich Insurers, but it'll be roughly the same as the £500,000 per annum he now receives from JP Morgan Investment Bank.
It's Cherie I feel sorry for. How's she going to put food on the table when her husband is reduced to working for pin money?

Another Side Of 2008

Local news is today dominated by the experience of BBC 5Live Liverpool-born presenter, Shelagh Fogerty:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/7212556.stm .
The presenter had a gun pointed at her while filming in Croxteth, where she grew up. She was also confronted by bottle-wielding & stone-throwing teenagers in Norris Green on Friday.
The fact that she was filming for ITV Tonight With Trevor McDonald is, however, a cause for caveat. ITV's "journalism", as opposed to Channel 4's, is decidedly downmarket &, at times, sensationalist. This is confirmed by the premise of the programme:
"She had been asked to return to the area she grew up in to see how safe she felt walking around after dark."
Presumably, this refers to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who recently remarked, much to her spin doctors' alarm, that she felt unsafe in most parts of London after dark.
However, the fact is that a media presence in that part of Liverpool has been met with hostility. Norris Green-born BBC journalist, Winnifred Robinson, was made to feel uneasy as she walked around the area where she was brought up for a BBC Radio 4 documentary late last year. A BBC Newsnight crew, covering the area in the wake of Rhys Jones' murder, was attacked by local youths.
Away from the city centre, this is the sour reality in this year of culture for such parts of Liverpool. There's something about areas such as Norris Green & Croxteth which ensures that gang warfare isn't seen as an abnormal, subcultural phenomenon. Rather, it is viewed as an ineradicable feature of local life. Merseyside Police's claim that there are no no-go areas after dark doesn't stand up to the day-to-day reality.
Given the subcultural stranglehold on districts like Norris Green & Croxteth, it seems depressingly clear that the killers of Rhys Jones will not be given up, the heavy police presence notwithstanding.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

An Unwelcome Mersey Sound

This year of culture was bound to throw up developments & arrivals which are deleterious in their impact & import. So it's with disdain that I view the launch of City Talk (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/jan/22/commercialradio.radio ).
The ad campaign focuses on one of the station's presenters, Simon O'Brien, who resigned from BBC Radio Merseyside in June of last year after a taped promo including his comment, "Fuck the government, fuck the planners" was broadcast.
The list of presenters for the City Talk station feature a couple of professional Scousers (Dean Sullivan, Margi Clarke) & some whose Merseyside connections seem tenuous to say the least (Trisha Goddard, Michael Brandon).
The Guardian piece, by John Plunkett, quotes the station's director, Richard Maddock, who states ominously that the ad campaign will be downmarket & sensationalist. The campaign, Maddock says, will "be specifically strong and aim to be thought provoking and to evoke reaction. We are bracing ourselves for some very heated and lively debates."
Scouse shock jocks? The heart sinks. A mental image forms in the mind of a Scouse accent yelling at a microphone, "DO YOU THINK PAEDOPHILES SHOULD BE CASTRATED?! GIVE US A CALL! ARE WE TOO SOFT ON MUGGERS?! CALL US NOW!!!"
It'll make Roger Phillips sound like the World Service.

Monday, January 21, 2008

With A Little Help From His Friends (& Making A Living Out Of It)

Liverpool, I Left You, & Your Name Is Just A Noun

Synthetic outrage is manufactured on BBC Radio Merseyside this lunchtime over Ringo Starr's "anti-Liverpool" cracks on the Jonathan Ross chat show. Wading in with his own stab at civic anguish is Liverpool Echo columnist & cultural commentator, Joe Riley:
http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/views/our-view/2008/0121/starr-falls-from-lofty-position- .
Riley bleats, "Anyone expecting a glimpse of the cheeky, chirpy Beatles' drummer of old was to be sorely disappointed."
Anyone actually expecting that is gullible with a capital "G".
Ringo got £35,000 in "expenses" from the council taxpayers of Liverpool for his wobbly warbling. Starr openly admitted it was business.
My beef doesn't lie with a Los Angeles-based millionaire turning up just because he was he got lucky in the 60s. Instead, the shambolic farce masquerading as the opening ceremony on the Friday evening should have focused on today's Liverpool music scene. By all means, feature the Fab Four's legacy, but it would have been a statement of intent for the city to give today's acts the sort of exposure which a sad, semi-forgotten figure from the past received.

Merseyside Maligned?

Although there's a danger of navel-gazing (the last thing 2008 should be about), Roy Greenslade, on his Media Guardian blog, raises the valid question of an anti-Liverpool bias in the London-based media:
http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/greenslade/2008/01/liverpool_suffers_metropolitan.html .
Greenslade quotes the Independent on Sunday's readers' editor, Michael Williams, who posed the question, "Is the metropolitan media biased against Liverpool?"
Williams answers his own question by commenting that there is:
http://comment.independent.co.uk/commentators/article3353634.ece .
Greenslade agrees there is a bias, but not for the reasons posited by Williams (Liverpool is not geographically placed as an ideal stopping-off point), & speculates on the "Scouse Git" persona before leaving the question open.
As I've noted on the comments section to Greenslade's post, it's clear that Liverpool is projecting itself to an international audience, via the Web. That's not a conscious snub to the rest of the UK. Rather, it's a realisation that people outside the UK are not as likely to be familiar with the same old cliches, myths & stereotypes.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sexual Politics

Believe it or not, there is a world outside Liverpool this year, & it's important to remember that.
The US primaries leave me both intrigued & baffled. Intrigued because of the detail & shameless chicanery of each campaign, & baffled due to the complete absence of policy; whether it's Republican or Democrat, there is a vacuum when it comes to issues. Candidates are paraded like catwalk models, but without the originality. Vacuous phrases which could mean anything to anyone are met with appreciative whoops from handpicked audiences ("change for our future", "we can do better", that sort of guff). There are many political commentators on this side of the Atlantic, of course, who say that the UK is heading pellmell down the same highway. Which is true: what do you expect when the mainstream parties battle for the "centre" & pay obeisance to free market capitalism?
I've already expressed my views on Hillary Clinton's "progressivism". As for Barak Obama, he looks good, speaks well & gives the impression that he represents a change, not just in US politics, but the Democrat party. However, close examination of his speeches reveals a penchant for glib soundbites, feel-good generalities & content-lite rhetoric.
As for John Edwards, he's certainly made the right noises about the obscene excesses of Wall Street while Main Street suffers in the sub-prime fallout. However, lectures about the iniquities of the market from a millionaire lawyer sound a little strange. It's like listening to Madonna criticise celebrity culture.
Be that as it may, a novel take on the Republican side of the fence was provided by Sasha Abramsky yesterday:
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/sasha_abramsky/2008/01/flirting_with_politics.html .
The electoral coalition that the Republicans have succesfully built up over the last 30 years or so is appearing to unravel. The economic conservatives' uneasy alliance with the social conservatives is beginning to buckle partly because of the alliance's obvious fault lines, & partly due to the economic crisis facing the US (& the rest of us).
Abramsky is the first political observer I've come across who cites the concerns of sex workers at a Nevada brothel as a barometer of the changing situation. Somehow, I can't see Toynbee, Kettle, Ashley, et al following suit in a Soho clip joint.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Online Attrition

After the ignorant, almost juvenile rant from Edward Pearce on the Guardian's Comment Is Free pages last Friday (a post which drew the ire of Scousers & non-Scousers alike, much to the author's consternation, no doubt), the Grauniad decided to give Liverpool writer & journalist Linda Grant a post, replying to Pearce's bile. Taking as my cue the message that comment is, indeed, free, I've been following & participating in both posts with their subsequent responses.
Grant's piece was cogently argued, a spirited defence of the cultural legacy of the city. However, her middle-class origins were acknowledged, not least by the author herself; growing up in Allerton gives you a different sort of Scouse mentality to growing up in Bootle, & not just because of the north-south division to which I referred last year:
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/linda_grant/2008/01/the_pool_rules.html .

Linda Grant's piece mentioned self-styled Scouse rapper RiUvEn, whose appearance at the Arena concert on Saturday polarised local opinion. I happen to like a lot of hip-hop & rap, but this kid's supposed attempt at knowing irony falls flat for me; instead of subverting stereotypes, he becomes part of them:
http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=11818409 .

Meanwhile, Phil Redmond, in a Q & A with Stuart Jeffries in today's Guardian, gilds the lily a little after last weekend's opening events:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2241945,00.html .
Redmond asserts that 2008 won't "be art for the toffs trickling down to the suburbs, but the suburbs taking over the city. The year will not be provided by, or for, those living in yuppie flats at the docks."
Hmm, we'll see about that, won't we, Phil? By the way, hardly anyone I know on Merseyside spits out the word "yuppie" anymore. It's so 80s.
Redmond also claims that Capital of Culture year is already a success. There's nothing like counting your chickens before they hatch, is there?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Open Season On Scousers With The Guardian

After the ill-informed, pitiable rant from Beryl Bainbridge last Friday on Liverpool's culture (or lack of it, she asserted) on the Guardian Unlimited site, its Comment is Free (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/ ) section gives political "commentator", Edward Pearce the chance to hurl some more mud at the city:
http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/edward_pearce/2008/01/scouse_proud.html .
Pearce opens his ejaculatory spurt of vitriol thus: "OK, Liverpool is European capital of culture and, for a year, we shall hear the razz and witter of glorification. Is there, though, a chance that we might then have a decade of silence about the place?"
Fat chance, Edward. What's your problem? I note from your profile on CiF that you hail from Oldham. You wouldn't be suffering from a case of civic penis envy, would you?
Pearce goes on to sniff: "Liverpool is a prickly, truculent place, best appeased. Accordingly, it enjoys an indulgent, ill-balanced press. There is a feeling that somehow we owe it consolation, that we should make it up to Liverpool for some undefined wrong. That has generated a highly enjoyable culture of victimhood."
Well, yes, it is "prickly" & "truculent" in both good & bad ways. But "best appeased"? There's a disturbing implication there that Scousers are genetically aggressive & to be avoided, don't you think? As for the city enjoying a favourable press, ah yes, I recall all too well the Sun's immaculately balanced coverage of Hillsborough. Then there's the victimhood jibe. It's a cliche which does, alas, have some credence; far too many Scousers for my liking still wallow in a fog of fatalism, intoning their mantra, "There's nothing down for us".
However, it's worth noting that the victim mentality, along with the exponential rise in the use of heroin, was a toxic by-product of the Thatcher years. Edward Pearce, it should be noted, was a Thatcher acolyte. Moreover, Pearce's latest rant doesn't entirely surprise me; I recall a Guardian article he penned a decade or so back in which he suggested the best thing Liverpool could do was fall into the Mersey. Laugh? I nearly subscribed to the Spectator.
CiF pays its contributors for their posts, usually it's around £80, although it can vary; I suspect that Pearce got more due to his "status".
There's a word for the likes of Pearce, but I've always felt that Anglo-Saxon epithets reveal a limited vocabulary.

Their Culture Of Capitalism

These guys only want the best....for themselves

It's saddening beyond words to see the football club I 've supported since my father took me onto the Kop in 1964 descend into a grotesque soap opera. Among the more reflective & revealing pieces in today's papers are two articles in the Independent.

James Lawton (http://sport.independent.co.uk/football/comment/article3339096.ece ) asks, "how do you respect something properly if you don't really understand it?"

In a more investigative vein, Ian Herbert & Nick Harris (http://sport.independent.co.uk/football/comment/article3339106.ece ) disclose, "A provisional contract is believed to have been drawn up with [Juergen] Klinsmann there and then, though it seems to have been a subsequent drift of events--rather than a breakdown in negotiations between the parties--which contributed to Klinsmann not signing it."

If these cowboys ever visit Anfield again (a big IF from what I've heard) their security will have to rival that of their good buddy Dubya.

Redmond's "Scouse Wedding" Strikes Discordant Note

After the cringe-inducing apologia for the city of Liverpool on Friday night, it was to be hoped that the concert at the Liverpool Echo Arena the following night would be an improvement. Not quite, according to most reviews in the national press. Rather than resorting to cheap journalism, the review in Monday's Guardian was refreshingly even-handed:
http://music.guardian.co.uk/live/story/0,,2240237,00.html .
Alex Petredis begins his piece by noting the sardonic amusement of the audience, most of whom had shelled out £50 ($100) for the dubious privilege of being there, at the boast on a giant video screen: "the centre of the creative universe".
The ticket allocation for the event was predictably mired in controversy, with suspicions that the "great & the good", ie., local politicos, PR types, Corporates, etc. bagged the prize seats.
Of equal interest is the subject of Ringo's expenses. Much was made of the fact that he was performing for free, ie., no fee involved. However, the word is that his expenses were met by the Liverpool Culture Company, &, by extension, the city's council tax payers. His expenses are believed to amount to £35,000 ($70,000). Nice deal for his weak warbling ("Liverpool, I left you/But I never let you down").

Saturday, January 12, 2008


So, how was it for you? The sporadic live TV coverage given to the Liverpool08 opening ceremony on BBC News 24 revealed a somewhat tawdry affair, despite the best efforts of the BBC reporters to talk it up (since when was the Beeb in the PR business?). At best, I found it cliched. At worst, I found it lacking in any originality. As for Ringo's [mimed] warbling, his dirge served to remind the watching millions why he wasn't given songwriting duties with the Fab Four.

However, there is criticism & there is criticism. One is based on the principled, informed stance of local blogs such as Liverpool Subculture (http://www.liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com/ ), &, by the way, check out the latest nuggets unearthed by Tony Parrish from last night, & there is criticism based on ignorance, snobbery & a loathing for one's birthplace. An example of this can be found in a sour & curmudgeonly post on the Guardian's Arts blog by Liverpool-born writer Beryl Bainbridge:
http://www.blogs.guardian.co.uk/theatre/2008/01/liverpools_glory_days_are_over.html .
It begins forebodingly, "The reason I can't muster any enthusiasm [for 2008] is because it is no longer 'my Liverpool'."
So why is it no longer Beryl's Liverpool? Simple: change; the passage of time. Oh, & her longtime residence in leafy Hampstead. Where Cilla & Tarby are Professional Scousers, Beryl is a reluctant, perhaps self-denying one.
She goes on to get her civic & cultural history wrong, confusing the separate identities of the Playhouse & the Everyman. For good measure, she goes on to maintain that "ordinary Liverpudlians" don't go to the Phil's classical concerts. This "ordinary Liverpudlian" gives the lie to that. Bainbridge also asserts that the middle class have mostly left the city, a point which will be news to the residents of Woolton, Mossley Hill, Allerton & other petit-bourgeois enclaves in the south end of the city. It could also be noted in response to Bainbridge's generalisation that the residential developments in the city centre are certainly not marketed at a C2 demographic.
Bainbridge's malevolent missive concludes with two sentences which encapsulate her rank inconsistency & make her diatribe all the more risible: "But all this is only the opinion of somebody who left Liverpool 40 years ago. I wish them the best of luck with their celebrations."
If, however, it is an attempt at sarcasm, it has all the impact of a eunuch in a brothel.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Civic Apologia Begins

Let the CoC up begin. Over to you, Ringo! (BTW, why did you stop doing Thomas the Tank Engine?)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Belated Postscript

A quick note of thanks for the message left by Stuart Ian Burns in response to my post about the Guardian article bemoaning a perceived paucity of Liverpool blogs. As Stuart points out, the writer probably Googled "Liverpool weblogs" instead of "Liverpool blogs" & lazily left it at that.
Stuart is the author of the Feeling Listless blog (http://feelinglistless.blogspot.com/ ).
I note from his blog that he was one of those present at Tate Liverpool for the Turner Prize ceremony. Of course, I was rather cutting about the affair, commenting that the only Scousers present had probably jumped a cab from Lark Lane. Turns out that Stuart resides near Sefton Park.
[Cue the sound of tumbleweed blowing across a desolate & deserted town in Arizona.]
Sorry if I inadvertently reinforced steretypical views about Liverpool 17, Stuart. As a Bootle resident I know all too well about stereotypes & distorted perceptions.

The Chickens Come Home To Roost

In just a few days' time a nervous & probably fortified Ringo Starr will bash on a drum kit at the top of St. Georges Hall. This Pythonesque act will help inaugurate the official start to 2008.
However, an endangered ex-Beatle is not the most pressing & serious matter facing those "organisers" of Capital of Culture year.
The shambolic, inept & laughable run-up to this point is briefly referred to in today's Guardian:
http://guardian.co.uk/society/2008/jan/09/localgovernment.regeneration .
The article appears to give city council leader Warren Bradley an easy ride with soft questions, judging by his stock responses.
The real meat in the piece, however, is the admission that the conflicting premises of 2008 could be discerned on day one:

"According to Mark Featherstone-Witty, chief executive of Liverpool's Institute of Performing Arts (Lipa), many of the problems stemmed from an inability to separate the cultural programme from local politics. The Liverpool Culture Company (LCC) was formed, but with around 65% of its funding and most of its staff coming from the local authority, independence was always unlikely. 'The city council produced the chimera of separateness, but that's all it was. That was the first fundamental mistake,' says Featherstone-Witty."

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Monetising Misery

I've refrained from commenting on the case of Madeleine McCann, still to be found after her disappearance last year for all the usual reasons. No one, of course, can imagine what her parents have been through. The disappearance of a child is always a horrendous & distressing affair.
However, I began to feel uneasy about Kate & Gerry McCann's approach when they formed what amounted to a PR operation; the appearance on TV of smooth, articulate spin merchants jarred when viewed in the context of the case. Human tragedy was being cheapened by presentational approach. When it was reported that the operation was referred to as Team McCann, I began to wonder about the priorities of the parents. The case of their missing daughter was being turned into a brand. To the world of McDonalds, Microsoft, Starbucks, et al could be added "Find Maddie", a new item for the consumer's attention. Moreover, the Daily Express, when not peddling the latest Diana conspiracy, reproduced Madeleine's photograph on its front page with a regularity which owed everything to circulation figures & nothing to journalistic endeavour.
Today's news that the McCann's story is to be commited to celluloid marks a new low:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/crime/article/0,,2237215,00.html .
The Guardian piece quotes Clarence Mitchell, the spokesman for Kate & Gerry McCann:
"If in theory a large film were to be made our lawyers would make sure our commercial interests are protected."
Commercial interests?!
Such thinking does the McCanns no favours at all. In fact, I'd go further: it is sick & perverted to invoke copyright & intellectual property rights when a child has been abducted & the police investigation continues.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Cultural Capital's Credit Crunch

No sooner has 2008 begun than the first icy blasts of financial reality blow in for the city. The news comes in the form of a piece in today's Independent (http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article3300969.ece ).
The city is no different to the rest of Binge Britain. Indeed, the hedonistic side of the Scouse psyche (on full display over the last two weeks) is supposed to make Liverpool "unique" to others. It's a view which, while patronising, does have an element of truth.