Robert Hampton

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16th March 2013

Liverpool Resurgent

Three GracesOf all the happy happenings over the past decade, one of the best, as far as I am concerned, is the continuing regeneration of Liverpool.

Back in 2003, when Liverpool won its Capital of Culture title, many were sceptical that the city could deliver.

Certainly eyebrows were raised in 2004, when Liverpool Biennial put up pictures of naked female breasts and genitals in the city’s main shopping streets.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: nipples and vaginas are excellent in the right context, but not flapping around on a banner outside the Carphone Warehouse.

The above blog post comes from a far off time when nudity offended me.

There was trouble behind the scenes, as Merseytram, the showpiece transport scheme that was supposed to be up and running for 2008, was cancelled after months of political squabbling and setbacks. My insightful reaction? “Oh, poo.” Having said that, I have a feeling it would have ended up a shambles, like the Edinburgh tram scheme.

The city still attracts negative press. Much of it undeserved, but then there are stories like the shrine to a dead chicken that appeared in Anfield:

Paramedics could not identify the body and neither could the attending police doctor, who studied the foetus left outside Anfield Tackle.

The corpse was taken to a nearby hospital where it was later identified by medical staff as a chicken.

…but not before dozens of people had left flowers and teddy bears at the site.

The murder of Rhys Jones saddened everyone, and drew attention to the city’s criminal underworld. Merseyside Police’s struggle against gun crime continues to this day.

Thankfully, more positive headlines began to flow during 2008 itself. I was in the crowd for the opening ceremony and came home full of optimism that maybe, just maybe, this year would come off successfully.

La PrincessA few months later, La Machine, a giant mechanical spider, roamed through the city centre. The technical skill required to build and operate it was matched only by the planning needed to get the creature down Liverpool’s narrow streets. My headline, “OMFG IT’S A MASSIVE SPIDER!!!!1111” adequately sums up the incredulity I felt when I saw it up close. Liverpool became very good at pulling off these big set piece events, as we shall see later.

Can you believe Liverpool didn’t have an Apple Store or a Debenhams until 2008? No, neither can I. Liverpool ONE thankfully rectified that when it opened in May 2008. There’s also a branch of Hollister, for everyone who’s too shy to go a gay bar but wants to experience the ambience of a darkroom.

Later in the year, Liverpool staged On the Waterfront, a collection of events celebrating the city’s connection with the sea. Again, it was great to see so many people at an event. And who’s this handsome chap?

I was there!

It would have been easy to call a halt to the big cultural events once 2008 ended, but Liverpool City Council, to their credit, continue to put money into the arts scene despite cutbacks. In 2012 more giant creatures appeared, this time in the form of Sea Odyssey – the Giant Spectacular. There’s no way blogs and pictures can do it justice. It was the most amazing piece of street performance I think I have ever seen, and judging by the crowds who packed the city centre, the people of Liverpool agreed with me.

Little Girl Giant sleeps at the Pier Head

I liked it so much, I bought the T-Shirt, the poster and the soundtrack CD.

The Biennial continued to delight, with the 2012 event making great use of empty spaces (the Liver Buildings and the old Royal Mail sorting office on Copperas Hill, to name but two).

One event which did not survive was the Mathew Street Festival. The 2012 event was curtailed due to poor weather and many people, myself included, asked if the Festival had had its day. Certainly it had become much more boozy and chaotic in recent years, and questions were asked about whether Liverpool could afford to subsidise a giant piss-up. The announcement of the Festival’s cancellation surprised few people and disappointed even fewer.

The one event I haven’t mentioned here is Liverpool Pride, but that will be mentioned in a separate blog entry.

Liverpool can be proud of what it has achieved over the past few years. The city has certainly proved wrong many of the people who wrote it off a few years ago, including a bizarre think-tank report which suggested that Liverpool’s residents would be better off abandoning the city forever.

I hope that, after all the good work Liverpool has done, the city’s regeneration isn’t fatally undermined by Tory government cuts. We have an elected mayor now, although its the same person who was previously running the Council. He has had to make many difficult budget decisions. I hope he makes the right ones, for all our sakes.

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