Thursday, November 30, 2006

Falling On Deaf Ears

A period of ill-health (a head cold which coincided with a state of semi-deafness due to an excess of ear wax) meant that I have been loath to commit much to record. Anyway, for the record, the head cold has finally abated & the ear problem resolved by the syringing of both ears kindly & quickly administered by the excellent staff at the Ear, Nose & Throat unit at the Royal Liverpool Hospital. To them, much thanks.

Following on from my last post about the Freethinking debate in Liverpool, my attention was drawn to a Guardian article a few days ago:,,1957883.html .
I appreciate that Denise Fergus, formerly Denise Bulger, will be haunted by her son's death & the manner of it for the rest of her life. However, it is distressingly obvious that every couple of years or so the local media play on her gullibility & ignorance (she & Ralph Bulger were just another underclass couple in a deprived Kirkby estate) &, again, she hasn't let them down. Those around Denise Fergus, particularly her solicitor, should have realised long ago that here is a rather pitible figure who is only too willing to provide the press with quotes which have everything to do with circulation figures & nothing to do with the lessons from that horrendous case.

And now, Nemesis. These will be the last words typed out on this keyboard & PC. After a long (my friends say far too long) delay, my relatively new PC will be up & running this time tomorrow. I first went online via this PC back in August 2003. However, its age (10 years or more) has been slowly & exasperatingly clear for the last year or so. The thought of it on a tip, leaking toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, leaves me cold. So, I'll be getting in touch with Friends Of The Earth to see how it can be disposed of/recycled.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Remembering The Cultural Aspect Of 2008

Last weekend saw a series of discussions & debates in Liverpool. The "Free Thinking" series, billed as "A Festival of Ideas for the Future" took place mainly at the Fact cinema, gallery & all round cultural hub in the city centre ( ).
The weekend was organised by BBC Radio 3 ( ) & the local station, BBC Radio Merseyside ( ).
The one session I managed to attend could have been an exercise in navel gazing. Thankfully, it wasn't. Chaired by Roger Phillips from Radio Merseyside, it tackled the question, "Is Liverpool An English City?"
As those dreaded exam papers say, "Discuss".
Joining him on stage at the Fact centre were journalist & novelist, Linda Grant, local cultural luminary & one-time doyenne of the city's music scene, Jayne Casey, local historian, John Belchem, & local entrepreneur & property developer, Lawrence Rothko.
Proceedings got off to a welcome start when the audience in this half full venue were asked to call out words which summed up the city. None of the old, tiresome & cliched words surfaced. Instead, the wide range of suggestions reflected not just the wit & humour of the place, but also those aspects which tend to be overlooked as the Beatle/football nexus takes centre stage in everyday conversation.
Linda Grant came up with a suggestion picked up from local lawyer (& self-styled local Renaissance Man, Rex Makin), "narky". Fair enough, I thought. She also alluded to the city's historical role as point of arrival/departure for millions when she felt a dual identity, Liverpudlan & Jewish. Grant made a valid point when she observed that the city's "individuality" has led to the culture of victimhood over the last three decades.
Choosing the word, "chaos", Jayne Casey picked up on the wider perception of the city; successive governments in Westminster had viwed the place as a "troublesome outpost", & that the city had been pretty much left to its own devices as long ago as the end of the slave trade, 200 years' back. That was a new one on me. Whilst the port made some people very rich during the era of slavery, I would have thought that the city still had commercial potential & rewards for capitalism up to the early 1900s.
Lawrence Rothko had his own words, "radical & articulate". Stressing the port's role in the arrival of migrants, he referred to my own tradition & background, Liverpool Irish, & the city's involvement in Irish history. Legendary socialist & trades union leader James Larkin actually grew up in Toxteth prior to his activism with Dublin dock workers. Rothko drew attention to a little known fact, the setting up of the NSPCC in Liverpool.
John Belchem outlined the port's role in migration patterns; it was "our Ellis Island", something that should be commemorated by the city, just as New York marks its own.Yes, Belchem noted, Liverpool's cosmopolitanism was a positive thing. However, it also had a negative side; most migrants didn't arrive here by choice.
Casey observed that "Liverpool was the birthplace of capitalism", & that the port created the wealth for the industrialised age, a comment which, I felt, appeared to contradict her previous assertion that the city was left on its own after the end of slavery.
Grant chipped in with an anecdote which had a resonance for most Scousers in the audience. She said that her grandfather arrived in the port in 1904, convinced that he had arrived in New York, his intended destination. Many Irish emigrants (my ancestors included), who weren't even familiar with Dublin, let alone Liverpool, were shown the Liverpool skyline by unscrupulous & mercenary boat skippers as they arrived in the Mersey & told that they had arrived in The Big Apple. Generations of Liverpudlians had stood at the Pier Head, Grant mused, feeling a strong sense of "possibility", of being just one step away from venturing into the wider world. Perhaps this city's innate sense of rebellion stemmed from this, she ventured. Perhaps, I thought, although this was veering uncomfortably close to the cliche-laden depiction of Scousers. Local folklore has it that the teenage John Lennon stood with Paul McCartney at the waterfront & made such an observation as they waited for the merchant seamen to jump off the boats with the early rock 'n' roll records from the U.S.
The city's image in recent years was put under the microscope when Grant maintained that the depiction of Liverpool had been "vicious & racist", referring to the comment by Jack Straw a few years' ago that Liverpool people were "always up to something". [I well remember that remark. The context of it was that Straw, then Home Secretary was to meet a delegation from the Hillsborough Family Support Group at his Whitehall department. The delegation was delayed by the London traffic & cited it as the reason for their lateness when they met Straw, who said in response that he wondered what had happened, given that Liverpudlians were "always up to something". Straw saw it as a witticism, designed to break the ice, as it were. However, local opinion saw the comment as being every bit as offensive as the infamous headline in The Sun a few days after the disaster, "The Truth!"]
Rothko drew murmurs of agreement from the audience when he noted that Scousers can be their own worst enemies; the city's image had been "hijacked", he said, by those who wanted to impose a one dimensional view of the city. We all knew who he was referring to: the Professional Scousers, the local "comedians", Boardman & Tarbuck, Cilla Black, et al. Those, in short, who hitched a ride on the city's 60s bandwagon which accompanied the rise of the Beatles.
Grant spoke about the Militant era, claiming that Hatton & Co. tried to define the city's image as a purely industrial one, ruling out all other aspects of the city. Warming to her theme, she said that the 80s were the starting point for the "racist" coverage of Liverpool. On the first part of this point, I felt that it completely overlooked the reasons (or "objective conditions" as we used to say) for Militant's rise. The second part of the statement had some validity.
Belchem observed, "We're in the industrial North, but not of the industrial North." The city's separate status from the rest of the north of England has been counter-productive as the port declines; the city has "no allies" in this context.
Casey summed up what for me is the schizophrenic nature of the city & its people by saying, "We lack confidence in ourselves." 2008 can help the city face up to its social problems, she continued, a remark which had me raising both eyebrows as far as they would go.
The hitherto overlooked issue of the city's social problems was picked up by Belchem, who declared that 2008 needed to be followed by major investment in the city in order to tackle social issues. This struck me as being particularly asinine. The "Big Dig" in the city centre continues apace, yet too many areas outside the city centre remain untouched by similar projects & investment. For the people in these areas, 2008 is, at best, an irrelevant sideshow.
Casey provided an anecdote which roused my ire. She said that she had been made to feel uncomfortable at a London dinner party some years' ago because of the mocking comments about her Liverpool accent. My reaction would have been to turn the tables on the tormentors with Lennon-like Scouse sarcasm, coupled with high celebral "bon mots".
Rothko made a good point when he asked, "How many Scousers will get the jobs" in the city's reconstruction? He worried that the city's working-class population, who've had to endure nearly four decades of civic & economic decline, won't benefit from 2008.
In response, Casey noted that there is still a lot of confusion over what 2008 is supposed to be about. Sceptical observers, myself included, joke about 2008 being the Culture of Capital festival.
Grant revealed that the reaction from much of the London-based media had been one of mirth when Liverpool was chosen as the European Capital of Culture. Perceptions were starting to change, she said, yet Liverpool's status for 2008 is still largely unknown in the south of England, a situation she ascribed to the negligible coverage of the city by the national media.
Interjections from the audience were mainly considered & cliche-free; no-one harped on about an anti-Liverpool conspiracy in the rest of the country. Self-pity, one of the charges made against this city, was notable for its absence.
As the hour long discussion drew to a close, Phillips, whose chairing of the proceedings had been BBC impartiality personified, asked the audience for one word answers which would, perhaps, sum up Liverpool in five years' time. The replies were mainly aspirational, relating to civic pride & a forward-thinking mentality. Grant chipped in with one of her own, one which drew applause, "envied". Rothko was stumped momentarily before falling back on the official slogan for 2008, "The World In One City".

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Happiness Is A Warm Gig

I was more intrigued than excited about seeing Sean Lennon at Liverpool University on Saturday evening. That he was a singer-song-writer in his own right (or "write", as his father once punned ) was of more interest to me than any superficial concerns about family resemblance or inherited musical influence.
However, a reminder of his father's fate & its consequences for his family was evident as the audience filed outside the venue. Normally, "security" extends to a millisecond of eye contact with the guy on the door. This time, however, there was a double security check, a frisking just outside the venue, followed by the same measure just inside the Stanley Theatre.
A typical gig crowd, the age range being mixed, included a few people belonging to that generation which would have remembered the Beatles before their break-up. Lurking amongst this element of the audience was Peter Grant, erstwhile rock reviewer for the Liverpool Echo, & its sister paper, the Daily Post. In contrast to most critics, Grant told anyone who would listen how much he was looking forward to the gig. My initial surprise at this sentiment quickly gave way to the realisation that it is almost heretical for any measured, let alone hostile, pieces on anything Beatle related to be filed for the local media; why slaughter the cash cow, the thing that draws in the tourists each year to the increasingly tacky Matthew Street Festival?
After two numbers, Lennon, visibly hesitant at the thought of breaking the ice at this symbolic gig, stumbled into speech.
"Um, well, hello," he ventured.
The crowd's response was instantly warm & welcoming. Appreciative calls from the audience punctuated the 90 minute set. At one point, Lennon smiled & apologised, "I hear what you say, but I can't really understand you!"
His accent was pure Manhattan, yet his vocals did evoke his father on the "White Album". As for appearance, the shoulder-length hair & beard suggested Lennon Snr. circa 68/69. His sartorial attire, however,recalled the early Beatle period, when suits were still "de rigeur". References to his father were brief. It was enough that he was playing this city, a statement in itself.
Yet he did refer to it in a typically leftfield Lennon way when expressing his nerves at playing Liverpool, "seeing as my dad grew up here, if you didn't know."
The suffix in the comment drew much laughter from the audience, like a well-received punchline to a joke. Lennon, hitherto relatively tense & cautious, visibly loosened up. He even joked with the crowd about his out of tune acoustic guitar; as a guitarist, he displayed a dexterity which would have eluded You Know Who.
Aside from a cover of an obscure T-Rex track, the set consisted of his own material, which owed just a little to his father's style. What I found heartening was the fact that no-one in the audience called out for any of his father's songs. It was a reflection of this audience's musical maturity.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

All At Sea?

Still no word from the boys in blue regarding my encounter with hoodie sub-culture. That is not surprising; I quickly surmised after giving a full statement to the police that these things have a tortuous & nebulous process which can appear to defy rational (& not so rational) expectations.
[On a germane note, I see from this evening's Channel 4 News & the Guardian Unlimited website that David Cameron is advocating a "tough love" approach to this issue. The tough love I'd have in mind would involve a garotte.]

Anthony Gormley's statues at Crosby beach continue to make the headlines. I still think that they should stay, they inject a little bit of genuine culture in an area which is, at best, culturally nondescript, &, at worst, a repository for unabashed philistinism. This is despite yesterday's news from the beach ( ), which appears to owe more to an ignorance of local tidal patterns.
The initial furore was generated by a local tory councillor, Debi Jones, who first came to local attention as an irritating "presenter" on BBC Radio Merseyside back in the 80s (think Ken Dodd, but without the, erm, wit). Jones now has hopes of standing for Cameron's lot at the next election in the Crosby constituency. However, such rank populism may no longer be the vote-winner it once was. Crosby has changed in cultural trends; there is a readily appreciative local audience for Gormley's work, & they, Cllr. Jones, are also voters.

I nearly choked on my lunch at work today when I spotted this story:,,1937064,00.html .
In the land of free market capitalism it seems so surreal as to be hallucinatory. As the article notes, the guy may resemble a blunderbuss rather than a heat-seeking missile, & he may be more Miliband than Marx in policy terms, but the reality is that his message has resonance. Has Michael Moore picked up on this guy?

A quick word about The Raconteur's gig in Liverpool last week. It was everything you'd want from a gig; the excitement was well warranted as a full house savoured a raucous, yet musically superb performance. It's difficult to see how Jack White can return to The White Stripes with any real conviction after this so-called side project.