Music to my ears
Upstairs at the Philharmonic Pub is the most beautiful dining room. You walk up the narrow staircase past, I think it’s a sousamaphone, and into a wood panelled room complete with oriel windows looking out onto Hope Street. I’m sitting at a table, on a music tour I didn’t know existed, listening to an Irish man sing a famous Liverpool song.
Three women from Salisbury are tapping their feet. Two white wines and one pub later they’ll be loudly harmonising ticket to ride sitting in Ye Cracke next to the famous “war room”. I look out of the window and across the road in the corner of a coffee shop a dark haired man is playing guitar. There are women sitting at the benches on the window, laptops open, wiling away a Sunday afternoon. At the other side of the junction there’s a poster of Liverpool Philharmonic’s Principal Conductor in full flourish promoting an upcoming season. The song finishes, we all applaud.
The women have never been to Liverpool before. How did you find this tour, I ask them. Oh Trip Advisor, they answer. It’s got really great reviews. Have you been on it before, they ask me? It’s about Liverpool, and music, exploring three different pubs with strong ties to the city’s music, culture and history. No, I shake my head. They look at me, slightly aghast, and move away to a group of women who were also singing Ticket to Ride.
It isn’t an especially inspired reflection, nor is it a new one, but it’s a constant source of amazement that Liverpool’s music scene offers something for everyone. An 18 year old arriving in Liverpoolas an undergraduate will find their musical niche just as surely as a baby boomer from Cheshire can find it on a sunny Sunday afternoon with a glass of wine in a 19th century pub. This rich diversity is, of course, what makes Liverpool such a strong place culturally, not simply the range on offer but the reflection of the way the city’s communities create scenes to mirror what they want and what they like.
My own music scene isn’t what it used to be. Oh, I still love live music as much as I did when I was 17, but staying out at a bar on a Tuesday night waiting for a headliner scheduled for after 11pm feels more like a lifestyle choice than I’m prepared to admit. I have to weigh up whether I’m happy to focus on the more leisurely aspects my to do list that week and write off until Saturday morning for a few hours of exquisite music. But I’m never going to stand and say that means everyone else should have to wait until the weekend for their music fix.
Although something else has filtered into my mood about the music scene, the longer I’ve worked in it. It’s become more of a business. The people who give the money to projects seem to have become more important. And I can’t help but feel a tug that this is completely wrong and completely damaging.
There’s work going on in the moment about bringing more entrepreneurialism into music in the city, to help bring sustainability and a joined up offer across the music scene. But a thought tags at the back of my mind. Does this shift the centre of gravity too much towards a gatekeeper, a funder?
The debacle surrounding the Hope and Glory Festival lobbed a fairly sizeable rock in Liverpool’s music scene and the ripples continue to be felt. They keep lapping against the shores of venues, festival organisers, promoters, musicians, rehearsal spaces and more and it keeps whispering an unanswered question — is Liverpool as good for music as it used to be?
Yes. Yes it is. Of course it is. It has to be. But money isn’t everything. Funding isn’t everything. It might feel like it is, especially when you have none of it and you need it. When it’s your living it’s hard (and I’ve not had funding for things when I’ve needed it more times than I have gig tickets from the Royal Court in the 90s). You still have to be passionate about it though. You still have to want to do it and find a way. Because the thing you worry about is that a city that bred Julian Cope might turn into a place with more arts administrators than bassists. And that’s not good.
Music, who sees it, where they see it, who makes it and how they can make money from it, is one of the most important questions Liverpool has. Music is probably one of our biggest industries, considering how many people make some of their living out of it. The horror after Hope and Glory, the fear of the damage it could do to unpick all the hard work that’s been done by the thousands who work in the cultural sector in Liverpool over the past ten years is palpable.
Music isn’t just there to make money out of it. Because otherwise Liverpool doesn’t march to the beat of a drum but the trill of a cash register. Music’s for everyone, and for everyone to find their passion and their niche. Programme and be damned. Stop asking permission.