The Might Huh?

Liverpool Life My feet hurt. I spent the afternoon in the company of Pete Wylie as he gave me this tour of Liverpool's musical heritage courtesy of a Liverpool 08 mp3 download. It's an excellent idea - I've seen similar city guides for other places and it's great that the experiment is being tried in Liverpool. The tour begins at the Liverpool 08 shop in Whitechapel and takes in Matthew Street, the Lime Street area and Hope to Seel Street. I missed the 60s and The Beatles and was too young for the 80s rebirth so I was hoping to get a flavor of what the music scene must have been like in those eras.

The tour began well with the Eleanor Rigby statue, The Iron Door on Temple Street, The Estate and then Mathew Street and the Cavern, with the Wall of Fame and the Dooley Statue, something I'd never noticed before. Pete has a genial, but authoritative voice and you can really hear that he spent much of his life in these venues and that this is as much an autobiography of his life as a history of Liverpool music. The two subjects are intertwined. It's a shame that in the end, the whole experience was a bit disappointing.

The 08 website had suggested that the tour would take 'around an hour to complete' but looking at the accompanying map, I had a feeling that it would have to be a Martian hour, simply because of the geography being covered. I'm not an athlete, I would say I'm in reasonable health, but the adventure in the end took me two to three hours, leaving out the moment in the middle when I rang home to give a progress report but leaving in the fact that I actually skipped a couple of places for reasons that will become clear.

It seems that in the rush to include as many venues in as little time as possible, little thought seems to have been put into how much information should be presented when the listener reaches a venue. Having not lived through any of this, it was interesting to suddenly find out that a door I'd been passing all my life had a historical importance to many people. Too often though, at some venues like the Zanzibar, the description consisted of a list of the bands that had played there. That might be of interest to the hardcore music fan and I understand that this is only supposed to be an introduction but what I wanted to know was why they played there - what was it about the place that led them to the door and what significance did it have to their careers? I wanted more anecdotes about important moments or nights - like the one that Pete mentions for Erics. More ambience, less statistics.

What this also means is that this walker wasn't rewarded when they'd reached the point of interest. In places such as Mathew Street where the sights are close together, this isn't as much of a problem, but often, after something of a trek, the reward is quite dispririting. For example, once the visitor has left Williamson Square then The Royal Court they continue to St. George's Hall and The Empire Theatre and then up Lord Nelson Street. This is no mean achievemen but then on reaching the Carling Academy (which is a good ten minutes up hill from the Empire), Pete says:

"The Carling Academy opened in 1997, providing a long needed venue for top acts. The venue has established itself as a major player on the uk touring circuit."

And then there were a bunch of instructions to return to Ranleigh Street. All this walking for that? Perhaps a music fan would be enthusing over the place, but as a 'not them' is it wrong of me to want something more to convince me of its importance? A similar problem occurs with the integration of the university's Guild of Students. Pete warns that the walk will take ten minutes up a steep incline (up Brownlow Hill past the back of Paddy's Wigwam) but that vaguely "Alternatively public transport is available". I didn't go because I knew that what he thinks is ten minutes is at least twenty on a good day. I sneaked a listen of what I missed and was glad I decided to nip up Mount Pleasant to the Everyman instead:

"Previously known as the academy, the university guild is now established as a main venue on the uk tour circuit and has played host to many up and coming names including Coldplay, Elvis Costello, The Human League and recently The Arctic Monkeys."

Completing the rest of the tour took another dejected hour, around the Hope Street area (having taken a shortcut up Mount Pleasant), down Hardman Street to Seel Street into Slater Street onto Wood Street. The venues in this district are closer together and the descriptions had slightly more depth and an increased enthusiasm and it was nice to finally get to see the Barfly and the Jacaranda, a place I haven't been in years.

The tour ends at the Albert Dock (having walked through Hanover Street and across the Dock Road) which I also skipped - Pete talked about it in basic terms - shops, bars, museums - and says it's were the Magical Mystery Tour begins - but again I wondered how many people having looked at the accompanying map will have gone there as the finale, knowing that it has only a tangential importance to what has gone before.

Then there were the pauses. Between locations Pete gives a brief directions for getting to the next place -- which is fine. Except that the listener has to pause the mp3 track in-between. And them pick up once they've reached them. It's a shame that Pete couldn't continue talking in between, perhaps filling in with the anecdotes or pointing out other geographical features on the way. Also, I'm glad that I was only using a cheap Tesco player, because I'd feel a bit security conscious if I was carrying something more expensive around - the needed to stop and start so often would mitigate against keeping it in your pocket.

I would love to know what other people have made of this tour and whether I'm simply a very slow walker, but assuming I haven't missed the point it seems to me like a missed opportunity. On paper, it's a great idea but the execution doesn't appear that well thought out. It feels disjointed in this form and lacks the kind of depth that should make it rewarding. Something that might have worked would have been to create two different tours concentrating on the two most prominent eras, the 60s and the 80s building a strong narrative and feeling for each of the eras with more historical context, ignoring but referring to venues that don't have a direct connection, such as the Guild.

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