Liverpool's art and architecture help it to cultural crown
Thursday 05 June 2003
Even the man delegated to shovel up the horse muck was in a good mood in Liverpool yesterday. He had spent hours getting platforms 7 and 8 at Lime Street station spotless for the arrival of Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, who was coming to hand over the official letter announcing the city had won the fight to be European Capital of Culture. Just before the Virgin train pulled in - dead on time - two police horses had arrived and ruined his careful handiwork.
"Good for the garden," the sweeper opined, shouting to his mate for a mop to finish the job. This being Liverpool, European Capital of Quipping and Verbal Embellishment, he could not resist adding, "and today everything in the garden is rosy".
It was an opinion that seemed to be shared by the city, not surprisingly since winning the title - for the year 2008 - will, if the experience of previous winners is replicated, create about 15,000 jobs and bring in 1.7 million extra tourists who will spend £220m.
Within hours of the announcement the process had begun, with three top European orchestras ringing yesterday morning to ask if they could play in Liverpool's year-long festival. David Henshaw, the city's chief executive, said: "It's a massive shot of adrenalin. It will revalue Liverpool and make inward investment far more attractive."
There was a clear appreciation of this on the streets. Ms Jowell looked taken aback by the applauding crowds that spontaneously assembled as she walked along the city streets. "Politicians nowadays are used to jeers, not cheers," she let slip, after a bunch of flowers was thrust into her arms as if she were royalty.
"Shall I read you the pome (sic) I've written," inquired one man, which he did - to loud cheers from passers-by - before asking Sir Bob Scott, the leader of the bid, about an idea he had for a business venture on the back of the win. It was as if he embodied the modern individualist equivalent of the combination of commerce and culture that enabled the city's Victorian fathers to assemble the greatest collection of Grade One listed buildings outside London. A taxi driver shook the hand of Sir Jeremy Isaacs, chairman of the judges, who made the award. "Thank you so much," he said. "With this title, 35 years of stereotyping is about to go down the toilet."
It typified the combination of cockiness and chippiness that characterises Scouse culture. Since the glory days of the Beatles, he said, a series of disasters - Derek Hatton, Toxteth riots, the dockers' strike and years of industrial decline - had seen the city's reputation plummet. Now the world would see it differently.
What was striking was the sense of ordinary people's emotional involvement. That had been evident earlier when Woolton Junior School, not far from Liverpool's recently renamed John Lennon international airport, became the 210th of the city's 220 schools to host a visit from a giant inflatable globe with which the council has promoted the bid.
Mike Storey, the council leader, said: "One of the distinctive qualities about our bid has been our level of community involvement. We have involved people in ... defining what we mean by culture."
This, said the judges, was part of what gave Liverpool the edge over the other contenders - Oxford, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham and the joint Newcastle and Gateshead, the bookies' favourite.
"It was a difficult choice," Mr Isaacs said. "Any of the six would have been a credible winner. But it wasn't about who was ahead or behind. What has been done in Newcastle is exceptional. But then Liverpool's provision in the visual arts - with the Walker, Tate and the Biennial - is way ahead of Newcastle's. Then Birmingham is way ahead of Liverpool in certain aspects - the Birmingham Rep, the best concert hall in Britain.
"What edged Liverpool home was a combination. Stunning public architecture, glorious listed buildings, the strongest visual arts of any city outside London, a strong sense of civic purpose among the leaders and the ordinary people being so committed."
Now the work begins for 2008, with plans for festivals of ballet, opera, comedy, cinema, gospel choirs, guitar, science, space exploration and Irish American, Chinese and African events reflecting the city's main minorities.
It will all be a great success. So a local clairvoyant told BBC Radio Merseyside yesterday. And since she telephoned the station six months ago to tell it that Liverpool would win yesterday, it would take a brave soul to contradict her.
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