The new Mersey Beat: Thousand flock to Liverpool's Sefton Park for four-day music festival

 

With tower blocks peeping above the tree line, Liverpool's Sefton Park is just a stroll from Penny Lane and a city steeped in a history of poverty and division.

But rich and poor came together yesterday for a party in the park as the birthplace of the Beatles again took centre stage for the first Liverpool International Music Festival.

The city that has produced the most No 1 singles in the world was at one stage nearly written off by Margaret Thatcher's Government.

Locals now speak of those as "dark days" for Liverpool with Toxteth in flames and Downing Street in open warfare with Militant and Derek Hatton.

But this month a city now brimming with hope and promise is hosting UK's biggest urban festival as a platform to launch an even  bigger event next year. In a city where every young Scouser is brought up to recite the hallowed names of John, Paul, George and Ringo there has been a Fab Four tribute act around nearly every corner.

And Sefton Park is but five minutes walk from Beatles landmarks such as John Lennon's house, Penny Lane, and the playing fields said to have inspired Strawberry Fields.

But Liverpool is a cultural centre which prides itself on never standing still and this month the crowds have had its hands in the air for pop, rock, indie, reggae, world, classical – and just about everything else in between.

A massive investment from local government and a genuine desire to celebrate Liverpool's relationship with music and create a new generation of musicians has helped. Liverpool fulfil its latest ambition as a City of Culture.

As well as performances by chart toppers such as JLS and Little Mix the weekend saw the first gig yesterday in the UK tour of the Marley brothers - allowing Merseyside to upstage the Notting Hill Festival.

The new Festival has its roots in the city's biggest music event, the Matthew Street Music Festival. But now the spectacle has gone global.

Thousands flocked to Sefton Park to enjoy one of the highlights of the month - four days of free live music over the bank holiday which continues tomorrow.

Steven and Julian Marley were headlining the World Music Stage to underline the city's links with sounds from around the world.

While sixties Mersey beat saw a new generation of working class heroes propelled up the pop charts it was a mainly a white revolution.

Although the celebrates the past, it also shows Liverpool's increasingly diverse population coming together to encourage a new generation of talent for whom names like Punjabi Hit Squad may strike more of a chord than Sergeant Pepper.

Adam Mailey, 29, from the Wirral, said: "It is a change from Matthew Street. I've been to Glastonbury a few times. This is not as big but there's more of a family atmosphere.

"I'm 29 and I was brought up with the Beatles. It is part of Liverpool's culture and you can't get away from it even if you wanted to.

"But this has always been a cosmopolitan city so here we are emphasising that.

"Not far from here are some of the most deprived areas of Liverpool - and some of the richest. So it's getting everyone together."

Waitress and Bob Marley fan Kavita Mohan, 24, who lives in Anfield but comes from the West Indies, said: "I think it's great.

"The main thing is it is free and bringing all the people out to socialise.

"I'm not really a Beatles fan because I grew up in Trinidad so I'm mainly here to see the Marleys.

"To me, it shows how multicultural we've become. It brings every single person out of all races and everyone is getting along.

"I grew up with Bob Marley's music so it's great to see it passed on to a new generation."

Her mother Gail, a local pastor, came straight from church to enjoy the afternoon with her extended family who have called Liverpool their home for more than a decade.

She said: "I really only like gospel music now but I do like reggae. But I'm talking old school - like Peter Tosh."

Yesterday's crowd also saw mixed race couples and families with children out in force. One festival goer said: "It's hard to work out who's white and who isn't". As someone once said: Imagine...

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