Saturday, 22 March 2014

A wander round Liverpool

Look carefully and you can see Gerry Marsden being held captive on the bridge
I was filming in Liverpool on Thursday and finished relatively early, so I had a bit of time to myself before catching a pre-booked train to Euston. 

I studied in Liverpool and worked for twelve months at the Liverpool Students' Union (LSU), running the student radio station, Shout FM. I had good times there, but I've only been back twice in the last eighteen years.
St Luke's church
So at 4.30pm on a chilly spring afternoon, with a couple of hours before my train, I checked my suitcase into left luggage at Lime St station and took myself up Renshaw St towards St Luke's church (the bombed out one).

Caesar's Palace, an insanely cheap burger restaurant which opened when I was there twenty years ago, was still doing business. Hurray.

They've turned Grand Central Hall into a Liverpudlian Affleck's Palace, and I enjoyed a quick browse, staring at all the clothes I wanted to buy but couldn't afford in the nineties. Now I can afford them I am too old to wear them.

Then up Hardman Street to its junction with Rodney St. There were three places still in business that I remember from 1996, the chippie, the 10 til 10 offy and the Valparaiso restaurant. The Valparaiso was always too expensive for my student budget, charging around £18 for a main course - quite fantastical prices in those days.

(l-r) 10 til 10, chippie, another offie and the Valparaiso restaurant 
I saw it almost every day for three years and wondered if I would ever be able to afford eating there. I did eventually cross the threshold when taken there by my girlfriend for a 21st birthday celebration lunch. As a pair of scruffy students, we looked a little out of place. Unfortunately I had drunk so much the night before, when I took my first bite of complimentary hors d'oeuvres I realised I was going to collapse, or throw up, or both.
Aldham Robarts. Beware. Books.
My girlfriend had the job of explaining the situation, whilst the waitress (who assumed I had taken one look at the menu prices and was engineering some kind of fit) tried to tell us there was a cheaper fixed price menu on the blackboard.

Maybe it wasn't meant to be. I walked north along Rodney Street and up towards the Aldham Robarts library (where I should have spent a lot more time than I did) and the Liverpool Students' Union. 

There was no security on the door, so I went in and had a look. Externally the building looks exactly the same. Internally, they've had a lot of work done.
Liverpool Students' Union, once known as The Haigh

Main bar. Where is everyone?
The bar (which received more of my custom over four years than any bar had or will) has had a refit. The other bar, in which I once saw Bill Bailey do a turn, was almost unrecognisable.
Main bar, looking from Maryland St end towards the bar
Was this really the room in which Matthew Bannister, then Controller of Radio 1, had to pause his session at the 1996 SRA spring conference every 4 minutes because the water squirting from the automatic flusher on the stainless steel gents urinals was so loud he couldn't hear himself think? Yes, friends, it was.

The other bar. Note shiny, wipedown floor.
I was just leaving when I thought I'd go and say hello to the union president. I went upstairs and saw a floor plan for the building. On the first floor was... no... could it be... a student radio station?

Shout FM closed down in the late 90s. It lost a lot of funding and someone did over the studios. With no kit or cash, things were always going to be problematic, so that was that. Although I never made enquiries, I always hoped I might see an SRA awards entry from Shout FM or a rebranded Liverpool John Moores University version thereof. 

Shout FM (and Shout magazine, which gave the station its name) are dead. In their place stands a magazine and radio station I thought might be LOO-preville, before settling on Looper Evil. 

DJ Daniel Fagan on the ones and, er, computerised playout system
As no one had yet stopped to ask me who I was and what I thought I was doing, I decided to see if there was anyone at the studios, and regale them with tales of how it was all very different in my day.

The door to the studios was (thank god) locked, but I heard music and voices within. I knocked. A very shy, polite man called Danny Fagan opened the door. He invited me in, and being very polite, allowed me to see the new radio desk and let me tell him how it was all very different in my day.

He also told me it was LOOPreville, or as I had yet to notice, "Liverpool" backwards. Danny didn't know much about the radio station, other than it had been going for three or four years and now broadcast online. He apologised for there not being many people around, explaining that because he was a first year he got the early show. I looked at my watch. It was 5.15pm.

Danny was politely engaged in giving me the station manager's email address when a song began to fade out. "It looks like you might have a link to do." I said.

Danny replied "Oh don't worry, I'll just play the next song", which he did.

"There's only three people listening anyway" piped up his mate.

"Yeah, true." said Danny pointing to the internet traffic screen mounted above the radio desk.

I thanked Danny for his time. I told him working at Shout FM was my way into the media, and he said he wanted a career in the media too. There are worse ways of going about it.
The Pilgrim pub
I tracked north into Pilgrim Street (home of the famous Pilgrim pub in which I had my 22nd birthday party) and west into Hope Place where I lived for two years, at number 10. 

10 Hope Place, second door from the right
We got lucky with that house and looking at the street today it's obvious we wouldn't be able to afford living there now.
The other side of the street in Hope Place - the Unity Theatre
I walked up the rest of Hope Place, turned right onto Hope Street and then took an immediate right down Rice street to get a shot of Ye Cracke, which is a proper lefty boozer, and apparently also home to a John Lennon graffito. It was certainly frequented by him.
Ye Cracke
Back onto Pilgrim Street I continued towards my favourite building in the world, Liverpool's Anglican cathedral. But first, a photo of some bins.

Liverpool is big on purple bins. Fact.
I paused to take a snap of my old faculty, the Dean Walters building, and trotted into the cathedral.

The Dean Walters building
It's such a vast building any photo I can take with my camera is not going to convey a fraction of its vaulting bulk.

Too big to fit in the ruddy camera hole!
Just to add to the effect there was a full choir evensong going on inside. It felt rude to take a photo of that, so here's one of a scale model of the cathedral in red Lego.

I know! Make it smaller. And redder.
It's a magical place and worth a visit to Liverpool just to see it. The cathedral. Not the Lego model.

With added sunlight. It looks like Nemesis the Warlock in this shot.
Giant neo-gothic building interior 1
Giant neo-gothic building interior 2
I started back towards Lime St station from the southern end of Hope Street, popping off a few photos along the way.

Hope Street suitcases sculpture

It used to be Casablancas nightclub. Now it's just called Casas. Note Bob Crow tribute banner.
Hope Street appears to be the smartest address in Liverpool nowadays and everything looks very spruce, including the recently refurbished Everyman theatre.

The Everyman Theatre
The Liverpool Catholic Cathedral. Known locally as Paddy's Wigwam, but not now that's racist.
I turned left at the Catholic cathedral, down Mount Pleasant and right along Clarence St to see what happened to one of my favourite pubs in Liverpool, Bonapartes.

The cream building used to be Bonapartes. That weird one next to it is new.
Bonapartes closed down in the late 90s, but if they can resurrect student radio stations they can do anything.

St George's Hall from the steps to Lime St station
With a hop skip and a jump I was back at Lime St, marvelling at the peerless St George's Hall and tripping on enough Proustian rushes to last me another eighteen years. Liverpool gave me the time of my life. All things pass.

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