“Music — it speaks to our very soul. It has the ability to lift our spirits when we are feeling down, it can transport us around the world and through time and perhaps best of all, it’s free and available to everyone. From singing in the shower for an audience of one to an outdoor stage in front of hundreds of thousands — Gloria Estafan was correct, the rhythm is really “gonna get you.”
World Music Day is on Sunday 21 June and what better time to tune in and cop out, and embrace all the benefits that the sound of music has to offer (music puns, by the way, are fully intended throughout this blog!) Dating back to 1982, the Ministry of Culture in France developed the original concept of World Music Day following the idea that we should celebrate all forms of music and that on world music day, all music should be available to everybody for free — no matter what their background or heritage. This was their foundation for the start of this world wide phenomenon.
Taking things to a local level here in Liverpool and music is at our core, it’s in our very DNA, music is a beat that we can all dance too — from bedrooms to basements and clubs to caverns, we have long banged the musical drum which has sent vibrations across the world. As a city, our musical culture and heritage is at the heart of who we are and it has long been recognised by its numerous accolades as we are a UNESCO World City of Music. We have so many number one hits under our musical bow that the Guinness Book of Records named Liverpool the world “City of Pop” and in our cultural capital year we were named by the Arts Council as “the Most Musical City.”
Although our musical heritage dates back to our city’s fair beginnings, our port city status has benefited us by being able to import musical culture from around the world which has had a profound effect on the shape of our music scene. From the cheery sea shanties of sailors to the oppressive history of the slave trade in the city, from the positive to the negative, these cultural influences have all played a role in shaping the city, its residents and its beat. To forget their influence, to act like they are not a part of our past, would be to ignore the lessons we have learnt from their presence in our cultural timeline in moving forward and making changes.
These changes have transformed us into a city that is able to export our music. But as a port city we have always been exposed to outside influences, including music and culture from all over the world. In the 1960’s this was clearly shown through The Beatles and the whole Merseybeat movement. The Beatles soaked up these musical influences, added some steel during their stint in Hamburg and then threw in what turned out to be their unique song writing ability. They were then able to sell this magical blend back to the world, ultimately creating a cultural and musical legacy that lives on over fifty years later.
But Merseybeat is far from the only musical story of 1960’s. Groups like black vocal harmony group The Chants also played clubs such as The Cavern (where apparently they were backed by admirers The Beatles) and their story and music deserve to be better known. The Black To The Future exhibition developed by the Heritage Development Company in Liverpool does a great job of telling the often hidden history of black music and venues in the city.
Fast forward through the generations and we have continued to represent the city on the global stage through our musical talents including the likes of The Real Thing, Echo and The Bunnymen, OMD, Lightning Seeds, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Christians, The Zutons, The La’s, Atomic Kitten, Rebecca Ferguson, The Coral and not to forget our club music scene including Cream and Chibuku — I could go on! It is clear to see why we were chosen as the only city outside of London to house the British Music Experience — it’s a natural fit for a city with a musical rap sheet as long as ours.
As a city with music at our core and a such an intrinsic element of our culture, we have always strived to ensure a strong musical representation in our programme of cultural events at Culture Liverpool and, in keeping with the World Music Day theme, we have endeavoured to provide free music wherever possible in our events programme. Each year our Mersey River Festival, a free outdoor event celebrating our city’s maritime history and culture held on the site of the Royal Albert Dock and iconic UNESCO waterfront features a musical side track intrinsically linked to our past. Many a time I have enjoyed the renditions of a local sea shanty — many of which feature our famous city within the lyrics including “Heave Away” and “Liverpool Judies”. Did you know, “Maggie May” is a local sea shanty that even The Beatles performed!
This iconic site of our waterfront being the home of import and export of music enabled us to position our free outdoor musical concerts in our Music on the Waterfront series over the years playing host to local artists Clean Cut Kid and Tea Street Band to world acclaimed artists including Billy Ocean and Gwen Dickey to huge acclaim. Our partnership with the BBC to host World Music Day on more than one occasion here at Culture Liverpool has seen packed out crowds dance the night away to Craig Charles performing his funk and soul set as well as our Guinness World Record achieving stage hosting world class DJ performances. Not to forget our Liverpool Cruise Terminal on the waterfront that keeps our musical traditions alive, with sail away performances ranging from classical opera, iconic Liverpool playlists and live drumming performances to leave our international passengers with a lasting memory of a musical city long after they have sailed along our Mersey beat.
Evolving from our Mathew Street Music Festival today I am proud to say we now offer our Liverpool International Music Festival* which has featured some of the biggest names in their genres including Nile Rodgers, Basement Jaxx, Little Mix, Echo and the Bunnymen, Sigma, Anne-Marie and Damian Marley. Alongside LIMF, we launched the LIMF Academy, our award-winning talent development programme which has seen us discover, develop and showcase local talent and launch many of them to have burgeoning careers in the music industry. The programme is both diverse and free to join, and has opened up many pathways and opportunities that ere previously very difficult to access.
Our continuous foresight into supporting new music has seen us partner with a range of musical genres and our LIMF collaboration with MTV saw us host events at Camp and Furnace for the then, relatively unknown Ella Eyre, Jess Glynne and Becky Hill who have now become household names and our recent partnership with BBC 6 Music saw free music provided across the city in a range of venues attracting new audiences and a profile across the world and our Cream Classics partnership has brought a traditional indoor club event to an urban park setting.
I am proud of our musical heritage — in the past, present and future. From Milapfest and the Arab Arts Festival through to the Liverpool Irish Festival whose music celebrates our historical links with Ireland to Africa Oye — the largest free festival of African music. Stereotypes that we rely on the music of our past (yes, I’m referring to those of you who just think of The Beatles) sadly, do not know the Liverpool of today. Yes, The Beatles have left a legacy that we are proud of and they have touched the hearts and souls of many people around the world — they were and are the biggest pop band in history, we would be remiss not to celebrate our past. Does Memphis not celebrate its links to Elvis?
Bearing this in mind, the Liverpool of today remains a melting pot of musical culture. It’s a city that attracts musicians and their talents from around the world. Our musicians are innovative, they think outside of the music box as evidenced by electronic artists such as Steeling Sheep, Forest Swords and DJ/producers like Yousef and CamelPhat.
Ever since I saw local bands like Echo and the Bunnymen, Big In Japan, and Wah! Heat as a young lad I’ve loved Liverpool music with a passion. It isn’t that hard because there’s always great new music coming out of the city. Courting have been getting loads of attention lately with their brilliant new single David Byrne’s Badside, but there’s been loads of other great music recently from the artists like Jetta, She Drew The Gun, Red Rum Club and The Mysterines,to name just a few. The always inventive Luna (once of LIMF Academy) has produced a brilliant piece of work called Lucent as part of Culture Liverpool’s Rise programme which is well worth a listen too. And while you are there have a listen to the fabulous Famalicao Tapes featuring four LIMF Academy artists past and present, Tee, Remee, Michael Aldag, and New Junior. Due to our reputation as a music city we were invited recently to send musicians from LIMF Academy to Famalicao to spend a week writing and performing while enjoying Portugese culture and sunshine for a week. The musicians collaborated and the wonderful Famalicao tapes are the result.
This World Music Day, bringing myself back to the start of this, I want you to remember Liverpool — we are a city with music at our core, our hearts beat to a different drum, a unique and powerful city that imports talent and influence and embraces it to export music that a world adores, listens to and remembers. Whether you are a performer, artist or fan — music is available to you.
It has been difficult for everyone during lockdown but music has helped me through this period and it is something we can all enjoy in the comfort of our own homes. Play your favourite music, sing along or dance if you want. You are in your own home so you can do what you want and it will make you feel better.
Tune into a free of charge playlist (like this put together by our music curator, Yaw Owusu), crank up your favourite song and dance like no one is watching or put your headphones in, close your eyes and sing, no matter how out of tune you may be! So, mr DJ, put a record on….and when the music starts, I never want to stop…”
Kevin McManus, Head of UNESCO City of Music, Culture Liverpool