The Best of Liverpool 2008

 January 3, 2009         3 Comments

La Machine

I’ve been pondering the likely benefits and ramifications of Liverpool’s experience of being Capital of Culture for 2008 and the passing of that honour in 2009.

At some point in the future I’ll probably contemplate a much more sober and boring article on the subject, but for now I’m looking back at some of the best bits of Liverpool’s CoC year.

The potential list is probably endless and I suspect most people failed to attend as many events, plays, exhibitions and general happenings as they would have liked. Certainly I did but when you juggle a full-time job, freelance work, blogs, a darts league and a full cricket season there’s not a huge amount of time left. During one rainy day I managed to visit a couple of dozen Superlambananas and enjoyed them, rather too much as it goes.

Robin surfs a Superlambanana

But I didn’t get to experience as much as I would have liked, so as a result I asked a few friends and colleagues to give me theirs. If your own personal favourite isn’t on there please do let me know what your choice is below.

As for my favourite, it’s fairly obvious and hardly original, but it’s La Machine and that weekend of mayhem around the city, simply for the way it affected people of all ages and backgrounds was my favourite.

In all honesty I’d’ve liked to have chosen something bafflingly obscure or wilfully highbrow like the Corbusier exhibition just to show off, but in the end the Big Mechanical Spider won hands down.

King Lear

I loved King Lear at the Everyman theatre. Not so much for the way they handled the play – the Thatcher’s Britain setting, riot gear, and Goneril toting a rifle while pushing a pram were short of the mark to my mind.

But it was great to be reminded how many fantastic insults there are in the play, and to hear them delivered with such relish by Pete Postlethwaite and the supporting cast.

I will be insulting my enemies in 2009 with ‘You base football player’, ‘beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave’ and ‘You whoreson cullionly barber-monger’ – to name but a few.

Nick Holloway, Mercy

Mello Mello

The best thing I’ve seen in Liverpool is the emergence of the Mello Mello venue on Slater Street. It seems to be run by some kind of arts collective. Being a member of the blank generation I initially thought there might be just a bit of hippy bollocks going on there, especially after the first time I went there, there were tree crusties knitting on the step!

But they have really got their act together with a lot of different arts stuff on not just music. It’s a really friendly vibe and not since I went to Eric’s have I been somewhere, where you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen next. At the last gig I went there, about 1am when everything was winding down, a bloke comes walking through playing the bagpipes.

Then a few percussionists got up and the next thing you know there’s a full scale ‘bag pipe rave’ going on. I turned to Chris the bass player from Blue Demon who was sat next to me and we both agreed it was the maddest thing we’d ever seen. I guess that makes me a hippy now. Peace & Love.

Pete Bentham, The Dinner Ladies

Long Night of the Biennial

My favourite event of the past year was the Long Night of the Biennial. The Biennial is a world renowned event, but quite asides from the quality of the works and the galleries involved, the Long Night fostered a real sense of excitement amongst Liverpool galleries and audiences alike.

Walking around the city, the number of pink glowsticks hanging around peoples’ necks that had been handed out for the event showed just how many people had turned out for it and was testament to how well Liverpool arts organisations work together and how passionate the city really is about its culture.

Stu Robarts, FACT


In the run up to 2008 I wondered whether the city would ever be able to match the excitement of the day, back in 2003, when Liverpool was awarded the title. People carried radios with them on the train into work to hear the result and hundreds of people spontaneously turned up at Lime Street Station to greet Tessa Jowell and culture judge Sir Jeremy Isaacs and personally thank them for choosing Liverpool.

The one event that, I feel, has harnessed people’s excitement in the same way was Go! Superlambananas. It may not have the longevity or international appeal of the Klimt exhibition or La Machine, but it got people interacting with their city and its culture.

They felt that the superlambs belonged to them in a way that they might not feel about public works of art, even though, in a way, they own those too. It showed how the people of Liverpool are capable of great enthusiasm and, excuse the corporate jargon, of “taking ownership” and we embrace this in the city’s future.

Laura Davis, Columnist, Liverpool Daily Post


The best thing in Liverpool this year and, for me, the most memorable, wasn’t an event – it was an atmosphere. There was a palpable buzz about the city; it felt like the Place to Be – a destination.

On any given weekend there was something to do (usually for free) whether it was following the Go Superlambananas! map, watching the Brouhaha or La Princess, or exploring the Ark Royal.

To be in Liverpool in 2008 was to experience an excitement and an optimism in the air which, ultimately, came from people enjoying and being a part of Culture Year. That’s what makes it unforgettable for me.

Alison Gow, Editor

Joseph Wright and Jamie Carragher

At the start of 2008 an exhibition was running at the Walker with a stupefyingly un-snappy title: ‘Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool’.  Who says gallery directors aren’t down with the txt msg generation? The names of the works on show were equally unpromising. ‘An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump’ vied for attention on the catalogue list with ‘A Philosopher Giving a Lecture on the Orrery.’ 

But the linguistic trials seemed worth it once you found yourself standing in front of Wright’s canvasses, gaping at paintings that were dark-yet-luminous, simple-yet-layered, both of the establishment and at the same time screaming with seditious social commentary. This was extraordinary art. 

I’d heard of Wright but knew almost nothing about him before sloping into the Walker, with an hour to kill between shopping and the pub, on a February day.  He was one of Britain’s leading paintings of the mid-to-late 18th century and worked in Liverpool for three years from 1768 to 1771, arriving in the city disillusioned and out-of-pocket after failing to sell ‘An Experiment on a Bird’.

As a reaction, he had plainly decided to ‘go commercial’. Liverpool was at the peak of its slave-trade prosperity and Wright offered himself as a portrait painter to the city’s slavers, merchants and politicians, churning out a picture every two weeks. 

Many of those whose names are preserved in Liverpool’s streets and shopping areas, such as Sarah Clayton, were depicted, and it was amazing to look at their faces: Wright didn’t do flattery when he painted a subject, there was a directness and honesty not usual with old portraits.

But what he painted away from the day job were the works which truly stunned. Here was a gothic, mad-scientist scene of an alchemist discovering phosphorus. Another featured a blacksmith working an iron whose white heat almost seemed to radiate from the canvas.

There was an odd picture of two boys blowing up a pigs bladder and a remarkable one: two middle-class, apple cheeked girls playing by a fountain with a beautiful black child, the daughter of a slave. This was 1770. It was a startling reminder of how long Liverpool has been a multi-cultural place – and that the city did not just facilitate the slave trade, slavery existed in the city itself.   

Wright seemed nothing short of a English regional Rembrandt. Jamie Carragher is a provincial Pele. No scouser could be scouse-er and, oddly, outsiders who otherwise malign Liverpool love Carragher for it.

The footballer’s autobiography, ‘Carra’, has not only been topping the local book charts but the national ones, selling heavily from Penzance to London to Newcastle. Fans of rival clubs may hate Liverpool but see a genuineness in Carragher they wish from their own local heroes.

Going to Jamie’s book launch at his Sports Cafe in Stanley street was my other 2008 highlight. Almost no press was invited (there were more of Carragher’s large and colourful extended family present than media types); instead of champagne glasses people clinked bottles of Peroni and alcopops; the one attempt at formal entertainment, a performance of Ring of Fire by the bloke from Starsailor, was drowned out by the babble of Bootle voices swapping footie chat.

The ‘celebs’ present, Steven Gerrard and Albert Riera, loitered in the corner not wishing any attention upon themselves. Carra blushed every time someone asked him to sign his book, or told him it was a brilliant read and afterwards confessed he “only did the launch because the publishers asked” and didn’t “want any fuss or for people to think I’m trying to flog copies”. Hence the lack of media. Carra: down to earth to the last.

Joseph Wright and Jamie Carragher were the best things about Liverpool this year and coincided rather than were part of the Capital of Culture event. Cultural Liverpool, as represented by the world-class Walker, will prosper long after 2008 and so will Liverpool culture because of world-class locals like Carragher.  


Jonathan Northcroft, Journalist

Bar Burrito

I guess on a personal level, the best thing to happen in Liverpool this year was the completion of Liverpool One. Not for all the jobs it created, rejuvenating the city centre, sticking a jaguar on a roof in chevasse park yak yak yak…but because Bar Burrito opened.

The little wraps of fiery heaven and hell that I grew up on in Mexico City can now be purchased on my doorstep! Anyone who has not tried one of these little bastards has to immediately, and with the extra hot salsa too…the hint of lime in that little number is fantastic. Dead hot too.

Oh and if it’s of an afternoon betweeen 3-7pm, you can then saunter round to Las Iguanas and enjoy Caipirinhas, the greatest drink known to man, 2 for 1! Why not wear a white suit and pretend you’re in a cramped version of Scarface? (though maybe wear a napkin whilst eating the burrito, as you’re bound to spill some).

Simon Ryder, Tour Manager


  1. Ooh no mention of the Shipping Lines literary festival? That was pretty good. And although it’s not exactly culture, Liverpool One opening has been pretty ace- and I don’t just mean the apple store!
    I hope they don’t rest on their laurels, and more happens this year. Even if it’s nothing as big as la machine.

  2. Liverpool One is culture in that it is a load of buildings where people congregate, thereby creating cultures of their own.

    Does somewhere have to be arts-council funded to be ‘Cultural’?

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