The Best of Liverpool 2009

 December 31, 2009         3 Comments

Writing a culture blog, you’d think I’d be overflowing with ideas on cultural stuff that happened in Liverpool during 2009.

The fact is, though, due to diminishing time and a lot less potential choices – compared to the Capital of Culture year – I’ve struggled to find that many things to weigh up this year.

Work, cricket and an expansion of my blog commitments elsewhere mean that I’ve found it tough to devote as much time to wandering around galleries and the like over the last twelve months.

But quite a few of the people I asked to help me to compile the best of 2009 in Liverpool have also found it tough.

Is it evidence of a cultural hangover in Liverpool? Perhaps, but realistically it’s probably that there have been less headline events.

If I cast my mind back I can bring to mind an excellent late season run at the Everyman and Playhouse; Stephen Shakeshaft and Franceso Mellina at the Conservation Centre, Bridget Riley at the Walker; Abandon Normal Devices at FACT; The Beat Goes On at World Museum; a great series of Liverpool University talks at the Phil; the Magical Mystery Tour at the Maritime Museum; White Feather at the Beatles Story; Liverpool Beer Festival; and the annual treat of the Picket’s Christmas quiz. And my gratitude to the Picturehouse for showing The Thing, amongst plenty other leftfield fare.

Elsewhere the Leeds-Liverpool canal opened; Michael Shields finally won freedom; people power on Hope Street defeated Tesco; Liverpool’s food and drink festival was a victim of its own success; there was cricket in the park during the Ashes, while LCC hosted a sell-out 20/20 featuring Freddie Flintoff; Macca and Gordon Brown paid visits to the Pool; Liverpool Tweetups; and Liverpool signed off as Capital of Culture with the Transition Light Night.

Stuff that I meant to go to but didn’t make include a couple of apparently-amazing gigs by the Wild Swans; several nights at the Kazimier people raved about; I kicked myself for a week over missing Colour Chart at the Tate; and no doubt half a dozen other gigs I intended to see.

Stuff I’m still uncertain about includes Liverpool One; the Echo Arena; the raft of new buildings at the waterfront; the same cast of dodgy political characters continually wrangling in city hall; and the city’s continued post-Capital direction.

Still, there’s no denying that there’s plenty of stuff still going on in the city.

My own favourite was the Long Night of the AND Festival – one of those great, infrequent, nights where Liverpool is transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing cultural space and unlikely treats can be found around every corner.

I’ve asked a group of people well placed in media, music, arts and other general culture vultures to venture their high- and lowlights of Liverpool in 2009, plus a typically-Scouse detour on the 80A bus.

So, browse the assorted thoughts below, and Claire’s fantastic doodle, and let me know your own thoughts.


In Japan there is a chain of fast-food outlets whose symbol is a terrifying cartoon granddad who looks like Buster Merryfield on Buckfast. It’s called ‘Beard Papa’ and it sells – what else? – cream puffs.

Until Beard Papa has muscled Greggs off our high streets and sickly-sweet pastry balls injected with tepid fake cream replaces chip butties as workmen’s lunchtime snack of choice, the ‘Japanification’ of Britain will be incomplete.

But our embrace of Japan grows every year. In 2009 I discovered something unimaginable even three years ago – perfect, authentic sushi served in Liverpool.

Etsu, located at Beetham Plaza, has actually been going since late 2007 and won several local ‘restaurant of the year’ awards in 2008, but it remains under the radars of most who live in Liverpool.

Run by David Abe, a friendly, half-Japanese, half-Scouse local businessman, it employs genuine Japanese sushi chefs who were apprenticed in Japan – unlike the vast majority of places where sushi is served in the UK. It shows.

The sashimi (raw fish), nigiri (raw fish and rice) and maki (raw fish, rice and seaweed) is super-fresh, exquisitely prepared and succulent. Meals are enhanced by the genuine Japanese extras on the menu, the pickles, the edamame (soybeans in their pods), the miso (clear soup) and gyoza (dumplings). To drink, as well as beers and wines, there is a choice selection of sakes.

I’ve been to Japan on several occasions and never eaten sushi like this outside the country. As well as the food, Etsu gets the ambience exactly right.

Sushi is often served as a either delicate, high-end food, or a canteen-style snack in Britain whereas in Japan, sushi places are very much neighbourhood restaurants, humble, friendly, informal, but proud of their high-standard cuisine.

It’s like this at Etsu, which is run as scrupulously as a Michelin-starred eaterie and yet is as relaxed as Bill Murray in Lost in Translation. I doubt you’d get better Japanese food anywhere in Britain.

Jonathan Northcroft

Dreaming of Liverpool

Click here for a larger version

Claire Pitt
A Little Piece of Me

OMD, Sound City and Alma de Cuba

While OMD at the Phil were astoundingly good, I secretly wished I could have heard the mighty RLPO more. Despite its continued favour with orchestras, they’ve yet to fashion an oboe engineered to be heard above the sound of 2,000 geography teachers clapping more-or-less in time to Enola Gay. Still, there’s always the DVD to fill in the bits I missed.

Louder and even more thrilling was Liverpool Sound City – and, for me, the standout night was Heartbreak and Metronomy at Alma De Cuba.

Liverpool’s at its best when everyone’s invited to the party, and, during Sound City, it was like Liverpool’s great music-loving massive (those not sated by Argentinian Beatles tribute acts in August, anyhow) were darting around, catching impromptu performances by Brooklyn starlets here and this summer’s festival must-sees there. Actually, that’s exactly what it was.

Alma’s a great venue, but there’s still a whiff of the cassock about it. Not this night.

The pulpit was possessed – and we were all pogo-ing along, throwing our cares, and our expensive chill-filtered vodkas, to the winds – like that episode of Songs of Praise where the continuity announcer warns ‘this programme contains strong language and violence from the outset’.

As Cliff said, ‘Why should the Devil have all the good music?’.

David Lloyd

Go Penguins

I’ll put in a quick word for what I hated about 2009: Go Bloody Penguins.

Open letter to Wild In Art, the company behind the penguins and 2008’s Superlambananas: Please don’t do another one in 2010.

If this sort of project becomes a tradition Liverpool is going to wind up looking like a crap Noah’s Ark.

To everyone else I say this: Avoid them like the plague. Unless you’re driving a fire-shooting Bradley tank.

Nick Holloway

Irish ups and downs

So after a brilliant year in 2008 – one that started with the most hope and optimism I think I have ever had along with pride in the city – I thought I should carry some of that over to 09 and try to get to as many gigs and shows as possible.

It kind of worked with one significant high and one very memorable low.

Let’s start with the low – Lord of the Dance at the Empire Theatre. Dear Lord, I have never been more embarrassed of the Irish culture in my life – or rather the bastardisation of it.

Neon costumes, fastened with velcro and stripped off on stage to reveal what can only be described as bikini-clad Irish dancers. Horrendous.

The music, the effects – everything bloody awful. What annoyed me more was that some people thought it was good – if not great.

Thankfully I had the experience of dancing in the aisles to Sharon Shannon at the Philharmonic Hall.

The most beautiful sound: energetic, full of passion and the gig made me smile and remember seeing her as a much younger girl with my dad.

2009 – I made some of my best memories and looked back on many more.

Mairead Smyth

Liverpool’s hangover

Liverpool, 2009. What a bastard of a hangover, eh? Granted, I was away for half of it, but what I did see just seemed like a tidal wave of diarrhea.

Aye, this last year was the year that Liverpool ate itself. All that potential that seemed to be brewing under throughout the tail end of the 90s and Liverpool spunked its load on a Jetsons-style shopping centre, an arena that’s not as big as Manchester’s and a year that proved we can put on a party, but are not so good at the come-down.

The City Centre became more aggressive; previously cool bars were either uprooted or became drowned in scallydom; even the Burritos didn’t taste quite as good.

Musically, the only bands that were ever mentioned in the local media seemed to be well into their middle age. Mostly talented, granted, but very provincial.

I used to guffaw on my trips home, to find the Sheffield Star still talking about Boy on a Dolphin or Babybird, now the Echo is the same.

So come ‘ed Liverpool, summon some of that much vaunted Scouse Spirit and do something interesting in 2010; or carry on drowning in a pool of yer own sick.

Simon Ryder

Blue Heaven

My overriding memory of 2009 has got to be beating Manchester United in the FA Cup semi-final on penalties at Wembley.

OK, we didn’t go on to win the cup in the end. But beating Man U at Wembley was still a special experience. To win on penalties in the manner we did was something else.

My sister’s boyfriend, a Man U fan, was sat next to me in the Everton end.

His face was such a picture when Phil Jagielka netted the last penalty and the Blue end erupted.

While football may not count as culture in many peoples’ book, the FA Cup semi-final is the highlight of my 2009.

David Bartlett
Dale Street Blues

Wood Bus

Late in the year there was an incident which reminded me that if nothing else, Liverpool still has the capacity to be inexplicable. 

It was on a cold evening at the end of November, during rush hour, when I was braving the fourth ring of hell that is our local bus service.

After fighting to the back of an 80A to a seat that everyone else was ignoring, I set about trying to read my newspaper which, though Berliner-sized these days, still isn’t conducive to being dealt with in a crowded area.

After a few stops the bus began to thin out a bit, and as I looked up from the theatre reviews, I noticed that a double seat had become empty across the aisle from me.  As I was about to move over to give myself some more room, I noticed that the seat was already occupied.  By a Yule log.

I say it was a Yule log.  It was certainly large and squat and resembled the stump that the log lady in Twin Peaks used to carry round.  Its yuleness was probably just an attribution for the time of year. 

In June it probably would have simply been a log.  But it was the end of November, the season of good(ish) will beckoned and so for the purposes of this anecdote let’s call it a Yule log. Yule for short. I took a picture. 

As you can see the wooden enigma was minding its own business, but most significantly didn’t look like it would take kindly to having my arse sitting on top of it, probably about as impressed as my arse would be finding itself trying to get comfy on that bark. 

I could not help but stare, like this was some spectral herald for the upcoming festivities and a reminder that I needed to buy some more presents.

The intellectual part of my brain which I often let out to visit on occasions such as this assumed that it was owned by one of the passengers and so since I was already sitting, my seat already warm, I thought no more of it and returned to enviously lapping up the offerings in the west end that I was missing.

Presently, someone, a student probably, with a huge backpack, who had previously been standing approached. He asked the woman sitting diagonally opposite if they owned the log. They denied all knowledge. He attracted the attention of the teenager directly opposite who was listening to Kings
of Leon. She shrugged.

Undeterred he worked his way through all of the people in the vicinity. Including me. No, we each said in turn, we didn’t know anything about it. Do we look like we’d know anything about it? 

The student, having ascertained that no one would admit to ownership of the log, simply walked away.  He didn’t put it on the floor.  He didn’t pick it up and sit down. He stepped back down the aisle and continued to stand.

Clearly the log will have had previous ownership and that owner, presumably on their way to a Twin Peaks meet-up, may have left the bus and then realised their mistake turned balefully as the bus sped off into the distance. 

Could they have phoned the bus company’s lost property when they returned home? “I left a Yule log on the bus. A log. Well, it is November.”

I passed by Yule on my way off the bus at my destination.  I imagined, given that no one would take responsibility for it, because it was small enough not be noticed by the driver, Yule continued his journey indefinitely and unconcerned about its fellow passengers, arrogantly taking up two seats. 

He could still be out there now, somewhere, going from the centre to Speke, round and round and round again.

Stuart Ian Burns
Feeling Listless

Glenn Brown

Know from the start I’m a fraud. We’re a few days shy of 2010 and I am eyes-to-ceiling trying to recall the hundreds of cultural events I’ve attended in Liverpool so I can select this year’s favourite.

Only there aren’t hundreds to pick from. Not even half that number. We might even be down to double figures – but only just, and that includes the Nouvelle Vague gig, which I know was brilliant but remains hazy, let’s say. My god, what have I been doing? And it’s not culture’s fault either; it’s mine!

The shame has prompted a new year’s resolution, that’s for sure. Even so, I don’t want this to detract from the considerable talents of my choice because the Glenn Brown exhibition at the Tate, which rocked up in February, really packed some punches.

I hadn’t seen this English painter’s work before so I had few expectations. I knew he was in the business of reproducing other artists’ work – such as Rembrandt, Dali and Auerbach – in his own style to develop them, or reduce them, as some might argue, into a new work. And I also knew his art was littered with pop culture references.

I was immediately struck by the macabre sense of playfulness in his art. He’s confrontational, dark and provocative and also funny. As a result, I found myself curious and uncomfortable. In the next moment laughing and, in the next moment, repulsed and confused!

I adore Frank Auerbach, so I was particularly in awe of Brown’s ability to replicate the thick, gloopy brushstrokes – the ones that look edible – that are synonymous with Auerbach and others like him.

And I’m glad I enjoyed Brown’s borrowing skills; it could have gone the other way. No-one likes a poor impersonator, do they?

Even Brown’s picture titles smack of pop culture satire: ‘The Great Masturbator (2006)’ as opposed to Salvador Dali’s onanist in 1929, and ‘Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London, I’ll show you something to make you change your mind (1992)’ give you a taste of his delicious naughtiness.

It was a strange exhibition, evoking a range of emotions, which is a real coup in my book.

I often felt as though I was looking at something that was violating beauty, like the portraits of eyeless people, which was unsettling – but a little crunch of humour in other rooms lightened the discomfort.

The exhibition felt important too. I admired Brown’s shock tactics, his thoughtfulness and, at times, ingenuity and I wanted to know more about him; the artist.

Like leaving the cinema dying to talk about your best bits, I left full of awe, chattering on about nothing in particular, I’m sure – but he’d hooked me in.

I felt like I’d found someone new I’d always remember and look out for, and I love it when that happens.

Tori H-D
Twiverpool on Twitter

Daniel Johnston

I was introduced to Daniel Johnston a few years ago, in my days of working in a record store. I kinda liked him, but was probably a bit more into harder / metally stuff at the time and kinda left him be. An intriguing character, with a lot of history relating to manic depression which is reflected in his songs.

I was pretty excited about seeing him despite the 1am stage time he had. Kurt Cobain was quoted as revealing that Daniel was his favourite songwriter too. Anyway, he came on stage and did nothing but impress, quiet, quaint and reserved initially leading into some pretty rocking stuff with Liverpool band Hot Club de Paris as his backing.

I think people can I either like or loathe Daniel, he’s messy, loose, his voice quivers but for me his lyrics and songs are so touching and full of emotion, you don’t even notice technicalities. Whether it be about lost loves / loneliness or comic book heroes, he pulls it off with passion.

A brilliant end to a mammoth night of trekking between gigs for Liverpool Music Week.

Matt Thomas

A city at ease with itself

There was a danger that 2009 in Liverpool would feel a bit like after the Lord Mayor’s show, what with Capital of Culture ending and all that.

Thankfully we don’t have an elected Mayor and won’t for as long as the drones in the town hall have anything to say about it, so there was no sense of disappointment after his carriage had passed us by, because it didn’t exist in the first place, or something. I’m not really sure where I was going with the mayor thing, but suffice to say, 2009 was great.

To me, 2008 was like electric shock therapy which made the city and the world wake up to what we have on our own doorstep.

Now the Culture hoopla is over, in 2009 we have been left to enjoy ourselves around a city that we now recognise as pretty great – be that a pub crawl at the top end (I’d recommend the Phil, with eats at the Everyman Bistro), enjoying the waterfront or living it up in Mathew Street.

Liverpool is at ease with itself, wearing a smoking jacket, cravat and slippers as it warms its hands of the embers of what was once a beautiful imaginary mayor’s coach. And long may that continue.

Neil Macdonald


  1. What a surprise, Nick Holloway hates something. He’s far too frigging intellectual for Liverpool anyway so why doesn’t he just fook off to Hoxton or summat?

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