Artists, founders and supporters take to Liverpool’s streets for one last hurrah to mark the closure of Mello Mello, Getintothis’ Peter Guy reflects on a fitting send off.
‘This is the end of an era, but the start of a new dawn,’ reflected Laura Spark of Harlequin Dynamite Marching Band from the lip of the Kazimier‘s stage.
She did so with a beaming, wide-eyed grin – but with more than a hint of sadness – and as the venue erupted, it was hard not to feel that the end of that era was a pivotal one for Liverpool’s arts scene – and with it a crucial portion of the inner city cultural heartbeat. As has been mentioned several times since the sudden closure of Mello Mello two weeks ago, it’s the people – not the venue – that creates the magic. Yet it’s an inescapable fact that there’s a dwindling number of spaces currently in the heart of Liverpool that allow these very people to create that form of magic.
Leaf on Bold Street, The Brink, Studio 2 and The Attic on Parr Street, The Bluecoat, The Zanzibar on Seel Street, Sound Food & Drink on Duke Street and Mello’s mothership The Kaz in Wolstenholme Square, all provide key spaces to allow artistic expression to unfold. But none provide the sanctuary of Mello.
Mello, perhaps to it’s detriment, was home for the restless souls to merely exist, turn up and hang out. For hours. But it was these hours of meeting, thinking and talking, that some of the region’s most invigorating plans were hatched. Not in an office. Not at a gig. Not in a rehearsal room. Not in a restaurant. Mello was a focal point for making things happen.
The writing was on the wall that Mello’s days were numbered some months ago. Yet, it was the swift, and some say brutal, unexpectedness of the closure that’s prevented staff, musicians, artists and promoters for making those final things happen which has resonated throughout the city. The decision, whoever made it (and whether the politics were fair or unjust) left an undeniable mix of disbelief, resentment, animosity and most of all, loss.
And so it was left to a hastily arranged send off on Saturday night to conclude this chapter in Mello Mello’s evolution from Cream’s halcyon days crash-mat to bedraggled artistic hub. In keeping with the ‘jazz cafe’ moniker, musicians, performers, staff and supporters assembled in the Arthouse Square adjacent to FACT to lead a New Orleans style procession. Like the opening scene from Live & Let Die, dressed in black, holding umbrellas, Laura Powers, Jo Shelbourne and Rob Longston led an army of 75 or more percussionists, brass trumpeters, hooters and howlers through Liverpool’s Saturday night jungle.
The air hang heavy with a mixture of sadness and light-hearted comic-tragedy; people exchanged knowing smiles tinged with sorrow. But the band played on – Just A Closer Walk With Thee kick-started the march before Nearer, My God, to Thee pumped into Seel Street with throngs of WTF revellers joining in; all confused glee at this spontaneous hoohah. The spirit of Mello, and Martin Smith‘s parp, mixing with a crowd who will barely have known Mello Mello even existed. The irony.
When The Saints Go Marching In blasted a final triumphant death roe as the stream of feet stopped briefly outside Mello before umbrellas, hats, arms and voices were lifted and all broke out into a skip until resting for a final softer close outside the Kazimier’s doors. Then there was a small moment of silence.
Inside, was anything but. The soul music poured forth with abandon as the Mello Mello Jazz Collective reeled off some rubbery R&B vibes before DJs slapped out contemporary classics. In a heartwarming, and quintessentially Mello daft-as-a-brush touch the Legion of Doom comedy duo of Trev Fleming and Rob Bond led 35 minutes of improv storytelling which took in feminism, medieval time-travel, buckaroo and various audience members competing for the prize of being chief crocodile while being poked liberally. Until they snapped…
Back in the realm of semi-sanity, Mello Mello’s in-house sound tech, staffer and musician Simon Knighton ushered in a now heaving venue with a cute mix of covers (Springsteen‘s Atlantic City a particular crowd favourite), standards and self-penned tracks. One a fret-weaving ragged wonder entitled What You All Thinking of his Kazimier Records‘ debut, Leave My Bones. Another a delicate toy-whistle-accompanied hushed folk treasure. Almost embarrassed to the point of blushing Knighton left the stage to rapturous applause.
With the festivities in full flow, it was left to the aforementioned Harlequin Dynamo‘s to provide a colossal evening centre-piece. Lucy Mercer swapped drum for mega-phone as a slab of exploded brass poured forth. As Nick Branton‘s sax duelled with Ria Fell‘s bassoon, stage far right, Joel Murray alternately raised a stick to the gods before leathering his kit with nail-gun thunder. Glorious.
It was that kind of night, passions ran high and the spirit was alive. For Mello Mello and those that passed through there, it will go on.
* An additional Mello statement, following Saturday night read: “Well, we certainly gave the good ship Mello a proper send-off last night, with a loud and proud funeral procession followed by a big ol’ party at the The Kazimier!
“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to everybody who was a part of this fantastic event and to all of our supporters near and far, who attended in person or in spirit. It was truly heartwarming, heartbreaking, raucous, hilarious, and filled with feelings of incredible passion and hope for the future of the arts community of Liverpool.
“Despite our overwhelming sadness at leaving you, it is time for us to sign off, take a break and contemplate the new dawn that is upon us. It’s been incredible. And in the wise words of one of our founding members, ‘Tonight we’re saying goodbye to 40-42 Slater Street, but we’re not saying goodbye to MelloMello’.
“Liverpool, we love you. Thanks for everything. x”
Photos by Getintothis’ Martin Saleh: