A difficult and sometimes damaging year draws to a close, Getintothis’ Peter Guy offers his annual reflection and wonders how Liverpool can rebuild.
Let’s cut to the chase: 2018 has been at best difficult, at worst damaging, for Liverpool music and the wider cultural landscape.
You may have watched glossy highlights packages or read flowery colour pieces on other platforms giving the impression of an all-singing, all -dancing year on Merseyside but that it is emphatically incorrect.
Art and artists in Liverpool are struggling. The slide has been steady for a significant amount of time. To paint a different picture is foolish and is now giving rise to resentment. It shows contempt to those striving against the odds but more importantly gives the impression that those who can make a difference are able to either bury their head in the sand or carry on regardless. Change is necessary.
In the 12 years that Getintothis has been reporting there simply hasn’t been a year in which Liverpool’s creative sector has struggled so much. Worryingly with the onset of Brexit and further cuts – 2019 poses even greater challenges.
Here’s a few things these distorted highlights package failed to point out in their end of year wrap ups:
- There was no Liverpool Music Week.
- There was no Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia.
- There was no Threshold Festival.
- There was no FestEvol.
- Numerous independent venues closed including key fixtures Magnet and Buyers Club.
- Key practice rooms closed on Merseyside including the iconic Crash Rehearsal rooms.
- Constellations revealed it is to close – read our tribute to their four years in the Baltic.
- Positive Vibrations Festival announced a year hiatus.
- There was no GIT Award.
- Knife crime rose 18% impacting Liverpool’s music venues and bars more than ever – read our feature.
- Independent promoters booked fewer gigs as attendance fell.
- Liverpool lost out in a bid to be the new home of Channel 4.
- The region is not seen as an industry hub.
- Homegrown talent leaves for London.
- Overall the music scene is fragmented with no leading sector voice.
- A lack of diversity in programming.
- Significant commercial pressures on venues – read our comment on why Liverpool needs visible spaces.
These are obvious, clear issues amid a worrying and ever-growing trend which need to be addressed.
Central to the problem is a Tory Government who has slashed arts funding filtering down to help local government. And while progressive new laws are being introduced – like the Agent for Change Bill – it is time those closer to home made significant strides to engage with their community and strengthen those who often make a difference: promoters, venue owners, makers, artists, writers, designers and those embedded in the day to day industry mechanics all need urgent assistance. But most of all – the musicians need help.
The formation of the newly-appointed Music Board is a necessary step. While the appointment of the new Head of UNESCO City of Music, Kevin McManus gives reason for positivity – but there is much work to do. Not least given, McManus’ role is operational on a one-year basis to begin with.
Yet away from the practicalities – the saddest loss for Liverpool’s music community was undoubtedly the passing of The Zanzibar‘s Tony Butler.
Tony’s loss cannot be understated. A champion of the grassroots live music scene, his impact on Liverpool music is near unparalleled – his commitment to new music and giving a platform to developing artists was a given – a one-man island operating on his own terms. His loss on the music community will be immeasurable as fewer and fewer promoters and venues can take the risk on rising, grassroots talent. Read our reflection here – and The Tea Street Band‘s Nicholas Otaegui tribute here.
It is, however, testament to the artists and creative community in Liverpool that the city’s new music landscape overcomes such difficulty. The city still punches very much above it’s collective weight.
If anything, 2018 has been a year which has seen smaller collectives, entrepreneurial individuals and enterprises shining most brightly. As the bigger, more established teams took time to regroup a burgeoning DIY approach was often the most resourceful – an almost anarchic and punk way of getting the job done.
Two collectives typified this ethos – a venue and a group of individuals who organically melded into one, going on to shape the very best the city had to offer in 2018.
Sound on Duke Street and Eggy Records are made for each other. A ramshackle collective seemingly sprung from the pages of Viz, the Star Wars bar and the streets of Birkenhead, Eggy Records‘ is a maverick unit of musicians who make vital music with rock and roll central to it’s core – and what better place to house all that joie de vivre than in the best new dive bar basement in the heart of Liverpool city centre.
Founded by Wirral musician Sam Warren and working alongside his skipper Matthew Hogarth, Eggy Records has blossomed into something synonymous with superlative new music, maverick DIY spirit and all-out-fun.
Jo Mary may have been the chaotic flagship band but now they’ve ballooned into a crew including Wild Fruit Art Collective, Eyesore and the Jinx, Blurred Sun Band, Astles – and two of the finest young talents not just in the North West but the UK – Beija Flo and Bill Nickson. Together these primal new music forces have bonded into a tight-knit group playing almost weekly across the region and more often than not, culminating in several royal rumbles in the basement of Sound – a venue which trades on it’s imperfections by making everyone feel welcome.
And that’s the thing: Sound is exactly that. Under the management of Katie and Paul the venue caters for all music lovers – hosting an equal spread of extreme metal to indie pop, through to Pete Bentham‘s free rock and roll and hardcore punk. Better still are community events like the anti-Royal wedding party with proceeds going to foodbanks or fundraisers for Whitechapel Homeless Centre. Throw in boss pizzas, fine ale (and drown out Paul‘s football allegiance) and you have the something which is in desperately short supply in Liverpool: a thriving music community.
Elsewhere, it was a relatively strong year for new releases from Merseyside based artists – GIT Award One to Watch 2017 winner, Zuzu, signed a deal with Virgin amid much critical fanfare, XamVolo followed suit with Decca and Bill Ryder-Jones continued his ascent as one of the leading songwriters the UK has to offer.
Hugely promising debuts were released by The Fernweh and Vryll Society as Tea Street Band closed the year with their much-anticipated second album.
Chatting to Getintothis‘ new music editor, Lewis Ridley over a pint, he observed what a fine year on Merseyside he’d witnessed after his first full year on board with us. This speaks volumes for the new music, vibrancy of Liverpool’s musical character and the opportunities on offer rather than a wider contextual view and a comparison to the recent past. By many other city’s yardstick, Liverpool has had a great year – but not by our own high standards.
So as we enter 2019, we’re keen to finish with a collective wrap up of the very best of what Liverpool has had to offer this year – and hope for a brighter 12 months ahead. The challenges are there, but this is Liverpool – we will overcome.
Best 18 Gigs of 2018
Unlike previous end of year reviews, this time round we’re focusing entirely on Liverpool gigs.
So there’s no place for shoe-ins Fever Ray at Manchester’s magnificent Albert Hall and Manchester Apollo conquering LCD Soundsystem, David Byrne or Christine and the Queens who produced gigs worthy of gig of the year – any year. They were *that* good.
Here’s the very best from Merseyside during the last 12 months.
1. The Coral, She Drew The Gun, Cut Glass Kings: Mountford Hall, Liverpool (review)
2. !!! (aka Chk-Chk-Chk): Hangar 34, Liverpool (review)
3. Bill Ryder-Jones: Jacaranda Records Phase One, Liverpool (review)
4. Wolves in the Throne Room, Wode, Dawn Ray’d: Invisible Wind Factory, Liverpool (review)
5. Kylie Minogue, Sonic Yootha: Echo Arena, Liverpool (review)
6. Phosphorescent, BC Camplight, Wasuremono, Penelope Isles: Hangar 34, Liverpool (review)
7. Minami Deutsch: Buyers Club, Liverpool (review)
8. Here Lies Man: Shipping Forecast, Liverpool (review)
9. The Vryll Society, Peach Fuzz, Sunstack Jones, Lemonade Fix: O2 Academy, Liverpool (review)
10. Gnoomes, Mark Peters and SPQR – Deep Cuts at Buyers Club, Liverpool (review)
11. Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band, The Wood: Grand Central Hall, Liverpool (review)
12. Pussy Riot: Arts Club, Liverpool (review)
13. Iron Witch, Coltsblood, Groak: Sound Duke Street, Liverpool (review)
14. Tea Street Band, TRACKY, Beyond Average: District, Liverpool (review)
15. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Mésange: Shipping Forecast, Liverpool (review)
16. Half Man Half Biscuit: O2 Academy, Liverpool (review)
17. Juniore, Hannah and the Wick Effect, Niki Kand: Shipping Forecast, Liverpool (review)
18. DUDS, Yammerer: The Shipping Forecast, Liverpool (review)
Hero of 2018
The very reason we started the local hero part of this end of year wrap up is encapsulated by this year’s recipient. He lives and breathes new music – and is an ever present on the gig circuit almost every single night of the week. If Bristol has Big Jeffrey Johns, then Liverpool has Mannheim’s finest Wilfried Haag. It’s little exaggeration that if you were to go to a new music gig – or a gig of any note of that matter – it’s 99.9999% certain that Wilf will be there. And chances are he will have already been to a gig somewhere else beforehand.
In times when promoters can’t rely on regular custom, Wilf is an ever-present. Better still, he supports new music and is quick to lend any support he can to new bands or artists within the community. Having moved to Liverpool for the Merseybeat explosion, Wilf settled in Merseyside and his generosity, affable nature and ubiquitous presence at gigs around the city makes him great company to punters and artists alike. In essence: we should all be a bit more like Wilf.
After his continuous support and dedication to the live music community – we’re making Wilf our first lifetime member to our Deep Cuts gigs. Well in, Wilf. See you down the front.
2017 – Dave McTague
2016 – Bernie Connor
2015 – Robert Lewis
2014 – Christopher Tyler
2013 – Sam Wiehl
2012 – Tom Lynch
2011 – Joe Wills
2010 – Gary ‘Horse’ McGarvey
2009 – Mark McNulty
2008 – Andrew Ellis
Festivals of 2018
The aforementioned malaise of Liverpool’s live landscape was most sorely felt on the festival circuit. There was, however, one bright spark: Liverpool Sound City and it’s rebirth.
Having lost its way down the north docks they scaled down, moved to the Baltic and most importantly returned to their ethos of music discovery. The result was near revelatory. Elsewhere Africa Oye continued to be the family-inclusive festival which is guaranteed to be special – and free, while honourable mentions go to Bluedot, Liverpool Calling, LIMF, Creamfields, Skeleton Coast and Positive Vibrations are all deserved of mentions.
1. Liverpool Sound City, various venues (review and what we learnt from the Baltic Triangle).
2. Africa Oye, Sefton Park, Liverpool (review and photo gallery).
3. Liverpool Calling, various venues, Liverpool (review and top artists of the festival).
Albums of 2018
1. Christine and the Queens: Chris
In a world where every album release seemingly comes with a back story or contrived concept it’s refreshing to focus purely on the music.
We could focus on gender, sexuality or various other themes connected with Héloïse Letissier aka Christine and the Queens‘ second album – but to be quite frank, it doesn’t matter. The quality of the music and the way it is delivered overshadows all by virtue of being quite simply one of the best pop albums we’ve ever heard.
Sound over the top? Perhaps. But we’re pretty sure Chris is the kind of album we’ll be playing in ten years time. And ten years after that. It’s of a similar calibre to Hounds of Love, from 1979, Like A Prayer, and Back To Blackfrom 1999.
And like these albums it’s hugely concerned with sex, identity and delivered by a commanding lead singer.
Of course, Christine showed glimpses of this on her debut eponymous record Chaleur Humaine. Released in 2014 and subsequently re-released in 2016, the album blended minimal funk, steely rhythms, her native French dialogue and English twinned with at times flashes of superlative dance-floor filling, radio-smashing pop music.
Break out single Tilted being the best. Aligned to her incredible Michael Jackson styled dance choreography, here was a star who had it all. We were lucky to catch her in the Kazimier Garden for Sound City among just 40 stunned onlookers as she blitzed a 30 minute set amid the wood chipped floor on a mild May evening dressed in a brown suit laced with gold leaf performing like she was playing to a packed house in Madison Square Garden.
Push forward to 2018, and she’s shed ‘the Queens’ element and almost Camille-era Prince-like remoulded herself as Chris while upping the ante considerably in the music department. From the kick off Chris is a relentless conveyor belt of classics in waiting.
Comme Si opens with what sounds like a door unlocking and a radiating dazzle giving way to some kind of grand unveiling – it’s exactly what it is – a start to something magnificent; an unravelling of a magnetic body-crunching electro-pop. It’s a thrilling opening akin to Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough. ‘Focus on my voice’ she coos before emitting ‘uh-huhs’ and vocal rasps; a motif she uses repeatedly provocatively teasing throughout.
Similarly to her debut, Chris is an expert at minimalism yielding maximum results and that’s evident in lead single Girlfriend – as a robotic funk gyrates in tandem with naughty synths and a cool-as-fuck cameo by Dâm-Funk. The trick is repeated on a brace of tracks – Feel So Good and Goya Soda which are so ridiculously groove-laden you can’t help but body-pop in time with it’s chrome-like funk.
Yet, Chris is far from a one-trick pony. It’s very often in the slower, richer tracks that Letissier holds most power. 5 dollars is reminiscent of Madonna‘s Dear Jessie a twinkling lullaby with a faerytale vibe which rushes you off you feet with the ever-marching piano stamp and multi-tracked vocal.
Better still is break-up ballad Make Some Sense – again she strips everything back, with barely any instrumentation, a drum pad here, a synth there and a bristlingly tender vocal which is full of yearning and sadness. Best of all – and surely a single in waiting – is The Walker. A song this writer has played more than any other this year. A stark tear-jerker that’ll have you singing your heart out.
Much credit must also go to co-producer Cole M.G.N. (Beck, Anderson.Paak, Ariel Pink) for helping craft such a taut and tightly moulded pop classic which allows Chris to imbue with so much passionate outpouring not least on Doesn’t Matter which quietly builds into some mid-track crescendo as she sings of stinging nettles and hands on her thighs before exploding into some kind of orgasmic splurge of strident emotion.
Blending filth with tenderness, powerful masculinity with sensual femininity and deft imagery with magnificent music Chris is without doubt one of contemporary pop’s greatest talents – and Chris is her defining statement yet.
2. Domadora: Lacuna
3. John Hopkins: Singularity
4. Bill Ryder-Jones: Yawn
5. Fenne Lily: On Hold
6. Let’s Eat Grandma: I’m All Ears
7. Sobrenadar: y
8. Shame: Songs Of Praise
9. Robyn: Honey
10. Kamasi Washington: Heaven & Earth
Getintothis’ Top 100 Albums of 2017
Getintothis‘ Top 100 Albums of 2016
Getintothis‘ Top 100 Albums of 2015
Getintothis‘ Top 100 Albums of 2014
Getintothis‘ Top 100 Albums of 2013
Getintothis’ Top 100 Albums of 2012
Getintothis‘ Top 100 Albums of 2011
Getintothis Top 100 Albums of 2010
Getintothis Top 100 Albums of 2009
Getintothis Top 100 Albums of 2008
Getintothis Top 50 Albums of 2007
Worst Albums of 2018
1. Muse: Simulation Theory (obviously)
2. George Ezra: Staying at Tamara’s
3. Eric Clapton: Happy Xmas
4. Sting & Shaggy: 44/876
5. Miles Kane: Coup De Grace
Films of 2018
1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3. Mandy (review)
4. Lady Bird
5. A Prayer Before Dawn
6. Sicario: Day of the Soldado
8. A Quiet Place
9. The Death Of Stalin
For a more considered and extensive look at films in 2018, take a look at Getintothis staffer’s picks of the best films of 2018 here.
For Those We Lost
We lost several great music titans in 2018. Here’s a couple of our tributes to those who left an indelible mark on us with their gifts.
- Mark E. Smith – a reflection on pop culture’s most uncompromising icon by Rick Leach.
- Jóhann Jóhannsson – a reflection on the Icelandic composer’s brilliance by Peter Guy.
- Scott Hutchison – a tribute to the Frightened Rabbit singer by Howard Doupe.
- Pete Shelley – one of punk’s icons, a reflection on the Buzzcocks star by Banjo.
- Jalal Nuriddin – the Grandfather of Rap: a personal reflection by Malik Al Nasir.
Top 18 Getintothis posts of 2018
6. It’s the end of an era at Liverpool’s iconic Krazyhouse, Getintothis’ Peter Guy chats to promoter and man on the inside JJ Haggar as he recounts almost three decades of filthy rock and roll mayhem.
13. On the first anniversary of the Manchester Arena attack, Getintothis’ Cath Holland hears personal stories from music-loving Merseyside women about the first gigs they attended and why they mattered so much.
15. Remembering the sounds of East Coast rap flooding 1990s Liverpool, Getintothis’ Janaya Pickett reflects on whether The Notorious B.I.G.’s Juicy can be considered the real Scouse anthem of the decade.
17. With new album The Stars, The Oceans and the Moon released, Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch talks to Getintothis about reworking an illustrious back catalogue and being called Mac the Mouth.
Venues of 2018
As alluded to earlier, the venue situation in Liverpool is fragile at best. That said, with Hinterlands joining the party, a somewhat chaotic yet intriguing situation in the all new Baltic Triangle and Ten Streets plan all in the offing and Grand Central Hall back involved, there are shoots of positivity. We loved the few gigs hosted in the Invisible Wind Factory Substation and hope that will be utilised more in 2019 while the addition of Jacaranda Records Phase One is perhaps the most inspirational and ambitious new project in the city – expect much more from their team over the course of the next 12 months – they could well set the pace. There’s also a very special place in our hearts for the intimate Hobo Kiosk. We do love it in there.
1. Sound, Duke Street, Liverpool.
3. Hobo Kiosk Pub – read our reflection on Liverpool’s best new arts hub.
Right, that’s it – another year done. Our 11th and it just leaves me to extend a huge thank you to the voluntary contributors who spend so much of their time and effort making Getintothis what it is. Extra special thanks goes to the editing team of Banjo, Kevin Barrett, Cath Holland, Chris Flack, Peter Goodbody, Steve Hanlon, Paul Higham, Rick Leach, Lucy McLachlan, Lewis Ridley, Lauren Wise and Matthew Wood who helped us through this year.
Next year is a big one for us – on a personal level, I’ve left my job at the Liverpool ECHO towers after 16 years with Trinity Mirror and am about to (some would say foolishly!) attempt to make a go of Getintothis full-time. Scary stuff. If you’d like to keep us going – please keep sharing our posts and any donations in the tab below sincerely mean a lot – in these testing times, we very much count on all the support we can muster.
Happy new year.