LIVERPOOL AS A UNESCO CITY OF CULTURE
In 2017 I received an email from Alice Moser, the Coordinator of Hanover’s Culture Bureau, inviting me to play a festival in her city. The idea described to me was that an artist from each European UNESCO City Of Music (a status that Liverpool and Hanover share) would travel to the city, where they would stay for a week in a house with musicians from all over Europe. When I arrived, the situation I found was pretty special: a beautiful house in the suburbs of Hanover surrounded by long green fields, filled with art and with an out-of-tune piano in the corner. I had my own room in a sprawling house, which was my home for the week alongside musicians from Poznań, Rouen and Glasgow.
The aim of the project was for us musicians to collaborate over the seven-day period we were together, to play each other’s songs and to generally learn from each other. The city of Hanover kindly gave us access to the MusikZentrum, a multi-purpose music space in the city centre which houses the offices for those organising Hanover’s biggest music events, as well as containing rehearsal spaces, a venue and a recording studio. I worked alongside Roland Loy, a local vocal coach and musician, whose advice made sure that I left a better musician than when I arrived. Throughout the week we spent time chatting, jamming and sharing both music and stories, which was really enriching on a musical and a personal level. I spent a lot of time with The Sharkettes and Popping Hole from Rouen, who both learnt and covered my songs at the festival at the end of the week, as did Hanover’s own Emerson Prime; I reciprocated by covering Popping Hole’s track No Matter (It’s OK).
The whole trip culminated in a show at Hanover’s largest music festival – Fête de la Musique. Fête is a really special event, taking place across the whole of the city, with over 30 stages turning Hanover into a completely new place for 24 hours. Wherever you walk there is music, whether it be folk songs played from inside the one-square-metre-area of the Kröpcke Clock, or Portuguese metal from one of Hanover’s many international stages just down the road. There’s everything there, and it’s completely inclusive: free music, everywhere in the city centre on the same day every year. Fête de la Musique takes place across multiple cities worldwide, who all engage in public music performances and festival activity on the day of the summer solstice. It was founded in France in 1981 by Maurice Fleuret, who was working as the Director Of Music And Dance in the French culture ministry. His idea for Fête was to encourage local citizens to pick up instruments and enjoy music for the fun of it. One day where the city lives and breathes music. He described the idea at the time as “the music everywhere and the concert nowhere”. Now the festival is celebrated in over 120 countries. In Hanover, you wouldn’t want to miss it and, frankly, you couldn’t.
The way in which the city of Hanover uses its UNESCO City Of Music status is something I believe Liverpool could learn a lot from. The idea of creating significant cultural events is not something Liverpool is shy of: we have world-class, unique ideas passing through our city more than most of us appreciate. However, the way in which Hanover acts as a meeting point, a collaborative place for people from opposite ends of the world to meet, is amazing. By bringing people together and welcoming all types of musicians to their city, it creates special memories and special international relationships that otherwise wouldn’t exist. The key component in all of this is the city of Hanover’s hospitality, hard work and desire to make their city culturally and musically a broader place. This benefits everyone, from the residents of Hanover seeing a host of international talent on their doorstep for free, to the musicians who go away with insights and memories which are unprecedented.
After meeting French band Popping Hole in Hanover, I instantly struck up a friendship with them through a mutual love of The Beatles and Djibril Cissé. As soon as I landed back in Liverpool I was sent a message from the band inviting me to come to their city and play a joint headline show with them in October of this year. I was welcomed in Rouen with open arms, and suddenly through the trips I’d made to Hanover, instead of being the one-off European shows I had thought them to be, I was heading off to play a headline show in a city I’d never been to before! The show took place in Le 3 Pièces, a small basement venue in the centre of the city. I wasn’t expecting the reception I received: the gig was so well attended, and some people in the crowd were even singing the words of my song Grey Skies back to me, which wasn’t even out at the time! The gratitude shown towards me for making the trip is something I will always remember.
I have been lucky enough to travel to Hanover twice now, in the summer of 2017 and in June this year. The friendships and knowledge I’ve picked up on those trips have been invaluable and made me think about what it is to be a musician in a global music city. I’m planning now to put on a gig for Popping Hole in Liverpool in April, alongside a line-up of local Liverpool bands. Meeting in Hanover has not only created a really great friendship between us but the chance for us both to play in a new city, which three months ago seemed a million miles away.
It is my belief that Liverpool can take a lot of inspiration from what Hanover have achieved, and act as an English centre for international musical relationships. Engaging in artist swaps will not only benefit the massive wealth of talent in Liverpool, but also be a way for our bands to play and expand their fan base elsewhere. As well as offering an exchange to international bands to come over to Liverpool, allowing them to play a show and stay in the city for a period of time, this will expand the view of Liverpool as a UNESCO City Of Music. Wouldn’t it be great if, when someone came over to Liverpool to see The Beatles Story, they’d also come to a gig that not only showcased Liverpool’s new bands, but Europe’s (and further afield) too? Or a festival in Hanover showcasing multiple Liverpool bands to a new audience? Events like this have already happened in Liverpool to great success – one example being a Liverpool International Music Festival commission called You Are Here, a collaborative composition between local artists Bill Ryder-Jones, KOF and John Hering and international artists from France, Russia and Manchester. The group met in France initially, but collaborated mainly via the internet to create a one-off, sold-out performance at the Palm House for LIMF in 2014. It was a prime example of a cross-border, multi-genre collaboration with Liverpool musicians at its heart.
It was recently announced that Kevin McManus had been appointed to the role of head of UNESCO City Of Music within Liverpool City Council, with the remit of leading the region’s new music strategy. Kevin is someone who has been known to optimise Liverpool’s welcoming nature and, as a musician, I’m really encouraged that he is heading up the city’s new music offer. When Kevin was appointed to his new role, he praised the UNESCO Creative Cities network, saying that it “allows us to make real links with other cities and look for opportunities around potential collaborations and exchanges… As with everything a lot of it comes down to individuals and relationships”.
With these relationships being strengthened and the opportunities that will arise around our UNESCO City Of Music status, I think it’s time to open our doors to more international acts. The relationship our city is forming with Hanover is such a fruitful one: when I spoke with Alice Moser about my views on the exchange, she agreed that developing stronger connections between our two cities was mutually beneficial: “There is great support from both sides to continue this relationship and make it stronger, especially nowadays. We have done so many great collaborations – and there will be more.” The Sense of Sound Choir also performed in Hanover in June 2017, and, more recently, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s War Requiem Project saw choristers from Liverpool and Hanover collaborate on a performance in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral as part of the WWI centenary.
We should continue to allow our artists to benefit from the possibilities of Liverpool being a globally recognised music city; through collaboration, conversation and hard work, this could be the start of a really special time in Liverpool’s music history.