Writer Jeff Young’s latest play, Bright Phoenix, is at the Everyman until 25 October. It’s an ode to this city – central to the story the magical & mythic re-incarnation of Liverpool, seen through a poetic filter. The past memories and hopes for the future.
“I want people to look afresh at their city,” Young says, of his play – an unflinching love letter to his city. “I want people to explore those places and spaces again. To consider what public space is – what is it and how should it be used”. These are some of the places in his personal Liverpool mythology…
Go see Bright Phoenix – it’s a refreshingly un-Scouseploitated appraisal of that singular, star-crossed and, at times, sorry journey the city’s been on over the past thirty years. And it’s music to our ears – because it’s a timely representation of the city we know, too.
And then, go and take a good, long look at the city you thought you knew, thanks to this personal tour by Jeff himself:
P. GALKOFF, FAMILY BUTCHERS
At 29 Pembroke Place you can see the ruins of the Grade 2 listed kosher butchers shop P Galkoff (pic above). This is one of my favourite buildings in Liverpool and it is a tragedy that it has been allowed to fall into such a state. It’s green tiled frontage includes the Hebrew symbol for kosher food and Galkoff supplied meat to the Titanic. At one time Pembroke Place was the heart of Liverpool’s Jewish community. Percy Galkoff was a drummer boy in the Polish army who managed to make his way across Europe in disguise to settle in Liverpool in the early 1900’s. In August 2014 it was announced that the tiled frontage of the shop will be preserved as a monument to the Jewish community.
THE ODEON CINEMA, LONDON ROAD
On the 14th May, 1966 Bob Dylan and the Hawks went electric in the Odeon cinema on London Road. If you search online you can find some of the wild mercury music they played that night – ‘Tell Me Mama’ and ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’ are particularly demonic. I was 9 years old at the time and too young to go but I remember reading about his visit in the Liverpool Echo and being fascinated by this Medusa haired stick insect. The art deco Odeon – which also played host to the premiere of The Beatles film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ – is now a car park; a towering example of a sacred space being demolished when it should have been preserved.
THE BALLAD OF RAY AND JULIE
Opposite the Odeon you will find two metal chairs in the vacant lot next to the Lord Warden pub. These functional chairs were installed by the artists Alan Dunn and Brigitte Jurack, in 1995, inspired by the Ray + Julie graffiti on the rear brick wall. The chairs were only intended to be there for 6 months but they are still there. Next year is their 20th anniversary. Over the years there have been various Ray and Julie related activities including a series of billboards, spoken word events and guerrilla performances. I have collaborated with Alan Dunn on many projects over the years including the Ballad of Ray and Julie poems, which muse on the identity of the graffiti lovers. If you visit the chairs who knows you might find Ray and Julie sitting there. Look out for Ray and Julie events in 2015.
PUNISHMENT OF LUXURY
In the Walker Art Gallery you will find my favourite painting, ‘The Punishment of Luxury’– also known as ‘The Punishment of Lust’ painted by Giovanni Segantini in 1891. This disturbing nightmare vision depicts the souls of women who have sinned, floating against a backdrop of winter mountains. This painting seeped into my dreams when I was a child to such an extent that I imagined a tormented woman, tethered by her hair, floating outside my bedroom window. Despite its misogynistic theme the painting has a dream like, metaphysical quality and it is a painting I visit several times a year.
ST JOHNS MARKET
The hideous shopping precinct we have to endure today was built in the 1960’s to replace the glass and cast iron indoor market built in the 1820’’s and worthy of Barcelona The act of civic vandalism that resulted in that beautiful place being demolished is a classic example of City Council stupidity. When I was a child I was fascinated by the old men who used to stand watching its demolition and watching its brutal replacement being built. The sadness on their faces told me everything I needed to know about their grief. For fifty years we have had to endure this insult to our city. Go to any city in Europe and one of the first places you visit will be the market. Not in Liverpool.
Lime Street was once the proud home to three cinemas – the 1930’s masterpiece The Forum,The Scala and the mighty Futurist. The Forum now stands empty, The Scala is a lap dancing club and the Futurist is in ruins. My parents did their courting in these cinemas and I spent many a Saturday afternoon in the Futurist. Lime Street itself is in a terrible state of decay and its cinemas stand as symbols of – again – civic vandalism. The Futurist features in my play ‘Bright Phoenix’; it is a haunted place full of memories and ghosts. Sadly it is dying and may never recover and those who let it fall into this terrible state should bow their heads in shame.
ADAMS CLUB, SEEL STREET
Just down from Alma de Cuba you will find the ruins of Adams Club – one of the great Roger Eagle of Eric’s fame’s ventures. Like the Odeon in London road this for me is a sacred place because it was here in the early 1980’s that the great Bo Diddley played. Seel Street echoed with ‘Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger’ and other deranged tunes. Nowadays Adams is just a piece of old wall like a broken tooth in an empty mouth.
36 Seel Street was the last studio for Arthur Dooley the ex Cammell Laird, Catholic Communist sculptor. I particularly love his Christ Ascending on the Princes Avenue Methodist church. I used to take a cup of tea with him in the Liverpool Academy on Sell Street in the 1980’s but he was suffering from ill health then and died suddenly in 1994. There is a brilliant Dooley archive here.
THE BLUECOAT CHAMBERS
For me the Bluecoat is important for two reasons – the first exhibition of Captain Beefheart’s paintings in 1972 and the wondrous performance of Sun Ra and his Arkestra on Friday 8th June 1989. This has to be the single greatest gig I have ever experienced. The sight of the massive Arkestra in their shimmering Egyptian, extra-terrestrial robes is imprinted on my memory. The music was mind blowing. If you were there you will remember it forever. If you weren’t there go out and buy Space Is the Place and have your imagination transformed.
THE BALTIC TRIANGLE
The Baltic area is a thriving hive of creativity with great venues such as Camp and Furnace. There is also the wonderful Baltic Bakehouse which bakes amazing sourdough bread and does mouth watering breakfasts. The thing I like about the Baltic Triangle is its spirit of imagination and independence. The ruins of abandoned warehouses have been transformed into creative hothouses.
THE LIVERPOOL SCHOOL OF LANGUAGE, MUSIC, DREAM AND PUN
Mathew Street, home to the Cavern and Eric’s was also home to the single most important building in my youth – The Liverpool School founded in an old fruit warehouse in the early 1970’s by the visionary poet Peter O’Halligan and his cousin Sean Halligan. This building housed Aunt Twackies Flea Market, Ken Campbell’s Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool and O’Halligan’s Parlour which was the coolest café in town. Before punk was even heard of this building was the counter-cultural headquarters of the city’s wild imagineers. Inspired by Jung’s dream of Liverpool you can still see traces of it now in the commemorative plaques on the wall and the battered sculpture of Jung leaning out of the wall of Flanagan’s Apple, above the legend ‘Liverpool Is the Pool Of Life’.
Until 25 October
This article originally appeared on 10 October 2014 on Seven Streets