The news got through to me sideways, as news sometimes will. Mid-evening a friend, David Lloyd of SevenStreets and Bitten magazine asked if he could use one of my Greatie photos from last weekend. ‘Of course’ I’d agreed. And checked back a couple of hours later to see what he’d wanted it for.
To find he’d written a thoughtful article about our city of contrasts, calling it A Tale of Two Cities.
“Joe Anderson and the council will, we have no doubt, be delighted at the Everyman’s triumph (although they can take none of the credit) – but they should be very wary of the Everyman ever staging A Tale Of Two Cities. Because, when it does, it would only need to glance in the direction of Great Homer Street to see a city the council’s washed its hands of. A city of lost opportunities. Fudge and compromise, of timidity and duplicity.
And, in an equal and opposite way to the Everyman, this matters too. Because we are both these cities at once. And wouldn’t you think someone in Dale Street would notice the disconnect? Would stop and say, hey, maybe there are people outside Planning and Regeneration would could, actually, do things better, if we let them?
Stirling knows: you don’t need £27m to make a building beautiful, resonant and fit for purpose. That’s why it has a special category for buildings under £1million. So why do we fail to see the potential in every corner of the city? Why does our selective blindness trip us up time and again? Why is Great Homer Street Market’s £2million new home akin to a Syrian refugee camp? Is that what we deserve too?”
Which is how the news sneaked in to me sideways. Amidst worries that the new Greatie is by no means all that it could be, is the news that our new Everyman has won – something.
Yes, we’ve won the Stirling Prize. The nation’s major architectural prize for the best new building of the year. Being naturally and helplessly in love with all things Liverpool this made me want to run out of the front door and dance in the street. It being not as often as it should be that the nation turns its eyes towards us and says ‘You’re definitely the best’ at, well, anything.
But before I got my shoes on I paused and had my own Dickens moment. A moment of reflecting on Great Expectations. The Great Expectations of March 1st this year.
I remember David reflecting at the time about the quality of the culture in a city that could get so collectively excited about a theatre. He was right, we did.
Since when? Well, unlike me, David loves the theatre and has written glowingly on SevenStreets about the quality of the productions so far.
And, because by now you’ll know I’m working myself up to have some sort of a go at it, the best new piece of architecture of the year in Britain – it’s official.
Well, the day our old Ev closed for good, we all looked around it to see what the actors and set designers and costume makers had been putting up with while we contentedly had our lunches and drinks in the Bistro. And the shocked word on most of our lips was ‘Squalid’.
A credit, as has now been recognised, to the whole of Liverpool.
So what’s the matter? What’s bothering me?
Well, time I suppose. You see, for me the importance of the Ev we lost, the Ev that had to go to make way for this one, was that it was one of the City’s main gathering places. Through the very dark days of the 1970s and beyond we could always rely on the warm welcomes of each other in Hope Street. The poets, the musicians, the politicians, the lost and the lonely lot of us would gather there – moaning and complaining, sure – but also dreaming our brilliant dreams together. Of the bands we’d form, the books we’d write and the love we’d make as our City rose again out of the ashes of Thatcher.
Well rise we have and proud and pleased we are of it. Not blindly self-congratulatory, because there is much effort and thousands of conversations to be had and actions taken before it’s a fair city for us all again.
But, and here is my point for the day. So far, these conversations are not being had in the Everyman. Because as a gathering place it doesn’t quite work, yet.
And I know many Liverpool people who feel the same.
The Street Level café is a great idea and when I go to the Ev, which isn’t very often, it’s there I’ll go.
Because the ‘food offer’ is bettered by, well, nearly everywhere else in the square mile around it.
Now I realise me and the likes of me are umbilically attached to the old Ev. To the wonders and the quiet simplicity of the food served up there. So it pains me to hear Liverpool people describing what they’ve had at the new Ev as ‘poncey’ or ‘pretentious’ or, worst of all ‘all right, I suppose, but a bit pricey.’ It pained me to sit there with one of the architects of the place a couple of months back and see her struggling with a gargantuan filled role that a passing hippo would have baulked at.
Still, in the life of a building these are small matters that time and attention can put right. But in the moment of elation last night, when David’s article slipped the news to me sideways, my first thought was ‘Great, that’s the architecture prize and its chattering classes sorted out. Now let’s make the place work for the rest of us.’
Liverpool, you see, needs an Everyman that works for all of us.