April 2003: Liverpool

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Liverpool Albert Arch copyLiverpool’s Beatles centre is still the city’s biggest attraction. But then came the city’s Capital of Culture bid and thoughts are turning to the city’s other attractions.

There is no shortage of these. Liverpool has eight museums and galleries, such as the Walker, the Lady Lever in Port Sunlight, Merseyside Maritime Museum and the Tate Gallery Liverpool in Albert Dock. The Tate’s northern gallery stands incongruously on the docks, an architectural wonder with some brain-bending expensive canvasses hung on Walls backing directly on to the sea.

The Tate has a policy of explaining its exhibits thoroughly, which offends the purists but gives the rest of us a chance to figure out what this modern art business is all about.

Ron Mueck’s Ghost presents a lingering image of the awkward self-consciousness of an adolescent girl. A shocking display in the middle of an upstairs gallery, Chair shows a woman being represented as an item of furniture. “It’s amazing,” the artist Allen Jones once remarked, “when it comes to modern art people defer to an expert, but with anything remotely erotic everyone becomes an expert.”

Albert Dock is the daddy of dockland regeneration schemes everywhere and has become a model for other cities. Here you will find the single biggest attraction in the city,  the Beatles experience, responsible for hooking up to a third of the visitors. The recreation of the cavern is used nowadays as a movie set, and the keycard to the cover of the Sergeant Pepper album is essential reading for anyone who fancies foursome-folklore, even though Dublin’s George Bernard Shaw is inexplicably described as “Shore.”

This allows the real thing, the Cavern bar, to have a suitably unpretentious feel to it. The stage has been moved, but the clientele are still the soulmates of the 1960s fans who handed their coats in to cloakroom attendant Cilla Black.

City guide Les Cox spent the seventies and eighties dealing with seemingly intractable industrial disputes. Since then Cox has seen the city reborn. There once were 20,000 people in the docks. Liverpool had great difficulty coming to terms with the fact that it was no longer a great commercial city. The 1981 Toxteth riots served as a wake up call. The 1984 floral festival started the whole idea of Liverpool as a tourist destination. The message went out that money was available if people could agree what to do with the city, and the Albert Dock was developed.

Nowadays Cox says the city has a vibrant tourism life of its own. Walking tours of the city every weekend explore hidden aspects of the place and new developments, such as tours of the Manchester Ship Canal, come on stream every year. Favourites include the two 20th century cathedrals which (as the Pope noted on his visit to the city) are joined by a street called Hope Street. The Catholic cathedral was completed in 1962 and irreverently became known as “Paddy’s Wigwam” because of its shape.

China town and the new arch are other highlights. Liverpudlians will tell you there’s no place like the Conservation Centre and if your time allows, there are fantastic coastal walks such as down the Wirral Way or along the Sefton coast.
Chris Brown, the former hotel manager who heads up the city’s tourism development, says that Liverpool was among the big tourism successes of the 1980s and early 1990s but somehow the city lost out on a second tranch of development in the years since 1996. That is about to change.

 

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