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Sea Odyssey: it is time we dared to dream

Angie Sammons says Liverpool should take a leaf out of Nantes' creative book

Written by . Published on April 23rd 2012.

Sea Odyssey: it is time we dared to dream

WE never even got to say goodbye but, for the short time we hung out, we had an unforgettable time. 

More than half a million others did too - twice the estimated number - who turned up to embrace the French madness of Royal De Luxe and their Liverpool Sea Odyssey the weekend just gone. 

Nantes is France's Liverpool. In the
1980s they had the mighty Loire
and we had the Mighty Wah! 

You might have been forgiven for thinking this was the world's biggest amateur photographers' convention: some 600,000 elbowing snappers, from every walk of life, armed with all manner of digital devices to capture the moment. 

But in world where technology dictates every detail of our lives; a world of uncertainty where there seems to be more problems than solutions, all it took was the simple creak of a head and the bat of a wooden eyelash to please an all-comers swathe of humanity. 

Sea Odyssey

A vast collective grin and a vast collective tear - all prompted by the oldest themes in the world: love, loss and, finally, against the odds, reconciliation. 

Small children yelling “Wake-up, wake up!” at a giant doll with a scabby knee in dewy Stanley Park on Friday morning; their hot little Kirkdale classrooms and SATs revision abandoned. 

The woman fiercely ordering a middle aged couple to move out of her line of sight - a traffic island at the entrance to the Kings Dock on Saturday. “I will,” he told her, with a touch of the defiant teenager, “stand where I want. All right?” 

In the event, they were all swept up, and swept on. 

They are a photogenic trio, these two giant puppets and dog, and it was hard to see them in a bad light, through a lens or otherwise. 

Sea Odyssey Liverpool06

They made us clap our hands in delight, they made our bottom lips quiver. We would walk 23 miles for one of their smiles. In short, it was love at first height. 

After touring Royal De Luxe's workshops last summer while on holiday in the city of Nantes, this writer (no freebies), badly wanted to run away with them, and did so, again, this weekend. 

“Liverpool is the centre of the creative universe and here's the proof!” declared more than one proud social networker as the city walked tall. 

Steady on. Liverpool is many things, and it has been many things more. But the fact remains that this show, like much of the programme of European Capital of Culture 2008, was bought in. 

No restaurant worth its salt, or its sugar, would globally position itself similarly if it paid someone else to make its fancies. 

Nantes is France's Liverpool. In the 1980s they had the mighty Loire and we had the Mighty Wah! 

Both handsome ports were built on slavery and face west. By the end of the decade the fortunes of each had gone the same way.

Just Another Day In NantesJust Another Day In Nantes

Then, in 1989, the mayor of Nantes set about doing everything in his power to persuade RDL's founder, Jean Luc Courcoult, and his band of inventors, scrap dealers, stuntmen and poets to move out of Toulouse and set up shop there in a derelict docks warehouse. Visionary leadership indeed.

Now, Royal De Luxe and their next door neighbours, La Machine, are the focus of an attraction called Iles des Machines which not only helps rake in millions of tourist euros every year, but which nurtures special people: people who dare to make a living from daring millions of others to dream.

Nothing Toulouse, you might say, and everything to gain.

For the world, I wouldn't turn my nose up at buying up events like the Sea Odyssey and La Princesse on my own manor, and to argue that it wasn't worth a few hundred grand in these cash-strapped times is churlish and pointless.

Sea Odyssey Liverpool01The city's men women and children may have entered Monday morning on a high, enriched by the weekend's experiences, but they are going to have to hold on tight to those photographic memories. Sea Odyssey was paid for out of the last of the legacy money from 08 and that's it. The party is, officially, over. So what now?

Perhaps it is time that we put some effort into our own artistic inventors and poets.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's In Harmony is a start - “it's now dead cool to play a violin in West Everton” - apparently; and along with community choirs like Sense of Sound, and the carnival drummers, there are places where you can have a blast. But we need more. We need to grow our own.

Unlike much of the UK, elitism doesn't come naturally to us in Liverpool, but dreams still do.

How about youth theatres that don't depend on audition? Investing in people that make seismic shifts happen? Identifying and attracting the real provocateurs here, by whatever means necessary, and turning a blind eye while they run riot?

Don't ask me to draw the map beyond that: there isn't one, it doesn't work that way.

One thing I do know is that we're not Northampton (sorry Northampton) and that we've got previous. Our history tells us we can do much more.

Nantes has turned its derelict dockland into an artistic powerhouse; in Liverpool we have the prospect of utilitarian office blocks on the north docks to enrich our lives.

Spectacle wise? Why, we'll always find money for the annual swill of Mathew Street.

Let's look out to the horizon, instead, where that little girl and her uncle vanished with untimely haste on the swell of Sunday morning's tide.

You never know, we might be giants.

Sea Odyssey Liverpool

Follow Angie Sammons here on Twitter @twangeee

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27 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Lyn GriffithsApril 23rd 2012.

Stirring stuff Angie. You and the giants make me want to come home.

GemmaApril 23rd 2012.

For the record our YEP (Young Everyman and Playhouse) has no audition for entry. What is more there are YEP groups mirroring nearly all aspects of a producing theatre not just acting. Hopefully they will be the Royal de Luxe of the future. Some of them worked on SeaOdyssey as technicians.

Nantes in my PantsApril 23rd 2012.

Well said Miss Sammons!

Perhaps if the profits of the Mathew Street Festival went to the City rather than to shifty pub companies we could afford spectacles of this quality more regularly.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousApril 27th 2012.

Sorry we didn't pay for this, it was paid for by money from the Capital of Culture legercy fund!

L'homme sur l'autobus au garstonApril 23rd 2012.

We should look more to France, which has a flair for creativity and grand spectacle rather than the establishment obsession with the United States, a country that has only given us guns, gangs and hoodies.

Grace NoteApril 23rd 2012.

Hear hear! Too many people in Liverpool think that creativity is strumming a guitar and even impersonating long-dead pop groups.

AnonymousApril 23rd 2012.

Well said Angie!! Brilliant and well observed.
The elite - (Gemma...? - it's not all about you love!) outsiders that have been taking over the 'culture' of this city for far too long - draining the creativity of the city and standing on the backs of others to cultivate the art of shameless self promotion and little all else.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Edward BarrettApril 23rd 2012.

I enjoyed the article - but in light of the suggestion we lack inclusive youth theatres, I don't think it's unfair of Gemma to point out we've got one!

I can't help thinking one of Liverpool's greatest strengths is our openness to outside influences. Surely we've gained much more than we've lost by our association with 'outsiders'?

Darrell Doo-MeeApril 23rd 2012.

Let's not diss the city too much gang, the Odyssey was great and we all loved it, but it's still a cracking place these days, even after the show's gone home

Esther WilsonApril 23rd 2012.

Surely one of the main points the article makes is that we don't always have to look elsewhere for someone to show us something so awe-inspiring, beautiful and wonderous? What's wrong with that? Isn't it a point well made? If Nantes can invest in their weird and wonderful artists and poets, then so can Liverpool. Not all artists fit in to the mainstream way of working. This city has always had an abundance of radicals and mavericks ready to challenge the status quo ...just like Royal De Luxe have to when they travel with their beautiful creations. But, thank God, they still make it happen. The language of dreams is universal.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Pop InjayApril 24th 2012.

"The language of dreams is universal."

<Doffs cap to Ms Wilson>

Edward BarrettApril 23rd 2012.

I completely agree with Angie's main point, though - if we invested more in Liverpool's own artistic side, there'd be nothing stopping work on this scale being produced locally.

I guess it's like the difference between producing and non-producing theatres - and I know which model I think is more sustainable.

Perhaps Sea Odyssey can be a catalyst . . .

AnonymousApril 23rd 2012.


AnonymousApril 23rd 2012.

Sea Odyssey would have been a lot less magical had it been a couple of giant puppet footballers shuffling about to 'You'll Never Walk Alone' and all the usual tripe.

Mike DApril 23rd 2012.

Or...Nantes has carved a unique niche to be admired and hopefully inspired by. Meanwhile Liverpool spent £5bn (and counting) on its cultural infrastructure to sustain it for the next century as a viable city (And there's several major home grown arts establishments and festivals that would have by now gone to the wall if it were not for the build up and legacy of '08). One step at a time, as our large french friends would say. If they could talk. In English.

Derek HargreavesApril 23rd 2012.

,i AGriEVeS wiV evRYfiN MiSS SaLMON's SeS wiVotE RezzAvaYsHUN oR essitAYsHUN

Paige TurnerApril 24th 2012.

In France it is established that big events deserve big spectacles and they put artists, intellectuals, poets and philosophers in charge of them.

In this country such things are entrusted to groups of philistine bourgeois meatheads and the ones with the loudest gobs get their way.

Horror StoreyApril 24th 2012.

Yes, look at the mess that was made of Liverpool 2008 European Capital of Culture thanks to blithering politicians, vested interests and self-important opportunist chumps.

They should have put the French in charge from the start.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Mike DApril 27th 2012.

What mess was that then? If you are talking about the odd spat between the head honchos, they made no dent whatsoever to the programme which - in case you forgot - attracted about 3.5million first time visitors to the city. And the programme was led, in the main, by? Scousers. Who, as we all know, are children of the world.

Peter HarveyApril 24th 2012.

If we haven't got one already Liverpool definitely needs a plan to cash in on the PR success of the last week.

Locally the media support was overwhelming - that's the main reason crowds were so big. Social media also played its part. I must have seen a thousand photos in my Twitter timeline over the three days!

On a wider level I was surprised at how the national media took to the event too, perhaps because it was so visual and lent itself to cheap content?

Yes, you're right that we need to think big ('City of Giants' is a great theme) and we need to continue to grow our own talent and provide our artists, musicians, dancers, photographers, writers and performers with a platform rather than buy in talent.

Just not sure how...

P.S. Perhaps when Englebert Humpty Dumpty brings home the bacon for the UK in Baku (that's in Azerbaijan as you know) next month, the ECHO Arena can pitch for Eurovision 2013? Liverpool would do Eurovision really well.

Guildo HornApril 25th 2012.

And it would be a far more pleasant, profitable and inclusive event than that unpleasant MOBO brawl of a couple of years ago.

JeminiApril 25th 2012.

The Eurovision Song Contest does cost a fortune to stage, but that is the responsibility of the BBC, not the City Council who owns the arena. In fact the event would pour money into the Council's coffers. Now that would be a novelty.

K. T. BoyleApril 25th 2012.

Also the Eurovision Song Contest lasts several days and attracts enormous numbers of people who would be spending money in Liverpool, unlike the one-night all-inclusive caravan halts that were the MTV and MOBO events and mainly attracted violent criminals.

Paul HarrisApril 27th 2012.

Don't you have to win the Eurovision before you can host it? Think we might be waiting a while.

Bucks FrizzApril 27th 2012.

Nonsense. Englebert is going to win it. His song is fantastic.

David MillsApril 27th 2012.

It could indeed win and Liverpool should be putting in its bid now

AnonymousMay 31st 2012.

Anything to say David?

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