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First look: Museum of Liverpool

The largest newly-built national museum in Britain for more than a century. Opening party pictures and many pleasant surprises

Written by . Published on July 20th 2011.


First look: Museum of Liverpool

MUSEUMS are about history, right?

Not necessarily so. As a young child, Saturdays, for many, were all about going to town and climbing on an enormous rocking horse – the best in the entire world – outside the first floor lifts in a department store called Blacklers.

No expense or thought has been spared
and, as a city native, I found myself
swelling with completely unsentimental pride

A few years on, Saturdays were all about going to town and buying an LP from a bloke called Norman who worked in a shop called Probe. The crucial bit (and wasn’t everything Crucial?) was that he’d put it in a paper bag whose design carried more street cred than you, or its contents, ever could. Casually clutching it for all to see, the bus journey home saw you approximately 23 times cooler than the one that had transported you into town earlier in the day.

Decades later, it’s another fairly depressing indicator of passing time to find that LP, and that bag (or similar), preserved in a hermetically-sealed glass case in a museum.  

212Doddy and June LornieEnd of story? Perhaps not, for go down to the ground floor and what do we find? Norman in a display cabinet? No, but he IS manning the information desk.

It is not a stunt, Norman Killon has worked for NML for years, another bit of the living, breathing Liverpool story that moves on and changes as frequently as the Mersey currents, preventing the aspic from setting. You will notice it if you walk the streets. If you keep your eyes peeled.

And they have kept their eyes peeled in here. Museum of Liverpool Curator Paul Gallagher and his team have done their homework meticulously to deliver a glorious, indulgent, £72m shop window for the city – for better and for worse. 

For no matter how well you thought you knew your warts and all, there are still some bits on the back of your hand that might surprise you.

Despite its detractors (it has already been nominated for the sneery Carbuncle Cup) and a whole series of the usual snide comments about the city’s population (courtesy of those enlightened Guardian readers, below a feature this week about the opening), the building itself is a remarkable, sleek addition to the sacred waterfront. 

As one of the world’s only museums about a region, I was afraid it might all have gone horribly, narcissistically wrong. But no expense or thought has been spared in its bid to resonate on some level or other, and, as a city native, I instead found myself swelling with completely unsentimental pride. 

An entire floor remains closed for now – the bit with the Overhead Railway in it – but there’s still plenty to bite off.

P1019326Codman's making it snappyThe ground floor with its Global City section is as far away from turgid and boring as Shanghai was to the opium dealers of the 19th century.  All covered in here.

The second floor gets down to the business of what makes the city tick with its Wondrous Place exhibition and the People’s Republic of Liverpool.

There's a whole section on sport; a re-creation of the Sandon pub, so beloved of Anfield footballing  folklore. Writers, artists; industries like Meccano, Taverners, Ford’s; the Lutyens cathedral model in full, Gerard Gardens in full; a wonderful "immersive" film about the Cavern-you-know-who, made by Hurricane Films. And another from the same team: the tear-jerking Kicking and Screaming which tells the highs and lows of Liverpool and Everton football clubs. 

Producer Roy Boulter recalls how he was in the museum until 4am, getting it right on many occasions, in the last few weeks, accompanied by Heaven 17 founder Martyn Ware who was tinkering with the gallery's sound system.

Probe
Talk to David Fleming, the head of NML, and you get the feeling there have been many long or sleepless nights, at, or regarding, the museum, while the collective sigh of relief from staff is almost audible.

So many stories told, so many anecdotes, on screens, in printed quotes, voice-overs from the great, the good and the not so good – and to prove the latter, apparently even I’m in there somewhere.

Best of all, it lends a whole fresh purpose to the terminally defunct Pier Head which, in recent years, has been left only with the nostalgic strains of Ferry Cross The Mersey to validate it. 

And, oh look, there’s that rocking horse from Blacklers.

* Liverpool Confidential attended the opening bash on Tuesday night. Here are some snaps from the mobile after the camera died.

Follow Angie Sammons here on Twitter 

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

MikeJuly 21st 2011.

People will sneer at our city because they feel safer making smartarse cracks about cars on bricks and related stuff rather than admitting that --perhaps we have the edge on the mundane rundown places where they live!
The city admittedly , has had some bad times and bad press but the damage has been contained and the spectre of the past --the town hall taken over by lackwits etc. is behind us and this vibrant city moves ever upwards showing the way in a bleak landscape.
The museum is a GREAT showcase and will lift the city further.
Throwing down the gauntlet , Lets see what other nearby cirtes have got to put in their display cabinet. Not a lot I suspect.

AnonymousJuly 21st 2011.

You are correct Mike. Can you name me another city where the inhabitants are openly portrayed as lazy thieves? It's no different to racism really. Liverpool is looking better than ever right now and I can't think of a regional city that is more vibrant. Go, go, go Liverpool

Anthony SchumacherJuly 22nd 2011.

Phil Redmond finally looking concerned about the cuts in that last picture.

poppyJuly 22nd 2011.

I have lived around Liverpool for 20 years, i am from the south, but this is my home, and there is nothing in the world like liverpool. It has its own vibe and where in london can you find everything Liverpool has to offer in one place. its magic.

PatioJuly 22nd 2011.

The museum is absolutely superb! Visited on Tuesday when it opened, and lucky enough to go up Liver building for centenary. You just can't get enough of it, it is so packed with history, and vibrancy, that you just want, and need to keep going back for more..

By the way...Alexi Sayle at the special opening-Why? (Oh I know why, he was in L.pool promoting himself via his new book wasn't he)

Hero
Mark GarnerJuly 22nd 2011.

I was going to give you a bollocking about the photos Angie, until I read the last paragraph ;-)

AnonymousJuly 22nd 2011.

Just a shame that failed and expensive legal disputes surrounding this new museum means that people are paying for it with their jobs. NML workers are finding their conditions being made intolerable or are being dismissed for increasingly trivial reasons. For example, lowly paid shift workers are being sent to work across river incurring large increase in travel costs and the loss of the shift allowances on which they relied. Whilst everything is being done to promote the new museum in a glowing light, the other museums are having numbers slashed and they are at breaking point. Most joined the recent day of action, not as a pensions protest but as a protest against the management.

Susan DouglasJuly 22nd 2011.

The choir is Liverpool Community Choir, who performed brilliantly on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. They are led by Gareth Edwards and Julie Topping si the pianist.

Susan DouglasJuly 22nd 2011.

Liverpool Community Choir...Oops correction...Our choirmaster is Gareth Owen not Edwards!

AnonymousJuly 22nd 2011.

Er, Susan, that choir were a bit off ...

Selena Adam shared this on Facebook on July 25th 2011.
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